Vito Dumas. An ordinary Argentine, from a country that had once been great and was beginning to decline. He died of a stroke after a lifetime of physical excesses committed in earlier stages of his life that had led him to be a legend at home and abroad.

He had broken the world record for staying in the water (long-distance swimmer), had boxed at the Gimnasia y Esgrima club, had sailed Archachon-Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 1930s on a 15m sailboat designed for day regattas which was  bought with the money he carried to swim across the English Channel.

The money was not enough (that’s the official story). However, Vito decided not to continue with the challenge when he learned that an English woman had achieved it a short time before. “Being second is the same as being last,” he said. And to make matters worse, being second to a woman: unacceptable for a porteño (born in Buenos Aires) of that time. Vito Dumas decided not to return to his homeland empty-handed and to do it in a special way; sailing in a sports boat.

He got “le You”, formerly “Titave II” in a shipyard, owned by Mr. Bossuet, where it was about to be scrapped (according to Mr. Bossuet, he was going to warm his feet from the stove). Basic repairs were made to endure such a trip, and he renames her LEHG, initials of a love that lasted 20 years carried with extreme discretion given the lineage of the lady in question.

Changing the name of a ship brings bad luck, and surely Vito knew it. When they launched her, he had her blessed by the parish priest of St. Ferdinand, the nearby church, sprinkling her with holy water by some olive twigs. She sailed with desire and little else. Mr. Bossuet, from the coast, commented to his son; tomorrow there will be wood in the sand, a descriptive saying of the usual accidents when trying to negotiate the bar outside the port.

He made a stopover in Vigo, Agadir, the Canary Islands, Mostardas (where asleep he stranded and ran aground on the beach, and it took more than a month to refloat her), Rio Grande and Montevideo and when he arrived in Buenos Aires the crowd awaiting him took him 300m on litters , in one of those outbursts of patriotic passion, flowing hormones, and short memory.

Vito was someone from the heap who had overshadowed the similar feat that, with “Ingrid”, four members of the Buenos Aires upper class had achieved a few months earlier. Ingrid was talked about in the Argentine Yacht Club, whereas Lehg was throughout the country. Vito was the personification of the average Argentine who had achieved a feat, something unforgivable for the division of classes. A black legend of “mufa” and “yeta” (bearer of bad luck) was created. Meanwhile, the news of his achievement reaches Europe and his name is heard in clubs, associations, pubs, shipyards and fans. Vito Dumas donates the Lehg to the Lujan Museum, with the exception of the mainmast, which would be used as the pole of the Lehg II. Germán Frers Sr. (Don Germán, father of the brilliant designer ), in his shipyard in the port of fruits of Tigre, had told him that repairing the Lehg made no sense.

An excellent Norwegian navigator, Al Hansen, arrived in Buenos Aires in 1934 and met Vito several times to compare solitary experiences. Surprised by the Argentine’s knowledge and his generosity in sharing it, he gave him his on-board chronometer, a Solvil, a Swiss brand created by Paul Ditisheim, from a long-standing family of watchmakers. To be a marine chronometer, a watch had to be able to tell the time with a precision that would allow calculating a longitude with less than a third of a degree (an error of no more than five seconds in three months), a rule that the English had imposed  (Longitude Board) in 1714.

Since 1924, tuning in to the BBC’s long wave, it was possible to listen to the hourly tones (6) at each hour, and to verify the proper functioning of the onboard chronometer or clock. Vito couldn’t do it because he didn’t have a radio.

This Solvil chronometer is still in the possession of the Vito Dumas family, in Buenos Aires. Al Hansen would head south, he would be the first navigator crossing Cape Horn in reverse (from E to W) and would capsize on the Chilean coast of Chiloé, dying there.

Vito wanted to be alone at sea again, and he asked Manuel Campos, a designer of beauties whose difference with Sorolla, Monet or Turner was that his were three-dimensional and floated, to create for him a sailboat with which he could circumnavigate the Earth. The Lehg II was born, 9.55m in length, double bow and long keel for course stability, (which allowed him to tie the tiller and go to sleep), exterior of the cabin finished with painted canvas, infallible system for the tightness (and that I still used in the 70’s, in the Tigre Sailing Club).

The mainmast is from the original Lehg, the one from the trip from Arcachon. Vito, having tested the Lehg II on several trips to Brazil, concludes, after capsizing during a storm near Punta del Este, that the boat was good. He runs out of money and sells the Lehg II to a friend on the condition that he can buy it back in the future for the same price, dedicating himself for about 6 years to operate a small agricultural farm.

 He buys it back, prepares her, and in the middle of the second world war he decides to circumnavigate from west to east through the “roaring forties “to teach the youth that there are values ​​beyond money and materialism.” He was afraid that they might mistake her for a spy ship, so he decided not to install any engine, batteries, or radio. He loaded 400 bottles of sterilized milk, 200 liters of kerosene for cooking, and about 200kg of chocolate, dried meat, cookies and other non-perishable foods, the rain would take care of filling the 400-liter tank of water when it was emptied. Before setting sail, a friend asked him how much money he had and, given the evidence of the scarce 10 pesos, gave him 10 pounds sterling. Vito thanked him, commenting: “and where do you want me to spend them while I sail?”

