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French explorer completes 127-day unpowered journey across the Atlantic in barrel

May 13, 2019 7:00PM AFP

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Jean-Jacques Savin and his ocean-crossing barrel on May 9 at Fort-de-France, Martinique after completing his journey. Picture: AFP media_cameraJean-Jacques Savin and his ocean-crossing barrel on May 9 at Fort-de-France, Martinique after completing his journey. Picture: AFP


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A 72-year-old explorer has floated across the Atlantic Ocean in an orange wooden barrel.

The barrel doesn’t have a sail or a motor and the journey took four months to travel more than 4000km, using only ocean currents to move.

Frenchman Jean-Jacques Savin gave his partner Josyane a hug when he arrived on the Caribbean island of Martinique last week. It was the first time they had seen one another since he was dropped into the waters off the Canary Islands on December 26.

media_cameraJean-Jacques Savin hugs his partner Josyane after making it ashore 127 days after he and his barrel were placed in the ocean. His friend Pierre Glazot (left) was there too. Picture: AFP

“My first few steps were difficult, it felt like being drunk,” Mr Savin wrote on his Facebook page.

“It was my first hot shower with soap in 127 days … They offered whatever meal I wanted, I asked if it was possible to have two fried eggs.”

Before he left, the former paratrooper* wrote that the challenge was “a crossing where the man would not be captain of his boat, but passenger of the Ocean.”

And though he planned for the journey to take three months, the ocean took one month extra to deliver him to his destination.

He lost 4kg and survived mainly on his stores of freeze-dried food and the occasional freshly caught fish, as well as supplies provided by the crews of ships he came across during the voyage.

He had a bottle of white wine and foie gras* to celebrate New Year’s Eve and a bottle of red wine for his 72nd birthday in January.

“Frankly, he hasn’t lost that much weight,” said his friend Pierre Galzot, also on hand to greet him in Fort-de-France,

But as a doctor, he advised Mr Savin to “get a full check-up”.

media_cameraJean-Jacques Savin disembarks from his custom-made barrel after four months drifting with the Atlantic Ocean currents. Picture: AFP

Mr Savin declared his trip a success on April 27 when he officially entered the Caribbean after 122 days at sea.

Five days later, he and his barrel were hauled out of the water by a Dutch oil tanker, after he requested help to avoid being carried to the shores of the US or another country, which would complicate the return of his vessel to France.

After a few days on the Dutch island of Saint-Eustache, a French tugboat brought the barrel and Mr Savin to Martinique, which is French territory.

The barrel is made from resin-coated plywood, heavily reinforced to resist waves and attacks by orca whales.

Measuring 3m long and 2.10m across, it gave him about 6 sqm of cramped living space.

The barrel has a bed with straps to stop him falling out of bed, as well as a kitchen and storage space.

Most of his days passed smoothly, providing displays of frolicking dolphins and the schools of fish seen through a porthole in the floor.

media_cameraJean-Jacques Savin inside the barrel, where this is a bed, kitchen and storage. Picture: AFP

He had plenty to keep him busy and he said the time passed very quickly.

“Answering emails in the morning, that could take three hours, then fill in my trip log*. That took up the morning, and then a nap in the afternoon,” he said.

“I read a lot also I wrote my book” about the experience, which he plans to publish in August.

But there were a couple of close calls, including nearly being rammed by a cargo ship.

There was also a night of pummelling* waves during a storm that threatened to turn the vessel completely upside down.

After crawling outside to reattach a vertical stabiliser*, he found himself dangling off the side of the barrel by a rope.

It took half an hour of scrambling to pull himself back up, and Mr Savin later posted pictures of his badly bruised body.

VIDEO: A news report from before Mr Savin left in December 2018

Frenchman to float across the Atlantic in a barrel

After resting up with his family this summer, he already has another challenge in sight: swimming the English Channel.

He is also thinking about trying to cross the Pacific Ocean in a barrel if he finds sponsors for what could be a six-month challenge.

“Now that I’m not at all in favour of,” his friend Dr Galzot said.

“Jean-Jacques has a good head on his shoulders. He’s aware of his capabilities*, and his limits.”

media_cameraJean-Jacques Savin shows off the inside of his barrel before he left on his Atlantic Ocean crossing. Picture: AFP


  • paratrooper: a soldier trained to parachute into locations
  • foie gras: duck or goose liver eaten as a luxury food
  • log: a factual record or diary
  • pummelling: beating
  • stabiliser: a boom or float to stop the barrel tipping
  • capabilities: things someone is able to do


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  1. How many days did he go without a shower?
  2. How did he not fall out of bed?
  3. What took about three hours each day?
  4. How did he end up badly bruised?
  5. Which two challenges is Mr Savin considering doing?


1. Write a diary
Imagine you are Jean-Jacques Savin. Write a diary entry for a day of sailing in your wooden barrel. Make your writing interesting by including what you can see, hear, smell and feel.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
What’s the craziest journey that you think you could do? Write about where you would go and how you would travel. Include a design of what you would use to travel in and a list of everything you would need to take with you.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Design and Technology

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you float across the ocean in a barrel? What would you love and what wouldn’t you like about the journey?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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