Kept At Sea By Offshore Winds, French Rower Buoyed By Call To Family

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Transatlantic Rowers

Guirec Soudée rowed away from Chatham on June 15. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Despite persistent winds pushing him away from the coast of France, transatlantic rower Guirec Soudée is in good spirits – and not just because he’s nearing completion of his months-long odyssey.

Last week, Soudée made contact with a passing tanker, whose captain rigged a phone patch allowing the 29-year-old adventurer to speak briefly with his family. It was the first conversation he’s had with anyone on land since his ocean rowboat lost its satellite communications equipment on July 3.

He made the call at about 1:30 a.m. French time, expedition Communications Director Alice Claeyssens wrote on Soudée’s blog.

“His voice was certainly robotic and distant, and the situation so unlikely and unexpected, but Guirec was finally able to be reassured about the health of his loved ones,” she wrote. “Yes, contrary to what one might think, Guirec's biggest worry is not his survival but the health of his whole family.” He was relieved to learn that all are well, including his beloved pet dog and chicken.

The brief conversation also shed some light on the storm that struck two-and-a-half weeks after his departure from Chatham, battering his 26-foot ocean rowboat.

“He did not go into details but did confirm that on the evening of the infamous July 3rd storm, he capsized and a wave engulfed the cabin. This was one of our major concerns, knowing that in the middle of a storm Guirec may lack air, he has to juggle his portholes to take in breaths of air between two breaking waves. That day, the sea was really raging and he was surprised, flooding his electronic instruments. So the satellite transmitter and the emergency telephone took water,” Claeyssens wrote.

“Fortunately, his VHF continued to operate, which is the basis of all communication with any freighters he has encountered since then.” He is also able to minimally charge his cell phone; though it is without a signal, it allows him to look at photos that remind him of home.

Based on the limited location data Soudée has been able to relay, his boat is about 615 statute miles west of Brest, France, caught in a broad eddy of winds pushing him offshore and to the south. He had hoped to arrive at his home on the island of Yvinec as early as this week, but will now need to wait for favorable winds.

“His preoccupation is mainly with the weather, especially after this long episode of easterly wind,” Claeyssens wrote. “Even alternating between sea anchor and oar, his best course took him 120 nautical miles northwest of his last position nine days ago.”

Soudée is not reportedly concerned about running out of provisions, and says he has ample food and water to last until his arrival.