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A 71-Year-Old Frenchman Is Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a Giant Barrel

A relaxing Caribbean cruise sounds like the perfect vacation for many travelers. Jean-Jacques Savin isn’t your average traveler. Instead of sipping neon fruity drinks, conga-lining around the midnight chocolate buffet, and playing bingo on the lido deck, Savin is spending three months drifting across the Atlantic Ocean without power in a tiny barrel by himself. Destination: unknown.

Septuagenarian from France to cross the Atlantic in a barrel

Last month, the 71-year-old Frenchman set sail on an altogether different sort of “tropical cruise.” He’s traveling south from the Canary Islands toward the equator with the hope of arriving somewhere in the Caribbean in the next three months. While he’s not picky about his final destination (he says Barbados would do), he admits to being partial to a French island like Guadaloupe or Martinique.

His vessel is entirely unpowered, relying on ocean currents alone to take him to his final destination. But this is no ordinary barrel. The half-ton capsule is constructed of resin-coated plywood and has been hardened to survive three months at sea, including endless waves, harsh weather, and even orca attacks. Inside, it’s well-equipped given its pint-sized footprint. The 65 square feet of living space includes a bunk for sleeping, a kitchen, and storage. There’s even a porthole in the floor designed so Savin can pass his barrel-loads of time watching the underwater world go by. Savin is likewise no ordinary man. Having spent time as a military paratrooper in Africa, a pilot, and a park ranger, he’s more than fit for the task.

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images

In true French style, he packed a sizable block of foie gras, a bottle of Sauternes white wine to ring in the New Year, and a bottle of Saint-Émilion red to celebrate his 72nd birthday on January 14. He’s also carrying a bottle of Bordeaux “in the name of science.” After his expedition, the condition of the latter will be compared to an identical bottle that will remain on land during the three months.

Naturally, the first question is: Why? Savin’s reasoning is three-fold, but his journey is mostly about research. He’ll be dropping markers along the way to help oceanographers track, map, and predict ocean currents. On a personal level, he told the Daily Mail that he’s particularly interested in the “effects of solitude in close confinement.” He’s also curious about how his wine cache will fare in the face of several months of sloshing around on the high seas. Considering the sheer solitude he’ll face, the months of crushing boredom, and — let’s be honest — his proud French heritage, it’s difficult to imagine that wine lasting long enough to study.

At the time of his launch, Savin was moving at a sea-snail-like pace of just one to two miles per hour. Even at that paltry speed, however, he should cross the Atlantic and arrive somewhere in the Caribbean by March. Wherever and whenever he lands, we wish him well on what’s sure to be an epic journey!

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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