Captain Jean Louis Bernicot

32,010 nautical miles
Average about 77 miles a day or 3.25 knots with LWL of about 34 feet

© Richard Konkolski

Solo circumnavigation 1936-1938

A little known single-handed voyage, completed at the end of May 1938, was published in 1942 in limited French edition and later translated to English by a known sailor Edward Allcard in 1953. Captain Bernicot was inspired by Slocum’s book Sailing Alone Around. His boat was built on the basis of Slocum’s Spray and his sailing track was also very similar to Slocum’s. He left Carantec in North Brittany in August 1936 and reached Le Verdon just over twenty-one months later – shortest time by any small-boat circumnavigator in that time period. Captain Jean Louis Bernicot was the fifth man to solo circumnavigate the world, after Slocum, Pidgeon, Gerbault and Miles.

   Born on December 13th 1883 in l’Abervrac’h on the north coast of Britany, he studied at Brest and served three years in the French Navy. Then, after an obligatory nine month service aboard a four-masted barque Président Félix Faure he obtained Junior Officer’s certificate. Two years later, in 1908, he received his Master’s Certificate at Bordeaux and immediately joined firm Générale Transatlantique. He achieved the rank of Captain, worked for some time on shore in Paris and was eventually sent, in 1922, to the U.S.A. as the company’s Southern Representative. He worked in New Orleans and then Houston until 1933, when he was transferred to the capital of Guadeloupe – Basse-Terre. At the age of fifty-one he retired and soon made his decision to sail round the world.

Fourteen years after his circumnavigation in 1952, on his way to Casablanca and still sailing his Anahita, a wire shroud broke during bad weather and struck his head, causing severe injury. After reaching harbor, a tumor developed forcing his return to his native France, where six weeks later he died.

This story is mostly based on Captain Bernicot book "The Voyage of ANAHITA", published by Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd. in 1953.

By the end of 1935, retired Captain Bernicot became determined to sail solo around the world. He has heard off Gerbault’s solo circumnavigation on Firecrest, but has not read his book yet. He was already decided to sail through the Magellan Strait, when he learned about Slocum. He quickly got his book and on the base of Spray’s general size he ordered his boat, less beamier with more draught. His Anahita had the overall length of 41 feet with maximum beam of 11 ft. 6 in. and draught of 5 ft. 7 in. with Bermudian cutter type rigging and roller-reefing boom.

   His main goal was to have a strongly built boat, which could withstand heavy weather, without interior ballast, but with a dog house extending into coach-roof and with a second steering post inside with steering wheel and wires leading to the tiller.

At the beginning of August 1936 he received his boat and he did not like the height of his mast and shortened it by three feet. By some mistake he received a storm trysail instead of a second spare mainsail for which he did not see any use. It was too late to order a second smaller mainsail of heavy material and roped all around, that he planned to have, so he took a supply of canvas with the determination to make one himself on the way. He also did not like some interior setup, but filled up his 100 gallon water tank, obtained food supplies and then almost immediately, without any sea trials, he took off for his circumnavigation on August 22, 1936, with Argentine on another side of the Atlantic as his first stop.

Hi quickly crossed the Bay of Biscay under good weather conditions, clearing the Spanish and Portuguese shores at about 20 mile distance. He met two Spanish tuna boats, one of which, with about 30 men aboard, circled Anahita in great interest which Captain Bernicot simply ignored.

Captain Bernicot got his first storm week after departure, but the bad weather did not last long. The following light winds constantly changing direction, the choppy sea and frequent calms badly damaged his mainsail after only a fortnight of use. He had to lover it and set the trysail instead so that he could start on repairing it immediately.

At sunset on September 5th he spotted peaks of Madeira and in the morning he passed the island. The sea became confused, making it difficult to keep his boat on her course. On top of that, Bernicout started to experience trouble with the rudder, which became stiff. When the wind completely died, he started his small inboard engine to cross the calm area and the propeller’s vibration made the tiller start to move with ease.

