There are really only three reasons why you’d know the name Tristan Mouligne ’04. If you’re a fellow College of Charleston alumni from his era. If you operate in the financial management world of coastal New England. Or if you’re involved in or follow shorthanded offshore sailing.
Mouligne is one of the top single- and doublehanded sailboat racers in the U.S. He’s won the very challenging Bermuda One-Two Race numerous times (635 miles from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda and then back). The first time he did that, he was just 19. Now, he’s competing in his fourth Atlantic Cup, a doublehanded sailing competition that starts in Charleston, stops over in New York and then culminates in Portland, Maine.
The College Today caught up with Mouligne on the docks of Charleston’s City Marina prior to the start of that event to find out how he balances his career in wealth management, his family life – he recently became a father – and his role as a competitive sailor.
You grew up in New England. How is it that you chose to come to the College of Charleston?
I came down to Charleston to sail, actually. I was on the varsity team my first year here, but then I got a little burned out on sailing. When you’re practicing or racing six days a week, that’s challenging, and my academics were starting to suffer. So, I had to prioritize and focus on my major in communication – corporate communications was my concentration. After graduating, I started missing sailing again, so I got back into it.
You work in wealth management; did you go into that field immediately after graduating?
No. Actually, I spent a year working in Charleston and then did some traveling. Eventually, I moved to Paris, France, and enrolled at the Sorbonne to study international business and French. When I finished there, I moved back to Boston to find work in the financial industry.
Your father is a pretty accomplished singlehanded sailor as well, so you must have grown up sailing, right?
That’s right. I’ve been sailing since I was very young. Actually, as a newborn, my family was cruising much of that year on board a 45-foot sloop. I sailed most of my childhood. Then, when I moved back to Boston, I bought a 27-foot sailboat to sail on the bay there. Sailing has always been part of my life and it was always a part of my father’s childhood and adulthood as well. You could say it’s in our blood.
You participate in a special sub-genre of the sport – shorthanded racing. What is it that draws you to this unique specialty?
It’s the challenge, really. When you think about it, in doublehanded racing, it’s just you and one other person on board, so you’re effectively responsible for everything on the boat. You can’t just be good at doing one thing on the boat, which is how it is with some professional sailors. On singlehanded and doublehanded boats, you have to be good at everything if you want to compete. You have to be good a trimming the sails and fixing the sails. You have to be good at navigating and electronics. You have to be able to fix the engine. You have to be able to fix the electrical system. You’re responsible for it all. And I like that challenge.
Of course, it’s not easy. It can be tough. You don’t get a lot of sleep, the sailing conditions can be hard and there’s no escape – you have to see it through. But I welcome that kind of challenge, very much. Some people have compared singlehanded and doublehanded sailing to extreme mountaineering and exploring, and I can see that comparison. Out there on the open ocean, when the conditions are good, it’s really enjoyable. But when the conditions turn tough, it can definitely be pretty harsh.
Are there ways that this kind of racing complements what you do professionally?
Certainly there’s intense pressure and intense responsibility in each. I run a wealth management team at Morgan Stanley in Newport, R.I., and there are definitely moments in that world where stress creeps in. You have to manage your own stress and your clients’ as well. In general, some of the things I do professionally and this kind of sailing can produce a higher level of pressure. But I enjoy that. I’m very passionate about sailing, and I love what I do for work, and the two happen to overlap in that way.
You’ve done the Atlantic Cup several times before. What will be different about this year’s race for you?
Well, I just became a father last fall. We have a baby boy now, and my wife and my son were supposed to be here this weekend for the start, but he’s a little under the weather. So now, I’m torn between wanting to go racing and wanting to be with them. This is our first child, so that’s a new emotion for me. And this will be the first time I go offshore as a dad, so I’m experiencing a new emphasis on the responsibility to be safe and make sure I get home OK. I mean, we never try to get into trouble when we’re at sea, but things do happen; that’s just part of this sport. The Volvo Ocean Race tragically lost a sailor at sea this year. So now that I’m a father, I’ve got a little extra motivation to be more careful with the things I do on the boat.
Do you have any advice for current students at the College who are anticipating the move from their undergraduate years out into the world?
I chose to travel to France after I graduated and I’m grateful that my parents gave me that opportunity. In your 20s, if there’s something adventurous that you want to do – I say do it. Don’t worry so much about getting that internship or job. Of course, if you know what you want to do – say become a doctor – or you’ve got something specific in mind for a career path and that’s your focus, definitely pursue that. But if you want to go exploring in the Himalayas or travel in South America or sail across the Atlantic, do that. Because I believe those experiences will only make you more attractive in the professional world later in life. They’ll make you more interesting. People will be excited to speak with you and talk about all of that. Ultimately, it will be a differentiator for you.
Sailing has done that for me in my profession. Many of the people who are my clients I’ve met through sailing. We work together on the water and we work together professionally, so I’ve been able to incorporate my passion for sailing into my business. Mike Drease, my co-skipper on Toothface II, and I work together, so the Atlantic Cup is both work and play for the two of us.
My advice is, if you’re passionate about something and you love it, that’s going to be what’s different about you. That will make you stand out relative to others. So, embrace it and leverage it to your advantage. That’s what I’ve done. I knew that I didn’t want to be a professional sailor, but I also knew that I didn’t want to give up the sport. That’s how I’ve found a balance. If someone trusts me to take them sailing and take care of them offshore, then they tend to trust me professionally as well. That builds wonderful relationships, and ultimately, that’s really what business is all about.”
Mouligne and his co-skipper Mike Drease won the May 26 start in Charleston Harbor and led the fleet out to sea. You can follow their progress in the Atlantic Cup, which runs through June 10, on the Atlantic Cup website.