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                 The ORS Int. is the official adjudicator of ocean rowing records for Guinness World Records

 


September 2 3


Extracts from the book

Introduction

Good Luck
Ahead of Me...
Rowboat Calling...
With My Head...
And If All This ...
Survival
Typhoons
Indelibly Inscribed
Do You See...
The "Heavenly Bum"
One Second Longer

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Survival

September 2
Another day that was almost my last. I had nonetheless promised myself, after Sector capsized on August 3 - the time I was caught outside the cabin when the wave hit - that I would do everything in my power to avoid such a mortally dangerous situation in the future. When the weather was really rough, I absolutely had to remain inside, limiting my trips outside to only the most indispensable maneuvers and regulating the sea anchors.
How can I explain what happened? Was it that I was simply tired of spending the entire morning locked up in the cabin? The need to do something? The enticing call of a ray of sun? Whatever it was, I decided to go into the cockpit and take some photos with my waterproof camera.
Scarcely had I closed the cabin door when a giant wave hit the boat broadside and knocked it over.
I was slightly stunned by the blow. The overturned hull lay next to me. In vain I tried to grab the handrail, but it was too far below the surface. Each time a new wave hit, it lifted the boat broadside and brought it down on top of me. Unless I did something drastic, I realized that I was either going to drown or be knocked unconscious. I figured my only hope was to get myself to the other side of the boat, and the only way I could do that would be to duck under it and come up on the far side. The danger there was that I might get entangled in my safety harness, or get it caught underneath, and never make it to the other side. Which meant that I would have to unfasten my harness. And that in turn meant that if I made the slightest error, the tiniest miscalculation, it would be all over, for Sector was drifting much faster than I could swim. I took a deep breath and, between two waves, ducked under the cockpit.
Now on the good side, I groped my way to the stern, all the while hanging on to the handrail. As I had done before, I hoisted myself up onto the hull, using the rudder for support. Then I managed to haul in my camera, which was floating on the waves and - a safety precaution I always followed - was securely fastened to my wrist. Even as I was still cursing myself for having ever allowed such a situation to occur, especially for such a ridiculous reason, I took a picture of the overturned hull. Even if the photo wasn't wonderful, I couldn't help thinking, What an ex-traordinary document!
I still had to turn the boat back over, which I did by the method I had used the previous time, that is by slipping a rope around the craft and flipping it.
Another close call .

I realize that for someone reading this the idea of taking pictures under such circumstances must seem absurd. I see it somewhat differently: such an act of apparent madness may well have been my way of minimizing or undercutting moments that were truly dramatic or even life-threatening. There were many times after the boat had capsized and I was struggling to man the pumps, furiously filling and empty-ing the ballast tanks in an effort to turn Sector right-side up, when I would pause and take a picture of myself, hold-ing the camera out at arm's length.
I am sure that, in these situations of danger and extreme tension, taking a picture was a means of reassuring myself that I still believed in my future. Looking back, the photos would be no more than records of unhappy memories, a means I had used to brave the present, to write my own story. And besides, when you think about it, if I was taking a picture, did that not imply that things were not as bad as they seemed?
My relationship with the video camera was quite differ-ent. Although my Sony camera was also in a watertight case, it took a fair amount of tinkering before it was ready to shoot. That meant I could use it only in fair weather, because when the weather was foul I had my hands full just coping with the basic problems of navigation. There was another difference, too: whereas a still photo can cap-ture and express a fleeting emotion, the video camera pre-supposes a certain degree of "acting." Frankly, I found it difficult to be constantly natural when I was filming myself. Also, my less than ample stock of both batteries and cas-settes meant that I could use the video only sparingly, for very specific purposes and on very special occasions.
Early in the trip I had found filming a pleasant diversion, but as time went on and my patience grew thin, I almost came to resent it: every hour lost struck me as unbearable.

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September 3
An afternoon of nightmares. The boat has capsized three times. During one of them, I lose the bottom part of the antenna, which I had kept in an "up" position, believing it to be truly indestructible.

