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French adventurer dies age 75 during Atlantic solo rowing attempt

Jean-Jacques Savin was found after his team lost communication with him on Friday morning. The exact circumstances of his death have not yet been determined

 Barrel used by Jean-Jacques Savin to cross the Atlantic ocean, exhibited during the "Bordeaux fete le Fleuve" celebration

Mr Savin had previously successfully crossed the Atlantic in a barrel (shown here at a Bordeaux festival) Pic: JeanLucIchard / Shutterstock

Ex-paratrooper and Frenchman Jean-Jacques Savin has died during his attempt to row solo across the Atlantic in a specially-modified canoe, aged 75.

Mr Savin was originally from Gironde, and had been living in Arès.

The team of volunteers that had been following Mr Savin’s journey confirmed in a statement yesterday (Saturday, January 22): “The body of Jean-Jacques has been found inside the cabin of his canoe l’Audacieux [The Audacious].

“Portuguese maritime security had located the boat yesterday [Friday, January 21], which had unfortunately returned to the coast of the Azores. A diver was able to descend and visit the boat on Saturday.

“This time the ocean was stronger than our friend, who loved sailing and the sea so much.” 

The Portuguese coastguard found the boat overturned. So far, the team has yet to ascertain "the exact circumstances of the tragedy".

Distress signals launched

The team had been “very worried” about Mr Savin, as they had not heard from him since Thursday evening, and lost communication north of Madeira.

They had told the AFP: “Unfortunately, since 00:34 yesterday morning [Friday], we have had no further contact with him or any sign of him”. They said that he had launched "two distress beacons”, which indicated that he was “in great difficulty”.

His daughter Manon had written on the project’s Facebook page that the French, Portuguese and American emergency services were working together to coordinate a rescue mission.

Mr Savin was last contacted off the northern coast of Madeira. He had been heading towards the small island of Ponta Delgada, reportedly to carry our repairs to his vessel.

He left Sagres in southern Portugal on January 1, but was quickly blown off course by bad winds, and then encountered serious energy and communication problems. 

Writing on his Facebook page on Wednesday 19, he said that he was “being forced to use my manual watermaker”, which was “costing me physical energy”, but that he was “not in danger”.

‘Mocking old age’

Mr Savin rose to public awareness when he crossed the Atlantic in a self-built “barrel”, pushed only by wind and currents, over more than four months, in 2019. He wrote a book, L’Atlantique en Tonneau, about the experience.

In this latest project, he had planned to row across the Atlantic in his canoe, which was 8m long, 1.70m wide, and had two cabins and a rowing station. He said he wanted to become the “oldest man on the Atlantic” as a way of “mocking old age”.

He joked that he was “going on a three-month holiday to the open sea”.

Among his 300 kilos of equipment were freeze-dried food, a heater, a harpoon gun for fishing, an electric and a manual watermaker, his mandolin, Champagne, Sauternes, and foie gras to celebrate his birthday.

Before setting off, he said: “I’m going to row for eight hours a day, and when it’s too windy, I’ll lock myself in.”

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Veteran crossing the Atlantic... in a barrel 

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