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

 


November 14 16 17 18 19 19 (19h) 20 21


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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The "Heavenly Bum"

November 14
Eddy had provided me with some accurate weather infor-mation: two very low pressure systems were predicted for the following several days. Near the coast, where the ocean floor rose abruptly, the sea would probably prove impos-sible. Landing at the wrong moment could well turn into a catastrophe. I had to calculate my progress in careful doses to make sure I reached land at a propitious moment.
November 16
In the early evening, the bottom fell out of the barometer. A sort of tornado, with winds of up to sixty miles an hour, waves breaking and crisscrossing in every direction at once.
The storm passed through as quickly as it had arrived.
November 17
Christopher phoned me from the Astoria Hotel, on the Columbia River, in the state of Oregon. I asked him if he could lease a ship and a hardy crew to come out and meet me when I got close to shore. There was no way I wanted the U.S. Coast Guard to come out and pick me up if the weather got so bad I couldn't make land on my own. I wanted to remain in charge of my own destiny, and for that I needed an impeccable organization.
At the end of my conversation with Christopher, I had this rather strange reaction: "Christopher, after I arrive, can I count on you to protect me?" Despite my impatience to land, I was also afraid of having to deal with people's questions, terrified of having to talk to them. Perhaps after all this time I'd gotten used to my damn solitude?
November 18
How hard, how incredibly hard, the final phase was turning out to be. It was raining. Icy rains. Melting snow.
John Oakes, the owner of the Miss Mary, could not believe what he was hearing. These French are really out of their minds. Put out to sea in this weather, with winds of seventy knots and waves of thirty to thirty-five feet being pre-dicted . . . and they come asking him to lift anchor and set out to sea to meet one of their compatriots who's arriving from Japan in a rowboat! Not surprising they can't find anyone to take them.
John is anything but timorous: he's a seasoned vet-eran of fishing expeditions off the Alaskan coasts, which are not exactly made for Sunday sailors. He knows how treacherous the approaches to the Columbia River can be. Miles and miles of virtually impassable reefs, a sea that is indescribable during bad weather, with more than two thousand registered shipwrecks to prove it.
And to top it off, here's this guy everyone has been talking about for the last several days, a twenty-six-foot rowboat, with less than a foot of freeboard, a boat that has been out at sea for more than four months.
Taking all this into consideration, John made his deci-sion:
"Let's get this tub moving!"

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November 19
Never had the sea been worse, more difficult to navigate. In close to the shore, the currents, coupled with the gale force winds, created a monstrous riptide that ran perpen-dicular to the long swells of the Pacific. I had experienced rougher seas, but this was a new kind, one made to crush and pulverize, a killing sea. These waves were watery av-alanches, solid masses going head to head with one another.
Christopher had told me that the fishing trawler Miss Mary was putting out to meet me. I found that hard to believe. In any event, even if it did manage to set sail in this weather, its chances of finding me in these seas would be the nautical equivalent of finding the needle in a hay-stack. But then I learned that my old pal Olivier de Ker-sauson* 

*On January 25, 1993, de Kersauson and a crew of five left the French port of Brest aboard a twenty-seven meter trimaran, Chard. Their goal: to be the first to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days.

was on board the Miss Mary. If anyone could produce the miracle, I knew he could.
If Qlivier were looking for me I knew he had to be in contact with Christopher on shore. That meant that their means of communication had to be via station KMI. For hours on end I combed the wavelengths trying to make contact, but my batteries were almost dead and I constantly came up empty. The skies had been overcast for several days, so the solar panels had not been charging at all. One or two more tries, I knew, would use up the last of my electricity.
John Oakes was at the helm of the Miss Mary, peering into the watery gloom, his trawler listing dangerously to port and starboard, sometimes as much as thirty to thirty-five degrees. It was also pitching like some oceangoing bronco; at times its stern rose completely out of the water and its propeller raced, churning air, the ship vibrated from stem to stern, then slammed back into the water as its bow in turn bucked upward. The next wave would submerge
the deck, the spray washing over the decks and smashing up against the bridge.
The television technicians on board were cursing the fate that had forced them into this terrible position. If there was a slim chance they might get some decent pictures, maybe it would be worth it. But now, at only nine o'clock in the morning, it was still almost totally dark. In the radio room of the Miss Mary, Olivier refused to admit defeat. Once again he put in a call to Christopher, checking to see if by chance he had made contact with me.
"KMI, KMI, this is Miss Mary calling KMI. Please come in."
"Olivier, this is not KIMI. This is Gerard calling. I hear you, Olivier. Do you read me?"
Apparently, the sound of my voice coming through had the effect of an electroshock on board the Miss Mary. I gave them my present position. John made a quick cal-culation of my projected movement and adjusted his head-ing accordingly. In ten minutes, they should be in sight.

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I could barely hear the sound of Miss Mary's engines over the roar of the waves and winds, but just as I did hear them a giant wave hit broadside and, once again, Sector was on its back. As they say, it's not over till it's over!
My antenna was underwater, therefore the radio was out of commission. I was about to start pumping, to fill the starboard ballast tank and, presumably, right the boat, when I thought to see if I could rouse Olivier on my little portable ultra-high-frequency radio, which was meant for conversations boat-to-boat at close proximity.
"Olivier, Olivier. Gerard calling. Do you read me?"
Silence. I would have to wait till I got Sector righted and the antenna could again start functioning.

