Going south, south, south. It’s my current obsession. I have to make it to Cape Agulhas, which marks the entrance to the Indian Ocean but the conditions aren’t favorable to my fellow competitors and I. The first racers went by like rockets but for us, the Saint Helena High stretches and we are dragging ourselves towards this Indian Ocean we desire as much as we fear it. For 3 days, I have been sailing as close to the wind as I can. The boat is on its side, hits the waves and everything is drenched, it is of the worst appearance. I live in a washing machine and every mile is a hard-fought deal. Within less than 48h, a depression will pluck us up. It will be the first real storm of this Vendée Globe. Waves swell around the world without ever meeting any obstacle.
I would love to say that everything is going for the best, but I would be lying. Where I am now, cheating is out of the question. I have a huge step to overcome to reach the southern seas. It is even bigger than I imagined but I decided to tackle it, in my own way. Still, “all’s well aboard”, as we say.
To be in this situation, I could have signed with both hands before the departure. The boat doesn’t have any damage and is ready for the southern seas. The positioning is also ideal because I am in touch with the fleet. The ranking still does not interest me but I am surrounded by great sailors and nothing is more reassuring. The problem comes from me and has a name: exhaustion. It’s a bit less rational than a material break or an injury, but it might be the greatest danger I will have to face. My lack of sleep increases day by day and it’s a vicious cycle. The less I sleep, the more irritated I get and… the less I sleep. It’s like tossing and turning in bed but the anxiety is compounded by the situation. This boat is so demanding! The slightest glitch can become a mountain of problems and exhaustion is a multiplying factor.
I am each time more aware, with this Vendée Globe, to have pulled a tiger by the tail. I am torn between keen seamanship, which dictates the highest caution, and this audacity that carried me all the way up to here. Last night I was able to sleep for four hours – it’s a lot – and my morale returned. I have the willingness to fight to make it with only one limit: I refuse to put myself in danger, or worse, to put other racing boats in danger.
This extreme situation allows me to realize to what extent this message about differences carries me as much as I carried it. Thanks to this adventure, I touched more people in one year and a half than in fifteen years of sailing in a team. It’s my first success and if I find the motivation today, it is to carry this message that is dear to my heart a little further.
20,000 miles are between the Sables d’Olonne and me. It’s huge but I will cover it one mile at a time. One thing that is for sure, is that it will carry me farther than I have ever been.
Eric Bellion, 1st December 2016
Initially published in La Croix