Meet sailor Alexia Barrier – In Ocean we trust and in Earth we believe!

Alexia prepares for the 12th edition of the Transat Ag2r 

I met with Alexia Barrier for an interview at the Yacht Club of Monaco during a rather cold winter afternoon. At 34 years old this talented skipper is ready to present herself on the line of depart of 12th edition of the World Transat Ag2r departing on Sunday, April 6, 2014 from Concarneau, with expected arrival in Saint-Barth’s between April 27 and 28. The boat will carry the colors of the association 4myplant created by Alexia in 2009 to promote the protection of the oceans.

The Transat Ag2r, unique in its class, puts in competition after already 20 years, with skippers duos, young navigators or veteran sailors, on 15 monotype boats with equal arms, on a course of 3890 nautical miles. Gilles Chiorri, Director of the course, calls this 12th edition “the age of reason” and explains that the itinerary will be divided into two segments, with the first one up to Palma in a rather disturbed mode of the end of winter, and in the second till the arrival the conditions will be more stable. This event will reunite young talents and experienced navigators like Michel Desjoyeaux with two victories on Vendee Globe, Roland Jourdain who counts 2 victories on the Rhum route, or renowned French sailors like Kito de Pavant. 


The dynamic duo

Alexia Barrier & Laurent PellecuerAlexia will probably be one of the few female skippers in a fleet of 15 boats, and with her co-skipper Laurent Pellecuer, they aim at conquering the podium in the general classification. Pellecuer won in 2008 and Alexia in 2006, so that gives them a very good chance and experience to succeed. They have been raising funds to race double-handed and arm a design boat Beneteau Figaro II called 30 Corsaires, named after a club of 30 Entrepreneurs who decided to accompany them in this challenge, and prepare the crew and the boat for the success of this project. (Laurent and Alexia on the photo to the left.)

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The 15 teams planning to participate in the Transat Ag2r 2014

Alexia Barrier / Laurent Pellecuer (30 Corsaires); Thierry Chabagny / Erwan Tabarly (Gédimat); Fabien Delahaye / Yoann Richomme (Skipper Macif); ; Mathieu Forbin / Arthur Prat (Guadeloupe Grand Large 1); Gwénolé Gahinet / Paul Meilhat (Safran – Guy Cotten); Gerald Veniard / Jeanne Gregoire (Scutum); Gwenael Gbick / Kito de Pavant (Made in Midi); Corentin Horeau / Michel Desjoyeaux (Bretagne – Crédit Mutuel Performance); Roland Jourdain / Martin Le Pape (La Cornouaille); Yannig Livory / Guillaume Farsy (Lorientreprendre); Jean Le Cam / Gildas Mahé (Interface Concept); Nicolas Lunven / Eric Peron (Générali); Gildas Morvan / Charlie Dalin (Cercle Vert); Nicolas Thomas / François Guibourdin (Guadeloupe Grand Large 2); Simon Troel / Ronan Treussart (Entreprendre en Cornouaille)

Sailor from a very young age

Alexia was born in Paris, France. She considers herself Lucky when at the young age of three her parents decided to move south to start a new life in Nice. They were both working for an airline company that probably gave Alexia and her younger brother Cyril the taste for travel.  Cyril, who is Alexia’s super hero, lives in Ibiza with two kids and works as a chef in an organic restaurant.  Her parents bought a little 21-foot sailing boat and her life as a sailor began at three years old. Besides she has ancestors in the French Navy so she likes to think that navigation runs deep in her blood. Her favorite destination was racing with her dad in Brittany started when she was 12 years old. She shudders remembering the excitement of steering those boats of only 30 to 40 feet, as they appeared amazingly large to her at that time. I wanted to know how she got into competitive sailing and she said that she always had done lots of sports, playing 8 years of basketball and ending up in a regional team. Had she been taller she might have chosen to be professional in this sport instead of becoming a sailor. Thanks God for her adequate stature!