Late that afternoon, he experienced a few squalls which cased the boat to round up broadside to the wind and refuse to react to any control, even to helm hard up. At that stage he turned back and made Funchal for repair, but at the shipyard they did not find anything wrong with the rudder itself. They only greased the rudder stock, which was already done a few times before and after restocking he took direction for Mar del Plata.

Four days later, on September 11th, he passed the island of Palma, the westernmost of the Canaries, working hard on his new mainsail and observing villages on the mountainsides of the island. Next day he passed island Hierro aiming for Cape Verde Islands.

Between the islands of Sal and Boacista he caught his first fish, a bonito, almost ready to give up his ocean fishing. He was hardly passing the islands when a heavy thunderstorm completely disturbed the local North-East trades, leaving him with only a light winds reminiscent of the coming doldrums which he would reach on October 1st.

The doldrums were not so bad for Anahita. With the help of the small gasoline engine for a few hours a day, and its 100 gallon fuel tank, she quickly crossed the equator on October 13th a little farther west than was advisable and soon after he sighted Fernando de Noronha to port.

The recommended routes are not always easy to follow and many sailing ships have had difficulty passing Cape San Rogue on the Brazilian coast. Captain Bernicot experienced many times a southerly wind, forcing him to sail east towards the coast. His progress was slow and daily distance in his log book marked 80, 85, 55, 46 and 63 miles, when on October 21st he finally cleared the coast.

He had pleasant days sailing down to the Tropic of Capricorn, even thought he lost his watch and had to navigate only by dead reckoning. His only problem was to set the boat to self-steer with the wind abeam or from astern. The bottom was also fouling very rapidly. During one calm day he was trying to scrape off the weeds with a scraper lashed to broom-stick. He leaned over to far, lost his balance, and fell into the water. He let go the scraper and quickly grabbed a rail and this saved his life. He pulled himself aboard just in time to see the scraper disappear far astern.

On November 6th, after several weeks of work, he finally finished his spare mainsail and immediately set it up only to be disappointed. The leach curve was not the one he would have liked to have. The sail was difficult to make on a much smaller deck than itself. In any case, he had this new spare sail, smaller and strongly hand-sewn, ready for the stormy south.

On November 11th at position 25 degree 45 minutes South and 41 degree 10 minutes West his peaceful sailing ended and he was hit by a strong pampero, a violent storms which blow principally near the River Plate, but their effect can be felt far to the north. Fortunately this was just an end of one of them. But on November 25th and 26th he had to hove to. This was the first time that Anahita had been hove to in bad weather and she behaved well.

On November 28th he could see Brazilian coast and got in soundings again. Few days later he was disturbed by a line of strong eddies stretching right across his path only few cables ahead, but there were not any shallow banks around. A few days after this, he reached the latitude of Montevideo and endured two brief storms. The second one was the suestadas – regionally much dreaded south-easterly storm causing the most shipwrecks.

On December 10th, some seals announced the presence of nearing land and next day in the early afternoon Captain Bernicot sighted the heights of Mar del Plata and by the evening he passed between the massive breakwaters which were built by a French company to protect this artificial harbor.

Anahita needed new bottom paint. Local shipyard tried to careen the boat with a huge block-and-tackle, but it proved too dangerous and at the end they beached the boat at the end of a slipway. From about a foot below the water-line there was about four inch thick and uniform layer of barnacles. Kindly, the locals did all the hard work for free and filled his fuel tank at cost price as well. Then, after a few dinners with various local officials, he left Argentina on December 22nd.

Sailing towards the Strait was not easy. His first two days of sailing were peasant with light winds. He cowered 175 miles. On December 24th he got stuck in the center of a low pressure with no wind but with a lot of lightning. The next day the strong wind struck, but for a short time only, with no wind following later. Then squalls had followed one after the other with the changing wind. For the whole first week of January, Captain Bernicot gained only 143 miles along the needed course.

On January 7th barometer began to fall and in the morning on the next day the wind started slowly to rise, when a sudden squall hit Anahita. Captain Bernicot had his hands full of work to quickly lower all the sails. By five afternoon full gale was in charge with the sea so big like newer seen by Captain Bernicot before. Anahita carried minimum of sails, but they were enough to get her pushed deeply on her side. Many great waves broke over her hull, but she was taking all the beating without trouble. Then came the night. The wind seemed to have reached top speed, but the sea continued to grow bigger and bigger.

