William MacBrien, the only Canadian skipper entered in the Global Solo Challenge, is a man of many passions: not only an experienced sailor but also a skydiver who holds two records in Canada, with over 3,000 jumps to his credit. The name he has chosen for the boat that will accompany him on this adventure, as well as for his project, is Phoenix—a name loaded with meaning and promise.
William inherited his passion for sailing from his father, a naval aircraft carrier pilot and Olympic sailor in the Dragon class during the ’60s. His father also founded a shipyard specializing in the production of 40-foot cruising boats. Raised in this nautical context, MacBrien has always been immersed in the world of sailing.
“From a young age, I was aware of the extraordinary challenge that a solo round-the-world sailing trip represents. Although it was a dream, I had never seriously considered attempting the feat, given the high stakes in terms of risks. However, after sailing about 40,000 nautical miles double-handed, I realized that the risks could be mitigated through careful planning and rigorous discipline. One story that particularly struck me was that of Viktor Yazykov, a former Russian commando. In 1998, during his participation in the Around Alone, he had to operate on himself to remove an abscess from his elbow. This episode highlighted the potential dangers of such a journey,” says the Canadian skipper.
William’s skydiving experience has provided him with indispensable skills in sailing as well: “Throughout my life, I have developed the habit of thinking before acting. This mindset has been particularly useful during parachute malfunctions I’ve experienced in flight. In moments of tension, I tend to act rather than freeze. At sea, this could be my strong point; I’m a good sailor in a storm.”
MacBrien began preparing his project shortly after the announcement of the launch of the Global Solo Challenge in September 2021. Initially leaning towards purchasing a 50-footer, he later opted for renting an already tried-and-tested boat, the winner of the Globe40, a double-handed, multi-stage around-the-world race. The boat, previously known as “Sec Hayai” and now renamed Phoenix, is an Akilaria RC1 Class40 that complies with Category 0.
“I wanted to simplify the boat’s preparation by choosing a vessel already tested and designed for these oceanic endeavors. Of course, there were some modifications to be made, but I saved months of optimizing systems for a solo circumnavigation. Over the past two years, I have instead focused on mental preparation for the event. The question I ask myself is: ‘How can I do this or that alone?’ and I try to anticipate and solve all possible scenarios I can imagine… alone. It’s my first circumnavigation, so my goal is to finish. To do that, I have to sail smart, not fast.”
Phoenix, launched in 2007, is boat number 44 in the Class 40, designed by Marc Lombard and built by MC-TEC.
Marc Lombard, who recently passed away at 64, was an iconic figure in the French sailing landscape. From a young age, he was fascinated by the sea and nurtured a dream of becoming a boat designer—a goal he achieved even before completing his studies in naval architecture at Southampton. His career took off at the Hervé shipyard in La Rochelle, and he later founded his own design studio in 1982. In the ’80s, he dedicated himself to designing racing multihulls and later collaborated with Philippe Jeantot on the Open 60 Crédit Agricole 2 for the first edition of the Vendée Globe. This was just the first in a series of IMOCA boats he designed, including the standout “Le Pingouin” by Catherine Chabaud, winner of seven round-the-world races.
Lombard’s impact also extended to the world of recreational boating, particularly through his collaboration with Privilège Marine and the founding of RM Yachts in 1992. One of his most notable creations is the Figaro Bénéteau 2, which has shaped many talents in sailing and opened doors for him within the Bénéteau Group.
Regarding the Akilaria series, Lombard explained in an interview, “We began designing the Akilaria Class 40 in 2005, after the creation of the Box Rule for the class. The goal was to design and build a boat that was lighter and more efficiently shaped than its competitors while still being easy to produce on production scale.” The first Akilaria saw the light of day in 2006, followed by various versions, up to the innovative RC4.
Planning to retire by the end of 2022, Lombard had generously handed over his company to his employees. With his passing, he leaves an unforgettable legacy in the sailing world, and his boats will continue to sail the seas, bearing witness to his vision and immense talent.
MacBrien’s choice of Phoenix is a bet on reliability: “Given the boat’s track record, which has twice won round-the-world races, one can understand that if navigated safely and managed correctly, the boat can also win. After the Globe40 concluded in March of this year, the boat needed a complete refit, but Phoenix will take flight again!”
The refit, which began at the end of June after William completed his 2,000-mile qualification, is still underway at the V1D2 shipyard in Caen. Phoenix is undergoing an intense phase of checks and maintenance. The keel has been disassembled for detailed inspection, then reassembled; the rudder bearings have been replaced, and various equipment components have been checked. Additionally, extra fuel tanks have been installed, and the watertight bulkheads have been restored. A comprehensive review has covered all essential elements, including engine, watermaker, hydrogenerators, winches, rigging, sails, and electronics.
“We’ve introduced two new elements: the Starlink satellite system and an additional battery. Regarding navigation, I find that solo and double-handed dynamics are quite similar. I consider the boat quite comfortable and have chosen to avoid masthead spinnakers to minimize potential problems. My priority for this first circumnavigation is to complete it. While the idea of winning is enticing, the risks at stake are high. Pushing the boat too hard could result in the loss of crucial components like the mast, sails, or keel. So, my goal is to sail within my limits and the boat’s limits.”
MacBrien has put together a strong team to face his adventure. The key figure in Phoenix Ocean Racing is Josh Hall, the project manager. With a career as a professional solo sailor and four global circumnavigations under his belt, Josh has spent the last twenty years managing numerous successful projects in the sailing world, both solo and double-handed. He has played a crucial role in creating and developing the Phoenix project, from training the skipper in solo sailing to maintaining and preparing the boat.
Another pillar of the team is Stephanie White, the CFO and William’s best friend. Besides being his biggest supporter in pursuing this ambitious project, Stephanie is also an expert financial consultant and someone who knows how to keep the team’s morale high.
In preparing for his round-the-world journey, the Canadian skipper shares some interesting details about sleep management and galley provisioning.
“As for sleep, I’m quite fortunate. I could say I’m an Olympic-level ‘sleeper.’ I can fall asleep easily, although waking up is another matter. To avoid risks, I will use alarms on my phone as a safety measure. Also, I’ve bought a watch that emits electric shocks at predetermined times. Sleeping more than necessary is a luxury I can’t afford in a challenge like this.”
“On the food front, I’m still working out my menu. The initial strategy is to eat ‘normal’ food for the first month and then switch to freeze-dried food. I plan to include some canned food that I like in my diet, perhaps as a weekly ‘reward.’ Obviously, items like coffee, tea, cookies, and candies, my comfort foods, will be an integral part of my provisioning and will be consumed regularly.”
Regarding the route he will face, MacBrien expresses particular enthusiasm for some stages of the journey. “The part that excites me the most is undoubtedly rounding Cape Horn. It’s a legendary passage for every sailor and a place full of history and challenges, a tangible sign that I have reached the end of the world and am about to start a new phase of my journey. Beyond this, I’m also fascinated by volcanoes. I’ve always found geology and natural phenomena interesting, so the idea of seeing volcanoes along my route is exciting. I hope to spot some along my way.”