At 15 years old, when she realized that playing basket would not take her further, she started thinking seriously about sailing and signed up into a sailing school. She bean with Laser (dinghy) and ended up 15th in the National championship quite fast. Soon she became aware once again that her size and weight were not adapted to this specialty so she started sailing with crews in Monaco. They were a really motivated girls’ team, training hard and looking at the match race ranking dreaming of reaching the top 10. Three years later they succeeded to reach the 4th position in the women world ranking! The crew reached their potential so Alexia moved on to sailing singlehanded on offshore races, even when everybody told her she was crazy. That was good motivation for her to show them that they were totally wrong! Her first sponsor was ROXY, and she crossed the Atlantic racing from France to Brazil on a Mini 6.50 boat, a 21-foot mono hull, prototype, where she built the mast and the boom herself. She finished 12th out of 80 singlehanded competitors with only four girls in the fleet.

She has been working from the age of 15 to pay for her studies and race, first as a sailing instructor, then as a deckhand on a 100-foot sailing boat at 18, and at worked for Les Voiles d’Antibes for over five years, all while studying and racing. Nowadays she only races for a living, and sometimes gives conferences or private sailing lessons, always staying focused on sailing as much as possible on different kind of boats. Not an easy way to earn money but she is happy to give it all in order to reach her dreams.

Some great memories and scariest moments

Alexia has of good memories at sea, but the best sailing story would be the day she was registering boats at Les Voiles d’Antibes, when Dennis Conner (*) appeared at her desk. We had a nice chat, and he invited me sailing with his crew for the next races on his classic boat. I was so impressed! I spent two seasons doing the trimming for the Legend. Dennis Conner is an American yachtsman, known as “Mr. America’s Cup”. He is noted for winning the bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics, two Star World Championships, and four wins in the America’s Cup.

Another memorable event was arriving in Monaco after five months singlehanded for the 4myplanet Tour 2010, and see all the kids of the Principality waiting for her at Port Hercules. She added “That was the most energizing memory I can keep in my heart today.”

As for the scariest moment, she recounts she was sailing singlehanded on a 60-footer, a pure racing boat from Monaco to Cape Town. She was in this huge traffic in Gibraltar Strait, with cargo ships everywhere against the current and facing the wind. “No engine, only sailing, I was tacking and managing to stay on the side of the circulation. One of this tack, was close to be the last of my life, took me 15 meters to the bow of a cargo ship. The crew on this monster didn’t realize what happened, they where watching me from the bridge and having at me. I finally manage to tack! This picture is still in my head like one the most scary tack of my life.”

She envisions one day doing a trip around the world with her kids and husband on a big catamaran, but she is not married and have no kids yet, and as she is living a busy life, she is not sure when this would happen. And added: “At least I have a good dream.” I wanted to know which would be her favorite destination for a stop over and she said that the shame with these races is that they pass so many beautiful places but never stop! Cruising the Pacific is one of her dreams, but also other places in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. And she added: “The Mediterranean is my forever love. “


BARRIER-Tour du Monde_1Alexia writes almost everyday on the logbook when sailing, but also to switch off the boat for some minutes. During the 4myplanet Tour in 2010, she had more than 1000 kids plus parents and teachers all other the world following her on, so she was writing for them everyday, while her dad onshore was in charge of the corrections. She confessed she was so tired sometimes that she was glad he took time to do that. When she was back in Monaco they decided to publish experience with “Editions du Rocher”, and her book called “Planète Ocean en Solitaire” (Planet Ocean in solitary) is one of the books in collection of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.

Sailing solo and her next adventure Vendee Globe 2016

Alexia says that being a solo sailor is similar to life. “You will always have people to tell you that you are not enough to do it, so just listen to your little voice inside and trust yourself. Plus if you are a woman, again like in normal life, you do twice more effort to prove you are good. That’s how the world is working while having fun is the clue to not giving up.”

