Ottawa sailor quits job, embarks on non-stop solo voyage around the globe

Ottawa sailor Chris Fournier is one day away from becoming the fourth Canadian-born sailor to embark on a challenging, dangerous journey: a non-stop solo sailing trip around the world.

'It's a huge separation from the rest of the world,' Chris Fournier says

Ottawa sailor Chris Fournier performs a few final inspections before he sets out on an attempted round-the-world journey. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Five hundred litres of water. One hundred and sixty gigabytes' worth of music. And one trusty sextant.

Those are just a few of the vital necessities Ottawa sailor Chris Fournier has packed for the next 300 days as he plans to accomplish something no Canadian-born sailor has done before: sail non-stop, alone, around the globe.

(Many readers have been quick to point out to CBC Ottawa that Canadian-born Joshua Slocum was the first person to sail around the globe alone in the 1890s, but his was not a non-stop trip. He completed the journey over the course of more than three years. Fournier won't be stopping.)

"It's a huge separation from the rest of the world," said Fournier in an interview Sunday afternoon at the Nepean Sailing Club. "So yeah, it's going to be interesting to see what happens."

On Aug. 9, Fournier will begin his journey down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal on his 41-year-old boat Little Sark, stay there for a few nights, then make his way to Halifax harbour, which should take about two weeks.

The journey officially begins in Halifax, and Fournier's plan is to head south across the Atlantic to South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, then sail eastward through the Indian Ocean, past Australia and New Zealand, and up around the southernmost tip of South America.

For at least 300 days, these two rooms on the Little Sark will serve as Chris Fournier's bedroom and living quarters. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The trip should take about 300 days minimum, he says, and possibly as much as "a year, a year and a bit."

"The next time I actually set foot on land will be Halifax again," says Fournier. "If everything goes correctly."

Fourth time a charm?

Things haven't gone correctly, however, for the previous Canadian sailors who've attempted the perilous voyage. There have been three previous attempts, Fournier notes, all of which ended unsuccessfully.

Two sailors had their boats damaged by the elements, says Fournier, and were forced to abandon their non-stop trips. A third, Montreal sailor Gerry Roufs, disappeared in the South Pacific Ocean in January 1997 during the annual Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race.

Anything can go wrong at any time ... And so you just have to be ready for anything.- Chris Fournier, Ottawa sailor

Roufs's body was never found — a clear sign, Fournier says, of the danger he'll be facing on his voyage.

"[It's] massive. I mean, even the first time they went around in the '60s, they didn't know if people were going to stay sane — let alone [manage] the waves and the storms and everything else," he says.

"Anything can go wrong at any time. Because you're solo, you still have to sleep at some point. So you can hit something when you're not on deck. And so you just have to be ready for anything."

Understandably, Fournier's not sure how he's going to handle nearly a year's worth of isolation, although he does say he's generally good with being alone. As a cheeky going-away present, his friends and former colleagues — Fournier quit his job ahead of the voyage — bought and signed a Wilson-brand volleyball, the same volleyball that kept actor Tom Hanks sane in the 2000 film Cast Away.

Chris Fournier's friends and colleagues signed this Wilson volleyball as a sendoff gift — a cheeky reference to the 2000 Tom Hanks film Cast Away. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

At least Fournier won't be totally cut off from the modern world: he's planning to document his trip online with daily reports, using 360-degree video and binaural audio technology to give visitors to his website a visceral experience of the seafaring life. The Little Sark is equipped with a pair of solar panels to help power that technology.

And if anything does go wrong, Fournier has no plans to go down with his ship: he's also invested in an inflatable kayak, equipped with a sail and a rudder, on which he'll ride out any danger.

"If I do have to be rescued," he says, "I'd like to rescue myself."

Ottawa sailor Chris Fournier says that "if everything goes correctly" once he departs Halifax, he won't touch land again for at least another 300 days. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)