Some sailors know Yves Gelinas as the nice guy behind the counter at boat shows selling Cape Horn windvanes, modeled on the windvane he built in 1981 for a world circumnavigation. Alberg 30 sailors know Yves as an icon because he made this voyage on Jean-du-Sud, his Alberg 30, after making some modifications to strengthen the hull and rig. Some know Yves as the famous Canadian from Quebec who set out to circumnavigate non-stop and to set a record with the smallest vessel to round Cape Horn. Others know him as a successful filmmaker and the winner of numerous awards for his full-length video, With Jean-du-Sud Around the World.
All the legends about Yves Gelinas are true. Yet he is very modest about his accomplishments. If you haven’t seen the film, take the time to locate and watch a copy. What’s new these days is the English translation of the book Yves wrote about his preparations and journey. Titled Jean-du-Sud and the Magick Byrd, it has been available in French for years (first published in 1986), but only recently translated by Karen Caruana with the publication assistance of sailors Andy Shell and Mia Karlsson, founders of 59 North.
In case you wondered, “the Magick Byrd” is Yves’ way of putting into words his belief in something greater than himself that brings about the serendipitous well-timed but unplanned events that make his journey possible and help him let go of the stress when the going gets rough. His book, written in log format, describes the ongoing struggle to prepare the boat, acquire funding for the project, and deal with isolation at sea and long absences from his two daughters.
Life at sea and even beforehand is a series of ups and downs as Yves navigates the delays and just-in-time arrivals of equipment at the boatyard, wastes time chasing unpromising sponsorships only to get just enough to proceed at the last minute, deals with film equipment that works beautifully but is sometimes broken or lost overboard, and experiences intense loneliness followed by a wonderful sense of peace as the days and weeks meld together. He did not complete the intended non-stop circumnavigation due to a dismasting, but Yves’ story is perhaps stronger for the setbacks he experienced along the way, the repairs he made, and the kindness of friends and strangers he met.
I always say that you should read the book before you see a movie. But in this case the film came out long before the book (at least the English version) and it’s not wrong to see the video before learning more of the details about the background behind it. In fact, I recommend both the film and the book in either order.
Jean-du-Sud and the Magick Byrd by Yves Gelinas, translated by Karen Caruana (59 North, 2017; 169 pages).