There is no Internet onboard and the communication via satellite is expensive but it’s nice to send some news and receive some. By email it’s easier. Sometimes when you call by phone the connection could be cut and you finish more frustrated that if you didn’t call. Alexia does not carry any trinkets or good luck charms on board, but she does bring gifts she had been given before the start if they are not too heavy, and she is happy to see them during her trips as they bring memories of her family, friends and supporters.

Life on a boat is very differently than on shore as you have limited resources on energy, water and food, and if you get hurt or the boat gets damaged, you have to manage it by yourself. You cannot sleep more then 1 continuous hour if you sail solo. If you sail with a crew and you don’t like someone you cannot just l leave the place. So living at sea teaches you how to put things in perspective in your “normal” life.

One of the greatest challenges facing a lone sailor is sleep, since a good watch must be kept at all times while at sea. Most single-handed use the technique of napping for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, using a timer to wake them up for periodic look-arounds; with the relatively slow speed of a sailboat, this allows most hazards to be seen in time. Again the challenge is greater for racers, given their higher speeds and more intense activity, and some racers have carried out considerable research into getting the maximum benefit from short catnaps. Especially for racing, often routes are chosen that stay away from land, shallow areas and areas with many ships. In the Southern Ocean sailors often do not see another boat for weeks. Recreational sailors usually choose a more tropical route (through the Panama Canal) closer to land and have to watch out better for shipping. They often stop in ports for rest and sightseeing.

The worst nightmare for the single-handed sailor is falling overboard. In fact, this may be the greatest danger for any ocean sailor, given the slim chance of recovering a crewmember lost overboard in the open ocean, particularly if the rest of the crew is asleep at the time (as will usually be the case for small crews). However, the nightmare scenario of floating in mid-ocean while watching one’s boat sail away under autopilot makes many single-handers very cautious. Staying on the boat (by careful and thorough use of handholds, lifelines, and tethers) is undoubtedly the best approach for any sailor, but some single-handers tow a rope astern, as a last desperate chance if they should fall in.

There is some controversy about the legality of sailing single-handed over long distances. The International Maritime Organization navigation rules require that “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” Single-handed sailors can only keep a sporadic lookout, due to the need to sleep, tend to navigation, etc., raising the possibility of a collision with an unseen vessel.

sailing winch handle IIFor Alexia, the winch handle is one of her best tools onboard. If you don’t have it starts to be a nightmare to trim and hoist the sails. So I always have a spare one in a special space inside the boat, just in case I loose the one I use on deck.

All is Lost Movie poster

I asked her opinion on the gripping and powerfully moving film “All is Lost” by J.C. Chandor, and she confessed Robert Redford as the solo sailor is still stunning, but it is just an entertainment movie quite far away from reality and she added “It is true that when you have a problem onboard if you don’t manage to solve it immediately then all sort of problems will follow.”

Alexia’s plan for 2016 is to sail around the world non-stop! She would love to compete in the 8th edition of the VENDEE GLOBE, a race around the world singlehanded, without stopover and without assistance with a top class line-up. In the course for the Vendée Globe you sail around the world from west to east via the three major capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn. There is a long slide down the Atlantic, the perilous voyage across the Southern Ocean with firstly the Indian Ocean and its crossed seas, then the Pacific Ocean, the world’s biggest ocean. Finally, there is the climb back up the Atlantic to head back to Les Sables d’Olonne, which marks the start and finish of the Everest of the seas. We take a look at each section of the round the world racecourse.

Complete competence with sailing and seamanship are of course required for single-handing, as is a high degree of self-sufficiency. Physical fitness is also of particular importance, because the lone skipper must accomplish the tasks ordinarily handled by two or more persons. This includes sail adjustments and changes, such as wrestling the jib down and off the foredeck in a sudden storm, an arduous task at the best of times. But Alexia is ready for this difficult challenge and is currently looking for sponsors to participate and realize a dream she had since she was a little child!


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