and one vein were back at work," Colas said, "but the vein was not
doing its cleansing job very well. I could hardly totter more than seven hours
out of every 24 in a standing position. The other 17 hours I had to keep the
foot in a higher position than the leg to allow it to drain and circulate the
blood properly. On board ship during the race, I had to pace my efforts
carefully. When I had been standing too long and still had work to do about the
boat, I simply had to crawl."
The 1976 race was
the roughest ever run. The weather in the Atlantic was savage, with winds and
storms battering the entire field. Of the 125 starters, 37 boats retired and
five sank; two men were lost. Some sailors reported winds up to 80 knots. Sails
were popped off, masts snapped, automatic steering gear fouled. Through these
days of tempest, Colas hobbled about his huge vessel, setting sails manually as
the regulations required, fighting to make headway and at the same time keep
his sails from being blown out. But he, too, fell victim to the terrible
weather and was forced to put in at Newfoundland to repair his sails.
It all proved to
be part of a bitter experience for Colas. "There was—and is—nothing that
can go faster across the ocean under sail than my four-masted old girl.
Nothing," he said. "But it was a very hard year on the Atlantic. My
adversities were many. Some newsmen were reporting that I was running second to
my old friend Eric Tabarly. Unfortunately, I believed that. Actually, it turned
out that I was two days ahead of him; had I known that, I wouldn't have stayed
so long in Newfoundland."
But Tabarly had
finished first in his 73-foot ketch Pen Duick VI. He was exhausted after 23
days, 20 hours and 12 minutes on the raging Atlantic, most of it with his
self-steering rudder out of whack. Club Méditerranée glided into Newport out of
a heavy mist in an elapsed time of 24 days, 3 hours and 36 minutes, which
included Colas' layover time. He was second man in, but he was assessed a
58-hour penalty, dropping him to third. It was claimed that he had illegally
taken passengers aboard when he left the boatyard in Newfoundland to return to
The loss of the
race was a blow to Colas, but he maintained a proud posture in discussing the
outcome. "I have nothing to prove," he said. "I have my own
Colas returned to
Tahiti in 1976, where he carried paying passengers on joy rides aboard Club
Méditerranée. But he hadn't retired from racing and when the Route du Rhum was
announced early in 1978, Colas was one of the first entrants.
"I love to
race and I ache when I am too long away from a race," he said. "But
don't forget, I must work for my boats. Sailing has been a sport too much for
the sons of rich men. There has never been enough professionalism in it. And
professionalism is the truest democracy. If there were more money in
racing—sponsors and money prizes as in the Rum Race—then a poor young man could
participate in his sport just as the rich do."
As for his hopes,
he said shortly before leaving, "My boat and I, we sail at a good pace. And
we are good in all weather. I think it will take 25 days to finish, but others
say three weeks or only 18 days. Well, good on them if they can do it. When I
arrive, if I find some others have made harbor sooner than I, I shall say,
'Bravo to you!' And then I shall continue on and sail my old girl home to
Tahiti. It will be the boat's third trip around the world. She has earned a
rest and I must spend more time with my family.
"If I am first
across the line I will say, 'Bravo, old Manureva, bravo!—and I shall still set
sail with her for home. I will feel that I am a winner either way."
At about 4 p.m.
last Nov. 16, the Saint-Lys radio station on the French coast near Bordeaux
received a message from Alain Colas. It was quite cheerful and optimistic. He
was west of the Azores, proceeding nicely, he said. The operator warned him
that his signal was weak and full of interference, suggesting that his battery
was failing. That was his last known message.