Before two in the morning, tired Captain Bernicot went down below the deck to get some rest. He was no more then 30 minutes in his lee settee, when in the midst of a terrific noise he was violently thrown against the adjacent bulkhead and then violently covered by the shower of various objects. After a split second of silence Anahita righted herself and Captain Bernicot tried to get out of the cabin. This was not easy as there was a mess everywhere and piles of everything were blocking the passage.

The deck was more or less in order. He tied some stuff which got loose and put back cockpit grating which was almost washed away. The boat must have taken a gigantic wave and was knocked over well close to upside down.

Gradually the gale abated and in the dawn Captain Bernicot went down. After some hot coffee he started working to get everything in order. Seeing the mess in daylight he quickly came to the conclusion that a small cruising boat should be able to withstand being rolled over without anything shifting.

Long after the gale had passed away the sky remained overcast. In expectation of another bad storm on January 10th, he set Anahita on sea-anchor. But even though the sea did not grow very big, Captain Bernicot keep the sea-anchor for another day, giving himself time to finish cleaning from the previous knock down. His sextant needed repair and the cylinders of the engine were filled with seawater.

On January 12th he fixed the sextant and obtained a noon position at 48 degree 22 minutes south and 65 degree 27 minutes west. During the last five days he made only 45 miles – it might have been worse.

At daybreak on the 16th he sighted the Patagonian coast to the north of Cape Virgins and at ten in the morning he passed the cape in good summer weather. Soon he left behind Dungeness Point, which marks the northern side of the entrance to the Magellan Strait.

Direct distance between strait entries is only 240 miles, but just passing around Brunswick Peninsula adds 70 miles. The square-rigged ships should never attempt to make east west passage at any time of the year because of the prevailing winds which would force sailing ships to tack in channels 2-10 miles wide with generally bad weather that includes violent squalls. Some recorded passages took up to 80 days between Port Famine and Cape Pillar.

As Far as Punta Arenas, sometimes call Magallanes, the weather is good ashore, but summer is known for strong winds. But weather from Cape Forward to the Pacific is generally very bad with all year around rain, snow, hail and wind coming unexpectedly at any moment, with current running between 5 to 8 knots.

Once Captain Bernicot entered the straight, the weather was favorable, but first night he had to hove to for strong wind, slowly drifting towards Cape Espiritu Santo on the south side of the entrance. By daylight the wind eased and Captain Bernicot gained back lost ground up to the level of St. Catherine’s Point by close-hauled sailing and then everything repeated again.

Late evening wind abated and Captain Bernicot sailed into the entrance again. After a whole night of sailing he reached a buoy marked Orange point on January 18th at 10 in the morning and before noon the first narrows opened. Strong wind forced him to put the boat to drift, carrying him towards the coast of Tierra del Fuego. Then, when he wanted to put about with the help of the engine, the engine would not start. He tried to gybe, but unfortunately the mainsail boom swung hard, hit the permanent backstay and carried away the stem fitting. Finally, completely exhausted, he reached anchorage of Punta Delgada and put line on shore with help of local horseman riding his horse deep into the water to catch the line.

After two sleepless nights, Captain Bernicot threw himself into his bunk and was awakened in the morning only by the rattling noise of thrown pebbles and commotion caused by concerned natives from the shore. The tide had dropped considerably, the beach seemed very high and underneath the boat the bottom could be seen very close.

Captain Bernicot hastily tried to fix legs to keep the boat straight, but it was too late. The keel was already resting on the bottom and Anahita was heeling over on the wrong side – in the direction of the downward slope. There was nothing else left to do then but tighten all hatches and wait for tide to lift the boat. Later Anahita began gradually to lift and the day was saved.

Few days later he beached Anatita at a better place and put another coat of antifouling – the Pacific might take longer to cross. The weather was favorable. Afternoon Anahita slid of the hard and immediately took off, quickly negotiating the first narrows.

