Father and son regale Greenwich crowd with tale of their sail

January 31, 2019 GMT

GREENWICH — They endured cold days at sea, a torn sail and lukewarm pasta — but it was all worth for a father-and-son team from Old Greenwich who spent 11 months taking part in an around-the-world sailing race.

Memories of the familiar Long Island Sound faded as they joined the crew on the Sanya Serenity Coast for 2017-18 Clipper Round The World Race. And after 45,000 miles of navigation that took them through six oceans, they finished the eight-leg competition in grand style, taking home the first place honors.

The father-and-son duo shared their experiences with the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich on Wednesday morning, speaking to an audience made up of many casual and experienced sailors.

“It was one of the best moments of my life and Victor’s when we had that trophy,” Benoit Andart said.

He charted the details of the race, which began in Liverpool, England, and ended there nearly a year later. Benoit Andart was part of the crew for all eight legs and 13 individual races. His son, Victor, took part in three legs and five of the races.

“Victor was not supposed to join on the race, but ... he told me he had quit his job. So I said, since he was free, why not join me?” Ansart said. “He went back to England first for the training and joined us in Australia. It was great to have him on the boat.”

Setting sail from Liverpool with 11 other boats, the 70-foot Sanya Serenity Coast traveled an epic journey. The crew sailed south past the equator, sailing in the Atlantic, down to Brazil and Uruguay. From there, they sailed to South Africa, ending up in Capetown, and continued on in stages around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Indian Ocean toward Australia, where they spent Christmas.

The race route then took them north, crossing the equator again, and traveling all the way to China. For months, the journey continued, taking all the boats around Japan and across the Northern Pacific all the way to Seattle.

“That was the long way around,” Ansart said. “Nothing but the birds, waves and the ocean.”

From Seattle, they went south to Panama, crossing through the Panama Canal, and sailing into the Caribbean, and then into the Atlantic as they made their way to New York. From there, it was across the Atlantic to Northern Ireland and, finally, Liverpool.

Each stop along the way was for seven to 10 days, giving everyone a chance to rest, make vessel repairs and, especially important, get a shower.

Throughout the eight legs of the competition, many races were held. When they did the first race into Uruguay, the crew finished first in 32 days — 10 hours ahead of any other vessel, Ansart said. But they didn’t win because another crew lost their skipper to an injury, When a replacement was found, that crew was given two-and-a-half days of additional time and with the wind in their favor, that crew ended up with a better overall time than the Sanya Serenity Coast.

The fickle nature of the wind was a challenge throughout the race. Victor Ansart described how a lack of wind in China made it difficult to get to Japan.

“It took us so long we actually started rationing on Day Three to make sure we had enough food to get in,” he said. “The worst part about the race is about three days before finishing, we ran out of natural gas, which was the only way we could cook on board. Not only did we really not have much food as we rationed, but we ran out of ways to heat up our Ramen pasta.”

Eventually, they figured out they could heat up their food on the engine — resulting in days of serving “tepid tea and lukewarm pasta.”

Another challenge came when the sail was heavily damaged while they were in the Atlantic. They had to more than 90 feet of the sail — all while the boat was still moving.

“You’ve got to somehow tape the sail back together and then sew it back together,” Victor Ansart said. “Sewing the sail while the boat is at 45 degrees and you’re bouncing all over is very difficult. You have to tie the sewing machine to the side and tie yourself to the side and somehow do it without getting your hand caught in the sewing machine. It’s definitely not OSHA approved.”

Other obstacles were out there, too. Benoit Ansart discussed sailing near the coast of Korea, where it was very cold and very hard to see at night. The waters were filled with fishing boats, which have the right of way.

“We had to go around, and we had to be very careful,” he said. “We caught a few fishing nets and had to cut them and keep going.”

One audience member asked Victor Ansart whether they were ever scared, especially in the choppy waters around Russia.

“When you’re on the deck, there’s many things to do and so many things to focus on that you really don’t have time to be scared,” he said. “You just have to do it step by step. It’s only when you come off watch and you go to bed and try to sleep that it kind of hits you.”

Ansart, an avid sailor since he was a child in France, said that joining a crew for this race was on his “bucket list.”

But he hasn’t stopped sailing. Ansart goes out on Long Island Sound whenever he can, even during the winter. Every weekend, he races out of the Riverside Yacht Club, where he is a member.

The presentation from the Ansarts earned a big ovation from the crowd. After watching several of their videos from the race, particularly the challenges of the waters near Russia, RMA member Horst Tebbe asked the audience whether they had come around to his way of thinking.

“I always have trouble convincing non-sailors that sailing is a physical sport. I want to know from the audience if you’re all convinced now,” Tebbe said, getting a big laugh from the audience.