Skip to main content /WORLD /SAILING

Yves Parlier's survival story

Yves Parlier's survival story

LONDON, England -- When it comes to surviving the dangers of offshore racing, few can match the experience of Yves Parlier, recently voted France's top sports personality for his amazing achievements.

Parlier, nicknamed 'The Extra Terrestrial' for his understanding of weather patterns, built his own boat in 1985 at the age of twenty-four to race a prestigious solo race across the Atlantic.

He became obsessed with the Vendee Globe -- the world's most famous single-handed race. He competed twice, dismasting once and colliding with an iceberg the second time.

In 2000, during his third Vendee campaign, it seemed Parlier's luck had turned as he led the fleet across the equator and into the southern ocean.

Tell us what you think 

But disaster struck one week before Christmas when Parlier's mast crashed down in ferocious winds. He sent a defiant response to the outside world in a short telex message: "I have dismasted. I am going on. I do not need assistance."

The rules of the Vendee prohibit competitors from seeking outside help. Parlier nursed his craft for three weeks and four thousand kilometres to Stewart Island just off the coast of New Zealand.

For ten days he used all his ingenuity to repair his damaged mast, gathering what he could find onboard or washed up on the beach - a survival blanket, light bulbs and food containers.

He managed to get the mast back to its vertical position and set off again with half the world still to cross to finish the Vendee Globe. But his problems were not over, as the repairs had cost him time and valuable food supplies. He was forced to look to the sea for his very survival, including eating seaweed.

"I'd collected about 400 kilos of seaweed, so it was just everywhere and there was also that smell and taste. One evening I had to force myself to eat. I really didn't want to eat any more; It made me sick," he told CNN.

"At the same time I was losing my strength. Then the wind started to pick up and my satellite phone broke down, so I no longer had any direct contact with land. I started to lose morale and threw myself at the food stores. I ate everything, all the chocolate and cheese. That was the hardest moment of the race psychologically," he said.

Weakened by his poor diet and battered by the conditions around Cape Horn, Parlier's journey back to France was one of determination. After 127 days at sea, he returned to a hero's welcome.

Despite finishing a month after the winners, Parlier's reception eclipsed that of even Ellen MacArthur, whose amazing voyage had so captivated the French.

Parlier finished sixth in the multihull class of the Transat Jacques Vabre in December 2001 and is currently working on developing a revolutionary new trimaran design. His passion for sailing remains undiminished, just perhaps a bit more pragmatic.

"For me it was an incredible experience. From then on, I saw the sea in a completely new way. At any given moment I was forced to use only the means I had available on the boat. When you are on your own on a boat in the middle of the sea, everything takes on a different dimension.

"Time is not the same. The relationship you have with the universe is not the same. You have a much more global appreciation of the whole earth. For me the way I approached life was completely different after that."


Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top