The old knife-thrower scores a bull's-eye - Mouligne tacks into Punta to take top Class II honours once again

Before J.P. Mouligne moved to America, took a job, got married, and set off to race around the world in Around Alone, he made his living roaming through Europe as a professional knife-thrower in an act called Duo Taranis, which means the God of Thunder. Even today, Mouligne carries the motto he learned those many years ago: “Stay on target.” One night, however, the Thunderous One made a slight miscalculation and blood spilled on a cabaret floor. His leggy assistant was fine – it was just a nick on the finger – but Mouligne retired from show business soon after. A knife-thrower with confidence issues is a man with serious vocational problems.

Today, in his latest pursuit, the 42-year-old native Frenchman who now lives in Newport, Rhode Island, is once again a confident man. As well he should be. At 1416 GMT (11:16 a.m. local time), Mouligne tacked across the finish line here in Punta to take top honors in Class II for the third consecutive leg of Around Alone with a time of 29d 15h 16m 34s. Mouligne’s last 50 miles were miserable; he lost his remote autopilot control yesterday and was forced to hand steer for the final stretch, a close-hauled beat in a fresh northerly that required countless tacks. “It was just a nightmare,” he said. “I’m a zombie. I worked so hard. I was really afraid that Mike [Garside] was going to catch up to me. He was so close to me at one point. It was a very tough leg.” When Mouligne finished, Garside was a little over 100 miles from the finish line, and 44 miles ahead of third-place skipper Brad Van Liew. Garside is expected late this evening or early tomorrow.

On a leg straight out of Believe It Or Not, one in which Josh Hall and Marc Thiercelin were dismasted, and Isabelle Autissier was shipwrecked, Mouligne accomplished the incredible feat of finishing second overall for the 7,000-mile journey, something a Class II skipper has never done before. “It’s incredible,” Mouligne said. “I knew I must have done something right, because I’ve never had a helicopter overhead for one of my finishes. I feel for Isabelle though. It’s just a terrible thing that happened to her. But the whole leg was amazing. The whole thing was just one drama after another. I’m amazed to be the second boat in. I really can’t believe it.”

Mouligne was greeted not only by the helicopter, but by a good-sized spectator fleet and hundreds of locals lining the breakwater off the Yacht Club Punta del Este. “The welcome here in Punta was incredible,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many people for an arrival. I couldn’t believe the crowd.” Mouligne deserved it, for he had had a trying voyage. “It was much more difficult than Leg 2,” he said. “More wind, bigger waves, colder, everything. I didn’t start very well. I lost my wind instruments the first afternoon and that was a really big problem… The boat was always overpowered and rounding up. I did a couple of flying jibes, just like Isabelle. It was unreal. A couple of days ago the boat was absolutely on its side, literally on its side. But it didn’t go over.”

With three consecutive individual leg victories, if Mouligne can ace the final leg to Charleston he will join Yves Dupasquier as the only other Class II skipper to sweep the event (Philippe Jeantot, Class I winner in 1982-83, also went four for four). “I’ll be very proud if I can do that,” he said. “I don’t know if I can. It’s getting more and more difficult. I think [Mike and Brad] are getting ahold of it now, Mike is getting very good. But I’m going to try like hell to win the last one. I’ve got a lot of respect for Yves and if I can do what he did it would be a great achievement.” The blade is sharpened and the old knife-thrower has the target in his sights. Ready, aim….