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French History – Le Manureva Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Culture, History, Music, Vocabulary

Thirty-nine years ago, the French sailor Alain Colas and his boat, le Manureva, disappeared off the Azores (a group of North Atlantic islands about 850 miles west of the coast of Portugal) while particpating in the Route du Rhum. The tale has inspired many, including the French composer Alain Chamfort and the singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.

A picture of the Manureva and her crew taken in St. Malo in November 1978 shortly before the start of the inaugural Route du Rhum.^

La Route du Rhum (the Rum Trail) is an elite course à la voile (sailing race/competition) crossing la mer Atlantique (the Atlantic ocean) from the port city of St. Malo in France to Pointe à Pitre on the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribean.

Alain Colas was by all accounts a force of nature. In the years leading up to the Route, he had already won a race across the Atlantic and completed the first solo trip around the globe in a multihull sailboat (the same Manureva). He was also a media star of the day, which made his disappearance all the more of an event.

On November 16, 1978, while leading the pack, Alain made his last known radio call from the heart of a storm. “Je suis dans l’oeil du cyclone. Il n’y a plus de ciel, tout est amalgame d’éléments, il y a des montagnes d’eau autour de moi . . . “ (I’m in the eye of a hurricane. There is no more sky, everything is a mix of elements, there are mountains of water around me . . . “).

The disappearance led to a massive search and rescue effort that lasted for many weeks, but which sadly ended without anyone every finding a trace of le navigateur* ou de son bateau (the sailor or his boat.) The song the tale inspired may be a bit (ok, very) kitsch. But despite the cheesy video, it has reminded the French of this sad story for over 35 years.

Manu Manuréva Manu Manureva
Où es-tu Manu Manuréva Where are you Manu Manureva ?
Bateau fantôme toi qui rêvas Phantom/ghost ship you who dreamed
Des îles et qui jamais n’arriva Of islands and who never arrived/made it
Là-bas There
 
Où es-tu Manu Manuréva Where are you Manu Manureva ?
Portée disparue Manuréva Declared lost/reported missing Manureva
Des jours et des jours tu dérivas Days and days you drifted
Mais jamais jamais tu n’arrivas But never never (would you) arrive
Là-bas There
 
As-tu abordé les côtes de Jamaïca Did you approach the coast/shores of Jamaica
Oh héroïque Manuréva Oh heroic Manureva
Es-tu sur les récifs de Santiago ou de Cuba Are you on the reefs of Santiago or Cuba
Où es-tu Manuréva Where are you Manureva ?
Dans les glaces de l’Alaska In the ice of Alaska
 
Où es-tu Manu Manuréva Where are you Manu Manureva ?
Porté disparu Manuréva Declared lost/reported missing Manureva
Bateau fantôme toi que rêvas  Phatom/ghost ship you who dreamed
Des îles et qui jamais n’arriva … là-bas
Of islands and how never arrived/made it
 
Tu es parti oh Manuréva You left of Manureva
A la dérive Manuréva To drift Manureva
Là-bas Out there
 
As-tu aperçu les lumières de Nouméa Did you glimpse the lights of Numea**
Oh héroïque Manuréva Oh heroic Manureva
Aurais-tu sombré au large de Bora Bora Could you have sunk of the coast of Bora Bora
Où es-tu Manuréva Where are you Manureva
Dans les glaces de l’Alaska In the ice of Alaska
 
Où es-tu Manu Manuréva Where are you Manureva
Portée disparue Manuréva Declared missing/reported lost Manureva
Des jours et des jours tu dérivas Days and days you drifted
Mais jamais jamais tu n’arrivas … là-bas Never to arrive.

* Today you’re more likely to come across this word in reference to the World Wide Web. Navigateur is the French word for browser as in “Je me sers du navigateur pour chercher des renseignements sur l’Internet. / I use the browser to search for information on the Internet.)
** Numea is the capital of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, located in the South Pacific.

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^ Photo Credits:
By Gvdmoort – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8840701

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris