Sailing around the world: interview with Richard Gauthier

Few of us will have the chance to travel this summer. Until life returns to normal, what better way to pass the time than to talk about travelling, and in particular the experiences of retired actuary and CIA member Richard Gauthier. Richard is living a lifelong dream: to sail around the world. The CIA’s communications team caught up with him while he was anchored in Norfolk, Virginia. What follows is a summary of our conversation. You can also listen to our interview in either English or French.

After graduating from Université Laval in 1980, Richard Gauthier worked all across North America. For three decades his career took him to California, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, where he worked for major firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and TD Insurance. But he had no intention of spending his retirement on terra firma. “The sea, the water, that’s part of my DNA.”  

An inherited passion and a spreadsheet

A love of sailing seems to have been passed down from generation to generation among the Gauthiers. Richard’s grandfather owned a boat, and so too did his parents. “I got my feet wet at a very young age!” By the time he entered high school, Richard was already dreaming of sailing around the world. While in university, he organized sailing trips in the Caribbean. Although he had to hang up his deck shoes for a few years to raise his young family, in 1992 he began preparing in earnest to make his dream a reality: in true actuary fashion, he prepared a spreadsheet. On it he calculated what it would take to retire at age 55 and buy himself a sailboat.

He reached his goal at age 59. “I retired on April 30, 2017. One month later, I took possession of my boat.” He and his spouse, retired nurse Ann Graydon, have lived aboard their catamaran ever since. They went to boat fairs and tried out a number of vessels before settling on an Outremer 51, a catamaran comfortable enough to live in year-round but powerful enough to race. The couple began their adventure by exploring many Mediterranean countries and islands: Spain, France, Sardinia, Corsica and Tunisia.

Some memorable episodes

It was a blistering 42 degrees in Tunisia when the two set sail for Malta and Greece. En route, with Richard keeping watch, the catamaran came upon a vessel in distress: a two-metre-long boat containing five refugees. The refugees had left the African coast and were headed for Europe when their motor failed. The boat was adrift. The catamaran did a U-turn 500 metres later to take the necessary manoeuvers and lower its sails. Richard and Ann radioed the Italian Coast Guard and waited with the refugees for help to arrive.

In late November 2019, they departed Las Palmas in the Canary Islands for a 17-day Atlantic crossing. It proved to be an incredible voyage. The crew consisted of five people who took turns keeping watch. They would sleep a mere three or four hours at a time before being relieved. Along the way, the Outremer 51 passed by dolphins, whales and… a Moroccan warship, which led to an interesting VHF radio exchange. All in all, they used only 20 litres of diesel fuel to generate some electricity. The retired actuary tells us that the months at sea and the crossing demanded a great deal of adaptability. “Your self-confidence really grows when you have to deal with whatever surprises the sea throws your way.”

Future adventures and some sage advice

When the pandemic hit, the couple were anchored on the Dutch side of Saint Martin. One by one, the islands were closing their doors to foreigners. “We were able to swim around our boat, but we couldn’t travel anywhere in the vicinity,” explains Richard. In light of the situation and the impending hurricane season, he and Anne decided to sail up the US Eastern Seaboard. In the coming months they plan to explore Chesapeake Bay before slowly making their way toward Maine during the summer months. If the border reopens, they also have plans to return home to Toronto for a few weeks to do some maintenance on the underside of the boat. Before it gets cold, Richard and Ann will head back down south. “Maybe Bermuda or the Bahamas,” says Richard. “But we may change our mind.”

To be sure, it takes a lot of passion and courage to set off on such an adventure. So to wrap up our interview, we asked the captain of the Outremer 51 if he had any advice to impart to those of us dreaming of doing something big like this. Unsurprisingly, off went the captain’s hat and on came the actuary’s hat: “As any actuary will tell you, long-term planning is important. And the same is true of making your dreams a reality. You make your own luck when you plan for the long haul.”

This article originally appeared in the CIA (e)Bulletin.

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