The amazing ocean-going world of Yvon Le Caer

Le Caer was a world-class competition cyclist before he embarked on his ocean-going exploits. His speed records for human powered water craft still stand more than twenty years later.

An innovative watercraft which would merge bicycle & marine technologies: that was the ambition of champion racing cyclist Yvon le Caer. His “AquaCycle” was years in development, and he had already crossed the Gulf Stream between the Bahamas and Florida on a prototype when he decided to test his latest model on the difficult waters between France and England. This was a second attempt – his first, in 1983, ended in disaster when his own escort vessel sliced 4ft off the front of his craft, all in the middle of the night of his 22nd Wedding Anniversary! Wiser and better equipped, and, on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, Yvon was determined and motivated like never before.

In May of 1985, Yvon had just tested a brand new propulsion system, with frame and rudder apparatus, finally achieving the right level of seacraft efficiency.The totally independent gear-driven propeller system (with "pushing" and "pulling" mode options), complete with crank arms and pedals, could be replaced at sea with very little loss of time. For crossing the Channel in 1985, Yvon opted for the "pulling" mode -- propeller upstream of the flow on the forward side of the "outdrive."

“Operation English Channel” would take Yvon from Cherbourg to Poole, in September 1985. Although swimmers stroke across the 21-mile wide Strait of Dover, Yvon Le Caer's chosen route lies 180 miles west of the Strait. The 75-mile wide body of water lying between Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy and Poole on the Dorset coast of England features strong currents, busy shipping lanes, unpredictable weather and turbulent, cold and foggy waters. Extreme tidal ranges also create constantly shifting high velocity tidal currents.

His earlier career in competitive cycling was an essential part of his preparation. In the early eighties he was still riding an average of 15,000 miles a year, and during the few months preceding the 1985 crossing, it was not unusual for him to ride 60 to 70 miles on the road in the morning, then the AquaCycle for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon.

Finally, on September 9, 1985, despite hostile conditions,Yvon left Cherbourg at dusk, with his escort vessel, support personnel and a French TV crew onboard. He "pedalled" all night, across shipping lanes and through a sharp broadside chop. Due to tidal currents, it was a rather long 92-mile meandering path with constant course adjustments. After a moonless and cold night (48˚ Fahrenheit), the morning brought dense fog, hampering navigation during the final hours. Still, Yvon never gave up, and reached Poole harbour entrance by late morning, September 10th, 16 hours 42 minutes after leaving Cherbourg.

"It required a great deal of effort, coordination and planning", says Yvon; " in such adverse conditions, it is essential to have a good escort vessel. In this regard, my wife Andrea, and all navigators and technicians onboard as well, did a fine job; so did the French Marine Nationale (Cross-Jobourg) and the British Coast Guard who kept a vigilant watch all along, alerting continuously all passing ships of our position and movement at sea."

"I read once that: 'Doing what you want is achievable, if you set realistic goals and follow through' – a saying so true, in my case. I came out of the starting gate like a bullet (sort of), leaving Cherbourg for Poole at dusk. The rest is history: at last, I made it through, in a time that will be most likely broken someday, but still stands for now, more than two decades later."

We are very grateful to Yvon for allowing us to reproduce extracts from his fascinating website.

Read More:

Across the Channel in a Cycle-Boat

The Website of Yvon Le Caer