The coast guard did not allow him to dispatch LeghII  to circumnavigate because Vito did not have any navigator’s license, not even a basic one, he then asked to be dispatched to Montevideo, and there he got dispatched to Cape Town. He had an infected nail when he set sail, which turned into an inflammation of the right arm to the point of gangrene. A week later, while crossing the Atlantic, he decided to cut the arm off. His egotism was taking its toll, he was neither invincible nor all-powerful. One night while he was sleeping, his arm drained and in the morning it began to heal.

 In the middle of the Atlantic, when opening a tin of cookies, he finds a note from the shopkeeper who had supplied them, wishing him good luck in his adventure and expressing his pride at having been able to contribute to it, which breaks his soul and makes him openly cry with sea, clouds and sky as witnesses.

The worst moment of the trip was the calm of several days near Tasmania, where he “felt like dying” since that absolute tranquility gave him the impression of being dead. In the storms, Vito said “you fight, there is life.” His journey lasted 15 months, he was greeted again like a hero. Later, General Perón, an emerging politician at the time who wanted to be president, gave him all kinds of tributes, including in 1949 the rank (maximum possible) of Lieutenant of the Main Naval Reserve, more to piss off the Navy, his natural enemies, than acknowledging the feat. A lot of photos in uniform with authorities and increasing his very innocent popularity, which had the effect of a renal colic and toothache within the Buenos Aires elite. Perón created and gave him to direct a nautical school, and tango players Francisco Canaro and Carlos Di Sarli dedicate the march “Vito Dumas” and the tango “El navegante” respectively to him. A few years later, Vito set sail for New York again aboard the “Lehg II”.

When he arrived near Manhattan, he found himself with a very cold attitude for diplomatic reasons, since the US ambassador in Argentina had tried to manipulate the presidential elections against Peron, as he was  pro- German and had been trained by Mussolini in Italy years ago ( although there are other versions but still not well founded). Without landing, Vito headed to Cape Verde and shortly before arriving he fell south, to return to Buenos Aires. He lost 20 kilos and almost died from malnutrition and drinking sea water. He tried again and succeeds with the “Sirius.” 7 meters x 2.20 wide.

 When he got back to Buenos Aires (the Sirio was sold in New York), the 1955 coup that overthrew Perón had just taken place. In Argentina there were two positions: Peronist (prohibited party) or anti-Peronist (also called gorillas), whose leadership was held by the Navy. Nobody carried him on a litter, and as an enemy of the regime for having accepted tributes from Peron, Vito’s fate was cast: he was an outcast. I clearly remember two things: when I was ordered, at the Liceo Naval 1967-1971, not to pronounce the cursed name, and that one of my Buenos Aires crew here in Mallorca, when it was mentioned, performed a light exorcism to be kept away bad luck.

Vito Dumas was a swimmer, photographer, chess player, boxer, painter, and aviator, and he excelled in everything. Bernard Motessier and Francis Chichester used his stories to run storms down the wing during their solo voyages 30 years after the voyage of the Lehg II.

He was a “natural navigator” without studies or previous experience. His egocentric side led him to practice sports and activities alone, and to decide that sailing took precedence over his family life. The only known exception was Ms LEHG. He was also extremely generous all his life, once a fan gifted him a house, which Vito sold immediately, buying himself a 1947 Packard and distributing what was left to his less favored friends. He liked the good life when he was on land, his favorite drink was champagne.

In the 80s, the true story began to be recovered thanks to the biography “Vito Dumas – Testimonies of the Legend” written by Ricardo Cufré and Roberto Alonso. On September 30, 2000, his remains were transported from the Olivos Cemetery to the Naval Pantheon of the Chacarita Cemetery, in Buenos Aires, a timid and shameful posthumous recognition of his sporting feats.

It only took 50,835 miles and 57 years for the Argentine Navy to forgive him for being the best solo sailor that ever lived.

Considering that the Vatican took 359 years to lift Galileo’s excommunication, the Navy has been quite discreet.

Interesting Notes:

Sirius was the name of his fox terrier dog.

The Sirio was burned by its owner in New York to avoid paying the cost of the dry dock.

The Sirio II is in impeccable condition at the Mar del Plata Yacht Club.

The Lehg is exhibited at the Luján Museum, about 70 kilometers from Buenos Aires.

The Lehg II, abandoned by the Navy, was rescued and rebuilt by Carlos Perdomo, for whom Astilleros de Mallorca built the 64m schooner Jessica, in 1984. Perdomo took care of all the repair costs and then donated it to the Naval Museum in Tigre.

Vito Dumas does not name his son or his wife in any of his books. He approaches his son once he has stopped sailing and establishes the relationship which until that moment was nonexistent.

L.E.H.G., his love of 20 years and many times mecenas, asks Vito to stop sailing. Vito turns a deaf ear. L.E.H.G.  burns part of his belongings as revenge. It was the end of the relationship.

By Oscar Siches

To Ricardo Cufré, a Navy comrade, a scholar and a very dear friend.

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