CHATHAM — Having sailed all over the world, adventurer Guirec Soudeé recently rowed the southern passage across the Atlantic, 3,100 miles from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, arriving on Feb. 26. But somehow, the adventure won’t seem complete if he doesn’t row back to Europe, Soudeé said with a chuckle.
Winds permitting, the 29-year-old Frenchman hopes to row east from Chatham as early as this week, pulling his 26-foot ocean rowboat more than 3,000 miles to his home in Brittany. He’s now enjoying the hospitality of Woody Metzger and the crew of First Light Boatworks while he waits for a forecast with at least three days of offshore winds.
While enduring his east-to-west crossing, along with its sweltering heat, two tropical storms and other hardships, Soudeé was reading the book written by famed ocean rower Gerard d'Aboville, who made history when he rowed from Chatham to France in 72 days aboard the Captaine Cooke.
“I said, OK, now I want to do it, too,” Soudeé said. Some of the crew at First Light Boatworks helped D’Aboville prepare for his voyage, back when the place was known as Mill Pond Boatyard.
“I love doing this kind of stuff,” Soudeé said. He is known for being the youngest solo sailor to ever cross the Northwest Passage through Arctic islands. He was awarded with the young voyager award at New York Yacht Club in March 2020 by the Cruising Club of America for circumnavigating the globe by the poles, surviving four months self-sufficiently trapped in an ice floe. On that adventure, his only close companionship was Monique, his pet chicken. More on Monique later.
An experienced rower and adventurer, Soudeé is well prepared and well equipped for the voyage. While he knows that the northern Atlantic crossing will be rougher, colder and less predictable than his previous trip, he said he is excited to depart soon.
“This is just how I like to live,” he said.
His focus now is on finding a suitable weather window for his departure. Once he is at sea, Soudeé knows that winds and currents can carry him in loops, erasing days of rowing progress overnight. “I don’t want to do that here,” he said, fearing that he might be blown back ashore, damaging his boat. Designed specifically for an ocean crossing at the latitude of the trade winds, the 26-foot Romane has a sturdy wooden hull and weighs about 2,000 pounds. That heavy weight means that Soudeé is crossing purely for the adventure, not in any bid to break speed records.
Rowers attempting the west-to-east passage face a central challenge when it comes to weather. The later in the season they depart, the more favorable the winds tend to be close to North America. But waiting too long causes potential problems at the other end of the three-month journey, putting the tiny craft close to the European coast when hurricanes and other severe storms arrive.
“Gerard D’Aboville left on 10 July,” Soudeé said. If necessary, he’ll also wait that long to depart. “I just want to do it this year,” he said.
When Soudeé finally does row away from Chatham, he’ll have something like 200,000 followers – on social media. Using a satellite uplink, he’ll be uploading his position regularly and posting photos and stories of his trip. Followers will also be able to track his progress virtually in real-time on a map on www.GuirecSoudee.com.
In addition to the many other perils that come with rowing across the ocean, Soudeé faces the grueling mental pressure worsened by sleep deprivation, stress, a limited diet, and living quarters about as large as the back seat of a VW Bug. But one of the stressors that taxes many ocean rowers, isolation, doesn’t bother Soudeé. Having grown up on the small island of Yvinec, he prefers solitude.
“But I’m not on my own,” he said. His boat is frequently visited by dolphins, birds, whales and fish – and in his last passage, by a sea turtle that kept hammering his shell against the hull of the boat. He’s also got a girlfriend who’s waiting for him on shore. And then there’s Monique.
Having begun his five-year sail around the world, Soudeé decided he needed companionship (and wouldn’t mind having fresh eggs). The two became fast friends, with the chicken adapting surprisingly well to life at sea, living in a coop on the deck during the daytime and below decks at night and during storms. She even developed a taste for fresh fish, giving her eggs a unique flavor. Wearing a sweater in the Arctic and chasing the flying fish that sometimes landed on deck in the tropics, Monique seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.
Alas, there was no room for Monique aboard the rowboat, so she’s at home on Yvinec.
“She’s waiting for me,” he said. He even showed a postcard that urges him to come home soon. “I am saving my fresh eggs for you,” the card reads.
Watch The Chronicle for weekly updates on Soudeé’s progress.