During an autumnal evening in the harbour town of Falmouth, we sit down with French skipper and YouTube vlogger, Hugo a.k.a The Sailing Frenchman. We discuss the restoration of his boat and his journey across the Atlantic.
Words & portrait by Conan Marshall
Hugo has sailed all over the world, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. His latest adventure consisted of crossing the Atlantic along with his father. Titled, The Sailing Frenchman, Hugo’s YouTube Channel has gained a steady rise in popularity throughout the past year, currently with 15,000 subscribers. “I’ve been sailing for the past few years in different places. I was in Greece this summer, South East Asia and the Caribbean, skippering boats for work.”
Arriving from Paris, Hugo is in Falmouth ‘back to school’ getting his cruising instructor certificate. “I’ve spent time here in England before, in Oxford working in a pub. The furthest I have been South is Bristol. It’s amazing here, really nice for sailing. I really want to come back to sail or just simply travel.”
“I look back and realize I’ve been so lucky”
Hugo grew up in the Pyrenees, the mountain range separating the Iberian peninsula from the rest of Europe. A hotspot for alpine skiing this area is landlocked not close to the sea at all. Hugo started skiing and became a skiing instructor. It was only while studying at University that he got interested in sailing.
“This is a nice community of people, sailing is a sport you can live into, running and skiing is a bit different, but sailing you live on your boat. I came into this lifestyle through sailing with friends as a teenager and slowly built experience until one day I was asked if I wanted to skipper a boat. I look back and realize I’ve been so lucky.”
“My parents sailed when they were younger when I was a kid, they had a boat until I was 2 years old, so I don’t remember sailing with them or anything. Since then they haven’t sailed at all unless its with me. It’s kind of funny because they were sailing before I was born, then they stopped before I could remember and then the next sailing experience my dad had was sailing with me across the Atlantic…”
“I bought the boat about five years ago for nothing, for one euro”
The restoration of his boat took up to six months full-time work. Like any project of this kind, the restoration took time and a high level of dedication and passion to get the boat complete. “I was just stuck working 15 hours a day on the boat, everyday.”
“I restored it in the south of France, I bought the boat about five years ago for nothing, for one euro! There are lots of opportunities like this in France.”
During this period of restoration his YouTube channel started to gain momentum and people took interest. “The early episodes are more for the dedicated sailor. After episode 15 I start sailing so it’s more accessible for everyone because of the adventure side of things, the videos show what it’s like to cruise on a small boat but the first episodes are more for boat geeks.”
With his mobile workshop and limited internet connection, this project was no easy task but eventually the 8 metre boat was ready to hit the sea.
I went on to ask Hugo about what advice he would give someone wanting to take on a project like this for the first time. His answer was simple. “Do what you want to do, there is no limitation, people who say that you can’t, it’s not true, you can always find a way to make it happen. Ideally, I would be paid to sail around the world on a 60ft yacht but no. The way for me to travel is sailing now in this boat. I don’t have a toilet, I don’t have a shower or hot water but whatever, I make it work. If you really want to do it then try it’s as simple as that.”
“at the end of the day sailing is probably safer than driving a car”
I talk with Hugo about his experience of facing heavy weather at sea and if he has ever found himself in a life-threatening situation. From an outsider’s perspective long distance sailing can be viewed as being fraught with danger. He shrugged with indifference.
“Hard weather is what you get when you sail. You try to avoid this type of weather as much as you can. With my boat I move fairly slowly because my boat is small, at 26ft, there is an average speed that is given by the size of the hull, so based on this I try to plan my passages. Sometimes there is lots of wind that can approach unexpectantly.”
Hugo doesn’t have satellite navigation or a satellite phone to get the weather forecast. This means taking appropriate measures in preparing for a journey in advance.
“I take the weather forecast before I leave, I choose to have a good window of forecast so a week of supposed good weather. However, the weather forecast can change so when you’re 3 or 4 days into the passage, sometimes you have a low pressure that is coming that you were not expecting when you left. You are then in the middle of your passage and there is nowhere you can go, so you have to deal with the weather in that moment. You might arrive not where expected to arrive. At the end of the day sailing is probably safer than driving a car.”
Crossing the Atlantic is one of the biggest adventures a sailor will take on during their life. Every year around 5,000 sailors make the journey traveling over 4,000 nautical miles in some cases. It is not a cheap venture. Hugo spent time working and preparing his boat in order to make the crossing comfortably.
In February earlier this year, Hugo and his father sailed from Gran Canaria to the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean. This was his first crossing, so he did not know what to fully expect. They planned to complete the 2,700 nautical mile crossing in 23 days averaging 5 knots.
“The crossing took 31 days, a pretty long crossing yeah. It was an interesting experience”. I was literally sleeping with boxes of food in my bed the first week of the passage.” Facing the prospect storms and having to ration food. This crossing was not without excitement. Not wanting to give away any spoilers from this journey, be sure to check out his YouTube channel: The Sailing Frenchman.
Right now, Hugo is travelling back to Martinique to pick up his boat and will spend some time sailing around the islands of the Caribbean.
He is applying to take part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. A world famous race in which 12 70ft yachts compete in 8 legs around the world. In this race, each boat consists of skipper and second mate who are professional and the rest of the team are amateurs.
“I’m applying to do this circumnavigation. You sail around the cape of good of good hope, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn, and come back. So that would be something big for me, but there selection is really tough.”
There is no doubt Hugo will have plenty of interesting adventures to share on his channel in the future.