François Gouin, the surgeon-navigator in search of the happiness of others

©François Gouin

A sports project that unites a great passion on the sea and at work. François Gouin, an oncologist, surgeon, and solo sailor, is a spokesperson for Unicancer, his employer, to promote the beneficial effects of sports both in cancer prevention and in the treatment of cancer patients. He pursues a personal dream, sailing around the world, while still serving the profession that has been the mission of his entire life.

Can we really find parallels between the profession of a surgeon and that of a solo sailor? François’s story is proof.

Fascinated by solo sailors and sailboats he admired as a child on the pontoons of Saint-Malò during summer vacations, François learned sailing on a small family dinghy. He became passionate and went to sea for daily outings and small cruises, while also choosing a very demanding educational and professional path, a medical career, and in particular, surgery. In truth, without necessarily realising it, over time he developed many professional skills and abilities that are also crucial at sea.

“It may seem strange, but there are many parallels between my profession as a surgeon and that of a solo sailor. There is a process of reflection, preparation, and anticipation, both in my profession and in solo sailing. In both, you are in action and must know how to manage your emotions. You face many unexpected events, and it is essential to manage the mistakes you make. You must be rigorous but also very humble.”

©François Gouin


You are part of a team effort and alone simultaneously. “You learn teamwork. I have always worked in hospitals in large teams, and now to prepare for the GSC, I have a group of friends and family who help me prepare the boat. But then, when I operate or sail, I am alone.”

We find another similarity in sleep management, both during night shifts at the hospital and during sailing. “I have done many night shifts at the hospital in the past. At sea, you realize that you don’t have many constraints, so it’s easier to sleep in fragmented periods. For me, the real difficulty in managing sleep well is knowing how to sleep at any time, finding the inner calm that allows you to rest whenever there is a free moment. This is part of my mental preparation both as a doctor and as a sailor.”

At 25, François undertook his first Atlantic crossing in a double-handed race and experienced the challenges and pleasures of sailing short-handed. When he turned forty in 1999, he participated in his first Transquadra, an Atlantic crossing in which both double-handed and solo entries are allowed. “I didn’t have the right boat to enter solo, so I did it as a double-handed race. It was a wonderful experience, but I promised myself to do it alone next time.”

In the following years, Gouin bought another boat, and in 2005 he entered the Transquadra solo. It was the first of four participations, and the last he entered was in 2018.

©François Gouin


“It was a revelation: being alone in the middle of the sea gives very strong sensations. I experienced fantastic moments. Feeling the boat gliding fast in the trade winds, under a spinnaker, on a beautiful warm day leads to complete ‘fulfillment,’ a sense of total satisfaction. The sea is the only place where you experience the feeling of infinite space. At night, you see the stars above and the vast ocean in front of you, without boundaries.”

The dream of a solo round-the-world journey was born in François’s heart as a young boy, but the project materialised in 2020. While the sailors of the Vendée Globe were completing their circumnavigation, François and his colleague Jean-Yves Blay, director of the Léon Bérard Center in Lyon, dreamed of undertaking a similar feat for Unicancer. Unicancer is the federation of cancer centres that manages all specialised hospitals in France, including the Gustave Roussy Institute in Villejuif, the Curie Institute, and the Léon Bérard Center in Lyon, where Gouin works. The launch of the Global Solo Challenge, announced at the same time by Marco Nannini, added the last missing piece of the puzzle. The challenge was set: OKéania 2022–2025, a virtuous synergy of sports and medicine.

“With this project, we ensure the promotion of sports activities in the management of cancer and want to emphasise the importance of physical activity in general. Walking, climbing stairs, or practicing competitive sports. It’s important to move, leave the house, and live outdoors. Today, it is clinically known that sports are an effective support treatment for cancer recurrence and are recommended and tolerated even during treatments. A round-the-world sailing trip, made by an older skipper like me, offers a great image to convey this message.”

©François Gouin


Gouin has already organised presentation conferences for the OKéania 2022-2025 project for patients enrolled in the physical activity unit, which is now present in all centers, and they have been greatly appreciated. There are also daily sea outings planned for young patients living in western France. During the race, François also plans to stay in direct contact with the young people being treated at the Léon Bérard Center, for mutual support and their involvement in the heart of the adventure.

François has chosen a Class40, Kawan III, a 2008 boat already designed for this type of navigation, to complete his solo round-the-world trip. After the purchase in Italy and the delivery to Pornic (the home port), which Gouin himself partially sailed, the boat has been in the shipyard for a year and a half. “My preparation has been focused on the boat so far; I need to have confidence in her and had to plan ahead due to my work commitments.”

©François Gouin


François has mobilised a group of friends with whom he regularly races, led by Jimmy Viant from La Trinité sur Mer, who has already participated in several round-the-world crewed races and now works daily in the shipyard, taking care of all technical aspects. Gouin’s family, especially his two sea-loving daughters, are heavily involved and collaborate in the preparation.

“It’s nice to see how a project like this mobilises and unites so many people; I’m grateful to everyone!”

The boat has not undergone structural modifications; the necessary equipment has been installed to meet the requirements of the race regulations, and the electronics, rigging, and sails have been changed.

“I believe it’s a good compromise for an amateur like me who is no longer 20 years old. It’s not too big of a boat, but it’s very seaworthy. A Pogo 40 S is easy to maneuver, solid, and reliable.”

©François Gouin


Since I’ve been sailing solo, I’ve chosen boats of this type because they are fast in downwind conditions and therefore safe, especially for facing the seas of the Great South. Another significant factor, this boat suited my budget. I am delighted with this choice.”

The boat’s name, Kawan, refers to the Careta sea turtles (in French, caouanne) from the Antilles, where François met, duringa work trip, his wife and future owners of Kawan I in the late ’80s. “This beautiful name has remained for my subsequent boats, and today it is a tribute to my daughters, who are studying those turtles and overseas underwater fauna.” In addition, the Polynesian association “Te mana o te moana,” which specialises in the conservation of sea turtles, has joined the project by preparing an educational programme with school classes in Polynesia based on the observation of fauna and flora that François will encounter during this voyage.

François Gouin also relies on his partners, such as SOFCOT, Burologic, and Novelty, and all the supporters and donors, to whom he is grateful and without whom this project would not be possible.

Gouin is excited to embark on this round-the-world journey and says that the most thrilling part of the route for him is sailing in the Great South. “For me, it’s an unprecedented opportunity to be able to participate in the GSC; the planets have aligned, and I cannot miss this chance. The part of the route that intrigues me the most in this adventure is discovering and experiencing all the sensations of the Great South. To see the albatrosses and the great waves in person that I have only read and heard about.”

His determination and persistence will help him manage all the difficulties and unexpected events he will encounter along the way. “I think I can manage my daily life in an organised and rigorous manner, as required in this type of challenge.”

The great strength of François’ project will also be the sharing of the values of his profession, and his journey will become the journey of many patients and people who believe in the same ideals and in him. An endeavour that carries many values of hope and trust because, as Follereau said, “Living is helping to live. To be happy, you must help others create their happiness!”

Fair winds, François!


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