A Frenchman and his hen Monique sailed the Northwest Passage

Guirec Soudée and his hen Monique
Guirec Soudée and his hen Monique sailed the Northwest Passage together. (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KMXT)

A Frenchman who sailed into Alaska via the Northwest Passage stopped in Kodiak last week. Guirec Soudée’s boat has dents from ice on its side and a portrait of his traveling companion, Monique, on the bow. It’s called Yvinec, after the island in Brittany where Soudée was born.

Monique the chicken climbs onto Soudée’s lap. He says when he was in Greenland, he would speak to her during those long, cold days in the ice when there was nowhere to go and nothing to eat but eggs and rice.

“I said to Monique, OK, today, I try to go fishing so maybe we can eat something else. And it depends, sometimes when I read, I read not in my head, but for Monique too.”

Soudée says he started the journey with the intention of getting a chicken.

“Everybody said to me, yeah, of course you can get a chicken on the boat, but you can’t have any eggs, because of the stress of the chicken, so I was very sad. So, when I left France I was on my own, and when I stopped in the Canary Islands, I met some people there, and someone gave me a chicken, so Monique from the first day she made me one egg. So, we crossed the Atlantic in 28 days and she made me 25 eggs in 28 days.”

On the way to Greenland, they made many pit stops so Soudée could raise money, repair his vessel, and prepare the boat for cold, harsh weather. He says he stopped in various places in the Caribbean and in Canada.

Finally, in August 2015, Soudée arrived in Greenland, a dream he’d had for many years, although he’s not sure where it began. He says he’s wanted to travel the world since he was little.

Soudée, who is now 24, started traveling when he was about 18. He says he was a bad student and instead of pursuing more education, he went to Australia, which is where he learned English. He says he started off without any money and slept in the streets.

He had a number of job and then he worked on a prawn trawler, which is how he made enough money to buy a sailing boat to pursue his dream to be “stuck in the ice” in Greenland.

“I know to do that was a big challenge for me. I just want to be own, to do my own experience, because right now I’m not married, I have no kids, so I can do whatever I want.”

Soon after arriving on Greenland’s west coast in Disko Bay, he received bad news.

“The first day when I arrived in this bay, I got some fishermen come to see me and gave me a message from my family, and I just know my dad died the first day I arrived. I was already very far away. It was very difficult to go back to France. So, for the beginning it was very hard. You need to stay very strong.”

And with the winter months, came the ice. Soudée says he didn’t bring much food.

“Because I was thinking I can catch some fish, and I didn’t catch any fish. So, I lost like 12 kilograms.”

He did try to go ice fishing, but with no luck. At times, it was treacherous to wander away from the vessel, and he says he got lost twice.

“You try to catch some fish, so you go a little bit further of your boat. It’s the wind. Because it’s so windy. And you’ve got the snow flying everywhere, so you can’t see anything. So, after, I put some safety ropes to my boat and to me. In case. Because if you don’t have any protection, you can die very quickly. Because it’s maybe minus 20, minus 30 [degrees Celsius], when you’ve got the wind, it’s minus 60.”

He says his boat suffered a lot of damage from the ice throughout the journey.

“I remember seeing my boat moving from the inside with the pressure of the ice, the compression, and when you see that, you just think in your head, this is it, it’s just finished.”

He says he spent a lot of his time in the vessel reading, writing and planning his next trip, but there were good days outside, too.

“When the weather was good, I went climbing the mountains with my skis and to go down to my boat straight away, yeah, I did many interesting things. Some kite surfing on the ice too.”

But considering all the dangers, Soudée says he’s lucky to be here.

“Because a few times, the ice broke because the waves came under the ice and broke everything and maybe two or three times I was pushed on the coast, so my boat was almost capsized, and you can do nothing. You just need to pray and wait, and I had no communication at all. This is what I [wanted], to be cut off from the world. No phone, no internet, nothing, you’re just on your own.”

Soudée says he wanted to see Greenland for himself, and now he knows he prefers warm weather. After stopping by Seward and some other locations in Alaska, he says he wants to head south, maybe to California and then Mexico. Possibly South America.

His girlfriend flew from Paris to join him in Kodiak and will travel with him for the warmer part of his journey. That means Monique will finally have someone else to talk to.

Editor’s note: Soudée’s quotes have been edited for clarity as English is not his first language. 

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