As 29 hardy and daring skippers were preparing to set off on the three-month challenge that is the Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race, a French adventurer completed his own challenge – to row round France.
Charles Hedrich completed the first-ever rowing Tour de France – covering 3,000km over 155 days to pull his way across the country’s extensive waterways.
He left Quai d’Austerlitz in Paris on May 20 and, equipped with only the bare minimum, aimed to row for round 20km each day.
Mr Hedrich, 58, said: “Since some canals are only open for certain hours of the day, I did not see the point in planning a particular schedule or fixed rowing rhythm. Instead I focused on pushing on as much as I could and making sure I had enough food and rest.”
Rest will be the one quantity in short supply for the Vendée Globe skippers as they are sailing the world solo, non-stop and unassisted. That means they can only snatch sleep when it seems safe to do so – and even then for only a short 20-minute nap.
Already one of the competitors, Spaniard Didac Costa, has had to turn back after his boat sprang a leak and water damaged the generator. He can rejoin the race if he gets it fixed within 10 days.
While the Vendée Globe skippers head for South Africa before passing Australia and then the tip of South America, Mr Hedrich rowed along the Seine, down the Marne and the Canal Champagne-Bourgogne to meet the Rhône. From there, he joined the Canal du Midi, the Garonne and the Gironde until he reached the Atlantic. Then, he rowed up the Atlantic coast along the English Channel and down the Canal du Somme and River Oise before returning to Paris on the Seine.
When he completed his journey on October 20 he was still in relatively good shape but had taken a pasting from the weather.
The first week he fought incessant rain and strong currents. “The weather was particularly bad as I entered the Canal du Midi. It took me 15 hours to row a mere 20km because the current was fierce. In other parts, like the Rhône, things were fine and it was easier to progress more quickly.”
By summer, the weather had drastically improved – but, in August, he was rowing through a record heatwave.
A tireless explorer, Mr Hedrich’s rowing Tour de France is one of his calmer expeditions. Over the past decade, he has taken part in oceanic sailing races, set a speed record for sailing across the English Channel, climbed Everest and spent 550km skiing and kite skiing solo in Antarctica.
Dangers have included being attacked by a polar bear, lifted out of the water by a whale and being trapped in ice sheets.
“This adventure was rather calm and did not pose any great dangers. I did not feel much time pressure or extreme physical exhaustion like I did on other missions. I really enjoyed my Tour de France row, as I could admire France’s picturesque countryside, especially when I was on the canals.
“I like exploring France most. It’s my home and an absolutely beautiful place!” he said.
Each expedition is different, and Mr Hedrich said: “For every expedition, you need to pack different types of food. I always make sure to pack things I like. There’s no point in taking gels and ration packs if you don’t enjoy eating them, as you will soon lose your appetite and become miserable.
“In terms of health and medication, you need to spend some time focusing on your body, getting to know what you need. Then, armed with that information, you need to be able to manage your body to the maximum.
“I know what my body can take and that this Tour de France row would not pose too much difficulty or insurmountable problems, so I only took some light medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. In case of a medical emergency, I could take those to survive until I receive professional medical help.”
Being alone is not a problem: “I don’t dwell on the fact that I am alone and so it generally causes no problems for me. My main goal is to succeed, so I am determined to press on.
“Watching the stunning nature around me is wonderful and I really enjoy having that time to myself to do that. I already have a selection of ideas for my next expedition. One thing is certain – I want to spend at least one month a year exploring.”
Since he sold his international recruitment company in 2002 and decided to follow his lifelong passion for adventure, Mr Hedrich has gathered a wealth of experience – something he wishes to share with others. So, I0 years ago, he created his organisation ‘Respectons la Terre’ to make others more aware of the power and beauty of nature.
“When I spend time in nature, I feel moved by it and refreshed. The Earth in its purest form is truly wonderful, and I feel that we should try our best to respect it,” he said.
Now he visits schools to hold talks about his missions and to raise awareness about the detrimental effects of global warming and pollution.
You can follow his latest adventures at www.charleshedrich.com and feel free to wave at him as he passes by you on his next journey.
He is just one of many adventurers travelling the world and sharing their experiences… you can find more on the web radio station Allo La Planète by broadcaster Eric Lange and Chapka Assurances. Find it at la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/emissions-radio/allo-la-planete