Ali Wood meets the oldest skipper on the ARC+ and gets some top tips on finding the perfect crew
“I was born in 1935; you tell me how old that makes me? Age is just a label,” says French skipper Christian Lotthé onboard his 41ft Beneteau, Namaste.
Chris will turn 88 when he arrives in Grenada after his Atlantic crossing.
The number is significant, not because it’s his age, but because it’s his fundraising target – the €88,000 he wants to raise to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
“I was shocked when I saw this big country – the second army of the world – invading a little one, it’s like David and Goliath. It reminded me of what I have seen as a child,” he says. “For me, it is a time to do things for other people, not just grieve for them; it’s called nyingjé in Tibetan, which means active compassion.”
Chris will use the money to supply devastated Ukrainian villages with heating and electricity.
“We will transform all this money to material goods, to the exact penny, because we have no cost. We are going to take it direct to the village,” he explains.
Chris sets sail this Sunday from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to Port Louis, Grenada, via the volcanic archipelago of Cape Verde. The voyage is expected to take around three weeks.
Sadly Chris’s British wife Alison, with whom he’s sailed for many years, won’t be joining him, as she injured herself learning to ride a tricycle.
“It’s difficult when you’ve been riding a bike with two wheels for many years to not put your feet down on a trike,” says Chris. “Alison is my age. She couldn’t sail when I met her but she adapted very quickly. She’s a very good sailor.”
Although missing his wife, Chris is pleased to be doing the 3,000-mile crossing with friend Marie-Caroline along with his accordion teacher and Parisian entrepreneur Dimitri Boyard, whom he met on French crew finding website, Vogavecmoi.
Coup de foundre
It was a pairing both describe as, ‘Coup de foundre’ – literally, a thunderbolt or lightning strike, but used figuratively in French to describe love at first sight.
Dim has given up his job, and said goodbye to family and friends to join his girlfriend, a fellow Parisian, in Mexico, where they plan to start a new life.
“We’ve been separated already for four months which is hard,” he says. “This voyage combines my dream of crossing the Atlantic with the opportunity to use a boat to get there.”
After meeting Chris online Dim caught the train to Chris and Alison’s home in central France and stayed the night. The following day they shook hands and agreed to sail together. Dim felt straight away that Chris was the right skipper for him.
“I just thought he is a good man. I liked his profile, I liked that he is an old man and experienced,” he says. “He is very kind, generous and humble. He likes to share his experiences and he likes good things too – red wine and eating.”
Generations don’t count
Chris felt the same instant connection to Dim. Although the young Parisian had worked as a skipper, and was used to renting boats and working with people, it was the ‘feeling’ that mattered, says Chris.
“It was not a challenge choosing Dim because you feel brotherly. To me, generations don’t count. We had a few talks and I just felt he was the right person, and Alison felt the same. Some people are good at it. Another fellow came and I was impressed by his knowledge, his savoir, but not attracted to him. Really it’s about feelings.”
There was no time for the men to sail together in France – “I’m a Parisian, I never have time!” says Dim. “I had some companies; two in events and one in buildings.”
Chris and Marie-Caroline left Bormes, in the port Favière, in August 2023 for Alicante, where they were joined by Dim and his younger brother. The four of them sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Canary Islands.
“We were a little bit concerned about going from the Mediterranean to the ocean for two reasons,” says Chris. “The first one was the waves – up and down, and boats coming and going in both directions. The second was the orcas. Dimitri’s brother’s boat was sunk by orcas not far from the place we crossed along Portugal. I invited him along because statistically we couldn’t be sunk again if his brother already had been!”
It turned out to be a great decision. They made it with their rudder fully intact (no orca encounters) and the two brothers turned out to be, in Chris’s words, ‘exceptional crew’.
It’s no surprise that Chris’s voyage so far has been harmonious. He has several ocean passages under his belt including a crossing from Panama to Tahiti that took 33 days.
“I was crew then, it was less responsibility, very easy for me!” he recalls.
He’s also sailed in the North Sea, southern England, the Channel Islands, Ireland, the Aegean and the Black Sea – sometimes alone, but with crew whenever possible.
Skipper at 12
Chris still remembers his first day on the water, aged 12, sailing his uncle’s boat Petrel.
“My uncle was hard working and couldn’t really sail. His wife and son, who was older than me, couldn’t sail either, so he said to me, ‘You will be skipper,’ and sent us all sailing off Antibes, near Cannes. I loved it. You learn by trial and error. That’s the best way.”
Chris is the oldest skipper on the ARC+ rally, which this year has 96 entries from 24 different countries. The sister event to the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the route via Cape Verde generally delivers more consistent Tradewinds.
Now that Chris and Dim have been together for a month, do they have any advice for would-be sailors like them?
“If you are good with humans, it should be ok,” says Dim, simply.
Chris adds, “It is true there are not many skippers my age. I don’t care personally but I know people are interested. I was too when I saw the great English sailor, I don’t remember his name, he sailed at the age of 70 and I was so impressed.
“Carry on if you can do it. If you want to go for long trips it’s important to think of your partner and how he or she will cope with it. Secondly, if you need a crew it’s much more important to put your own energy into the right choice of person than techniques. Techniques follow that always.”
- You can sponsor Chris and find out more about his adventure on his website transatdoublehuit.fr (click on the British flag, top right, for English).
- Find out more about the ARC+ and other cruising rallys at World Cruising Club.
Boat: Beneteau Oceanis 411 Celebration
Displacement under load: 10 tonnes
Sail wardrobe: symmetrical spinnaker, gennaker, offshore genoa, storm staysail.
Auxiliary engines: Volvo 55 horsepower.