Michel is the happy owner of Garcia Exploration 45 Cochize (hull #28). His project can be summed up in a few words: to discover the world on board a sailing boat, in the company of his wife and daughters. It will become clear from this long interview that, in describing the stages of his project to acquire a Garcia Exploration 45 to carry out voyages that are particularly close to his heart, Michel reveals a real concern for others. This is accompanied by a sincere gratitude to all those who, at the Garcia Yachts shipyard, at Grand Large Services, at Escale Formation Technique or anywhere else, participate in the fairness of this  project.

A permanent desire to travel

Native of the South-East of France, between Cannes and Toulouse, I spent my entire childhood in Cannes, an area close to the sea where people sail a lot. And in fact, I sailed a lot on an Optimist, and also with my brother on different boats. Then, I went to Toulouse to study audiovisual, then I worked in Paris in the film industry, for quite a few years: during this period I bought a boat, a First 32 F5 that I had put in the port of Cannes. I also sailed quite a lot on charter boats, in the West Indies and elsewhere; I also sailed a lot with my cousin Jean-Philippe, who is still my crew member. I sailed the Mediterranean between two feature films: Corsica, Sardinia, Croatia, Italy, Greece, until the day when I was too busy with the cinema. 

Unfortunately, at this point I gradually moved away from the sea and sold my First, always with the idea that when I would have more time and means, I would buy a big boat. The desire to travel was always present in my mind. Then I branched out into my professional life, I met my wife Sandrine, we had two daughters, Colomba and Charlize, who are now 11 and a half and 10 years old respectively. We settled in Toulouse, we created a company together, we worked like crazy to create this company, we had the chance and also the merit to make it perform, it worked well, and that was it. 

So, about three years ago, seeing that the business was developing well, that our Milan subsidiary was also doing well, that we were beginning to come out of a period of a lot of work, after seven years it was beginning to get quieter, we started to think about what to do next. I decided to slow down my professional life a little and gradually left the reins of the company to Sandrine to devote a little more time to this boat project. 

project: experience the world

Even if my two daughters and my wife don’t sail much, it remains a family project because the idea was to have a boat on which we could meet as soon as there were school holidays, and at that age there are often some, about every six weeks. Our final destination is New Zealand, we want to visit that country, so I needed a big blue water cruising boat that could travel there. The idea is to sail the long distance parts with my brother, with my cousin Jean-Philippe or with other people we might meet, and to leave the boat at destinations so that the children and my wife can meet me on stopovers when they are on holiday. And so, to help them discover the world in this way, by obviously making regular return trips to be with them in the place they live at in Toulouse, but also to help them experience the world in this rather special way which consists of being on a boat. Taking advantage of this to visit countries, meet people, local populations, that’s the idea. I thought it was a great project, and it must be said that they immediately joined in. After that, we obviously had to find the boat.

Choosing our boat well

I was quickly drawn to the idea of an aluminium centreboarder, with all the advantages that I believe this formula provides. Then, a question arose very quickly: would we opt for a used boat or a new one? So I thought about it for a long time, and I told myself that it wasn’t every day that I could have this opportunity; let’s just say that I’m not at retirement age, I still have a few good years left in me, and so I told myself that it was the right time to go for it, to live this experience of having a boat built, this aspect of following a construction site, from the very beginning to delivery, that was really tickling me. It was probably also linked to my state of mind, to the fact that I wanted to create something, to be in creation, or rather in construction: that’s what I am, I’m very much in construction. 

And so the idea of a second-hand boat became weaker. The reflections were carried out with my wife and daughters, in the project of being able to discover the world at each holiday by going back and forth, that was discussed at length. I also tried to sail with them to show them what the sea is like, but not enough at this stage, and at the same time, the conditions in which we are about to live are peaceful, quiet conditions, they are not big sailings, Unless of course one or both of my daughters, or even my wife, were suddenly passionate about ocean sailing, but for the moment that’s not the case, because they have their schooling to attend, and Sandrine for her part has her work which takes up a lot of her time.

“I went to the end of my dream”

Of course, there were also a lot of exchanges and discussions with people around me, to define the kind of boat that would be suitable, so there you go, it’s clear that it’s also a question of financial means, an aluminium boat is not the same price as a polyester one. So there was this kind of thinking, and I first turned to Allures, and it was also by discussing, by going to the shows, by meeting the Allures and Garcia shipyards, that all this matured. And very quickly, I was won over by the deck saloon in the Garcia saloon, by the quality of the material, the quality of the layout; I was very attracted by this aspect. Once again, I said to myself “you’re not going to buy 50 boats in your life, this may be the only one you’ll ever build, so I might as well go for something that represents what you dream of“. 

