The adventurers of Saint Brandon
If you’d like to sail to paradise, you’d have to pay the price
Born in Mauritius, like his ancestors for eight generations, Christophe moved from hotel business to Nautitech cruising. He wished to reveal to sailing enthusiasts around the world the treasures of his island and its islets
The perfect balance between performance and life aboard to fully navigate and enjoy
Why has Christophe chosen the Nautitech 40 Open?Pourquoi For its delicate and luminous design
Christophe speaks frankly. When it comes to “sell” Saint Brandon to his crew members, he doesn’t tell stories. Even on board his comfortable Nautitech 46 Fly, beating toward this atoll, lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean, is not as peaceful as crossing Saint James Park Lake. The big swell coming from Australia can easily churn the stomach of bold sailors, caught as soon as they’re no more sheltered by Mauritius Island.
Often, the course is rather close to the wind, the trade wind rather strong and the Indian Ocean highly strung, like a warrior on the warpath. You must hold out during the 250 nautical miles of the crossing. Paradise must be earned. Now, Saint Brandon is one of those unknown places which are the closest to Heaven.
To get there, you need to be authorized by the Mauritius government… who only delivers two hundred visit permits a year.
Christophe discovered the atoll back in 1997, when his uncle was the administrator of the place. Since then, not only he converted to catamaran travel, but he takes paying guests there for breathtaking stays between sea and sky, including kitesurfing, fly fishing, diving into the magic of corals and trekking on pristine stretches of sand. And all that in a sidereal loneliness.
However, for professional Volvo Ocean Race sailors, this long crescent reef rather looked like hell when it arose from nothing. It was during the 2014-2015 edition of the round the world race. “It’s a rock” yelled one of the Team Vestas Wind Volvo 65 watch crew, when the racing sloop impaled into the coral reef of Cargados Carajos Banks, which Christophe calls Saint Brandon, as everybody does in Mauritius. Team Vestas’ navigator had only forgot to zoom in on his electronic map. It is to say if these coral crumbs thrown in the middle of nowhere remain unknown nowadays. They thus remain sheltered from the tourist invasion.
remains the sea
Christophe delivers. On board his catamarans -he also owns a 40 Open, and both of his boats often sails together- he’s only the mate. He judges himself not seasoned enough to be the skipper, even if he has got his certificate. But his long career in hotel industry gave him an incomparable experience: even in heaven, he knows, the devil is in the details.
He also knows that even if the Nautitechs provide a stable deck and a stunning comfort, the sea remains the sea and that, even with two hulls, a sailing yacht can never compete with a station platform, in terms of immobility. As a facetious doctor used to say: “The best remedy against seasickness is to lie down under an apple tree!”
Mooring while waiting
for the lull
Last January, Christophe had a little mishap.
He usually refrains from taking his guests over there during the hurricane season. In this part of the Indian Ocean, the cyclonic period extends from December to March. But he ended up giving in to the urgent demand of several candidates for the adventure. He had just delayed the departure for a week, the time to let hurricane Eloise pass.
After an uneventful passage but not without commotion, the daring crew intended to drop their anchor in less than two meters depth of a crystal-clear water. They just had to follow an essential procedure. As usual, Christophe had to get two small eighteen feet boats equipped with fifteen horse powers engines. These “cabs”, as he calls them, are used to explore the immense atoll and give autonomy to his guests, who are a maximum of eight in number, plus two crews.
However, that day, due to the hurricane aftermath, Christophe and his skipper couldn’t manage to successfully enter the Ile du Sud strait, which gives access to the anchorage. Too much current, too big swells, the breaking waves blocked the narrow channel. Never mind: Heaven could wait a few hours.
The big Nautitech found temporary refuge in one of the million shelters scattered along the immense coral crescent.“It’s one of the huge advantages of the catamaran, recalls Christophe. With a draught so shallow and its stability, one can drop the anchor in places forbidden to monohulls. Of course, if the swell comes because the wind has suddenly veered to the west, as it sometimes happens in Autumn, one can be forced to leave at once. But it’s very rare.”