At the second narrows the wind died and Captain Bernicot continued under power while passed by a coasting steamer with cheerful crowd on the bridge and decks. With the help of a current he easily passed through the Queen Channel and during the night with a light breeze he soon sighted a glow from light of Punta Arenas and reached the port.

First he wanted to anchor his boat, but local authorities towed him to a naval quay and moored him alongside a warship. His stay was not long. On January 26th he hoisted his sails in a fine weather and with the help of the engine he made good progress along the east coast of the Brunswick Peninsula.

At Cape San-Isidro he experienced the first heavy squall. He then easily passed Eagle Bay, St. Nicholas Bay and Cape Forward, the most southerly point of the South American continent. Captain Bernicot pressed on.

He did not stop before reaching anchorage at Playa Parda. First he anchored outside, but some squalls made him move into the beautiful bay with a very narrow entrance. He made some necessary repairs and next day he pulled anchor, but not without a problem. His anchor chain was packed by a huge mass of kelp. It took him an hour to clean while keeping the boat in the middle of the bay with the help of the engine.

Outside the bay he found light wind, but soon rain and bad visibility followed. He planned to sail straight for Port Tamar, but instead of seeking an anchorage during the night, he hove to under short canvas and early morning he spotted the Felix light, the last lighthouse on the southern coast before the final outlet. The rain stopped and he reshaped his course for the Pacific.

He hesitated for some time to stop while passing Tuesday Bay, but barometer was falling again and the weather was still fine enough to get out of the straight. He remembered that Slocum passed this gateway only on his seventh attempt. Captain Bernicot was lucky. The wind was fresh but favorable and the sea huge. The crests on the tops of the huge waves instead of being flattened were broken up by the strong wind. It was a depressing view, even without some wreck’s masts sticking out of the water not far on his starboard side.

As he sailed out into the open sea, the speed of the swell increased, passing quickly under the boat and throwing her sideways, causing the boom to swing from one side to the other and wrenching the sheet with violent jerks. At last in the afternoon he passed the Evangelists lighthouse abeam. The barometer continued its downward path and the weather changed for the worse. At midnight he had to heave to on the starboard tack.

During the next three days he was drifting south. On February 2nd he set staysail to make a northerly course, but the first heavy squall ripped it in the head. Two days later he was afraid to be driven onto the coast of Tierra del Fuego and he reshaped his course to the west, hardly crawling about the deck under the sharp attack of a lumbago.

On February 7th the calm with big swell took over, a fine day for this part of the world. Later, light wind allowed Anahita to point north, little by little regaining her lost ground, and Captain Bernicot could continue work on his new staysail.

Three days later he suffered another gale, during the second day of which he could see some land on his starboard, making him doubtful of his position. At least he had some luck with the wind and on February 12th he reached 45degree 39 minutes south and two days later noon sight placed him on 42 degree 46 minutes latitude. Anahita was sailing herself, covering about hundred miles a day, which allowed Captain Bernicot to finish his staysail sooner then he had expected.

Next day the staysail was up and at work but happiness did not last long. The forestay broke off at mast top fitting. Fortunately, the new sail withstood the heavy shock. He crossed the 35th parallel and reached the latitude of the islands of Juan Fernandez, but had to wait a few more days until the huge swell disappeared and he could rig up a new stay. He then gradually reached the trade wind belt and altered his course for Easter Island, which appeared to port at dawn on March 16th.

Captain Bernicot passed the island and made his way westward under very pleasant conditions, but he was not happy with his slow progress. The mainsail was out of shape with stretched canvas and it took two days to effect a repair. But the light condition still gave him poor runs, around 35 miles a day.

On March 29th he reached position of 22 degree 34 minutes south and 125 degree 55 minutes west, when the trade winds came back in full strength. There were hardly five gallons of fresh water left and Captain Bernicot decided to call at Manga-Reva on his way to Tahiti. On April 4th he sighted distant peaks of Duff and Mokoto islands.

At daybreak on April 5th the Gambier archipelago spread out before him and he found himself opposite the south-eastern pass with five to six fathom of water. When sailing through, he was afraid that a heavy swell bouncing his boat would case its hitting the clear visible bottom, but once inside the reef, the sea was calm.

