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Women in Marine: Isabelle Autissier

  • by: Ryan Abbot
  • On: 4, Dec 2017
2 min read

A record-breaker who has sailed around the world four times, Isabelle Autissier is a French sailor, writer, agronomist and environmental activist.

Isabelle Autissier was raised in the west coast of France and graduated in 1978, at the age of 22, as a nautical engineer. Her 12 years as a professional sailor were intense: she was proclaimed the first woman to solo sail in a competition, and beat a world record.

In 1987 she began her first sailing competition with the Mini Transat, a solo race across the Atlantic, where she finished third. In 1991 she competed in the BOC Yacht Race, where she finished seventh and became the first woman to solo sail around the world in competition.

Only three years later, Isabelle Autissier took on the new adventure of sailing from New York to San Francisco around Cape Horn in the Around Alone Race. In just 62 days, five hours and 55 minutes, she achieved the shortest time ever recorded.

During her competitive sailing career, Autissier was involved in two serious incidents in which her boat capsized. These accidents would spark a new career.

Isabelle Autissier: From Sailing to Activism

In 1999, while competing in the Around Alone Race for the third time, Autissier’s boat capsized 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn. After being rescued by a fellow competitor, Isabelle Autissier decided to retire from the races and instead plunge her efforts into spreading her experiences and love for the sea.

Today, Autissier lends speeches to charitable causes and campaigns to protect the environment. Years as a sailor provided an insight into the effects of humanity on our environment; her campaigns promote the message that economic growth and other real progress can only be achieved by protecting nature and human rights.

Isabelle Autissier has been President of World Wildlife Fund for Nature for France and in 2009 was named Chair of WWF-France. Expanding her activism beyond protecting the sea, she led a national operation all over France in October 2017 to recycle millions of unused mobile phones.

The No Man’s Land Project

In 2010 Autissier travelled to Antarctica to detect icebergs and growlers beneath the water, with the purpose of making the seas safer for adventurous sailors. No Man’s Land Project involved sailing through ice for ten weeks to gather vital data, accompanied by two French sailors, two glaciologists and two professional mountaineers.

The crew of the No Man’s Land Project explored places that no person had been before. Pursuing their goal despite a lack of accurate charts tracking the Antarctic Peninsula, Isabelle Autissier’s crew helped improve Safran technology by making regular 5-minute recordings. The No Man’s Land Project led the way for other explorers to better navigate and discover Antarctica.

Read more about Female Sailors are Advancing the Marine Industry

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