Stéphane Mifsud - owner of 11-35 Explorer (Oceanis 55.1)
"Défi à la voile", a social and ecological mission
As if he had not already achieved enough in his life, the many times record holder and static apnea world champion Stéphane Mifsud completed his first non-stop single-handed trans-Mediterranean-Atlantic in January 2019. An incredible endeavour across the board.
Many of us enjoyed following your project practically live on social media. Can you tell us how it started?
It is true that this endeavour was quite different. The goal I had in mind made it a human endeavour, but it was also an energy-intensive physical endeavour because of the way things went on this crossing. Under the umbrella of my association Blue Odyssey, I originally intended to sail with a boat full of equipment to the West Indies on a social and ecological mission to raise awareness of the fragility of the marine ecosystem among island inhabitants and their children. I actually sold my Oceanis 45 and bought a new Oceanis 55.1 (11-35 Explorer) because I needed space for all the equipment. The sailing part of the project was to cross the Mediterranean Sea and then the Atlantic with a crew and a few stopovers, as I felt that I was not experienced enough to consider anything else. However, as the casting off date drew near, I felt the need to make this a personal challenge. I felt very confident on my new boat, so in the end I decided to set sail alone. So I called my crossing my "Défi à la Voile" (Sailing Challenge). My competitive streak emerged in the first five days of sailing between Hyères and Gibraltar, driving me to continue non-stop, putting an end to the idea of stopovers. I wanted to sail night and day and to throw my heart into the endeavour as if I was taking part in a race.
The idea was to cross the Mediterranean Sea and then the Atlantic with a crew and a few stopovers. But as the casting off date drew near, I felt the need to make this a personal challenge.
As you sailed from Hyères to Gibraltar, what made you “omit” to stop?
I cast off on 30 December in a very strong wind. I quickly became as one with my boat, which sailed incredibly well on a very unforgiving Mediterranean Sea. I also realized that I was able to manage my sleep well through self-hypnosis, with three to four 40-minute cycles each night. I am familiar with this technique, since I have made use of it for my static apnea records, but I needed to make sure that it was effective in other circumstances. As I approached the strait, my routeurs told me that I had a good weather window and that my boat was in as good shape as I was, so I decided I’d make a go for it! I stepped up to this new challenge by taking the most competitive option. I sailed straight on keeping to a very northern course, without heading down to look for the trade winds. It would be a lie to say it was a piece of cake. I had clearly stepped out of my comfort zone. I rode out a very big low-pressure area, ripped a spinnaker, experienced real solitude at times, but on the morning of 26 January, I arrived in the West Indies after an 8,000 km crossing and I can safely say that it was one of the most incredible adventures I have ever experienced.
What did you feel was the most important on this crossing?
Before setting sail, my partners gave me a satellite link, which meant that I was able to keep in touch with people on shore and particularly my two weather routeurs. Naturally, without that things would have been very different. Apart from having technical advice, I found great support in being able to communicate and knowing that my crossing was being followed by thousands of people every day. I talked to my boat a lot and we are now best friends. It really felt like she was listening and to be honest I was stunned by how tough she was. I am very in tune with my own body, so physically I was able to stay the course.
I spoke to my boat a lot and we are now best friends. It really felt like she was listening and to be honest I was stunned by how tough she was.
What’s on the agenda now?
In the first few days after reaching Guadeloupe, I recovered and got used to a normal sleeping rhythm again. I go diving a little every day and, at a depth of 40 metres, I listen to the songs of whales approaching the coast. I love it. I mostly spend time preparing my meetings with the children I’ve come to see. The islands were severely damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria and so was the sea, but in a less visible way. I want to make the hundreds of school kids, divers and tourists more aware of the incredibly rich marine environment in the West Indies. I am going to teach them to observe the underwater flora and fauna, so that they have a better understanding of it. This will encourage them to become actively involved in protecting the oceans. I am also going to give a talk and offer some of my own observations. I will organize several “clean harbour” campaigns in Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Bart's and Saint-Martin between February and April. And I will take the time to stop off in the Grenadines to dive and film a documentary. In fact, I will just be continuing to introduce as many people as possible to the marine environment, through its observation, to help protect it, in keeping with the Blue Odyssey goals. I want my boat to be an environmental ambassador. That is what it is there for and it has not said its last word by any means!
I mostly spend time preparing my meetings with the children I’ve come to see. The islands were severely damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria and so was the sea, but in a less visible way.
Published on 20.02.2019