The long Way (excerpt) by Bernard Moitessier

Bernard Moitessier sailed single handed around the world in 1969 and published his accounts of this trip in 1971 in the book “The long Way”.  This description comes from this book.

Moitessier was a very seasoned sailor when he undertook the single handed round the world challenge in 1969.  He opted out of the race to continue to travel round the world with the roaring forties.

This story finds him on 48 degrees south heading East planning to bypass the Stewart Island reefs at the southern tip of New Zealand to the South.

He tells this tale:

I hear the familiar porpoise whistling and hurry out on deck.  I find a tight line of 25 porpoises,  (more than I have ever seen at once ).  They are in a tight line swimming abreast from stern to stem on the starboard side, then in three breathes the whole group veers right and rushes off at right angles.

I watch wonderstruck, they do the same thing more than ten times.

The whole sea rings with their whistling: they are obviously obeying some precise command.  They seem nervous too, as they are not playing with the bow wave as they usually do.

Something pulls me, something pushes me – I look at the compass.  I am running straight for the Stewart Islands, hidden in the stratus.  The wind has shifted without me realising it.  We are certainly no more than 15 miles from the Stewart Island rocks.

I change course and see as many porpoise as before, but now they play with my boat fanned out ahead, in single file alongside swimming with their usual lithe, athletic  movements.  Then something wonderful happens: a big black porpoise jumps 10 or12 feet in the air in a fantastic two role somersault.  He lands flat with his tail forward and repeats this two more times bursting with tremendous joy as if he were shouting at me and all the other porpoises “the man understood  – keep on like that, it is all clear ahead.”

The porpoises keep with the boat for two hours when normally they only stayed with us for a quarter of an hour at a time.

They suddenly leave all at once, except that two stay behind for another three hours: a total of five hours.  They swim as if a little bored, one to the right an the other to the left of  the boat.  They are about three yards from the boat setting their speed by that of the boat.

I have never seen anything like that before.  Porpoises have never kept me company  that long.  I am sure that these two porpoises were ordered to stay with me until my boat was absolutely out of danger”.

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Editor’s remarks

This description comes from a sailor who was very experienced and had many sea miles behind him.  Moitessier was no dreamer, yet he reports this amazing event that underlines that amazing interaction between man and nature, that we seem so often to ignore and this site tries to investigate and publish.

If you have any stories like this I should like to publish them.

Richard Nissen

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