Yann Quénet’s essential sailing: small boat, big adventure!

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At 53, Breton sailor Yann Quénet has just completed a 3-year solo round-the-world voyage aboard a self-built micro boat of just 4 meters. Now he is planning a new version to repeat the feat, this time also exploring the seas of the Great North.

Ocean sailing has always forced sailors to take on board the essentials and disembark the superfluous. And even on today’s increasingly technological and automated boats, the fine balance between reduced resources and wisdom in managing them is still effective. Some globetrotters, however, take this essential sail to extremes, turn it into forced, self-conscious minimalism, and give up any idea of comfort. They do this because they believe that in this hypertrophied, super-connected and increasingly controlled society, it is the only way to experience true adventure. The most direct, the most romantic, and the most sustainable.

So thinks 53-year-old Breton sailor Yann Quénet, who after completing a solo round-the-world voyage on a mere 4-meter hull that was completely self-built, now wants to start again with an even more extreme route to high latitudes. And to do so, he went back to the barn at home to build a new micro boat that is more maneuverable, transportable and self-sufficient. “Small means, big adventure” is the motto of this gentleman with an unkempt beard, a woolen hat socked on his head, and sparkling eyes who discovered sailing late in life. In fact very late. Suffice it to say that he began to pull his first self-taught edges only a few months before he set out on his venture.

Photo by DAMIEN MEYER / AFP)

A small shell, indeed a “bundle”

It was June 2019. He had zero knowledge, but clear ideas and a great desire to have fun, travel and explore the world from the bottom up. Without money, without selfies, in complete anonymity and making do with little, adapting to everything and living intensely every moment of that experience. Nor did a first attempt that failed miserably off the Azores, with him in his underwear on the capsized boat being rescued by a cargo ship, prompt him to give up. He named his small boat Baluchon, meaning “bundle,” after those of wayfarers. And he after the shipwreck that pile of essentials recovered it and repaired it to start again.

And so he cast off again, almost quietly, from the port of Le Légué to Saint Brieuc, the town where he was born. And he went back to the adventure on that little walnut wooden “scow,” built with his own hands and costing just 4,000 euros. On board was only a smartphone that he used as a Gps and charged with a small solar panel. Few provisions, such as canned sardines, cans of dumplings and Chinese noodles, fruit in syrup. And then water stowed in large bottles. A sleeping mat and stop.

Yann Quénet

Slow pace, many encounters and some thrills

By sailing at his own pace and stopping at a few ports of call to work to replenish the galley, Yann Quénet has grinded out more than 30,000 miles in three years. Caribbean, South America, Polynesia, New Caledonia, Reunion Island, South Africa, Brazil, the Azores, and then back to Brittany, where he landed in August 2022. In between so much ocean, so many encounters with other sailors, local people, curious onlookers who visited fascinated and appalled that improbable sailing shell of hers. During the sailings, the longest the one between New Caledonia and Reunion, 77 days without any contact with human being, Yann read, listened to music, but also to the sounds of the boat, the bumps, the vibrations, the sound of the wind pushing his tiny sail.

Of course, he also experienced hard times. Between Brazil and the Azores, he and his Baluchon were caught in a tornado in the so-called “Doldrums,” an intertropical convergence zone in the Atlantic. Then an electrical failure forced him to invent a makeshift wind-powered steering system, assembled from onboard equipment and christened “Bébert.” But the discoveries, the smiles, and the beautiful moments of his long journey got the better of the difficult days. So much so that once he returned home he immediately went back to work building a new boat.

Yann Quénet

Clear ideas for “Baluchon 2”

In its new version, Baluchon 2, as Yann christened it, has the same lines as the original design, but is 20 centimeters longer and will have a number of modifications to improve its performance and portability. The budget will also be slightly higher: 6,000 euros. New solutions include a double lifting keel (each with 60 kg bulb) and a retractable rudder with a more curved shape. In addition to making it easier to carry the boat, these modifications should in the Breton sailor’s idea improve the trajectory under sail, in short, reduce the “zigzag” effect and make less unnecessary way.

Yann Quénet also plans to greatly reduce the surface area of the portholes on the deck to achieve better insulation from the cold and heat that the adventurer is sure to encounter on his new journey around the world. As for rigging, the skipper opted for a slightly smaller sail with a bit more volume at the top, thanks to a flexible “sprit” that wraps around the collapsible mast. While at the stern a rod will allow it to raise the antenna for the Ais signal and raise the navigation light a little higher. Two very important safety features on such a small boat.

Yann Quénet

An eye for the environment and the lure of the Great North

Few changes, however, in the interior, where Yann has planned a small niche in which he will install his mattress. A way to get some comfort by being as low as possible to the roll and increase headroom a little more. As for finally construction, which is expected to begin in the spring of 2023, the sailor-designer would like to use a process that is more virtuous for the planet. The hull will be made of plywood, while the deck will be made of PET foam recycled from bottle caps. Instead, lamination will focus on basalt fiber. And for the bottom of the boat, the designer thought of a large PU foam, like that used by surfboard shapers. This method, besides the advantage of better flotation, will make construction easier and save him a lot of time.

With his new boat, Yann Quénet is looking forward to a new adventure around the planet. This time the intention is to take an even more extreme trajectory, punctuated by a long stop in the ice of the Great North. Basically, once it crosses the Atlantic, it intends to push into the high latitudes. There are two options: along the East Coast to reach Labrador or along the West Coast of the United States to reach British Columbia. It is scheduled to start in the summer of 2024.

Meanwhile, the French navigator published an account of the first trip entitled “Around the World with My Baluchon.” And we bet that reading those pages will inspire many other “minimalist” vocation sailors like him. Definitely dreamers, maybe a little crazy, but still great sailors.

 

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