    After passing Aka-Marou he reached the anchorage of Rikitea, with a nice white beach, the only port and headquarters of the islands’ administration. The whole place breathed an air of peace and quiet. What a difference after Tierra del Fuego.

The archipelago was short of food, but the people offered him all meals in governor residence. Few days later local pilot directed Anahita to Aka-Marou, where locals cleaned the whole bottom with the use of coconut fiber, forced to dive because of the slight difference in the tides.

After a return to Rikitea, Anahita took part in an arranged fishing party with net drawn at low tide across a small hollow in the reef and locals throwing stones and flogging the water with sticks to get fish moving in the desired direction. In no time the net was filled by several hundred pounds of splendid fish.

On April 13th Anahita was ready for departure, filed with water and an ample supply of fruit. She reached open sea by the west pass, quickly skirting along the south coast of Manga-Reva, only to discover that the trade wind died only to be then replaced by ten days of wind from right ahead.

The progress was slow, but he happily passed the uninhabited atolls Fangataufa and Tematangi with not a single coconut three visible, probably swept away by a hurricane. Then on April 21st, a squall with torrential rain struck which ripped his mainsail in half. Then the weather was fine for three days, only to be replaced with calm days again.

    On April 29th Captain Bernicot sighted the small isolated island Mehetia, which he could watch for the whole next day having no wind. Only five large sharks, swimming close to Anahita caused some excitement. Tahiti could then be finally sighted. Late at night Anahita sailed round Venus Point and after midnight on May 1st Captain Bernicot let go the anchor in the placid water of sleeping Papeete harbor.

Captain Bernocot found Papeete the most beautiful place he ever visited. Nevertheless he almost immediately set a date for departure. The Governor offered him free boat hauling, which he could not refuse. There were other things to do as well. From a Chinese shop he got canvas and local sail maker started working on his new mainsail. Local boat builder moved his mast six inches forward to improve steering and to prevent the boom hitting the permanent backstay. Only then come time to go again.

He quickly passed Moorea in a fine sailing breeze, then spotted Maiao island, the very last he would see in the Society Islands, aiming now directly for Torres Straits some four thousands miles away. Twenty-four hours later everything was back to normal on Anahita again and twelve days later he reached a point level with the Samoa Islands.

In vicinity of Tonga and Fiji, the trade-wind disappeared and he experienced calms disturbed only by occasionally squalls. During five days he did only 220 miles, before the wind come back. As soon as he got within sight of the Horne Islands, the weather took a turn for the worse. He even could not see the island for poor visibility, running only under jib alone.

On June 14th he crossed the 180 degree meridian and jumped straight into June 16th, scratching June 15th from his log book. On June 21st he reached position 14 degree 50 minutes south and 169 degree 44 minutes east, almost 2400 miles from Tahiti, expecting to see New Hebrides the next day.

When in the middle of the channel between the Banks Islands and Aurore the trade wind vanished and Captain Bernicot had to start the engine. After a whole night of tacking in a light breeze, he found himself, on a windless morning of June 23rd, abeam of isle of Perigi. With no wind for long period of time, he started the engine and drew near to Gaua, which he passed at noon and entered sleeping Coral Sea.

For almost two days he was in sight of the Banks Islands and then after the squall the wind revived and Anahita regained her rapid progress with average of 126 miles a day for a whole week. On July 1st, during the approach of New Guinea area, the wind rose to gale force forcing him to sail under tied down staysail only. Despite the big sea and small sail area, he was still averaging over 100 miles a day for the next couple days. He was in the protected cockpit when at night the sea broke over the stern, filling cockpit and completely saturating the sleeping Bernicot.

On July 6th the sky cleared enough to get a good noon sight. Anahita was at the entrance level to a strait at Latitude 9 degree and 9 minutes south, but with the approaching night it was prudent to lay to under short canvas and wait for daylight. He carefully entered the straight with hazy sky and horizon and soon noticed a disappearing ocean swell. He passed the extreme north corner of the Great Barrier Reef.

