Route du rhum: the winner of the first edition, Mike Birch, has died

Route du rhum: the winner of the first edition, Mike Birch, has died

Mike Birch was present at the start of the Route du rhum in 2018, in Saint-Malo.

Canadian skipper Mike Birch, winner of the first edition of the Route du rhum, died on Wednesday October 26 at his home in Brec’h (Morbihan) at the age of 90, his family reported.

“He had been declining for several months. He died peacefully that night while he slept.said France Birch, the sailor’s wife.

Read our interview with Mike Birch: “We can regret that there is so much money in sailing”

98 seconds ahead

Mike Birch made sailing history at the age of 47 by winning the first Route du rhum, in 1978, a solo transatlantic race that brings Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine) to Pointe-à-Pitre every four years. (Guadeloupe).

Aboard a small yellow 12 meter multihull (Olympus), the Canadian had beaten the mighty monohull of Frenchman Michel Malinovsky to win with a lead of just 98 seconds, after more than twenty-three days of racing.

This David versus Goliath victory confirmed the superiority of multihulls over monohulls in ocean racing. He also revealed this atypical runner, shy, of great kindness and modesty.

“He is really the person who forged the legend of the Rum Route. (…) He was a lover of the sea who wanted to stay free”reacted Hervé Favre, president of OC Sport, organizer of the race.

Mike Birch was congratulated by Sports Minister Jean-Pierre Soisson when he won the Route du Rum in 1978.

late passion

Mike Birch was born on the 1Ahem November 1931 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it was quite late when this former rodeo cowboy discovered a passion for boating.

In 1976, at the age of 44, he took off from the English Transat, aboard third turtle, the smallest trimaran in the fleet, designed by American Dick Newick. At the helm of this 9.75 meter multihull, Mike Birch will take second place behind Frenchman Eric Tabarly and his monohull. Duick VI Ballpoint Pen 22 meters

Mike Birch, whose slim figure and bald head quickly became famous among sailors around the world, slowly built up an impressive list of achievements, taking part in every Route du rhum until 2002 (he was ninth at the age of 71! years!). He would finish third in 1982, fourth in 1986 and 1990.

World champion in ocean racing in 1991 and 1992, he established himself as one of the rare foreigners to beat the French, who monopolized the event alone after Eric Tabarly’s victory in the 1976 English Transat.

Also read: Sailing: François Gabart and the Ultime class, the epilogue of a “war” in ocean racing

Gold seeker

Mike Birch sailed for about sixty years, but “gold digger was my first job”told the French sports daily The team before the start of the Rum Route 2014. ” Not long. It was an interesting job even though I did not earn much money! »

Until last year, he lived between Brittany and his chalet in Gaspé, Quebec, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, with a Jack Russell named Lucie as his only companion. His health condition deteriorated, his wife brought him back in July 2021 to his Breton house.. “Before that, despite his age, he kept sailing” with a small monocoque called Dollyher mother’s nickname, France Birch explained.

The “Dictionary of Nautical Love”, as a hollow self-portrait

Loïck Peyron will have spent almost three years there and will have put a lot of heart into it. Of him too -hollow self-portrait- and of all those whom he crossed paths with and whom he admired, beginning with his father, Hervé, alias Le Commandant (he was commander of the merchant navy) and his uncle, Jean-Yves Terlain. In its Sailing Lovers Dictionary (Plon), we will also find Mike Birch, his Jedi master, who taught him the school of flexibility and cane (as opposed to the oak embodied by Eric Tabarly), Jean-Baptiste Le Vaillant, Alain Gautier, Florence Arthaud, alias Mimine, or even Loïck Fougeron, who, by dint of sacrifice, managed to break into the closed circle of the Cape Horners, and who made him want to add a “k” to his first name. In a good place also many architects, to whom Loïck Peyron pays a strong tribute.

Sailing Lovers Dictionaryby Loïck Peyron (Plon, 544 pages, 26 euros).

The world with AFP

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