Captain, Not College: Interview with Fred Boursier

Dieter Loibner finds out why Fred Boursier passed up a more formal education to become a boat captain.

5th April 2013.
By Dieter Loibner

Frédéric Boursier, 47, better known as Fred in yachting circles, is a French import to Camden, Maine. Born and raised on the other side of the Big Pond, in St. Nazaire, he could practically smell the Atlantic in his backyard. He makes his livelihood as a professional sailor, charter captain and marine project manager.

With “more than 100,000 but less than 200,000 miles” in his wake, the trim but strong Frenchman passes for a seasoned salt. In his mind he’s always one tack ahead. And when it comes to fixing problems, he won’t start any job on outboards or aloft before the tool is tethered to his wrist.

I caught up with Boursier at his current assignment in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua, where he was helping to prepare the Lyman-Morse-built 63-footer Kiwi Spirit and skipper Dr. Stanley Paris for a non-stop solo circumnavigation. The goal is to beat Dodge Morgan’s round the world solo record of 150 days.

Boursier heads out to practice on Kiwi Spirit with his client Stanley Paris, who intends to circumnavigate solo and nonstop.

boats.com: Is sailing a common career choice for someone growing up in Brittany?
Fred Boursier: I don’t know that it’s a career choice, but it’s definitely what young people along the coast are doing. In France it’s practically a compulsory activity for youth, because nearly every seaside town has a public sailing school.

BC: But wasn’t there also tuition-free college?
FB: Yes, but after high school I decided to get an education as a sailing instructor. My first job took me to Martinique for a couple of years. My parents were cool with that because they saw that I liked it. That might sound a bit odd in the US, where a common measure of success is the amount of money one makes.
BC: What were some of the boats that you worked on?
FB: The Mari Chas were a strong presence in my career. I captained the old Mari Cha II and a Swan 65, a true bluewater classic, but also crewed on Mari Cha III and IV.

BC: Did sailing ever get boring for you?
FB: No, but I took two sabbaticals. The first one came in 1994 to build Reglisse, my own Mini 650, which I sailed to 5th place in the 1995 Mini-Transat.

BC: Why did you decide to build a new boat instead of buying a good used one?
FB: First, I couldn’t come up with the required funds to buy a decent boat. And second, I did it for the learning experience, i.e. working with the designer, which one doesn’t get to do very often.

BC: When was the second sailing timeout? And why did you take it?
FB: I came to the US in 2001 to live here with my wife Martha, whom I met during a stopover with Mari Cha II in Sag Harbor a few years earlier. We moved to the Camden area and I wanted to try a job on terra firma for a change. But it’s kind of funny that I ended up managing an estate with seven employees in the summer. It was like being a captain all over again, except that the ship was a house.

Fred gets ready for an underwater job.

BC: What made you come back to boating?
FB: A certain lack of excitement and variety. It was a good experience and I probably could have retired doing it, but I was getting restless. My better half was okay with it, so I decided to roll the dice.

BC: What changed in those intervening years?
FB: The boats became much more complex, which also means they need more yard time. That’s less adventurous. For technical reasons, some of these megayachts might be inoperable for several months out of the year.

BC: What about the people on these boats? How did they change?
FB: Any crew of a large yacht now has to include engineers who deal with mechanics, hydraulics and electronics. And newcomers to the scene sometimes seem to do it to work on boats, not to sail on them. Of course the money is also good, because with food and shelter provided for free, you can save most of the paycheck or you spend it hanging out at the bars in port. In a way, boats and people are much more tethered to the shore now compared to 20 years ago. (Laughs.) They have grown umbilical cords.

Photos:  Jen Edney


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