Women have caught up with men in most disciplines and professions, but single-handed female sailors remain a rare sight. In the Caribbean we still met a few, but that changed in the South Pacific. Maybe women are discouraged by the long distances between the islands or they are too worried about facing technical problems in remote places. During five years we encountered countless male single-handers, but we were quite surprised when we finally saw a boat arriving in the Gambier Islands (French Polynesia) with only one young woman on board.
I interviewed Charlotte Guillemot (31) for All At Sea and asked about her motivation, preparation and experiences:
AAS: What sailing experience did you have before you set out alone?
CG: I was born into a sailing family. My grandfather sailed around the world and he took me out on his boat when I was three years old. As a kid holidays meant sailing. In the West Indies I spent sailing holidays with my family and my Dad won famous French yacht races – La Route du Rhum, and Transat Jacques Vabre. When the wind was blowing I went windsurfing. And when there were waves I took out my surfboard. I grew up close to the ocean, in Brittany. When I was 16 my father let me take his J24 out and I practiced sailing in the area together with my little brother.
Later, I became a video journalist and my first job was to report from regattas, so I got the chance to sail onboard beautiful racing boats like IMOCA 60s, VOR 70s, and mini 6.50s.
My first real adventure was to sail as crew on a passage from New Zealand to Tahiti. From there I hitchhiked on different boats around French Polynesia.
After this experience I wanted to have my own boat to sail by myself. I bought a Sun Odyssey 35 in Martinique and sailed singlehanded for the first time. That was last year.
AAS: Did you take special safety precautions/equipment?
CG: I only have an AIS, no radar. When I sail close to the coast I sleep only 30 minutes and I wake up to check the clouds, the sails, the horizon, the direction I go. When I sail far away from the coast, I set an alarm to wake me up every hour. For me that is the best safety precaution.
AAS: Why did you decide to sail alone? Would you have preferred to have your boyfriend/a friend with you?
CG: I decided to sail alone because I’m free to go wherever I want to go. If you wait for somebody, you never leave …
AAS: What was the reaction of your family/friends when you told them about your plan?
CG: My mother was very anxious, but we talked a lot, I explained my motivation and now she understands that it is my choice and the right way of life for me. She is happy, because she can visit me in beautiful places. My father was a bit worried too, but he understands me, we share the same passion. I think they are both proud of me.
My friends are very happy for me because they know who I am. And they know I am happy to live this life.
AAS: Have you ever been in a situation where you felt overwhelmed without help?
CG: I haven’t been in a seriously bad situation yet, except when I left Galapagos and fishermen were very curious to see me alone onboard. They wanted to talk to me and got dangerously close to my boat.
I worked hard to prepare my boat before I left and I haven’t had big technical problems yet. I carefully check the boat every day – the rig, the energy supply, the sails … If you don’t pay attention to a little problem, it will become a big problem one day!
AAS: Do you miss company?
CG: I don’t miss company when I’m sailing. But sometimes, when I’m anchored in a beautiful place, I would like to share the moment with my friends.
AAS: How do you feel when you arrive?
CG: I’m happy because I say ‘Yes! I did it!’ but also a little bit sad because it is the end of a beautiful adventure with my boat and myself. After each stop I am reluctant to leave a place I enjoyed, especially because of the wonderful people I meet everywhere I go. Each time I leave, I tell myself ‘I will come back’. But in the end, after one or two days of sailing, I’m content to be back out on the sea and I’m ready for a new adventure with many good memories.
Editor’s note: You can follow Charlotte’s adventures on Facebook, at: Charlotte Guillemot part en mer