He spent next night drifting again. He had to be careful. With the help of Achenar star, he got fixed position and soon could see the beacon at Bramble Cay, a landmark at the entrance of Blight Channel. Following few small islands, he finally dropped his anchor under the lee of Coconut Island on July 9th, after forty three days of sailing from Tahiti and averaging 100 miles a day. Few days later he anchored at Thursday Island and after three days in port, on July 15th, he headed out to sea again.

First day in the Arafura Sea ended quietly. Wind freshened when he was passing Carpentaria lightship on a cold night but it kept steady. In six days he left the Arafura Sea behind and entered calm Timor Sea in fine weather. He noticed a number of small snakes marked by red stripes coming to the surface, but the real nuisance were the sharks, often snatching the bait on the fishing line or grabbing the fish on the hook.

On the 26th the monsoon came back full of energy and Anahita passed coast of Timor. When passing the following island Roti, the monsoon came on to blow strong and during the night he had to lower the mainsail and sail under staysail and jib alone. But soon the wind eased and the mainsail was up again. He got the best run of his whole trip, averaging 137 miles a day for a whole week, and quickly, on August 3rd, Christmas Island appeared on his horizon.

The area was populated with numerous birds flying in any direction as well as with tuna fish chasing after flying fish. The sailing was interesting and fast. Four days later, on August 7th, he landed at the Keeling or Cocos Islands, exactly on the Direction Island, where he spent very pleasant time with the employees of the Eastern Telegraph Company.

He also visited the most populated Home Island, where he spent ten days during which Anahita was beached and cleaned by local people close to the location where Joshua Slocum cleaned and painted his Spray. He then returned back to Direction Island, only few miles away, and on August 22nd, the anniversary of his departure from Carantec, he was on his way again.

About ten miles out, the sea became more regular and Anahita steered herself very readily. As a sailing master of old school, Bernicot was knowledgeable about sailing records of old clippers, especially when crossing the Indian Ocean. Encouraged by his growing sailing speed, he was ready to make a record passage between Keeling and Mauritius, his next port of call. He predicted that he would need three weeks for this 2,300 miles long stretch.

It was apparent that there would be no shortage of wind. On 26th it began to blow harder and harder. Soon, he had to lower the mainsail and hold his course only under the staysail with very angry sea coming aboard over both sides. Two days later the sail had to go down due to damaged sheet fastening. Later he was able to hoist the mainsail instead.

This weather with the dark, menacing and overcast sky lasted eight days. He even had to give up taking sights of the sun. Better weather followed, but heavy swell continued. The trade wind had blown itself out and was replaced by squalls followed by calms. Nevertheless, on September 8th, he sighted the island of Rodriguez and at the dusk of the 10th, two days later, he spotted island of Ronde. After all night steering to pass in sight of the north end of the island he had to tack to gain the road-stead of Port Luis on September 11th and then headed under power towards the far end of the port.

Despite the offer for free boat hauling, five days later on September 16th he left Port Louis. The wind changed direction and after tacking for eight hours he did not make much progress and only on the evening of the 17th he sighted lights of Reunion and entered the Port-des-Galets with the coming of the daylight.

Thanks to the new friendship with employees of the Eastern Telegraph Company, the news about his voyage spread around. He was receiving invitations from all quarters. This time he did not refuse an offer for free slip and Anahita got first-class cleaning and antifouling paint with white deck paint. The rust disappeared from rigging and she looked like new again.

The end of October was approaching and hurricane season was not very far away. After visiting a few local places, on October 20th everything was ready for departure. The shifting breeze forced him to tack many times, rolling and pitching in a choppy sea, before he reached an area with wind from the ocean, about fifteen miles away from Reunion.

The wind was no longer the trade wind, shifting all around. On 23rd he stripped the boat of all canvas thanks to the falling barometer. At daybreak the squalls eased off and Captain Bernicot was able to set sail again. With wind from the south he was wondering if he would be able to clear Madagascar, but then the wind shifted to the east and he could breathe easy again.