Saint Brandon stretches over more than twenty-five miles and offers a formidable natural barrier against the eastern swell. Sheltered by the coral reef, a string of islets barely emerges from the turquoise waters.
They’re called by such picturesque names as Loup Garou (Werewolf), Coco (one of the few covered with coconut palms, as its name suggests), Tec Tec, Tortue (Turtle), or Bouquet… They’ve become Christophe’s private Eden and the destination of its dedicated to privileged journeys Nautitechs.
Even if he is the worthy descendant of a family established in Isle de France for eight generations, Christophe has no shame to confess he was anything but a sailor. Strangely enough, the sea did not permeate the family genes. Graduated from a hotel school after studying in South Africa and Australia, our adventurer flourished for twenty years in the hotel industry. He was the manager of a four-star hotel in Mauritius when he’s got an idea. Why not offering his guests other pleasures than those of the beach? Why not taking them on the water?
As he has an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of daring, he carried his project from A to Z. He first bought a 45 feet catamaran in South Africa. And at once, he almost found himself overwhelmed by his success. He therefore said to himself that he should not limit to welcoming the hotel guests. So, he quickly bought a second catamaran. This is how, with his two 45 feet, he was offering day sailing trips along the Mauritius lush shores.
Of course, he was adding this activity on the hotel websites. Then in no time, he created a dedicated website. Which led him to realize there was a demand for mor ambitious cruising than day charter. And more, a finding struck him: why did the Seychelles attract cruising fleets under the flag of the big names in charter industry and not Mauritius?
It was the turning point.
Christophe created the first online sales platform for sailing cruises in Mauritius. And said goodbye to hotel business. But offering cruises meant expanding his cabotage zone and therefore sailing offshore. For this reason, he was quickly convinced he needed brand new catamarans. Faster still, because he wished to get seaworthiness, speed and comfort, he turned to Nautitech, of which he was not to be long to become their local dealer. Before that, he began his new life by buying a 40 Open. A professional crew delivered by sea this first unit from Rochefort to his home port. The journey made him dream: The Canaries, the Cap Verde islands, Brazil, South-Africa -he flew to Cape Town to welcome the boat- then Madagascar and finally Mauritius… Quickly, a 46 Fly joined the 40 Open. But this one was transported by freighter.
During his first cruises to Saint Brandon on board the 40 Open -Christophe registered the domain names www.saintbrandon.com and www.seaspiritcruises.com – our entrepreneur learned the trade while sailing. His mastery of the hotel industry led him to apply the same requirements on board as on land. Not only had everything to be impeccable, from the quality of food supply to the keeping of the cabins, but he rapidly found that the sea imposed an even greater severity. Hence the necessity to know one’s boat like the back of one’s hand.
Second observation: he loved being at sea. Third observation: he could not be satisfied with the role of representing a ship owner who was no other than himself. He had to be able to command a catamaran offshore himself. So, Christophe took the necessary training, and he passed the theoretical tests sufficient to obtain his skipper certificate. But he is not crazy. He knows for a fact that the real learning begins now.
Caught in a
35 knots squall.
The other day, when arriving to Gabriel Island, far north of Mauritius, a slight error of judgement led him to rub the coral with his keel and the tip of a rudder. With no real damage, except for his self-esteem.
But as he wisely says: “Practice makes perfect.” Another day, when sailing down from Port Louis to Rivière Noire on board the 46, he was caught over canvassed in a 35 knots squall. He hasn’t lost his composure. Running large, he listened to the roar of the bows, and the howling of the shrouds. And watched the speedometer going up and up. “Our speed exceeded 17 knots. It was pure magic.”
Christophe takes advantage of local lockdown to maintain and service his boats himself. In this area as well, he knows he will never stop to learn. In the meantime, he’s planning the future of his business. He’s convinced that the demand will explode as soon as the borders reopen.
The journey goes on
His escapes to Saint Brandon give him the downtime he needs so much, because the management of his brand-new company requires a lot of energy. One day soon, he will sail to his paradise, steering one of his Nautitechs, proudly wearing his stripes of master and commander. That day, “to pay the price” of sailing to Heaven will never seem more rewarding.
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