As the master of S/Y Douce France, Pascal Goger has seen more than his share of the world’s most remote places. The 52-year-old captain has been with the 42m (138 ft) ketch sailing catamaran almost since it was built in 1998. To this day, it is one of the largest sailing catamarans on the water, and blisteringly fast – sailing at up to 18 knots in the right conditions.
Goger grew up in St.-Malo, France. It is a beautifully preserved medieval, walled city that rests on the English Channel. The city is known for its rich maritime history, and for producing a number of famous French explorers. Most of Goger’s family work as sailors, and have for generations. Sailing is in his blood. As Goger put it: “I sailed since always. The sea was my game area when I was young.”
He spent years working as a mate on cruise ships before earning his captainship. He then worked on various passenger vessels – a car ferry and high-speed crafts – before captaining a cruise ship in the Seychelles. In June 2000, he was named captain of Douce France. He and the boat have been almost non-stop ever since. Name just about any far-flung place between the tropics – Belize, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Madagascar – and the odds are good that Goger and his crew have been there. Just listening to him rattle off even one year’s cruising itinerary would put the likes of Rand McNally to the test.
Just before Christmas, Goger took the time to answer OnboardOnline’s questions about living such a wondrous, wandering life, and some of the challenges that go with it.
OnboardOnline: Tell me about this past year on Douce France. Where did you go?
Pascal Goger: “In 2012, we were in the Andaman islands in India; then Phuket's waters; then we sailedthrough the Malacca Strait and between Borneo and Sumatra; and South Sulawesito go in Indonesian Papua – to Raja Ampat. After, in June, we were in the Komodo Island and Bali's waters after we quickly left Les Îles de la Sonde to reach the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. In September, we came back to Bali and Komodo's waters. In the middle of October, we sailed back to Phuket, Thailand, to make a cruise from Phuket to Langkawi, Malaysia. Now, we are in Phuket for Christmas and we will cruise to Langkawi again.
“Overall, in 2012, we did around 17,000 nautical miles."
OO: Where do you plan to go in 2013?
PG: “We have a refit in Bangkok for three months, and then tonortheast Papua to dive with the whale shark. Then in the Marshall Islands to discover the other islands where we didn't go before. We love this forgotten place.”
OO: Do you only sail to remote locations or do you also go to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean sometimes?
PG: “We sailed in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Sea during some years. But since 2005, the world is our garden – particularly the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Far East, like Indonesia or Philippines.”
OO: When did you start taking Douce France to places like the South Pacific and Indonesia?
PG: “Since seven years. The Pacific and the Far East are huge areas. The last paradises still exist and we prospect the most beautiful, lost and hidden islands.”
OO: What is the most amazing place you have been on Douce France?
PG: “It is not easy to reply. There are many wonderful places around the world, like the fairest islands of the Seychelles, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuamotus or Papuasia – and many other small spots.
OO: What is the most amazing thing you have seen while sailing Douce France?
PG: “One of them was three bumper whales playing and jumping with Douce France for three hours, like dolphins. Sometimes they were just some centimetres from Douce France. They watched us very quietly and they gave us an unimaginable show. It was really incredible. We were in osmosis with these wonderful animals. Nobody can forget it.
“Then during a short two hours sailing to go back in a sheltered anchorage, we met a whale shark. And after the dropping of my anchor, a manta ray was turning around Douce France for two hours.
“We make also, in different places, many incredible dives around the world with submarine animals. It is like the origin of life in virgin places. There is still some places without predation by the human around the world. Sometimes, humanity forgot some islands after a heavy presence – some decades after humans left – and the fauna and the flora has come back in force, like at Bikini Island. It is really optimistic.
“Diving is a great specialty of Douce France. We have always a dive instructor aboard and the equipment for ten divers.”
OO: If there was one place, you would recommend for someone who likes adventure, where would that be and why?
PG: “There are many places and we can adjust the cruise program in order to do the best for my guests. We always take care of the points of interest of my guests a long time before. And after, I adapt the destination and the cruise program. In the Raja Ampat, Palau, Tuamotu, Marshall Islands, we always got very good charters – beautiful and wild places with no other boat in the area. The populations are very friendly everywhere, and the fauna and flora are nearly virgin.”
OO: In visiting very remote places like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, do you ever have problems with provisioning and keeping enough stores for long trips?
PG: “Yes. It is always a big problem to organise a provisioning in the remote islands. But before we arrive, we always organise the plan. It is an upstream job and our specialty. The chief cook and the other crew are experienced. Douce France can load 20,000 litres of fuel and has a sea range of 3,500 nautical miles.
“To prepare a cruise, I need many months, because we love to explore the forgotten places where it is difficult to find informations. That is the price to pay to find the lost paradises. The service on Douce France is always five stars, even in the wild and lost islands. I need many contacts around the world, and it is always a hard job to organise. I think I will be bored if I have to go back in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean Sea. One of the specialties of Douce France is the organization of a five-star cruise in the lost and wonderful country.”
OO: How do you stay prepared for emergencies in remote areas?
PG: “I take informations concerning the closest decompression chamber [for divers with the bends]. With medical training, we have a full medical dotation [equipment] aboard and the crew – the chief mate and captain – must do medical training every five years at school and in a hospital. We can also be in contact with a specialized hospital in France – for seamen in Toulouse, if we need.
“In case of emergencies, we follow our established procedures.”
OO: Do you require that your crew has additional medical and boat training?
PG: “Douce France is a merchant ship and, therefore, all the crew have STCW [Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping] certificates. We have professional and legal rules on safety drills and exercises for crew and passengers alike. Our certificates, including medical certificates, are up for re-certification every five years.”
OO: Do you think there is a difference between people who charter in the Mediterranean and those who charter in places like Micronesia?
PG: “Yes. Maybe they need to be a bit more adventurous. And, for sure, they like to be alone. That is impossible in the Caribbean or Med.”
OO: What about for crew – between the Med and Micronesia?
PG: “It is not exactly the same job. To make five-star cruises in lost country, you need a lot of experience for all the crew. I started in the Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean, and slowly we got experience and contacts everywhere. Everybody can do it. We are not super seamen but we need to be very organised and good sailors with a big address book. Many times, we have explored some places not hydrographied. We sail with a dinghy and with a depth sounder in front of the mothership, or in clear water with a deckhand in the mizzenmast, like two centuries ago – especially in the lagoons or when we sail up a river.
“With the time, I got contacts from others: boats, local people, agents, friends and others navigators or anthropologists. The Internet is also a very good source of informations. I never lose a contact. I keep all of them and stay in contact with my friends sailing around the world.”
OO: Is it hard to maintain crew when you operate in remote areas? How do you keep everyone happy when they are so far from home?
PG: “I don't know, but there is no turnover and I never got problems among thecrew.Douce France is a wonderful sailing boat – safe everywhere, even in roughseas. All the crew consider her like their girlfriend, and this boat has been agreat success since her birth.The crew like adventure for sure, and we do not call them like a ‘crewmember’.A better word is a ‘Team’. All the team has the same spirit.Of course, the owner is the center of this osmosis. Thanks to him – thanks tohis confidence placed in the crew and me. He is for sure the key of thesuccess and of the good balance of Douce France.
All of that are the reasons for the spirit of Douce France.”
OO: Has it been difficult for you to be so far from your family for long periods? How do you stay close with them while you are so far away?
PG: “Yes. It is difficult. They are always in my mind. In my family, we are all captains, from generations past. However, I miss my family and they miss me. This is the difficult life of the seamen and their family.”