He saw a few ships and it was vise to use his paraffin lamp on daily and regular basis. The five days of fair wind placed Anahita nearly three hundred miles of Durban and then she was stuck in calm. Finally, after nightfall on the 4th, he sighted the glow of Durban’s lights reflected in the clouds. North-easterly wind forced him to hove to for twenty-four hours and he had to wait for two days before he could approach the entrance of the port.

He lowered the mainsail and started the engine, only to have it die 100 yards from the nearest water breaker and strong swell started to carry Anahita towards where the sea was breaking with great force. In no time he hoisted the staysail and foot by foot he managed to reach calmer water inside the bar.

He had plenty of work to do. He had to finish off the rigging, which had not been completed at Reunion. He needed to reshape his stretched mainsail. Only then, on December 2nd, he could leave for Cape Town with the barometer high.

Next day at noon he was 145 miles from Durban, when he had to start getting ready for a hard blow. He sailed closer to the shore, where he got a more favorable condition and made nice progress. He was lucky as, on the 8th, he sighted the loom of the Agulhas light, but before he got abeam the wind rose to 10 on the Beaufort Scale.

He closed all hatches tight and sailed fast with the favorable direction of the wind. He soon had the Cape of Good Hope light abeam and then at Duyker Point, having the wind cut off by the mountains forced him to start the engine. Soon he entered the port, but because of strong squalls he had to anchor Anahita and wait for the winds to ease. The engine was not strong enough to make any progress.

Strong wind prevented Captain Bernicot to go on shore for almost the whole first week in Cape Town. After visiting Table Mountain and filling up with stores, water, and a little petrol he hoisted sail again on January 4th and with a north-west wind he closely cleared Dassen Island the next day. The wind gradually resumed its normal direction between south and south-east and Anahita traveled north at a fair rate, when after the twelfth parallel of latitude all slowed down with calm sea and light wind.

On January 27th he reached Point-Noire after all night fight with the engine, which did not want to start. When he did, the light breeze came as well. Captain Bernicot planned to see his son, who unfortunately had to leave for interior of Gabon and would not return soon.

Captain Bernocot decided to leave during the first few days in March to reach Azores at the end of April. He had plenty of time to spare and was lucky enough to find a real expert who could take a care of his boat. When all was done, the cutter was in excellent shape to face the North Atlantic and on March 2nd Anahita took up once again the course for the open sea.

The passage started well in fine weather and calm sea with steady wind for the first three days. Then, on March 5th, he experienced short tornado which disrupted his fine monsoon for two weeks. When finally, after flashes of lightning on lee side horizon, the wind re-established itself, Anahita started making progress under full sail and on the morning of 28th he crossed the line at about 19 degree 15 minutes west. Only two days later, on March 30,  he crossed his outward route after nineteen months and less then twelve months of actual sailing.

The doldrums are slow for any sailing boat and Anahita was zigzagging north very slowly, but at least she reached the zone of the north-east trades. But only up to 20 degree north, where they were replaced by calms which slowed Anahita to 25-50 miles a day and as the passage was becoming prolonged Captain Bernicot decided to call in at the Azores.

Fifteen days after running out of trade-winds Anahita barely reached the latitude of Madeira. His supply of paraffin was running low but on May 8th Anahita reached the entrance to Fayal Channel and soon the harbor Horta. It was Sunday.

   After a pleasant short stay and with fresh supply for another month Anahita left Horta on May 14th. Fresh wind in harbor died outside and Captain Bernicot barely passed around the western-most point of Sao Jorge as the engine would not start. The light conditions followed Anahita all the way to the European continent. She crossed her early track for second time and then she was struck by storm before landing.

The heavy rain obscured la Coubre at two in the morning. Captain Bernicot could not see the light, but was able to follow the channel from buoy to buoy. Finally at four o’clock on the morning of May 30th, 1938 they reached Le Verdon with 32,010 nautical miles under the keel, averaging about 77 miles during a sailing day or 3.25 knots with LWL of about 34 feet.


