Maud Fontenoy is a French sailor extraordinaire, extreme adventurer and inspiring woman. For those unfamiliar with her, she is known for rowing a small boat across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, solo. She has also sailed by herself across the Antarctic and was named one of Time Europe’s Heroes of 2005. Now she fills her days trying to educate children and others about the environment for UNESCO. She recently caught up with the Girls’ Guide.
You are a rower and a sailor and an incredibly adventurous athlete. What led you down this path? Was your mother or father a sailor? Where did you grow up?
I was only seven days old when I sailed on the schooner my family built (my father was a naval architect). So I spent the first 15 years of my life learning about sailing, nature and the sea.
How big was the boat that you rowed across the North Atlantic? And was it the same for the Pacific?
Yes, it was the same boat for my two rowing adventures: seven meters long and hardly one meter wide.
With both these experiences and your more recent sailing expedition around the Antarctic, tell us about your most difficult times and how you were able to continue on.
My worst time was when my desalinator broke down so I had to drink my urine to survive. During my trip around the world, it was when my mast broke. I had the strength to go on thanks to the kids on the ground because I did not want to disappoint them. They believed in me so much!
You must have been lonely at times, as each of your accomplishments has been done solo—150-plus days in one case. What did you do to conquer boredom, fear and loneliness?
I brought books and music. And it was during these long hours of meditation that I decided that I would dedicate myself to educating kids to protect oceans.
How did you prepare for these crossings? Would you ever do it again?
I am lucky to have a cohesive and efficient team to help me prepare for all my travels. I do not think I will undertake such challenges now that I have a nearly two-year-old boy and he needs me. But I often take him sailing. Last year we sailed across the Atlantic together on my sailing boat.
You are now teaching children about the ocean and how we treat the environment. Describe your work with UNESCO and Conservatoire du Littoral.
My work for UNESCO and for the Conservatoire du Littoral is to give a voice to oceans and to use my fame to convey messages and, I hope, to win some battles for the marine environment. Within my foundation, we support schools and help teachers introduce the wealth and the weaknesses of the marine environment.
What are your biggest environmental concerns? Do you still believe we have time to fix our problems?
There are always reasons for hoping. I do believe in human abilities to invent new solutions. For me, one of the biggest issues today is water pollution. Chemical pollution increases on the ground as well as in oceans and considerably degrades our environment and consequently our food.
Since we are a website about Paris, can you tell us how often you get to Paris and what you love about it?
I live in Marseille, but I come to Paris weekly for my work. I love Paris for its great monuments, its culture and its spell.
You are a spokesperson for Exclusive Hotels. Do you often stay at their hotels, and if so, which is your favorite?
I sleep at Exclusive Hotels whenever I come to Paris. I like them all because each has its own style, but I have to confess I fall for Le Chateaubriand.
What are your favorite things to do in Paris: favorite restaurants, art and culture, shopping or other things?
I love to go to the movies, and my favorite restaurant is Meiji, a Japanese restaurant on the rue Marbeuf.
Describe your ideal day in Paris.
My ideal day would be to visit the Louvre, walk up the Champs-Elysées, recharge my batteries at Weleda with a massage with organic essential oils, have dinner at Meiji or at Kambodgia and then go to see a movie before heading back to my hotel and walking by the sparkling Eiffel Tower.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
To educate as many kids as possible to protect oceans, to take them sailing so they discover the wonders of the oceans.
Do you have a favorite French saying?
“Là où il y a une volonté, il y a un chemin.” (“Where there is a will, there’s a way.”)
Editor’s note: Maud stays only at Exclusive Hotels; find out which one is right for you.