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The death of Mike Birch, Canadian navigator, first winner of the Route du rhum

Winner in 1978 of the first edition of the Route du rhum, for 98 seconds ahead of Michel Malinovsky, after twenty-three days of racing, Mike Birch died on Wednesday October 26, at the age of 90, at his home in Brec’h. , in Morbihan.

The disappearance of the Canadian sailor, a few days before the start of the twelfth edition of this race which has built its legend, is that of an immense pioneer of deep-sea crossings. Mike Birch estimated that he had crossed the Atlantic at least sixty times: “I stopped counting”, he said. But above all without ever capsizing.

We didn’t say ocean racer yet but “adventurous navigator”, recalls Charlie Capelle. The latter, builder and navigator, will set off on his seventh Route du rhum aboard one of the four twin boats (sister-ships) ofOlympus Photography, the little yellow trimaran aboard which Mike Birch, forty-four years ago, demonstrated the superiority of a small 11-metre glue-laminated multihull over a 21-metre plywood monohull. Michel Malinovsky will have this historic word on the pontoon to greet his opponent: “Only victory is pretty. »

Read our interview with Mike Birch: Mike Birch: “It is regrettable that there is so much money in sailing”

Mike Birch’s success in 1978 paved the way for today’s multihulls. Designed by American architect Walter Greene, Olympus was the first in the series of A’Capella. Olympus was abandoned at sea by her new owner during a delivery trip between the United States and Europe, two years after Mike Birch’s victory.

“The Anti-Eric Tabarly”

Blue-eyed, silent, Birch could sometimes have a pastoral or military stiffness in his face. He would then respond with “maybe” Where “perhaps”. Or didn’t answer. Or in razor-thin, razor-sharp sentences. Such was this man, with lean and long muscles, remarried in France for forty years. The couple shared their life between Morbihan and the mouth of the Saint-Laurent. In Brittany, he was never far from the shipyards that brought the sister ships born from the series designed by Walter Greene back to life.

“He was the balance at sea: going fast without breaking. I called him Jedi Master”, Loïck Peyron, navigator

“I had always had a bit of the impression that Mike was coming out of the cellar. It unfolded and suddenly regained its vertical shape, says Loïck Peyron, with whom he disputed, in 1983, Lorient-Bermuda-Lorient on a small catamaran. Mike bent, hunched over when the weather got tough. Mike was the school of absolute flexibility, in a way the anti-Eric Tabarly, who thought that if it didn’t hold up, it was because the calculations were badly done. If some bullshit happened on board, Mike said nothing, but stared at the applicant with that look a la Clint Eastwood in Inspector Harry. He was balance at sea: going fast without breaking. I called him Jedi Master. »

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