Ocean

story

Alexia Barrier

A race to save the ocean

Competitive sailor Alexia Barrier has turned her love for racing into a mission to save the ocean.

Turning a dream into reality

When Alexia Barrier was twelve years old, she saw the Vendée Globe round the world yacht race on television and got goosebumps. Watching the crew’s elation as they crossed the finish line was exhilarating, ‘I told myself one day I would do it; it was a dream’, says Alexia. Now, three decades on, Alexia has made that dream a reality.

Alexia’s love for the ocean began at a young age. Born in Paris, Alexia’s family relocated to the French Riviera when she was three. Here, her passion for sailing blossomed, spending blissful weekends sailing in the Mediterranean Sea with her parents. As a teenager, working as a sailing instructor, Alexia’s determination to fulfil her childhood dream of sailing competitively only grew stronger.

Watching the sunset at sea. Photograph: Alexia Barrier 

Finding balance at sea

Aged 25, she successfully competed in her first solo race across the Atlantic from France to Brazil. An achievement she earned despite multiple people telling her she was too inexperienced to enter the race. Alexia explains, ‘All my life, people have told me I can’t do things, but it just gives me the energy for bigger challenges.’ Alexia has proved her competence, competing in a total of 17 transatlantic races.

Alexia spends around 200 of 365 days at sea. Reflecting on the time she spends on the water, her fondest memories are not from winning races, but of being out in the wild, close to nature. ‘I think as sailors we’re so lucky because when we’re out at sea, we live with the wilderness, with the wild animals.’ Alexia recalls a magical moment when she witnessed the birth of a whale calve. She watched in awe as the whale pod circled protectively around the mother as she gave birth, ‘My camera was out of battery, so I thought to myself, this memory is just for me.’ Being alone at sea for such long stretches, Alexia feels she comes back a changed person from every trip. ‘It’s a different game out on the ocean. It forces you to find real balance. The balance of yourself, the elements, and the boat you’re sailing.’

Sailor and citizen scientist

On the 28th February 2021, Alexia sailed her boat 4myplanet across the Vendée Globe finish line after 111 days at sea. Beyond the incredible personal achievement of sailing solo around the world, taking part in the famous race held an additional objective for Alexia. For the past 11 years, Alexia has been racing on 4myplanet not only as a competitor, but as a citizen scientist, collecting scientific data on ocean conditions from some of the world’s least accessible waters.

After many years sailing competitively, Alexia can pinpoint the moment she decided to do something to give back to the ocean. ‘I was sailing close to the coast of England, and before I could smell the land, which would usually tell me that I was close to shore, the smell of waste hit me. There was so much rubbish.’ The shock of seeing the water so polluted marked a turning point for Alexia, and this same year she founded 4myplanet.

 

First image: Alexia sailing.  Second image: Alexia’s boat, 4myplanet. Photographs: Alexia Barrier.

I think as sailors we’re so lucky because when we’re out at sea we live with the wilderness, with the wild animals.

When science meets racing

The 4myplanet project ingeniously combines competitive sailing with scientific research. Alexia’s 60-foot boat has equipment onboard that collects ocean data on water temperature and salinity. So, whilst Alexia races across seas, she contributes to the scientific effort to track ocean conditions, the data shared freely with scientists. During the Vendée Globe, Alexia’s ability to collect data was significant when sailing in the ‘Big South’ – the South Indian and Pacific Oceans. ‘No one usually sails in this crazy place as the weather is really tough – big waves and strong winds, but I was able to deploy three instrument-laden-buoys and collect data whilst I was racing.’

Imparting a love for the ocean

For Alexia, one of the most rewarding elements of 4myplanet is the project’s educational programme. ‘I want to impart to young people a love for the ocean because when you love something, you want to protect it.’ 4myplanet provides free educational packs, allowing kids to follow Alexia’s progress as she races and learn about the ocean at the same time. During the Vendée Globe, Alexia had 20,000 children engaged in the programme, following her race progress. When visiting schools, Alexia is amazed by the enthusiasm displayed by the children she meets, something which gives her great hope for the future of the ocean. ‘A little girl came to me and explained she had organised a weekend of collecting trash on the beach. She was just eight years old. It’s just incredible’, says Alexia.  

With a solo round the world trip ticked off her bucket list, Alexia already has her sights set on her next adventure. She will be embarking on yet another transatlantic race to the Caribbean later in the year. ‘I’m excited to be doing it with another person this time. It would be great to get a woman on board, so we have an all-female crew!’. This race is just one of many more on the horizon for Alexia and 4myplanet. As they navigate the seas, they’ll continue contributing to the protection and restoration of the ocean.

The GenO campaign sits within the UN Ocean Decade – visit the Decade website for more information.