Laurent SAINT-CYR: a life of freedom (1st part: childhood and youth)

Laurent St Cyr, born in 1960, has always lived in the shade of a boat, in a dynamic of resourcefulness. His father was already the manager of the Club de Voile de Lyon (Lyon’s Sailing Club), at the lake named Le Grand Large (The Open Sea) in the Miribel-Jonage Park. In addition to his other activity as a cook at Rhône-Poulenc Pharmeceutical Company, the father, helped by the mother who took care of maintaining order, himself built an Optimist (small dinghy often used for initiation but also for competition) for his son, in addition to the family house. Mr St Cyr senior, nicknamed Le Tabarly lyonnais [1]Eric Tabarly was a French sailor and Navy officer, from Nantes, who won many trans-oceanic races in the local press, was a self-made man gifted with strong creativity.

But the dad had a dream: to go out to sea. But it was his son who would bring him to realize it.

At the age of 18, the son Laurent arrives to the French A-level examination, without conviction in his own words. The National Education examiners confirm the lack of conviction. It doesn’t matter! Our modern Ulysses is already working, like his father at his age: he restores houses in the evenings and weekends and is grateful to School for providing him with a place to rest a little between two building sites. All the while continuing to sail, of course: Laurent arrives at 30th place in national competition, in Optimist class.

The School not having succeeded in seducing him, the Army takes over and summons him for the National Service: in front of his nautical results, an intelligent recruiter sends him as a sailing instructor to Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, in the harbor of Toulon. Laurent teaches his passion to apprentice sailors, under the Mediterranean sun, while creating a spirit of camaraderie with his colleagues despite the personal difficulties of some (one had been abused, younger, and compensated by alcohol). Alas, institutional hierarchy and discipline seem to be foreign and incomprehensible notions for Laurent who only understands the words skills, respect for others (whatever the position held), adaptation, resourcefulness, freedom, humor, humility and frankness. Without personal means of locomotion, he uses the resort’s small motorbike – a Dax – to go and see a young lady from Toulon who has been able to charm him like a mermaid. But one day, or rather one night because it was 3:00 am, he gets caught and arrested for 15 days. Another time, to defend a comrade, he takes part in a somewhat alcoholic brawl: another 15 days. Laurent’s remark: We haven’t stopped messing around!

To top it off, on the last day of his service, he refused to salute an officer: St Cyr was summoned. The site manager questions the latter and concludes, smiling: Anyway, it is better for everyone that you leave now.

Released from his military obligations, Laurent finally left the harbor of Toulon and set sail in October 1981 aboard the Monte-Carlo, a beautiful sailboat (Plan Mauric) anchored in Marseille. While others are forced to pay high in order to live their dream of escape, Laurent is accommodated and fed on board. Heading: Martinique!

But once on the island, Ulysses is faced with the galley: alone and no odd jobs in sight! Fortunately, he soon found a job as a skipper, assisted by a hostess, to bring tourists to the West Indies. Between two cruises, he cleans a pretty 26-meter yacht in a shipyard. Then, Laurent finds a conveying mission at the end of the Martinican tourist season: it is about bringing back a garbage boat, an Amphora in very poor condition, to a salary of 10,000 F at the time[2]((Today, this would be equivalent to a sum of € 3,836 or F 25,091 at the date of January 1, 2020. Cf : INSEE. In short: a good salary for a dangerous mission. Indeed, the problems do not take long to arrive: the sails have made at least the last two world wars and the engine, after ten days, stubborn as a donkey, does not want to start! More motor means more electricity, that is to say more electronic instrumentation (gonio, radio transmitter, etc.). Welcome to the sextant, as before! However, the sextant, if it does not need current to function, on the other hand requires an apparent sun (or stars) to determine its position. Problem: on the Atlantic, the sky is sometimes blocked and Laurent narrowly misses the island of Madeira! If he had continued, he would have ended up in West Africa: not quite the shortest route back to Toulon.

Arrived at destination, our sailor returns, like Ulysses after a beautiful trip, to his parents [3]Joachim du Bellay, Happy he who like Ulysses…. There, he is looking for work but can’t find any.

Following the adventures of Laurent next week.

(Cover photo: Laurent Saint-Cyr in deep thought, at the helm, under a good breeze after a departure from the Canaries).


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