The Frenchman who crossed the Atlantic in a wine barrel | THE DAILY HERALD

Jean-Jacques Severin in St. Eustatius after his transatlantic crossing.

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Jean-Jacques Severin inspecting his barrel as it is placed in the container area of the St. Eustatius harbour.

  1. EUSTATIUS–After having spent 130 days in the customised wine barrel in which Frenchman Jean-Jacques Severin crossed the Atlantic Ocean ending up in St. Eustatius, he describes how he survived relentless bobbing through rough waves, occasional storms and encounters with inquisitive sharks.

But what prompted this “matelot” to undertake such an adventurous journey from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean in the first place?

“As a teenager, I read a book by Alain Bombard called The Shipwrecked Volunteer. In this book, the author recounts his actual experiences as an ocean yacht explorer and suggested that it would be possible to cross the Big Pond in a barrel. That idea sparked my imagination,” said the 71-year-old pensioner. “What is life, if not about adventure, exploration and discovery?”

Severin’s barrel may not have been a “barrel of fun” at the best of times, but it was equipped with solar panels, satellite phone and a water-desalination device. Floating on its side, his wooden barrel measures two metres long and three metres wide.

“I chose a Bordeaux wine barrel because I was born in Ares which is a wonderful coastal town close to Bordeaux. I then customised the interior with a platform to accommodate myself, my navigation aids and all the other important paraphernalia such as my Bible and writing materials, water purifier and cooking utensils. My small hatch gave me access to fresh air from above from where my roof solar panels gave me electrical power below,” Severin explained.

Food preparation is essential to the French people and during his crossing, Severin aspired to all his nation’s culinary expectations and culture. His main source of food was the fish he caught by line and harpooning. And when that harpoon broke, he used a makeshift spear to detach an occasional fish that would slumber against the sides of his gently rocking vessel.

“If you snooze, you lose. But I was never really hungry. My fish catch was dried atop of my barrel or fried or ‘sushi-ed.’ I also had a large number of storage jars with conserved produce, spices and herbs to spike and pacify my palate.”

Some fascinated fish managed to avoid Severin’s appetite. “One day, I had the terrifying experience of meeting five large oceanic blue sharks who were softly nosing their way around my seafaring craft. These types of sharks are usually harmless but have been known to snack on human parts. However, they were merely attracted to the bobbing of my barrel and not the bones in my body. I stayed calm. So did they, thank God!”

God was not too far from Severin’s thoughts as his mind and barrel drifted on the currents of his crossing. “I brought my Bible, since it is a wonderful literary work. I was also in regular contact with my family and with the wider elements of who I am and what is essential in life,” Severin stated. “The ocean is a wonderful place to find and not lose yourself. During my journey, I kept a log that I shall publish as a book later this year.”

However, his book will most definitely have a sequel. Next year, Severin is planning to bob his barrel all the way from Japan to California. He is already looking for a major sponsor to assist in such a passage.

“I have done many things in my life,” he told The Daily Herald. “I am an experienced sailor, an air pilot and have worked on building management projects in Africa. Now retired, my greatest joy is to be alive on this fascinating planet.”

Source: The Daily Herald