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

 


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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"I did not conquer the Pacific. It let me go across."
- GERARD D'ABOVILLE

"When I say that I value my personal freedom above all else, I also accept the other side of that coin, namely that I take full responsibility for my actions and conduct. One hundred percent…
"This voyage across the North Pacific is, to my mind, the supreme responsibility, because in putting on the line I have risked my all…
"True responsibility, the ultimate exercise of one's freedom, is to know that in the event you fail you expose yourself to the supreme penalty, death. That in itself is enough to make me feel the full weight of what I do. All the rest is so much literature."

"I have chosen the ocean as my field of confrontation, my field of battle", writes d'Aboville, "because the ocean is reality at its toughest, its most demanding. As my weapons against this awesome power, I have human values: intelligence, experience, and the stubborn will to win."

Gerard d'Aboville


A L O N E - The Man Who Braved the Vast Pacific - and Won

 This is the incredible story of one heroic man's battle against almost impossible odds, a tale of 
pain and anguish, of bravery and utter solitude, a tale that ends in his victory not only over the "enemy"-the implacable ocean- but also over himself Gerard d'Aboville was forty-five years old when he set out on his improbable mission: to row across the Pacific Ocean, from west to east, from Japan to the United States. He had already rowed across the Atlantic, from Cape Cod to the port of Brest, France. But that had been ten years before, when he was in the prime of life. Still, the nagging challenge of the Pacific - twice as vast as the Atlantic and several times as dangerous -would not be denied. His rowboat, the Sector, was 26 feet long. The ocean was 6,200 miles wide. His watertight living compartment, a scant 31 inches high, contained a bunk, a one-burner stove, a ham radio, and a telex (both powered by solar panels). Fresh water came from two desalination pumps.
After months of meticulous and often frustrating preparations, d'Aboville set out from Choshi, Japan, in mid-July, already several weeks behind schedule. He rowed ten to twelve hours a day - an average of 7,000 strokes per day - battled head-winds that pushed him backward or made him stand still (once for a frill two weeks), cyclones with 100-miles-per-hour winds, and 40-foot waves that hit him like can-nonballs and sent him hurtling into troughs 30 feet deep. His boat capsized more than thirty times; once he was trapped inside his hermetic cabin, upside down, for almost two hours, with the oxy-gen almost depleted, before he managed to right the boat. Finally, 134 days after his departure, he came ashore at the little fishing village of Ilwaco, Washington. He was bruised and battered - and weighed thirty-seven pounds less - but truly un-bowed. "I have chosen the ocean as my field of confrontation, my field of battle," writes d'Aboville, "because the ocean is reality at its toughest, its most demanding. As my weapons against this awesome power, I have human values: intelligence, experi-ence, and the stubborn will to win."

Gerard d'Aboville was born and grew up in Brittany, France, where, in his words, he had always rowed "the way other chil-dren pedaled bicycles." He lives in France with his wife, Cornélia, and their two children, Ann and Guillaume.

Of all the creatures on the face of the earth, humans are
those who adapt most easily, not only to the most extreme
temperatures and climates but also to the most arduous 
conditions that life imposes on them.
Henri de Montfried


To these words I would simply like to add that humans derive 
this capacity to adapt through a characteristic that is theirs alone: 
the ability to dream and to hope.
I dedicate this book to all those men and women for whom this 
adventure - this ocean voyage - may serve to re-kindle in their hearts a spark of hope.
Gerard d'Aboville

Translated from the French by Richard Seaver

Introduction

"When my French publisher asked me whom in the whole of France I wish to meet, I said ' D'Aboville…He is my hero.' " - Paul Theroux

