Incredible story of a family who spent 25 YEARS on a simple wooden yacht sailing to the most dangerous parts of the world with their children – and even adopted another two on the way
- Michele Meffre and her husband Georges decided to change their lives in 1979
- The couple ran a business and lived in the south of France with their two children
- One night they decided to sell the business, buy a boat and travel the world
- They moved to Tasmania, which has been a home base for them while travelling
- In 1993 they sailed to South America and adopted two orphan, Oscar and Fabian
An overnight decision by a French couple to sell their business and buy a yacht led them to an extraordinary life split between Australia and the world’s oceans.
And 40 years on, Michele Meffre wouldn’t change a thing, and says her family’s adventures should inspire others to live a life without fear.
The lives of Ms Meffre and her husband, Georges, took an turn in 1978, when after putting their children to bed one night, they sat down and discussed their future.
‘I said: “Is this going what you want with life?” and he said: “No” and the next day we put an ad in the paper selling our landscaping business,’ Ms Meffre told Daily Mail Australia.
That chat started an adventure that would see them traverse the planet on a 12m wooden boat called ‘Antares’ – named after one of the brightest stars in the night sky.
They would educate their two children, Sebastien, eight, and Lelia, six, on board, and later be joined by two boys – Oscar and Fabian – whom they adopted in Chile.
In 1978 Georges (left) and Michele Meffre (top right) sold their business, bought a yacht and hit the seas with their son Sebastien (centre) and daughter Leila (front right). Along their amazing journey they adopted two Chilean orphans Oscar (front) and Fabian (back)
‘We did not know anything’: Ms Meffre told Daily Mail Australia that the family sold their landscaping business and bought a boat, despite having little sailing experience (above are Oscar and Fabian in Cairns)
When they first set off from the south of France, life at sea was a completely foreign concept for the family, but they were left with no choice but to adapt – and quickly.
‘We did not know anything about the seasons, the head winds, or the navigation, but in the Mediterranean that was easy,’ Ms Meffre said.
‘Once we made a small jump out of there we realised it was very hard. We thought it would take no time to get to the Canary Islands, but we were going around in circles and it took three days.
‘But we learnt a lot. I educated the kids on the boat and travelling opens your mind.’
In December 1979 the family made their way to Cairns and spent some time there, before sailing down Australia’s east coast in a desperate search for work.
They were granted permanent residency in 1981, and sailed to Tasmania to take jobs working on the proposed Gordon Dam project in Tasmania.
They settled down, sent the kids off to school and even bought a house.
In 1985, when the Gordon Dam project was cancelled due to Green protests, the Meffre family sold up and hit the ocean again – but their son Sebastien stayed in Tasmania as he was settled at school and wanted to complete his studies.
Michele, Georges and Leila sailed back to France where they stayed for 18 months, before deciding to leave again and head back to Australia.
But as they made their way through the south Atlantic Ocean and around Cape Horn, the now experienced sailors faced their biggest test yet – 20m seas and record 160km/h winds.
Terrifying conditions saw their tiny boat battered by the waves, swamping them and causing sleepless nights knowing that one rogue wave could easily topple them.
Georges and Michele (pictured in the early 1990s) arrived in Australia in 1979 and settled down in Tasmania, but within a few years had the urge to travel again and so returned to France
Over the years they visited Asia, South America and Antarctica (pictured), schooling their kids along the way as well as given them experiences they could never have received in a class
‘It was a long night’: As they passed Cape Horn (pictured) while returning to Australia from France in 1987, the pair were hit by 160km/h winds and waves up to 20 metres high
A LIFELONG JOURNEY:
1978: Georges and Michele Meffre sell their business, pack up their lives, buy a yacht and leave France with their two children Sebastien, 8, and Lelia, 6
1979: The pair arrive in Australia, first stopping in Cairns before travelling south along the east coast to Tasmania
1981: As part of a government amnesty, the family is given permanent residency after Georges signs up to work on the Gordon Dam project
1985: After the Gordon Dam project fell through, Georges, Michele and Leila sail back to France. Sebastien, now a teenager, remains in Tasmania to complete his studies
1987: The Meffres return to Tasmania to find their son Sebastien has sailed off to New Zealand with his girlfriend.