Reading Captain Bernicot book I was puzzled by not being able to determine a motive for his voyage. In the book he uses the poem of Reunion’s poet Leon Dierx as explanation of reasons for his voyage. But the poet’s words:

To be alone, to be happy, to forget the universe….
To let the pure breeze blow through the hair,
Far from sinful men and deceitful world
To intoxicate oneself with silence and shade and whispers.

somehow do not go together with his actions. If he had liked to be alone and would like to forget the universe and feel the pure breeze, he would be zigzagging all the oceans for the next 20 years during his retirement and he would not be hurrying to get back to sinful, deceitful and overcrowded Europe.

He knew about achievements of his predecessor and countrymen Alain Gerbault, but he did not read his book. He carefully studied Joshua Slocum book and he knew about the already two times solo-circumnavigator Harry Pidgeon, but it does not seems like he would wish to overachieve theirs success.

He mentioned that he knows a little about Pacific, but it does not look like he would like to discover the world on his own at all. Actually he had only twelve stops during the whole circumnavigation. At many places he hardly went ashore and a few short sightseeing trips at the later part of his voyage and mostly provided by local influential people does not suggest that he was keen to learn about the beauty of the rest of the world.

Captain Bernicot served three years in French Navy and definitively was a proud Frenchman, who did not forget to mention past French achievements in his book. However it does not look like he was going to demonstrate to the world a quality of citizens living under tricolor of French flag.

Bernicot was old school captain who would probably speak with his crew only through his officers. It was a time that when mail came on the ship, a captain would get it first. He would then pick out his letters and the rest he would pass to the first officer, who would then pick up his mail and pass the rest to the second officer, and so on. The last in rank would put the remaining mail on capstan’s head for common crew. The old school captains were real loners, unless their wife accompanied them. They would not mingle with ships crew.

In his book he does not forget to list full names, including titles, of all officials whom he met during his voyage, but not once did he mention even the first name of the many people who really help him or shared with him probably all that they had. When two fishing boat with enthusiastic crew circled Anahita, he recorded in his book: " …without concerning myself with them any more, I returned to my interrupted work, until they finally steamed away…". Well, he was French Captain Bernicot and they only Spanish fishermen. This and many other stories in his book do not support any idea that Captain Bernicot could circumnavigate the world for reasons to met people, to discover other cultures or mingle with anybody else below his rank. He never scrubbed and painted his boat in any port. It was not a Captain’s work.

After serving three years in the French Navy and obligatory nine month service aboard four-masted barque Président Félix Faure he obtained Junior Officer’s certificate and two years later in 1908 when he was 25 years old he received his Master’s Certificate at Bordeaux and immediately joined firm Générale Transatlantique.

He served 14 years on the sea, during which time he received the rank of Captain and then he worked 12 years on shore in an office, before he retired. Definitively he had to miss his old and young sailing days. He was also very familiar with the clipper time of Old Sailing Masters and theirs sailing records as he mentioned in his book. Theirs immortal glory came with good navigation and fast sailing passages. I may be wrong, but I guess that main reason for his fast solo circumnavigation was to reach recognition and glory of Old Sea Masters, something that he did not achieved during his active maritime service at the end of sailing ships era.

In his book, he strikingly often writes about his navigation predictions and their accurate occurrence. The precise time is the necessary base for precise navigation. The Old Master like Joshua Slocum was able to sail around the world with the help of only an old alarm clock. Did Captain Bernicot wanted to show that he is better navigator, writing too many times about his clocks failures and his ability to overcome this problem. He knew Slocum’s book well. On another side, no prudent navigator would leave harbor without checking his navigation clock, something what Captain Bernicot failed to do a few times.

Like everybody else, Captain Bernicot was getting better in handling Anahita with every mile left behind. His sailing performance was improving all the time and then he was writing about it more and more often, listing daily progress, especially good ones. A sailor who want to be only alone and happy would not do so. From experience of my own, only a solo sailor in a race or during some record breaking voyage would pay so much attention to the daily progress. Evidently Captain Bernicot was in race with the performance of old sailing ships and he did well.

He did not achieved great recognition as the Old Sailing Masters did for their fast sailing passages, but his remarkable fast solo circumnavigation was fastest than any one of his predecessors. He closed his solo sailing circumnavigation loop north of equator in less then 12 months of sailing time, something that took a few decades to overdo.

© Richard Konkolski

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