Sector was flying. Really running. The waves arrived with a huge roar and hurtled the boat forward at a speed of from fifteen to twenty knots. When all went well, the prow rose up and the boat rode with the wave, but sometimes the wave would crest with the tip of the prow up in the air, and then we would race down and hit the trough as though we were running into a brick wall. The shock of the water against the bulkhead was incredible; the boat would lit-erally stop in its tracks and shudder from stem to stern. Not only would everything in the cabin be propelled for-ward, but sometimes the boat would capsize.
Each time it did I was dealt a new hand of pain, anxiety, and uncertainty. Once the stanchion that held the frame of my bunk snapped, dropping the bunk to the deck. An-other time, the netting that held my clothes in place came loose while the boat was overturned, so that I found my-self holding the clothes with one hand - trying to keep them from spilling out - and pumping with the other. Still another time the plastic piece I'd fished from the sea and fastened to the deck ripped, and, in its new position, made it impossible for me to right Sector. I could see it through one of the portholes, and there was nothing I could do about it. As luck would have it, a giant wave came along and, for once, lent me a hand by righting Sector for me.


My greatest fear was being thrown off the boat. If that were to happen, I knew that I would have neither the time nor the possibility of sending any message. My distress signal, which sends signals via satellites, would be inoperable. Back on land, there would be no radio communication, but that would not necessarily be taken as an indication of disaster, since I had forewarned my family and colleagues that there might be times when the weather would prevent my solar batteries from recharging and prevent radio con-tact perhaps for days, even weeks on end. Until they re-ceived my distress signal, there was no reason to worry.
What upset me most in that context was the thought that my family would inevitably keep hoping and believing that I was all right, knowing that I had enough food supplies on board to last me several months. There is nothing worse than a "disappearance." I was haunted by that thought, that vision of my family waiting, waiting, their spirits buoyed by false hopes.

I am not the sort of person who dwells interminably on the whys and hows of any given situation, who contemplates philosophical minutiae and anguishes over them for long periods. Rather, I have a tendency to say: "Instead of ques-tioning why you're doing something, what it will result in or bring you, or what you might lose by not doing it, for God's sake, just do it." The act of doing is pretty good in and of itself. If answers are required, they will follow in their own good time. For me, reflection is born of action. I am not one of those philosophers in an ivory tower who develops an idea based on either the affirmations of the society in which he lives or on the theories of his fellow-philosophers. No. Practical applications are what interest me, even if I subsequently find that the water in which I swam was only lukewarm. I just can't get away from this damned need for independence!
When the effort, or the undertaking, takes place on as demanding a level as this one, there is no question but that the enormous sense of accomplishment, the dangers faced, the anguish dealt with, the very fact that you have lived with, brushed up against death, time and time again, all give birth to a thousand thoughts, a thousand subjects of reflection. In my case, with entire days of rowing during which I had nothing else to do but think, the opportunity was ample. Perfect. Yet, I knew that my most profound reflections would come later, much later, when all my in-timations and intuitions had been tried and tested against reality.

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It would never have crossed my mind before setting out on this voyage to ask myself what such an adventure might bring in the way of insights into the meaning of life. If there were something to be discovered, I might discover it and then again, I might not. Only time would tell.


At least two times I might well have given up. Two times when death seemed the easiest way out. Physical exhaus-tion, distress reinforced by solitude, the conviction that any future was vain -all were circumstances that "paved the way."
Why, then, did I keep on fighting tooth and nail? The survival instinct? True, but what, after all, is the instinct to survive? Was it the anguish that swept over me whenever I thought of how my family and close friends would suffer if I did give up? All of which overly complicates the question at any given moment of agony. In that instant the animal instinct takes over; the brain is entirely monopolized, the whole mind focused on coping with the immediate problem at hand, of reacting, of doing the precise thing that has to be done if one is to survive.
So what is it, then?
Only later, in full tranquility, did it occur to me that, very simply, I was not yet ready to die.

And what if life were a trajectory and death its natural conclusion in the same way that seasons succeed each other? Did you ever see a tree lose its buds or springtime leaves, except in the case of some accident of nature?

Death is doubtless only a stage, but a stage to be taken in due course, a stage that - again, except for an accident of nature - generally occurs for a human being somewhere between the ages of sixty and eighty, after a lifetime of fulfillment, during which time each of the stages has its role and place: a time to grow, a time to build and create, a time to grow old - to mention only the principle phrases, each filled with its own experiences, memories, joys, and sorrows.

The anguish of dying before you see your children grow up, for instance, is one category of those "unfinished stages"- for your children, it means a broken youth; for you, the golden years cut off. These concerns are of far greater importance than any material consideration in life.

And, at the end of his or her voyage, the person who has enjoyed a full trajectory will, I feel sure, approach death with great serenity.
Does all this imply an intuition of the afterlife?
Perhaps. Do not look to me for an answer: I still have a good way to go on my voyage. In fact, if all goes well, I am only about halfway down my road of life.

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