1990: After a few years in Australia they join the crew of a ship and sail to Japan to where their daughter Leila has been living and studying. Three months in Japan proved enough, with the pair then returning to Tasmania
1993: After three years in Australia the Meffres get the urge to travel again, buy a new vessel and set sail for South America
1994: While in Chile, Georges and Michele adopt a boy called Oscar. They return a few months later and adopt a second orphan, Fabian
1998: After spending the best part of two decades at sea, the Meffres settle in Tasmania permanently.
2019: Michele still lives in Tasmania and is recently retired, Georges is now sailing the world alone, Sebastien works at the University of Tasmania, Leila works at Royal Hobart Hospital, Oscar lives in northern Tasmania and Fabian has settled in France
‘From Reunion Island to Tasmania it was a rough trip, but it didn’t help to be scared,’ Ms Meffre said.
‘You have to think: ‘What do I have to do to survive?’
‘Once you have done everything to prepare the boat and everything around you, you can do nothing but just wait… but it was a long night, I have to tell you.’
By the time they got back to Tasmania, their oldest son Sebastian had already left, sailing to New Zealand for his gap year with his girlfriend.
Ms Meffre and Georges set up home in Tasmania, but three years later in 1990 had the urge urge to travel again.
Their near-death experience on the trip to Tasmania saw them ditch their little wooden boat and take up a job as part of the crew of a large ship heading to Asia.
Their daughter Leila had been living in Japan for a few years, and this gave the pair a chance to go and visit her while working at the same time.
In a few months in Japan they returned to Tasmania and sold off their home, using the profits to buy a newer and stronger boat that could handle Antarctica and the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean.
With this new vessel in their possession, they set off for South America in 1993 going through the same seas that had almost claimed their lives a few years earlier.
The couple eventually arrived in Chile, finally fulfilling another dream – to have more children.
Ms Meffre suffered a number of health conditions which prevented her from having more children, but in South America they adopted two young orphans – first Oscar, and a few months later another boy called Fabian.
A long way from the icebergs of Antarctica, the Meffres travels took them to popular vacation destinations like Easter Island (pictured), in the Pacific Ocean
A world away from his impoverished life in Chile, Oscar gets up close and personal with a penguin while travelling with his new parents
Just months after his adoption, Michele and Georges took Oscar (pictured) to Antarctica. Just a few weeks later they returned to Chile where they signed the adoption papers for their second son, Fabian
The Meffres took their two new additions to the family to France, before returning to Tasmania where they introduced them to their siblings.
Having travelled around the world for the best part of 25 years, they finally settled in Tasmania in 1998.
Ms Meffre (pictured) recently sold her tourism business and is planning to retire
In recent years Georges has again begun sailing the world alone, while Ms Meffre has stayed in Tasmania and set up a company catering specifically for French tourists to Tasmania.
Using her knowledge of the area and her native language, she took groups on day trips and provided them with rare experiences.
But after selling her tourism company in recent months, Ms Meffre now has her heart set on retirement.
Her eldest child Sebastien is the head of the University of Tasmania’s geology department, while her daughter Leila works at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
Oscar still lives in Tasmania, while Fabian has since returned to France to work.
‘For me, we don’t plan what we do, but when we do something we do it fully and put all our energy into what we’re doing and we have to succeed,’ Ms Meffre said.
‘We did the landscaping business and did well, then we had to travel, and that was a great success.
‘My advice to people is live your life. Do something you’re passionate about, even if it is crazy and later on you feel maybe that was a bit much, that’s ok, you learned from it!’
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