Frenchman Pierre-Henry Mahul is one of the participants in the Global Solo Challenge, which will start next September in A Coruña, Spain. An experienced sailor, he has already sailed the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn single-handedly and has more than 100,000 miles under his belt. On board Whisper Michaella, he is setting out again to tackle what he affectionately calls “the grand opera”.
« I can’t wait to get there. I’m really excited ». From the first exchanges, the tone is set. Pierre-Henry knows where he is going, when, and how. In this case, to A Coruña next September aboard his sailboat Whisper Michaella to participate in the first edition of the Global Solo Challenge (GSC). This car enthusiast, a collector of old models, likes things to go fast and doesn’t beat around the bush: « I’ve been dreaming of this round the world race for a long time. If it hadn’t been for the GSC, I would have gone anyway. » He had few doubts about it.
This is not the first time that Pierre-Henry will attempt to sail around the world by the three great capes. In October 2020, aboard Michaella de Bandol (all his boats are named Michaella), he tried to sail around the world solo. Unfortunately, a problem with the windvane forced him to stop in Cadiz for a month, postponing the passage of Cape Horn to April on his estimated route plan. Pierre-Henry then decided to go directly to Patagonia to round the legendary Cape.
Six months after his departure, barely back on dry land, his friends told him about the Global Solo Challenge. « I had barely set foot on land when they asked me, “Have you seen this race around the world, the Global Solo Challenge?’” I answered that I had not heard about it during those long months at sea, but I was immediately interested. » He signed up soon after. Pierre-Henry dreams of going back there and sailing at high latitudes. « I came back less tired than when I left. The soul and the body were rested. The South Seas are the grand opera. And I love opera! »
However, nothing appeared to have prepared Pierre-Henry for his decision to sail around the globe and take part in the inaugural Global Solo Challenge. Born on December 21, 1958, in Mazamet, France, he grew up in the Tarn, a charming department in the southwest of the country but far from the sea and the horizon. « I was lucky enough to be able to live between 3 and 4 months every year on the Costa Brava in Spain when I was a child. That’s where I started sailing. »
When he was only 5 years old, his parents bought him a Sportyak with wooden oars. Pierre-Henry navigated — he likes the word “navigate” — as often as he could along the coast of Playa de Aro. Pierre-Henry is what we call self-taught; the sea was his only teacher. « I learned how to sail by hitting the boom and lowering the sails when it got windy. Fortunately, I have always been a good rower ». At the age of 14, he convinced his parents to buy a sailboat, a 27-footer, to go on a family cruise. The young skipper did rather well. So much so that the family decided to buy a larger model, a Puma 34, with Pierre-Henry still at the helm. In 1976, at the age of 17, he made his first major crossing as a captain on the route to Sicily. This was the trigger. Since then, he has had the desire to go further and further over the horizon.
In 1983, following an unfortunate event, Pierre-Henry discovered solo sailing. While he was supposed to participate in the Cowes-Deauville race with his Contest 29, his father-in-law died. With no crew available, he made his first single-handed crossing to return to France with a heavy heart. « I met Eric Tabarly one day, who told me something very important: he told me that he too was sometimes afraid and that he would never let someone aboard who did not know fear. I understood that it was not a handicap; I could learn to make it an asset ».
After all his experiences, Pierre-Henry is looking forward to the Global Solo Challenge. « My mental preparation is still good, which is crucial in a challenge like this, » insists the Frenchman. His boat, Whisper Michaella, is a 50-foot Stephen Jones design built by Hamble Yachts that meets all the requirements of the GSC. « I wanted a boat that could surf the waves! » The next step in the programme is simple for Pierre-Henry : a transatlantic race (his ninth) to refine the final details of the boat before the big departure to A Coruña at the end of the year. Pierre-Henry knows it will all happen very quickly…