I said to myself, it would be a shame to be frustrated, to say in 4 years time “well… I should have done this or that“, to have regrets in short. And so I went for it, and for me I took the boat that corresponded totally to my dreams and what I wanted, and it’s still the case now that I have her with me, especially after this first sail to bring her to the Mediterranean, I’m even more convinced. The adventure started like that, with the Garcia shipyard, with Cyrille, and once everything was decided, everything went very quickly, we didn’t waste any time, we saw each other at the Grand Pavois in La Rochelle in September 2019, we signed in October, and immediately, in March, the boiler making started in Condé-sur-Noireau.

Construction, a question of confidence

I went to visit the construction site there in Condé at the beginning of July, I was really impressed, really, by that stage, it was all very important for me, both the industrial tool and the associated competence. Antonio received me in such a way! He really took the time to show me around, to explain things to me, plus the boat was there, under construction, so it was really very interesting.

Metalwork on the hull of a Garcia Exploration 45 at the Garcia Yachts site in Condé-sur-Noireau

I was also impressed by the environment, these aluminium boiler making jobs, difficult jobs I find, because these people are in the middle of lots of sparks, noises… and in fact I became aware that my boat was going to be built by hands, by men. You don’t imagine the details of things, you think “boats are built, then you see them sailing, and that’s it”. But then I realised that in fact they were made by people, by hands, that they were the fruit of their know-how, of their attention to detail. Antonio was very attentive to detail, making sure that the hull was impeccable, that the welds were pretty. So I became aware of these things, which are far from being details, at that moment. And at the same time, I felt confident, thanks to the know-how expressed by the shipyard on the boiler making, already. You ask yourself a lot of questions when you embark on a project like that, and there I was thinking “wow, this is really big”: that’s what I wanted, and suddenly I was really doing it.

Then there was the assembly stage in Cherbourg, where it was also great. My relationship with the team consisted mainly of the one I had with Guillaume, who was in charge of following up the order and who kept me informed step by step of the construction stages: a great person, often available, who called me back immediately when I had the slightest question. You can never be sure of anything, you do things according to your experience and the advice given by the construction site: that’s why this advice is welcome and I always found it to be accurate, without bias, I found that good. And it went really fast! When you sign the order form, you say to yourself “it’s a long way off, it’s a year away”, but it all happened very quickly and this boat took less than a year to build, I thought it was super fast! I know that I was one of the last to have such short delivery times and that afterwards, the order book got carried away, but that’s good for the shipyard, it means that what you’re doing is good: the number of orders you get indicates that good choices are being made upstream.

Cochize sailing in Cherbourg harbour

Reinforcing one’s choices

had heard about the reputation of Garcia boats, which is already well established as I have hull no. 28 of the Exploration 45 series: many things have already been said about these boats, each time very complimentary about their quality of construction and their performance, and also about the spirit of long-distance sailing and the fact of feeling safe on board. After having looked at Allures and then Garcia, I of course also enquired about other competing shipyards and other models. There was a choice. First of all, I really liked the deck saloon: frankly, I don’t regret my choice, because being able to do my watches when it’s rough outside, and being inside, in comfort, being able to have a 180° view, all that I don’t regret. There was also the fact that financially the project seemed very strong; I had asked about it, I saw that there were important financial resources: it’s a reassuring part because, at a given moment, you say to yourself “we’re committing ourselves to a project”, and moreover, at a rather complicated period, with the world health crisis that was appearing, we didn’t really know how it was going to be set up. It turns out that my choice had been made beforehand, but it turned out that, in this totally unforeseen context, the site was able to keep to its deadlines, and I had no worries on that score. And there was also the question of delivery times, they were not the same with Garcia and its competitors, it must also be said, and all this made me choose Garcia. I didn’t see any points that suddenly made me doubt the quality of the shipyard, the quality of the construction or its financial state. So there you have it, the lights were green.

Buying a boat, a global experience

Buying a boat is not just about choosing a boat, following up on delivery and the first sailings. So for me, this experience also involved complementary aspects, such as training courses for example. Indeed, when you place an order, you suddenly say to yourself “I have a year ahead of me to prepare my project“: the boat is being built, I follow it carefully, I spend time looking at the options and making my choices; I travelled often, as much as I could despite the restrictions. At the same time, I also needed to immerse myself in the project itself, in what I would do with the boat afterwards, and I found that it was not bad to confirm my knowledge, let’s say that I needed to reassure myself by doing additional training.

