Passion For The Sea
Autissier grew up in a sailing family in the French coastal town of LaRochelle. Her father, Jean, owned a succession of cruising boats and encouraged his five daughters to sail. Isabelle began sailing when she was six years old and started planning her first solo voyage around the world when she was twelve. "As a child, I was never told that something was impossible," she once told the Charlotte Observer. "I was only taught that everything had a price."
After graduating from college in 1978 with a degree in nautical engineering, Autissier taught at "fishing schools" in France where local fishermen learned better techniques and gained a background in research and marine sciences. For three years, she spent her nights and weekends welding together a 30-foot, steel-hulled cruising boat called Parole. In 1986, she sailed Parole across the Atlantic single-handedly. "When I returned to France," Autissier recalled, "I decided to try racing, just to see what it was like, to have the experience. I thought it would help me know more about the sea and sailing." In 1987, she won her class and finished third overall in the Mini Transat, a solo race across the Atlantic. She finished fourth in La Solitaire du Figaro in 1989. "In the beginning, I said I would race just for the experience and then go back to my job, (but) racing and trying to go fast in a small boat was such fun."