Patrick Phelipon, fifty years at sea and still a dream to fulfill

@Patrick Phelipon

Patrick Phelipon was the first skipper to register “Full Entry” for the Global Solo Challenge. Known as the most Italian of French sailors, he is a yacht designer and builder, let’s say, an all-around sailing professional. On his website, he writes that he is a dreamer and that, as a child, he dreamed of the ocean as the most beautiful story told.

Interviewing Patrick, one understands that, in addition to his kindness and calmness of character, the flame of competition burns within him. In fact, he doesn’t intend to do the GSC only to participate and make a dream come true, he is focused on winning.

“At the age of 70, 50 years from my first fully crewed circumnavigation, sailing around the globe solo would be the crowning achievement of my career,” says Phelipon, who in 1973-1974 participated in the first edition of the Whitbread Round the World Race aboard the Pen Duick VI with Éric Tabarly.

©Patrick Phelipon – Pen Duick VI Crew. From left to right: Éric Tabarly, 42; Patrick Phelipon, 20; Jean-Philippe Chaboud, 32; Pierre Montsaingeon, 29; Beranard Rubinstein, 27; Patrick Tabarly, 30; Marc Pajot, 20; Antoine Croyere, 24; Patrick Meulemeester, 21; Jean-Pierre Dagues, 27; Pierre Leboutet, 23; Olivier de Kersauson, 29

In your life, you have sailed the equivalent, in nautical miles, of four circumnavigations of the globe. What do you expect from your fifth one?

I have done an around-the-world race fully crewed, but I have never done it single-handed. It’s a dream I’ve had for a very long time, ever since I sailed with Tabarly, but it’s not always an easy dream to achieve. I had registered for the Golden Globe Race, which I had to give up for various reasons. Then I thought of sailing Bernard Moitessier’s “Long Route”, and I was preparing my Endurance 35 when I heard about the GSC. I liked the format from the very start, and I registered.

This time there are all the premises for me to be at the starting line. The excitement for this new project is also related to finding a rhythm of life dictated by nature, leaving enough room for adventure.

What experiences made you realize that solo offshore sailing was good for you?

It wasn’t love at first sight, it was a passion that slowly grew within me. I don’t remember a specific episode however, ever since I returned with my family from Morocco, where I was born, to La Rochelle, I started sailing. I remember, for example, participating, at 17, in a solo race in La Rochelle Bay on a 9-meter ½ Tonner and placing well. Then I participated in many 500×2, where you’re solo for half of the race, and I won three of them. I’ve always been comfortable alone, probably due to my independent and somewhat introverted character.

©Patrick Phelipon

To which sailor of the past do you feel most connected?

In my life, I have always done things as I felt them. I have no role models to inspire me, but a character that I got to know well and is an example to me is Éric Tabarly. I am certainly more in tune with Tabarly compared to Moitessier. With the former, I share the attention to technical aspects, as Eric was interested in yacht design and innovation.

When we circumnavigated the globe, Tabarly talked little, stayed in the cockpit, and made many adjustments to optimize performance. When I sail, I watch the sky and the sea and make the most of my knowledge to make the boat run, just like he did.

I have never had and will never have his physical strength, but we both share a great determination, which I believe I have also demonstrated in preparing this project. Like Tabarly, my goal when racing is to win, not just participate.

You have said that you chose the GSC also because it is organized by an Italian. What extra value do you find in that?

I immediately liked the format of the GSC because it is a race dedicated to ordinary sailors who want to make a dream come true, and not just to the sailing elite.

I believe that, thanks to the sensitivity that characterizes the Italians, there is a greater likelihood that the event will remain human and sportive rather than turn exclusively into a media platform. Furthermore, Marco Nannini, the organizer, is a great sailor, and has a race approach close to the competitors.

©Patrick Phelipon

In your preparation, what percentage do you devote to the boat, to your needs, and to sailing?

I have spent a lot of energy preparing the boat and studying the regatta as for the route, and the weather. Therefore, I would say 70% to the yacht, 20% to sailing, and 10% to provisioning and preparing myself mentally.

For the first time, I am following the refit and complete preparation of the boat in every detail: I work on it every day, and it’s fantastic. I am creating a strong bond with my boat. Perhaps I will lack some knowledge in navigation, but with designer Paolo Cori, my dear friend, we are studying all stability aspects within the race regulations. So there will be no surprises. I reread Tabarly’s book, and at the start of the race, we had only sailed 2000 miles aboard Pen Duick VI.

With which boat will you sail around the world??

In January 2021, I registered with my Endurance 35, but following the change in the regulation that only allowed series boats, I decided to participate with my other one, which I have renamed “Effraie 2” in tribute to the first boat I designed. This boat has a unique story as it has always returned to me despite having sold it and having belonged to three different owners. So, I thought that it was fate that I do something great with her, the GSC.

Effraie 2 ©Patrick Phelipon

What message do you want to convey to the audience?

Through my project and the fullfilment of my dream, I would like people to understand that with determination, and willpower, they can accomplish great things. Luck helps those who help themselves; if you help others, others will help you. The important thing is to believe in yourself and always see the positive side, the glass half full in the things that happen.

What have you planned to bring for provisioning? Many people wonder how you manage to live for many months at sea without resupplying.

First of all, I am considering the different cooking methods. I am trying a microwave oven with a glass-ceramic plate on top. With this system, I can plan a series of bags of ready-to-eat dishes that cook in the microwave for two or three minutes. The electricity consumption is high but limited in time, so with the various battery charging systems (wind, hydro-generator, solar, and engine) I will compensate that consumption. I don’t particularly like the freeze-dried system that forces you to boil water and have gas on board.

Of course, I’ll also have a normal pot to prepare classic dishes like pasta and rice. I also hope to fish, I love fishing, and during the Atlantic crossings I have participated in, I have always won the fishing competitions. With my partner Nicoletta, we prepare dried vegetables and fruit that can be rehydrated or consumed as they are. I don’t usually eat meat, so I’ll continue to consume legumes or dairy products as long as I’ll have them available. I’ll also bring vitamin and mineral supplements.

Will your loved ones give you an object that will make you feel their presence?

I will carry a small picture with a piece of cloth from Sister Teresa of Lisieux. My grandmother gave it to my mother when I was little, and very sick, she put it under the pillow, and I got better. On board, I will also put photos of Effraie 1 and a notebook prepared by Nicoletta and my mother, who passed away last summer.

©Patrick Phelipon

What would you recommend to someone who wants to try an adventure like yours?

First, I would advise them to understand why they want to do it: if they are doing it for themselves, they can continue, but if they are doing it for others, it will be hard for them to succeed. Once they have decided what to do and how, they should dive headfirst and put their heart and soul into their project.

A person like that was Simone Bianchetti. I met Simone when he was very young, when I first moved to Italy, to Cervia. I was an idol for him, and he always wanted to compete against me, even though he often couldn’t match me. These defeats encouraged him to do better. Later, he achieved great feats, despite his not-always-conventional ways of doing things.

I wish all the best to those who want to fulfill the dream of sailing around the world, in the eternal confrontation between man and sea.