On the edge and on the sea: Erwan Le LannOn the edge and on the sea: Erwan Le Lann


November 6, 2017

6 min read
Words: Helene Ravlich
Photos: Erwan Le Lann

French-born adventurer Erwan Le Lann has gone through several passports, seen more places in a single lifetime than many could possibly dream of, and endured the most extreme conditions exploring the wildest regions on Earth. He is currently on a four-year journey around the world in the sailboat Maewan, following a route that will take him to places where no one has ever set foot.

Where are you currently based?

I live in France, in Grenoble in the Alps. I have another base camp in life, which is a family house in Brittany in front of the ocean. After so long on the water I also feel very much at home on my boat.

Did you always have a love of adventure, even as a young child?

Thinking about it now, I believe so. I see it more as a natural curiosity though, an interest in learning, going on the top or behind an obstacle to see what is next.

I was competing in ski races from the age of seven - I loved downhill races especially because of the speed, the big jumps. I also spent my childhood days in Brittany exploring the area, climbing boulders, paddling along the shore and pushing myself with new challenges.

You are a world-class ice climber, BASE jumper, and big wall climber. Where did you learn to sail?

Since I was young I have had a connection with the sea, sailing small sailboats and an Optimist. Then when I decided to go around the world twelve years ago, I took any opportunity I could to go sailing with friends.

New ice route in Isafjordur
  1. New ice route in Isafjordur, Island. Erwan in the travers to reach the overhanging ice. Image credit: Guillaume Vallot

We couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down, couldn’t climb to the side… We were just trapped in the middle of a cliff waiting for death.”

I’ve also learnt more about sailing since I left France with Maewan thanks to the experienced sailors who have been joining me for parts of the journey.

How long have you owned the Maewan?

I bought Maewan IV in May 2014, from a couple who wanted to go sailing in South America. Maewan IV is 35 years old, and was built in Quebec.

How long ago did you leave for this journey, and where did you sail from?

The starting and finishing point of my journey is Aber Wrac’h, a small harbour in North Brittany, near my family home. I left from there in February 2015 and I m planning to be back in five years. It will be 2020, but I’m not sure yet what month!

Farvel Cap
  1. After three days of a big storm between Island and South Greenland we reached Farvel Cap in a lucky calm weather, we decided to enter the pack ice and try to go inside fjords of South Greenland. It took us 12 hours to find our way with a storm coming behind us. Annabelle Boudinot, Leo Slemet, Eric Loizeau, Erwan. Image credit: Bertrand Delapierre.
You work in the mountains, and on the ocean. Where is your favourite place to be?

What I love is connecting back with the elements, wildlife and nature. Both the ocean and the mountains give you this connection because you can still find remote and wild places. I can’t name a favourite because I meet, see and feel lots of unique moments in different environments.

You have explored some of the most dangerous places on earth, which did you fear the most?

I still have a lot to explore fortunately! Unfortunately, I think for me the scariest places are the ones where you have to deal with humans. Humans are capable of taking all freedom from you.

What is the scariest situation you have found yourself in?

It was with a friend in Nepal on a very high peak. We were starting a new route on a steep rocky face, and the day we decided to set up camp and leave for the top it was snowing gently. Next we felt an avalanche above our heads, with another coming every minute at one point. I could hear rocks falling and we couldn’t tell where they were coming from so expected to be hit at any time. I felt trapped and we couldn’t do anything but wait. We couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down, couldn’t climb to the side… We were just trapped in the middle of a cliff waiting for death.

hot spring
  1. Too late to get snow on this island. Slope, needle, ridge, lagoon, hot spring make this particular islands like a paradise place. Wavier De Le Rue walking up in the thick grass. Image credit: Bertrand Delapierre
Sailing in North Atlantique
  1. Sailing in North Atlantique in Winter has been a great challenge, amazing crew with Jeanne Gregoire and Lionel Daudet with me on the pict taken just before the wind blows up to 65 knots! Image credit: Maewan
Fabienne D’Ortoli kiting in Alaska with Maewan
  1. Fabienne D’Ortoli kiting in Alaska with Maewan trying to catch up. Image credit: Jeremy Bernard
sun rises near by a volcano
  1. Unique moment where the sun rises near by a volcano when a whale decided to show her tail. Image credit: Bertrand Delapierre
impressive sculptures
  1. Ice bergs are unique impressive sculptures, always ready to collapse! Night time has the best colors, here is 1 am. Image credit: Maewan

“I spent my childhood days in Brittany exploring the area, climbing boulders, paddling along the shore and pushing myself with new challenges.”

When do you hope to arrive in New Zealand?

My plan is to sail around Tasmania in March 2018 and then travel to New Zealand in April to spend one or two months. Maewan is in South Japan right now, waiting for me to come back after a two month break. I‘ll be back on the boat on the 5th of October with a new challenge: solo sailing for about 40 days.

How did you connect with Icebreaker?

I heard through friends that they were looking for someone with a story to tell.

So you knew the Icebreaker brand before the journey?

Yes indeed! Icebreaker is well known in the outdoor community, the products are unique and the communication is always interesting.

Lastly, what does nature mean to you?

It is a place where wildlife can live quietly, a place where don’t have a civilisation cocoon in charge of you. It is a place where you adapt to the elements rather than bending them to yourself.

Early morning exercice
  1. Early morning exercice after having being stuck in the pack ice for the night as it was freezing, we sometimes had to go out Maewan on the ice to push, pull, help the boat to move. Here are Annabelle Boudinot and Mathieu Maynadier on the ice, Erwan steering. Image credit: Bertrand Delapierre
Northern lights in Augpilaktoq village
  1. Northern lights in Augpilaktoq village together with La Louise, the other boat from Thierry Dubois we sailed with at that time. We got stuck in the village as we couldn’t manage to go out of the fjords with the ice pack that came in. Image credit: Guillaume Vallot