Bernard Moitessier

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Bernard Moitessier was a French sailor who decided, when about to win a single-handed round-the-world yacht race in 1968 — the one with Donald Crowhurst — to hang it all and go round the world again. Eventually settled on an atoll near Tahiti. Hw wrote a memoir of the experience called The Long Way, which is also to be memorialised in Stewart Brand’s forthcoming The Maintenance Race.

When Bernie and Klaus went sailing

Moitessier’s the sort of extreme personality who might have got on — or might not have got on — with Klaus Kinski, you rather think. Imagine if they met!

Well, sure enough, they did — they sailed together, to Mexico, of course — and a characteristic trail of destruction ensued.

In December 1982, Kinski chartered Moitessier and his yacht Joshua to help prepare for a forthcoming role in a sailing film.

While the pair were anchored off the beach at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico a freak onshore storm blew up, Joshua dragged her anchor, collided with another yacht, lost her mast, and then beached along with 25 other yachts, eventually filling with sand.

Moitessier spent days trying to dig her out but the salvage costs were too great, so sold her as a wreck for $20.

We’d like to think the “sailing film” Kinski was preparing for was Fitzcarraldo but, alas, the dates don’t quite match (Fitzcarraldo was released nine months before the accident) and it seems that Kinski never made his sailing film. But the story of how the accident happened is deserves a film of its own.

Moitessier’s official story, repeated in his autobiography, is that as the storm blew up and he struggled to save the situation, Kinski became quarrelsome, Moitessier order him off the boat, Kinski refused to go — well, you can just imagine, can’t you. Did Moitessier pull a flare-gun on him?

The reality, as retold by Charles Doane,[1] was that when Lyn and Larry Pardey fetched up in Cabo San Lucas to cover the incident for Sail Magazine, Moitessier admitted that he and Kinski had been up in a hotel room “partying their brains out” while the Joshua was driven ashore untended, but later managed to persuade them to go with the fictional account, which makes much better copy![2]

They don’t make ’em like that any more. Either of them.

(Happy ending: the Joshua was fully restored and is now berthed at the Maritime Museum in La Rochelle.)

See also


  1. Bernard Moitessier: What really happened to the Joshua
  2. The Pardeys later set the record straight in the chapter “What happened at Cabo St Lucas?” in The Capable Cruiser (1987)