Friday, April 2, 2010

The Berque Twins, by Creed O'Hanlon

Guest contributor Creed O'Hanlon with a follow on story to his last contribution:

A Poetic Pair

Forty years ago, French voyaging wasn't about record-breaking or even about reaching a particular destination: it was the thing itself. Knox-Johnston was, by his own admission, adamant that an Englishman, not a bloody foreigner, would be the first to sail al
one and non-stop around the world but Moitessier's motives were less clear: more than anything, he just wanted to be at sea, to become one with it for however long his boat, his supplies and his psyche could hold out. This attitude, expressed in the poetic, stream-of-consciousness prose that distinguishes French writing on the sea, is apparent in the published accounts of Alain Gerbault, Marin-Marie, Jean Gau, Jean Lacombe, Eric de Bisschop and later, Gerard Janichon and Guy Bernardin. Despite being highly skilled seamen, they tended to focus on translating the inner experience of ocean sailing rather than the prosaic, day-to-day log of external incidents, punctuated by useful technical information, preferred by the English. Even the emotionally lean, highly disciplined ex-naval officer, Eric Tabarly, – arguably, with Moitessier, the greatest French sailor of the 20th century – couldn't avoid cutting loose in his writing from time to time.
I'd never heard of Emmanuel and Maximilien Berque until I came across a link to one of their videos on Thomas Nielsen's Wharram-oriented blog. It took nine minutes, the time needed to view an excerpt from their award-winning documentary, Inside Outside, on YouTube, to realise that they were the natural inheritors of Moitessier's spiritual mantle. Identical twins, born 58 years ago in Morocco, they spent their early twenties in France where they were among the first to surf – and photograph – the various banks and point breaks along the east coast of the Bay of Biscay. In the early Eighties, they built a 4.8 metre trimaran daysailer in plywood and dubbed it Micromegas I. With little sailing experience but an interest in celestial navigation, they set off for the Canary Islands, west of Morocco, in what became a gruelling series of stormy coastal and offshore passages. They spent over a year living in the open air on the tiny vessel. Not surprisingly, it put them off sailing for another decade. Then, in 1995, they designed and built a beautiful, strip-planked, lug-sail ketch, Micromegas II, just four-metres long. They sailed it – without engine, electronics or basic safety equipment – first across the Atlantic, from the French beachside town of Contis, to Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, then to Miami, Florida. In 2003, two years after their account of this voyage, Les Mutins De La Mer, became a minor best-seller in France, they did it again. They designed and built a strip-planked, 6.5-metre, lugsail schooner-rigged proa (pictured above, centre), Micromegas III, weighing just 300 kgs. With even less equipment – this time, leaving compasses, sextant, watch, almanac, nautical tables, radios and GPS ashore – they set off from the Canaries towards the small island of La Desirade in the Carribean, relying only on the sun, moon, stars and swell direction to guide them. 27 days later, their landfall was perfect. Inside Outside follows this pair of laid-back, aging surfer dudes – turned film-makers – as they undertake what is, by any measure, one of the truly extraordinary small sailboat voyages of the past century. Always in tune with the sea, despite the obvious discomfort of their vessel, they're so damn cheerful and at such ease, even under pressure, that it's tempting to dismiss them as reckless. They aren't. They just have a loose, joyous empathy – typical of surfers – with the ocean's mutable environment, underpinned by a zen-like willingness to abandon the usual human impulse to try to exert a semblance of control over it.I can't help but envy their... soul.
(Incidentally, check out the Berques' library of personal photographs. Like James Wharram, with whom they appear to have something of a Sixties' philosophical kinship, the Berque twins aren't shy about showing nude images – emphatically NSFW – of some of the women who distract them between and during voyages. The Berques' friends win hands down when it comes to sex appeal – probably another essential difference between the French and the English.) Above: All photos by Emmanuel and Maximilien Berque

1 comment:

doryman said...

I discovered these guys a few years back and wondered at their propensity to find such attractive crew.
Their most recent Micromegas is a beautiful dory and truly a work of art. VERY talented men.