Winning when you lose

Ángel Marroquín

Decades ago, a French sailor participated in the “Golden Globe Race”, the most renowned world-yacht race without stopovers and unmanned. The purpose of the race was to circumnavigate planet earth through the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The race started and ended in Plymouth, England. Our sailor, Bernard Moitessier, kept the lead for most of the competition and was the favourite to win the millionaire prize, the consequent fame and pride of being considered the best sailor in the world. But something happened.

Moitessier was crossing the Cape of Good Hope, southern Africa, for the second time and only one step away from the end. Then, however, he suddenly decided to change his course, and, instead of continuing towards Europe, he riskily turned around and returned to the Indian Ocean, arriving at Tahiti on June 21, 1969. Bernard Moitessier lost the race, but some say he won something else.

What was it that went through his mind on March 18, 1969, and that made Moitessier lose interest in success, money, media recognition, and fame after more than seven months of competition? What does this story have to show us as we enter the most uncertain chapter of a global climate crisis?

Perhaps Moitessier carefully considered all that he had obtained during the long voyage in the middle of the sea: the peace that the movement of the waves made him feel during the long nights on the ocean; the beauty of the wild solitude of the sea; or perhaps, the silver shining of the moon or the magnificence of the horizon. All these things are beautiful, intangible and invisible. Maybe all these things pierced his old being and revealed another being, one much more sensitive and open to other possibilities. Would he, then, be able to put all that aside and return to his old life? Would he be losing everything he had discovered?

However, the risks of returning were many for Moitessier: the provisions left were minimal; what to do if an accident happened before reaching Tahiti? A storm or a mishap with the boat? Wasn’t it wiser to win the race and then return, plenty of time and supplies? But on the other hand, what were the risks of going to England and winning the race? Wouldn’t it be like losing forever the possibility he had in his hands? Life doesn’t usually give second chances anyway.

In our lives, we have all encountered moments like this when we made definitive decisions. We all know these moments in which “there is no turning back”, but Moitessier’s story urges us in another sense: the internal assurance that we feel when we choose with the heart. And in those moments, we opt for the invisible, gratuitous, mysterious, hidden, beautiful things. Those that are “not bought with money” but at the price of something else … What William Blake called the thing that “is sold in the desolate market where no one is going to buy”. Those moments when we choose to take risks, be brave and abandon the cold certainty of economic reason and its calculations.

Today we are surrounded by calculated and tempting options, such as pursuing careers that will lead us to success, glamorous social relationships that promise enjoyment, jobs that promise to nurture every aspect of our lives. News outlets even offer the chance to flag only positive news to ease our confidence in the world. Yet, we are also surrounded by love and loyalties towards invisible things that we cannot buy with money: our attention, our care, our concern, the respect that we give and receive, the memories and beauty that we are capable of giving and receiving, in short, all the things that made the sailor in our story turn the wheel.

In your own life, you can advance to the goal that has been set for you, or you can choose to return and join the group of deserters among whom the name of Bernard Moitessier shines.

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