The incredible journey of Guirec Soudée

Words by Will Pocklington

March 01, 2024

(Photograph by Vincent Curutchet)
Guirec Soudée’s story is a reminder that the world is ours to explore. In the first of a series of blog posts about the daring maritime adventurer, we take a closer look at his background, achievements to date, and the steely mindset that is central to it all.

It had been 130 days since he last made contact the outside world. Trapped in an ice field off the coast of Greenland, Guirec Soudée faced the unknown in complete isolation, with only a red hen called Monique for company. Finally, as winter’s grip loosened, he was able to begin slowly weaving his boat, Yvinec, through the receding icebergs and continue his five-year journey around the globe. He was free.

At just 32 years old, the French maritime adventurer already has a remarkable collection of such stories to look back on. Featuring Inuit people, polar bear encounters, dolphin escorts, and a pair of trusty Le Chameau boots – to name just a few – they are characterised by risk, unpredictability, and a craving for daring exploration.

The 70,000 nautical miles to Guirec’s name so far take in two solo rows across the Atlantic, a pole-to-pole sailing expedition and a single-handed circumnavigation of the globe on a 12-metre steel yacht. And yet, still he yearns to do more, to go further, and to immerse himself deeper in the environments which he holds so dear. His is a tale that is far from over…

The wild child

The spirit of high adventure has been with Guirec since childhood. Growing up on a small island near Plougrescant, a peninsula town in Brittany, the sea has always been an integral part of his life. “By the age of 7 I had my own fishing boat and was already going out to sea by myself,” he explains. “I was left to my own devices from a pretty young age.” He counts himself lucky.

Guirec spent 130 days stuck in an ice field off the coast of Greenland, with no communication with the rest of the world. (Photograph by Guirec Soudée)

Not one for academia, Guirec left school at 18, bought a plane ticket and headed straight to Australia with just €200 in his pocket. “I wanted to learn English and earn a bit of money,” he says, “although the bigger plan was to eventually buy a proper boat and travel far away. At the time I wasn’t sure where to.”

Even on the other side of the planet, Guirec was drawn to the ocean, where he spent weeks at a time offshore as the mate of a shrimping vessel. True to his word, though, two years later he returned home to France, bought a 1985 swing-keel sailing yacht with the cash he had saved, and, with no experience of long campaigns at sea, began preparing to set sail around the world. It was an audacious move, but there was no shortage of inspiration…

Roland Jourdain: a motivating force

Before his big adventure, while stopping over in Concarneau, on the southern coast of Brittany, Guirec met Roland Jourdain, a celebrated and experienced ocean racing navigator. In 2010, Roland – known as ‘Bilou’ to his supporters – had won his second Route du Rhum, a challenging transatlantic race that established him as one of the best sailors of his generation. “We clicked straight away,” says Guirec. “Bilou is almost twice my age but physically and in his mind he’s as young as I am and he’s also very well rounded. He’s a people person, he’s friendly and he’s given me a lot of his time.

“I’ve since been fortunate enough to sail with him, and I have learned so much about everything from navigation to working with the weather, sail settings and boat optimization. Bilou always shares his knowledge with a smile.”

Some things cannot be taught

Of course, the technicalities of navigating untamed waters in all weathers are one thing, but the mindset required to embark on an expedition that leaves you exposed to the mercy of Mother Nature is another entirely. Guirec believes anything is possible with the right mindset. The only real barriers to our success, he says, are those that we construct ourselves. An optimist with seemingly boundless reserves of resilience and determination, it’s clear he finds reward and purpose in pushing the boundaries. It’s this energy and will to step out of his comfort zone – coupled, no doubt, with his quirky choice of feathered travel companion – that have inspired millions around the globe. His first book, The Hen Who Sailed Around The World, became a bestseller, as did the hugely popular A Sailor, A Chicken, An Incredible Voyage: The Seafaring Adventures of Guirec and Monique.

Guirec with his travelling hen, Monique. (Photograph by Guirec Soudée)

A passion for environmental protection

The ‘p’ word is overused nowadays, but to omit it here would feel like a disservice. True passion so often transcends an activity, task or challenge to tend to a bigger picture. Guirec’s dedication to spreading awareness about the importance of environmental protection and conservation is testament to this.

A strong advocate for the preservation of marine ecosystems in particular, Guirec’s devotion to environmental conservation has become a key part of his identity as an adventurer. His travels around the world have given him a first-hand view of the devastating effects of climate change and pollution on our oceans. Be it melting ice caps or plastic pollution, he often shares stories and images that highlight the beauty of the marine world and the threats it faces, using his growing platform to educate his followers.

A free spirit who exemplifies how exploration and adventure can go hand in hand with respect for nature and a commitment to preserving it for future generations, Guirec’s story so far is inspiring but far from finished. What’s next? Watch this space. We look forward to telling you more…

It takes a certain type to embrace with gusto the harsh and unpredictable conditions of the open seas.
Guirec believes anything is possible with the right mindset. (Photograph by Guirec Soudée)