The navigation training courses, a real contribution  

I started with a training course on the diesel engine, then I went on to a training course on electricity on board, and there I said to myself “I can finally ask questions about things I don’t understand, or confirm things I already know”. This applied to very concrete points, especially in electricity where it is a bit more complicated. I was more at ease with diesel mechanics, but with electricity I needed to understand how it worked better. I needed this, I thought it was interesting, and so I continued. I did other training courses, and in particular one on sail repair: there too, if you don’t spend a little time on it, if you don’t go to a workshop, there are lots of things you hear about, vocabulary, ways of doing things, and all of a sudden it speaks to you and you know what it corresponds to once you’ve done these training courses, so it was pretty good. In addition, and I’m talking about Escale Formation Technique here, the trainers are good, professional people, we’re in the realm of the practical, and it really helps. I also did a training course on onboard medicine, to know what to take on board when you start to go far away, for a long time, how to react when a situation occurs in the middle of the sea… It’s also often to reassure yourself, of course, to try to reassure yourself about things you don’t know, but these training courses were great!

A project rich in culture and discovery

The other stage was getting to grips with the boat, which is not easy, especially when you find yourself in Cherbourg in January during CoviD time, sea trips are quite rare because the conditions are not always excellent, and we couldn’t do any major sailing because there were restrictions on leaving. Anyway, it was a bit complicated. It’s true that I really wanted the boat to be in the Mediterranean fairly quickly, to take advantage of the season that was about to begin. So, at the very beginning, I said to myself, I’m going to take advantage of being in Cherbourg to go to places where I certainly won’t go afterwards, and where it would be more complicated to go. And so I wanted to go to Norway and take advantage of the summer that was coming. And then I said to myself that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea because, as my children and my wife haven’t sailed much, maybe I shouldn’t go to places that are too unpleasant and take the risk of putting them off sailing, even if I know that July and August are a good period in Norway. But it might not be the best way to make them like my passion. So I quickly abandoned this idea, and thought that it was better for the boat to be in the Mediterranean for the first summer, and so I plan to take it to Greece and then to Turkey to spend the months of July and August there. That’s why I needed the boat to be in the Mediterranean fairly quickly.

What I wanted to avoid above all was the risk of putting my daughters, Colomba (11 1/2) and Charlize (10), but also my wife, off sailing by being too eager. The youngest of my daughters, I feel, is quite adventurous, and if of course there is a good feeling from my family about the boat in the future, it is with pleasure that we will sail together. We don’t want to go on correspondence courses; my wife, who is younger than I am, wants to stay in the company, which she likes very much, and so the idea is to take short breaks, even if there may be more extensive sailing depending on each person’s feeling. The idea is really to associate them and to put the boat in places that mean something to them and their journey, which represents a real complement to their schooling: Greece is already rich in culture and if this summer we are in Greece and Turkey, it will be a real complement to their education. Here they are learning about Greek mythology, and they will be able to confront the reality of this country where it is possible to sail for several years.

The boat delivery, a 24 hour a day handover

And so for me it was important that the boat reached the Mediterranean in early spring, because I needed to take charge of it and bring it closer to where I live, because it takes a day to get up there to Cherbourg, where access is not easy for us who are from the south. At the beginning, we were going to do it with three people, and the sanitary conditions being what they are, we had big doubts about the way we would be welcomed if we had to make stopovers in Portugal or Spain; moreover, at that time, the sanitary restrictions were quite severe in Portugal. And so I was a bit afraid to involve my crew in a programme that would be too long – they only had three weeks to devote to me, which is already enormous, they had taken a break from their professional lives to be able to take the boat down – they are fully committed to the project and it’s great, but I couldn’t take the risk of seeing them stuck in Portugal for three weeks.

And, after checking with the authorities in these countries, the only way to convoy a boat in an authorised manner was by a professional convoy. To do this, we had to ask the Garcia shipyard to validate this project with the participation of a professional skipper from the shipyard, Philippe. In fact, from a health constraint and a situation which was not initially envisaged, with an additional cost as the skipper had to be paid, this option became something which I am, in retrospect, super happy with. Not only did we benefit from excellent weather conditions as we sailed downwind from Cherbourg to Gibraltar in 7 days, at an average speed of 7.5 knots – a great sail – but above all, in terms of getting to grips with the boat with skipper Philippe, it was great.  I realised that the half-day sailings, planned during the reception and the handover of the boat, are – for me at least – too limited by this time constraint. In half a day, you have a lot of things to assimilate, all the documentation, things to see on the boat, a lot of new information; it’s very well done, the shipyard does it very well, you have all the documentation and everything you need, but in fact you don’t practice enough.