On the bottom of the hull, which since the boat was over-turned was out of the water, was a bronze plate meant to serve as a bonding jumper; it was attached to the main radio by a copper wire. On the off chance that it might work, I attached the antenna of my high-frequency radio to the copper wire, and tried calling.
"Olivier. Miss Mary?"
"I hear you, Gerard." The answer came in loud and clear. "Keep talking. We're homing in on your radio signal. We're almost there!"
Without question, this whole thing was turning surreal. I decided that I would refrain from righting the boat till the Miss Mary arrived. Hull up, Sector would drift more slowly.
"Gerard! Gerard! I can see you. You're no more than fifty yards away!"
And there I was - closeted in an overturned boat that was being tossed about by waves up to thirty feet high, still defying this ocean that was not going to get the better of me.
"Olivier, do you hear me? Tell them to get out their cameras. I'm going to show off now. A live demonstration,
right before your very eyes, of how I turn this damn thing right side up!"
Without further ado I set about shifting Sector's ballast, as I had done so many times before, and like a docile little lamb Sector gently did a 180-degree turn and landed right-side up. What a spectacle. I was as excited as a kid with a new toy!
I called over to Miss Mary on my high-frequency radio and listened with swelling pride to their chorus of con-gratulations, which I, idiot that I am, had the gall to believe I deserved.
But the Pacific does not like braggarts or blowhards. If my private combat might have pleased this ocean, my pub-tic display of victory clearly did not. The punishment was swift and sure. Sector was suddenly picked up by an enor-mous groundswell and hurled forward at a speed of at least twenty knots; it made a forward somersault, was then knocked over on its back and turned back over again, and, before I knew what was happening, the whole process was repeated, as Sector did a second complete gyration.
I was flattened against the bulkhead of the cockpit, my face a bloody mess, my back a mass of shooting pains, one finger broken. The only thing that kept me from fainting was the pain.
Sector, which I had finally concluded was indestructible, was not in much better shape than I was. There was a crack in the cabin deck at least twenty inches long. And to make sure the lesson was driven home, in the unlikely event it had not gotten through to me, or that I had perhaps not taken it to heart, no one on the decks of the Miss Mary had seen a thing; no one had even the slightest indication that something was wrong. All they had seen was the enor-mous white mass that had picked me up and vomited me out a few hundred yards away.

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November 19, 1900 hours
The weather had improved, but the seas were still heavy as I resumed rowing. The Miss Mary headed back, bearing with her the Dantesque pictures that the television crews had taken of me earlier. By now, I suspected, they were being shown on television sets the world over. In a few hours, my crossing would no longer be mine alone.
November 20, 1800 hours
The Miss Mary was following me a short distance away. On board, I could see a lot of commotion. I was able to pick out Kersauson and saw that he was pointing to some-thing behind me.
Yes, Olivier, I know, I know. But leave me alone for a few more hours, a few minutes at least; I have to pull my thoughts together. . .
A hundred. All I wanted was to count up to a hundred. A hundred strokes, a hundred gentle strokes, the most voluptuous of the entire crossing, in perfect time with the movement of the waves. . . 99. . . 100!
I stood up on my seat and looked around. There, directly before me, was the coastline, the wonderful, mountainous coastline, looming clearly on the horizon.
The prison door swung slowly open, but ever so slightly..
From the Miss Mary, they passed down a bottle of Bor-deaux and a real glass. I had landed in heaven!
Despite the heavy swells, the weather was not bad, but Olivier's description of the entrance of the Columbia River was less than encouraging. The waters of the river, whose currents are among the strongest of any river in North America, ran into the groundswells of the Pacific at the river s mouth and engaged in a mighty combat. Sandbanks surrounded the harbor channels, which were sheltered by reefs that in bad weather were insurmountable and in good could be crossed but only in a very narrow fairway.
Depending on the time of day and the tide, strong cur-rents could raise the level of the sea very suddenly. What was more, the powerful river currents would be working against me because they flowed westward; my progress would be slow, extremely slow, limited to a few hours a day, during which the force of the rising tide would manage to reverse the current. According to the most recent weather reports, we had about twelve hours of good weather ahead of us - a gift we could not turn down.
I made my decision almost immediately. A sailor's de-cision. I would row right up to the reefs, then pass a rope to the Miss Mary and have it tow Sector through the danger zone.
I alone had laid down the rules for my crossing: row across the Northern Pacific in complete autonomy. I could, if I wanted to add to the panache, up the stakes and try to reach land myself before the bad weather set in. It was a gamble, not only extremely dangerous for me but also risky for all those who - now that I was in their waters and under their jurisdiction - would be obliged to come out to save me if I ran into trouble: the U.S. Coast Guard. I have said it before, and I think I have amply demonstrated that I practice what I preach: I was willing to put my life on the line, but I had no intention of risking the lives of others.


So the decision was made.
I took out my log, that silent companion who, since the morning over four months ago in Choshi, Japan, had been the patient witness to my laconic observations, and made my final entry.
November 21, 1415 hours.
Passed a towline to the Miss Mary to enter the harbor channels of the Columbia River.

I was fully aware that on board a boat prowling not far off were people who were waiting for the first light of dawn so they could take pictures of Sector in tow. I frankly didn't care. The sea has its own rules, which are not those of the circus.
One journalist would write: "He didn't really cross the Pacific. . . ." Who knows, maybe he was right.

In the morning the towline broke. The sea was relatively calm, even if there were still persistent groundswells. I took out the oars and resumed rowing.
Oliver came out to join Sector aboard a Zodiac-model sailboat and urged me to cast another line to the Miss Mary and let myself be towed in, since the tide was about to head out. He also pointed seaward to the huge breakers off to starboard. Just imagine, he argued, what they would be like if the winds got any worse. The weather reports were not encouraging: to allow oneself to be caught in this stretch of sea could be a catastrophe.
While Olivier and I were talking, I noted that a large number of boats had joined us. Several of them were sig-naling to me, telling me to listen to my radio. I obliged, and from a helicopter hovering overhead, I heard my fa-ther's voice. Then it was Guillaume's, so choked up he could barely talk.

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