72-year old Frenchman in a barrel closing in on trans-Atlantic crossing

by Fabienne Faur
Agence France Presse

BORDEAUX, France (AFP) — A 72-year-old Frenchman floating across the Atlantic in a custom-made barrel says he is in high spirits as he approaches the end of his journey, after nearly 100 days alone at sea enjoying “magnificent sunrises and sunsets.”

“The days are going by too fast,” Jean-Jacques Savin told AFP by satellite phone this week. “I’m not bored at all.”

The former French paratrooper and avid triathlete embarked on his trans-Atlantic test on December 26 from the Canary islands just west of Africa, aiming to reach the Caribbean in about three months just by drifting in ocean currents.

Capricious trade winds slowed his progress — not that it dented Savin’s enthusiasm for “experiencing this feeling of freedom, and admiring the richness of the ocean’s wildlife.”

Measuring three metres (10 feet) long and 2.10 metres across, his barrel is made from resin-coated plywood, heavily reinforced to resist waves and potential attacks by orca whales.

Screenshot of the barrel home to be used by a Frenchman fos his Trans-Atlantic crossing. (Photo grabbed from AFP video/Courtesy AFP)

Inside the capsule, which weighs 450 kilograms (990 pounds) when empty, is a six-square-metre living space which includes a kitchen, sleeping bunk and storage.

A porthole in the floor allows Savin to look at passing fish.

Having already travelled some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles), he estimates he has about 1,000 more to go. “I think I’ll arrive around April 20, I’m not sure where, maybe the Dominican Republic,” he said.

– Close calls –
His days have mainly gone smoothly, though there have been a few close calls. I’ve only had eight difficult nights, and one that was extremely difficult,” he said.

In late February, he nearly got rammed by a cargo ship that wasn’t responding to his radio calls.

“Luckily I shot up a flare. It was like being trapped on a railroad track and I was watching the oncoming train,” he said.

But the most perilous moment came on March 28, when his barrel was being pummelled by huge waves that were threatening to turn the vessel completely upside-down.

Tying himself to a safety rope, Savin crawled out to try to reattach a vertical stabiliser, only to find himself thrown off and dangling from his armpits, sometimes being dunked completely under the water.

It took half an hour of scrambling to pull himself back up, and Savin later posted pictures of his heavily bruised body on his Facebook page.

So far Savin has lost four kilos on his trip, eating freshly caught bream alongside freeze-dried food.

His stocks were replenished during a visit from the Ronald H. Brown, a US oceanography vessel based in Charleston, South Carolina.

“They spoiled me. I got mail, T-shirts, and lots of chocolate,” he said.

He’s now focussed on figuring out which coast to wash up on, though he added that “I will be sad to arrive.”

“I’d like to end up in Martinique or Guadaloupe,” he said, since it would be easier to get his ship back home since they are French overseas territories.

Afterwards he plans to write a book, and requests for speaking appearances have been pouring in.

But already Savin has another challenge in sight: swimming alone across the English Channel.

© Agence France-Presse