During the delivery of Cochize

But with this delivery trip, we had a lot of time: it took us 11 days to get to Barcelona, with 24 hours a day on the boat, and now we’re faced with something concrete, something real, with situations unfolding before us, and we repeat the manoeuvres, we do them again, which means that we get to grips with the boat smoothly, in concrete conditions that change. It’s just great! Now, I’m not saying that I know the boat by heart because I still have a lot of sailing to do on it to really know everything, but I’ve saved a lot of time in terms of the knowledge you need to have. I think that if I’d gone with my two crew members, we wouldn’t have had the same source of precious information so quickly, that’s for sure.

The yard, a reassuring presence

We had some minor problems, which is normal, water infiltration in the forepeak mainly; Philippe, the skipper, who knows boats very well, was totally efficient in analysing where the leak was coming from, and also in knowing how to repair it temporarily so that we could continue without having to divert. His knowledge of the boat was just superb. There were several small points like that, which are not serious, but which mean that, of course, on a new boat which, as I said earlier, was built by hands, there are inevitably things that can go wrong, it’s quite logical, we know that from the start, and these first sailings also serve to remedy these problems.

What’s great is that behind these situations, there’s the shipyard which reacts, it’s great, there’s Vincent who also has total experience, he doesn’t give up, he goes to the end of things, he doesn’t hesitate to put his shoulder to the wheel, he’s one of the precious people of the shipyard I think, very present in his relationship after the boat’s launch. I really like this man, he is very available, he doesn’t give up, he really accompanies us, and that… You can end up with a boat that has faults during construction, that can happen because as I was saying, it’s human beings who build… But what’s great, and where I’m very happy, is the reactivity, because problems happen, but the question is: how do we react to solve these problems? And I can tell you that Vincent, from Grand Large Services, and more generally the whole of the Garcia yard, are top notch in this respect. I’m a rather difficult person, but I’m totally satisfied with the relationship with the shipyard and its after-sales service, and that’s very important.

Rich and fully shared experiences

Also, I come back to this, I am conquered by the skipper, by Philippe, because not only does he know the boat very well and is an excellent navigator, but he is also a sweetheart; he has rare human qualities, and on a sail, this is very important: you always wonder how things will go, what the relationship will be with the crew. Generally I sail with people I know, because I know that it can be complicated if there is suddenly a disagreement in the crew. Here, we were all three, we got on really well, and I could see skipper Philippe – I often caught him with a banana, a super happy face – and my crew member Jean-Philippe too, we were really happy to be sailing together, learning, taking charge of the boat, and so we had a great sail. It was essential for me, and in addition he was always there giving us tips for the right setting, and also, as we were taking turns cooking, he has cooking talents and that is not negligible! It was great, frankly; it ranged from tips on how to adjust the boat according to the state of the sea and the wind: he has this knowledge, but also, he was not stingy to give us advice on the layout of the boat, so as to be at best in terms of comfort; I know that he has been around the world and has a lot of experience in sailing, and he passed on all that to us in an extremely generous way, it was great. He even prepared recipes for us, he brought his fishing equipment and when we arrived in Gibraltar we were lucky enough to catch a magnificent bluefin tuna, we enjoyed it, Philippe prepared it in a different way each time, and out of respect for what this fish gave us, we gave it a name, we called it “Gibralthon“. So good times were had, while taking charge of the boat, which is now in Port Camargue.

Cochize off the Rock of Gibraltar

We have of course noted the small points that need to be taken up, and Grand Large Services Sud will intervene on them,Sylvain welcomed us in Port Camargue, there is a real continuity, with Vincent in charge of the operation from Cherbourg, as he knows the boat well and we know each other well now, I know that I can count on GLS to take over what needs to be taken over, this boat is being prepared, and in May she will be ready to start her little Mediterranean trip, so it’s great, I think it’s really good.

“Now, she’s your boat”

This delivery trip was great, it was really a great sail, and in the end it was also a good option, because even if the Covid, at one point, created some frustration – I wanted to leave with friends, people we know and that’s normal – in fact this delivery trip allowed me to experience a great moment, I think it was a good option to really get to grips with the boat over a week or more, with someone who knows it well. If you really want to get to grips with the boat completely and feel autonomous, this is one of the best things. Philippe said something to me that really impressed me, at the end, when we left Barcelona, he said “now you have your boat, you have her in hand, you can sail her, she’s your boat“. And that made me very happy because that’s what I felt too.

