Photo by Manon le Geun


Pictured at the finish of the 2023 Mini Transat, PGN Ocean Racing’s Mini 6.50 Terminal Leave is advancing Patriot Sailing’s mission this season.   © Manon le Guen


We left our last conversation with Peter discussing Patriot Sailing and their work with returning and damaged veterans. There is another sailor out there, Kevin Le Poidevin, a 31-year veteran of the Royal Australian Air Force, also representing and promoting groups supporting returning service members through Soldier On.

Coop: When you finally had some VMG with the Project, where did you go for resources? A Mini is a sailboat, but in the same way a Formula Ford is a car. There have been as many as about ten in the U.S., but the Mini ecosystem here is very light on resources.

PGN: Yes, there are a lot of resources out there but still very limited in the English language. When I first got going, I read Rich Wilson’s book France to France, Antarctica to Starboard, on his Vendeé Globe experiences. He set the standard really high, I thought, and learning about his challenges and how he dealt with them was really helpful. And Pete Goss, a Brit, retired military, he had done one of the early Vendeé Globes. I had contacted both these guys, and said, “Hey, I got this crazy idea…Mini Transat. What do you think?” They were both really helpful, and there are lots of YouTube videos about the boats and solo sailing at this level out there.

But honestly, one of the biggest helpers I found was a guy who had done the Mini Transat in 2019. He is Spanish and was living in France, but had gone to school in New York, at Fordham. The designer of my boat put me in touch with him and he said, “Hey, I live in Lorient.” So, he was my guy in place, my fixer. He was the one who could speak French. He could talk to the port and say, “We got this American boat coming in.” He was able to jump me up the waitlist. There are waitlists for the Minis coming to a city or town for a race. You need to sign up a long time, sometimes years in advance, to get a slip inside the marina. And he was the guy who could answer the “Where is…?” or “Where can I get?” or “Who does this?” kinds of questions. He was a huge help with outfitting the boat.

A lot of gear that’s available in the U.S. is not really suitable for Minis. It’s just too big – made for bigger boats, 40-footers. In France the sailing industry is acclimated to this class and so there is gear specifically for, or very suitable for, Minis. I could buy the stuff I needed in the U.S., or I could get the gear, much more closely aligned with the Mini class, over there. I spoke with him for months even before I got to France, and that was a huge help. He really set me up for success.

Having a person in France, who spoke French and English, who had done the Mini Transat and could guide me on gear with advice like “You want these solar panels, not those” and that kind of support. Priceless, really.

Coop: An agent in place for the lightweight raft…

PGN: Exactly. If not for him, I would not have got so far so fast. And this was all in the midst of his Figaro campaigning, so it was just a fantastic help in so many ways.

Coop: OK, you shipped the boat to France. Where did the ship drop her?

PGN: Oh, man! The week before I was to take the boat from Annapolis to Baltimore (Easy, right?) that ship had blocked up the Suez Canal. Shipping was a MESS. The boat had to be there Monday, so off I went to the terminal and the guy said, “Oh yeah, it’s not going to France, it’s going to Belgium. And it won’t be for three weeks.

Coop: Yikes. What happened?

PGN: Well, we finally got her on a ship, she was discharged in Belgium, put on a flatbed truck and driven to France. But at the time France still had in place COVID restrictions for Americans and I could not get into the country. So, my boat was sitting in France for a month until I could get entry. Anyway, I finally got to France and to my boat. I missed the first two races of the Mini season. I had originally wanted to do the race in 2021, but COVID restrictions slowed up everything so I could not qualify in time. This went from a one-year campaign to a three-year campaign.

Coop: Oh well, it’s a sailboat race. Fertilizer happens…

PGN: (Chuckles) Yeah, stuff happens but I was pretty hard on myself. I felt I was letting so many people down. There were a lot of people supporting this financially and from the emotional side. It was tough being over there but unable qualify, but the delay and doing the 2023 race turned out OK. Yes, the goal was to do the Mini Transat, but really it was to showcase Patriot Sailing. With the delay I now of course had three years to promote Patriot Sailing. I really think this turned out much better than just a one-year deal.

Coop: Yeah, and the gestation period for an event of that magnitude – in reality it is similar to a World Championship level campaign – takes some time to get all the stars aligned, so I can see how being forced into a longer campaign had an upside. Did you come across anything like a Patriot Sailing or Warrior Sailing in France?

PGN: No, I did not run into anything like us. I think there may be some organizations over there, but certainly no one else racing a mini was in that landscape.

Coop: Did any of the locals, the boatyard guys, see your banner and wander over to ask about Patriot Sailing, then you find out they are retired French military?

PGN: Yes, that actually happened pretty regularly. One of the guys in the yard in Trinite came over and told me, “This is great. I did twenty years in the French military and this is great!” I certainly ran into people with military experience or had family in the military.

Coop: Well, I guess the military is a pretty universal condition.

PGN: Yeah, exactly.

Coop: How were you able to draw on your military experiences? You know, “Bad things might happen here if I don’t do the right thing” kind of scenarios.

PGN: Yes. I did the infantry officer training as well as the Intel training. In this training you go through a lot of serious challenges. Sleep deprivation, long hikes with heavy packs, situational challenges, leadership experience, things like that, just in the training. Then when out in the fleet or on deployments, I think nine months in Afghanistan definitely set me up for success. The small challenges were educational, but I think the durations of things also helped. For me, it was the endurance part that really helped. Six months on a carrier, across the Atlantic, Med, Red Sea, Gulf of Arabia, the endurance demands were great training and really helped me, and also set me up to handle those small individual challenges.

For example, blasting along flat out, in the middle of the night trying to not hurt yourself or the boat is a challenge, but it is the few days, the week, two weeks leading up to that period that set me up for success in that particular situation. You get set up for the big picture so you can tackle those “little” issues, challenges, that are really extreme at certain times.

We’ve all been out when the sailing is easy, but also in tough conditions, feeling anxious, maybe fear, and not sure what’s going to happen, and I think that my military training really set me up for success in that sense. For instance, the race was a total of 31 days, so 31 days where something could go wrong. There is the sailing, navigation, looking after the boat and yourself, and being alone you have no one else to rely on, it really is just you. Often there is another boat you can talk with on the VHF, but a lot of the other skippers did not speak English, so communication was tough. But really the biggest thing was the self-reliance aspect. In the military, mostly if you cannot do something yourself, there are others you can call upon for help.

Coop: May be this is an unanswerable question, but how different were the types of stressors, anxieties and fears in the race, sailing and the military world?

PGN: Well, to put that in perspective, when I was in Afghanistan, I was an intel advisor, so I was not kicking in doors or any big battles or anything like that. Our biggest threats were from the unknowns, like indiscriminate rocket attacks, where if it’s your number that day, well it’s your number. Not much to do about rockets just flying in.

A bigger threat was from the inside. Our job was to train the Afghan army and National Police, but they could just as easily turn around and…This is of course very different from the conventional “battle” we think of when we think war.

Coop: Well mate, we are glad you made it through all the adventures. Good to have you back, and thanks a lot for taking time to share some of the adventures with WindCheck readers. See you this summer.

PGN: Pleasure. Thanks for asking me. ■