 When my French publisher, Robert Laffont, asked me whom in the whole of France I wished to meet I said, "D'Aboville," whose book Seul (Alone) had just appeared. The next day at a cafe in the shadow of Saint-Sulpice, I said to d'Aboville's wife, Cornëlia, "He is my hero." She replied softly, with feeling, "Mine, too."
It is a commonplace that almost anyone can go to the moon: you pass a physical and NASA puts you in a pro-jectile and shoots you there. It is perhaps invidious to com-pare an oarsman with an astronaut, but rowing across the Pacific Ocean alone in a small boat, as the Frenchman Gerard d'Aboville did in 1991, shows old-fashioned brav-ery. Yet even those of us who go on journeys in eccentric circles, simpler and far less challenging than d'Aboville's, seldom understand what propels us. Ed Gillet paddled a kayak sixty-three days from California to Maui a few years ago and cursed himself much of the way for not knowing why he was making such a reckless crossing. Astronauts have a clear, scientific motive, but adventurers tend to evade the awkward questions why.
D'Aboville was forty-six when he single-handedly rowed a 26-foot boat designed especially for this unique voyage from Japan to Washington State in 1991. He had previously (in 1980) rowed across the Atlantic, also from west to east, Cape Cod to Brittany. But the Atlantic was a piece of cake compared with his Pacific crossing, one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world. For various reasons, d'Aboville set out very late in the season and was caught first by heavy weather and finally by tumultuous storms - 40-foot waves and 80-miles-per-hour winds. Many times he was terrified, yet halfway through the trip - which had no stops (no islands at all in that part of the Pacific) - when a Russian freighter offered to rescue him, "1 was not even tempted." He turned his back on the ship and rowed on. The entire crossing, averaging 7,000 strokes a day, took him 134 days. I wanted to ask him why he had taken this enormous per-sonal risk.
D'Aboville, short and compactly built, is no more phys-ically prepossessing than another fairly obscure and just as brave long-distance navigator, the paddler Paul Caffyn of New Zealand. Over the past decade or so, Caffyn has circumnavigated Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and his own New Zealand through the low pressure systems of the Tasman Sea in his 17-foot kayak.In a memorable passage in his book, The Dark Side of the Wave, Caffyn is battling a horrible chop off the North Island and sees a fishing boat up ahead. He deliberately paddles away from the boat, fearing that someone on board will see his flimsy craft and ask him where he is going: "1 knew they would ask me why I was doing it, and I did not have an answer.
I hesitated to spring the question on d'Aboville. I asked him first about his preparations for the trip. A native of Brittany, he had always rowed, he said. "We never used outboard motors - we rowed boats the way other children pedaled bicycles." Long ocean crossings interested him, too, because he loves to design highly specialized boats.

His Pacific craft was streamlined - it had the long sea-worthy lines of a kayak and a high-tech cockpit with a roll-up canopy that could seal in the occupant in rough weather.
A pumping system, using seawater as ballast, was designed for righting the boat in the event of
a capsize. The boat had few creature comforts but all necessities: a stove, a sleeping place, roomy hatches for dehydrated meals and drinking water. D'Aboville also had a video camera and filmed himself rowing, in the middle of nowhere, humming the Alan Jackson country-and-western song ''Here in the Real World." D'Aboville sang it and hummed it for months but did not know any of the words, or indeed the title, until I recognized it on his video.
"That is a very hard question," he said, when I asked him why he had set out on this seemingly suicidal trip -one of the longest ocean crossings possible, at one of the worst times of the year. He denied that he had any death wish. "And it is not like going over a waterfall in a barrel." He had prepared himself well. His boat was well found. He is an excellent navigator. "Yes, I think I have courage," he said when I asked him point-blank whether he felt he was brave.
It was the equivalent, he said, of scaling the north face of a mountain, typically the most difficult ascent. But this lonely four-and-a-half-month ordeal almost ended in his death by drowning, when a severe storm lashed the Oregon-Washington coast as d'Aboville approached it, upside down, in a furious sea. The video of his last few days at sea, taken by a Coast Guard vessel, is so frightening that d'Aboville wiped tears from his eyes watching it with me. "At this time last year I was in the middle of it." He quietly ignored my questions about the 40-foot waves. Clearly upset at the memory, he said, "I do not like to talk about it."
"Only an animal does useful things," he said at last, after a long silence. "An animal gets food, finds a place to sleep, tries to keep comfortable. But I wanted to do something that was not useful -not like an animal at all, Something only a human being would do."
The art of it, he was saying - such an effort was as much esthetic as athletic. And that the greatest travel always contains within it the seeds of a spiritual quest, or else what's the point? The English explorer Apsley Cherry -Garrard would have agreed with this. He went to Antarctica with Scott in the ship Terra Nova and made a six-week crossing of a stretch of Antarctica in 1912, on foot, in the winter, when that polar region is dark all day and night, with a whipping wind and temperature of 80 below.
"Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most iso-lated way of having a bad time which has been devised" are the first words of his narrative. On this trek, which gave him the title for his book, The Worst Journey in the World, he wrote: "Why do some human beings desire with such urgency to do such things: regardless of the conse-quences, voluntarily, conscripted by no one but them-selves? No one knows. There is a strong urge to conquer the dreadful forces of nature, and perhaps to get conscious-ness of ourselves, of life, and of the shadowy workings of our human minds. Physical capacity is the only limit. I have tried to tell how, and when, and where. But why? That is a mystery."
But there is no conquering, d'Aboville says. Je n 'ai pas vaincu le Pacifique, ii m'a laissë passer. "I did not conquer the Pacific," he said afterward. "It let me go across."

Paul Theroux

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