Well, I certainly made mistakes on some options, on personal choices, you realise it afterwards, but that’s not too serious. For example, I took the option of a downwind gennaker at the yard, and I don’t think I should have; I don’t think I’ll use it, if I had to take another sail it would be more of an asymmetric spinnaker; besides, I’m thinking of selling this downwind gennaker that I don’t think I’ll use. During the delivery trip, we were sailing downwind a lot, downwind or on the beam, and then we pitched the solent, we put it in a scissor, it’s very efficient, it works very well, and so we didn’t need this downwind gennaker. On the other hand, we have another one, an upwind gennaker, which we can start to hoist at 50° to the wind, and there, yes, in the Mediterranean it will be used a lot in light airs, we will use it a lot, that’s for sure. There are little things where you say to yourself “I should have thought of this or that” but that’s normal, you forget things, you miss them, you’re not in the concrete, and it’s when you’re sailing that you realise all this.

Another image I have is when we left Cherbourg, there was everyone, Marc, Cyrille, Guillaume… I was very enthusiastic to leave, and I was very moved to see everyone come to greet us at the port, at midday, with a bottle of calvados, it was very nice, it touched me a lot.

Garcia delegation and crew at the departure of Cochize

A desire to sail to the end of the world

As for knowing how long I will keep this boat, I don’t ask myself any questions: for the moment, I’m very happy with it, and that’s a good thing, because I want to enjoy it, to share it with my family and the people I like to sail with. I have this idea of sailing her to New Zealand, and taking her there; but it’s true that it takes a bit of time, that it’s already a programme in itself; As for knowing how long it will take to get her there, I don’t know, it will depend on my family, my children, how they like or dislike sailing, whether there are places we like more than others and where we’ll stay longer… I’ll be going back and forth, that’s what I know. Do you have to have a project, do you have to settle down? It’s true that New Zealand makes us dream, my wife and I often talk about it, we dream of visiting this country at the end of the world, and what could be better than visiting it by boat? I think it’s great, but then, anything can happen, and I haven’t set myself any more specific project than to glimpse this destination that would be New Zealand, that’s all.

We’re already going to take advantage of the boat this summer in the Mediterranean, where I’ll certainly leave her next winter, and from there we’ll start our journey, the crossing of the Atlantic to get to Panama fairly quickly the following season; we’re certainly not going to hang around for long in the West Indies and rather quickly get to the Pacific, but afterwards, once we’ll be in the Pacific, I don’t know, we’ll see. So I don’t know how long we’ll keep the boat: let’s say as long as possible, and then we’ll see. We’ll do the best we can, taking pleasure in the moment, but so many things can happen in life, some good, some not so good, and above all I’m not alone, there are also the feelings of others which count a lot.

Between ethics and aesthetics

The subject of my children is important, and this is evident in the hull decoration, which is a little special, where I wanted to highlight my two daughters. This is already the case in the name of the boat, “Cochize”, with the “Co” of Colomba and the “ize” of Charlize (with a z). Cochise (with an “s”) was an Apache chief who had values in his life that appeal to the youngest of my daughters, Charlize, about respect for nature, the fact that what you take from nature you give back to it, all of that: this subject appealed to her a lot.

The Garcia Exploration 45 Cochize moored in Barcelona

So the name of the boat Cochize made sense not only because of the contraction of my daughters’ names but also because of the ethics and the relationship with nature. In addition, the profiles of their two faces are represented on each side of the bow, and this appeals to people. In Cherbourg, on the pontoon of the shipyard where there are mainly Allures and Garcias, where you don’t see many people, in the middle of CoviD, maybe a fisherman from time to time and that’s all, and so I didn’t realise the enthusiasm that the boat provokes. When we arrived in Port Camargue, on the other hand, you could see it: all the boats coming in and out of the port kept saying “your boat is beautiful! … it’s magnificent! It was not only about the hull decoration but also about the general look of the boat, and I am very happy about that, it is for me the icing on the cake. It certainly doesn’t please everyone, everyone is free to make their own choices and tastes, but for me it identifies my boat in a vision that is coherent with our family project, which is not a life on board project but a family voyage project, very important for all of us and with which my daughters are strongly associated. Colomba herself made drawings of Cochize, but not just drawings like that: she really worked on it, everyone is united on this project, which is really about sharing.

So those are my impressions. Now, there are still a lot of things to live, beautiful things to do with this boat, which is a great boat, about which I am really very happy, and I only have positive things to say.