Sunday November 20, 2005
Row, row, row your boat?
A man rowed – yes, rowed! – across the Pacific Ocean. AGATHA MATAYUN was at journey’s end to greet him.
HIS face was tanned a reddish brown, and his eyes rimmed raccoon-style by white circles left by the shades that had sheltered them from a sun shining mercilessly over an open sea. His hands were terribly calloused and he had lost 9kg. But Emmanuel Coindre, rower extraordinaire, was in high spirits.
For over 129 days, he pitted his puny human strength against the might of the Pacific Ocean in a bid to complete a solo ocean crossing in record time, and he had accomplished his mission – albeit not as he had originally planned.
Coindre, 32, who cites his profession as “adventurer”, had set off from the port of Choshi in Japan on June 24 in a boat christened the Lady Inky
This was Coindre’s home as he attempted to better the record of fellow Frenchman Gerard D’Aboville, who in 1991 was the first person to row across the Pacific from Choshi, Japan, to Ilwaco in Washington, in 134 days.
Equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite phone and a few other basic pieces of communication and safety gear, Coindre rowed for 15 to 18 hours per day, clocking his fastest speed at 19.3knots and the slowest at 2.7knots.
When he finally crossed into US waters, he had been at sea for over 129 days. At the end of his journey, Coindre’s time was listed in the Ocean Rowing Society’s records as 130 days, one hour and 30 minutes, and he had covered a distance of 9,636km (5,988 miles).
This is not the first of his solo ocean-rowing adventures as he has crossed the Atlantic Oceans from both sides (west to east and east to west) previously, and a couple of those crossings were record-breaking feats too.
His name crops up quite frequently in the London-based Ocean Rowing Society’s records, where, among other things, he is listed as having achieved the fastest modern day crossing of the Atlantic from Chatham in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, United States, to Meridian, France, at 62 days, 19 hours, and 48 minutes. He rowed the 5,450km (3,387 miles) of ocean from July 9 to Sept 10, 2004.
In fact, he has been involved in one solo crossing after another over the past five years, but these have been across the Atlantic.
The North Pacific Ocean crossing, however, was a first, and his aim had been not so much to set a new record but to prove to himself that he could do it.
Nothing but ‘Shoosh, shoosh’
So what drives this affable bachelor from the French seaside town of La Baule in Brittany to spend long months alone on the ocean, rowing till his bare hands are raw, and putting himself at the mercy of the treacherous sea that can take a man’s life so easily, especially during bad weather?
“I love the sea,” he said simply, his English heavy with a French accent. “Since I was very young, I have loved the sea.
“In your life,” he added, “sometimes you do something, for you it is important. It was not a challenge between the ocean and me. It was a challenge with myself. When you are a long time (out at) sea, you know a lot of things about yourself.
“I am very,” he paused, as if to search for the right word, “vigorous. I started June 24, and I rowed every day, shoosh, shoosh, (imitating the sound of rowing). I used wind sometimes, but no sail.”
During the 129-day journey across the Pacific Ocean, he said, he capsized 16 times but it never took long to right the boat and get going again. “My boat is comfortable, a small boat but a nice and good boat,” he said.
For food, he had a stock of protein bars, rice and pasta. “I put in warm water and in five minutes, I can have pasta or rice. Sometimes I have fish, and sometimes I pick up my satellite phone to call for a pizza,” he said jokingly.
For drinking water, he had a desalination gadget but also stocked some bottled water.
He followed a daily routine to stay focused. He checked his GPS, and made regular postings at his website to keep those tracking him, including his family, updated with his progress.
When the solitude became too much, he turned to the creatures of the sea and sky for company. There were fish, whales and dolphins, and two seagulls, he said. The gulls followed him constantly, and he named them Sven and Jonathan.
But the human spirit can only endure so much, and so he must have felt extreme relief when he entered US waters. Coindre, who speaks mainly in French, could only describe the feeling as “nice and happy” in English.
It didn’t seem fair to ask him what his next challenge would be since he had just completed one extremely demanding task, but the question was still asked.
“My next challenge,” he paused to consider. “I don’t know exactly, maybe with a sailing boat or maybe another ocean. At the moment I don’t know.
“You must be careful, you have just one life, and I am not a crazy man,” he said, explaining that it takes a lot of planning to carry out the feats that he has done. “For this one, it took eight months to prepare,” he said.
But with his next words, he dispelled any notion that he would remain on land for long.
“I need to be out there, I love what I do,” he said. “But I am not crazy.”
Crazy or not, he is among that rare breed of people who go to the extreme to prove that they are able to overcome any challenge they set for themselves.