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71-Year-Old Frenchman Attempts Atlantic Crossing in Barrel

Writer Kat Long

Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is so last century. French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin is taking the barrel-based challenge to the next level: He hopes to traverse the Atlantic Ocean in a custom-built capsule with only the wind and currents to push him along.

Savin, 71, is definitely up for the task. A champion triathlete, former military paratrooper, and national park ranger in Africa, he has sailed across the Atlantic (in an actual boat) four times already.

His latest voyage began December 27 in the Canary Islands, and he plans to reach his destination—somewhere in the Caribbean—in 10 to 12 weeks. The epoxy-coated plywood barrel, just 10 feet long and 7 feet at its widest point, is well equipped for the 2,800-mile journey. Savin has a kitchenette, bunk, desalinator, freeze-dried provisions, and emergency supplies, plus drones, Go Pros, a satellite phone, GPS locator and other gear for posting updates to his Facebook page and tracking his progress online.

Besides being awesome, the voyage has a scientific purpose. Savin will drop markers along his route so an international team of oceanographers can learn more about Atlantic currents. French physicians will monitor him to gather information on the effects of loneliness and restricted movement over long periods.

Savin might become the first Frenchman to cross the Atlantic in a traffic-cone orange barrel, but he won’t be the first to drift from Europe to the Caribbean. In a 1952 experiment, Alain Bombard rode in a prototype Zodiac without provisions, as would a shipwrecked sailor—intending to see if he could survive on raw fish, plankton and seawater. Sixty-five days later, he arrived malnourished and miserable in Barbados. At least Savin won’t repeat that mistake—he’s bringing wine.

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