Three women set to paddle across the Atlantic

20th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The three French women will use paddle boards to make the 5,000-kilometre journey between Canada and their homeland.

Bordeaux -- Sometimes becoming a champion is only the first part of a dream. Three French women, all surf life-saving champions, set off at the end of this month to cross the Atlantic ocean on paddle boards.

There is no prize money or trophy, only the dream of accomplishing something no one else has ever dared to try.

They’ve named their 5,000-kilometre (3,000-mile) test of endurance between Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and Capbreton, France, as "Cap Odyssey".

In a non-stop relay calculated to last two months, Stephanie Geyer-Barneix, 34, Alexandra Lux, 23, and Flora Manciet, 25, will each paddle two hours, four times a day, night and day.

The boards are long, light and narrow, the same used for rescue operations on ocean beaches. The paddlers sit on their knees, leaning forward, or lie on the board, each arm stroke propelling them through frigid waters at a speed of 100 kilometres (60 miles) per 24 hours.

With nowhere to store any gear, the women will be equipped with the bare minimum, including dry-suits, an electronic beacon and an emergency flare.

The dangers are many -- maritime traffic, storms, fog, injury, exposure, not to mention sharks. The risk of getting lost in the swell or the darkness is intense.

"The hardest part will be to not lose them," said Yves Parlier of his job as skipper of the 60-foot (18 metres) catamaran supporting the paddlers.

Parlier, a three-time veteran of the Vendee Globe, the single-handed around the world race, will face a unique challenge: using every trick in the book to go as slowly as possible. "I don’t have a hand brake on the boat. I have to stick to the speed of the board, which is not easy."

His ability to control the speed of the catamaran is a matter of survival for the paddlers. "We have to be very vigilant, because if we lose them, it becomes dangerous and complicated," he said. "We will keep the same heading as they do, and if the boat goes too fast, we’ll reduce the sail and if that’s not enough, we’ll drop floating anchors to slow down the boat and reverse the sails."

The planning and preparation have taken two years from when Geyer-Barneix first had the idea, phoned Parlier to see if it was possible and he stepped on board as captain.

With the support of her husband, a trainer for the French national squad, she recruited friends Lux and Manciet, who were tempted by the challenge.

The three women have gathered an extensive team, including medical researchers, logistics and aquatics security experts. The onboard crew of five includes an osteopath who will study the physical effects of the relay.

All three women have proven themselves with national titles, gold medals and trophies, but mental stamina will be the deciding factor.

"The hardest part will be to not break down morally," said Parlier. To prepare, they have worked with a psychological coach to pinpoint weaknesses and strengths to confront obstacles that will surely arise.

But two of the three have already overcome hurdles that will serve them in their toughest moments.

Manciet has the cool, detached poise of a seasoned competitive athlete who has had to make sacrifices. After winning a paddleboard competition in Australia at 16, she returned there at 18 to pursue her passion full-time though her father, a doctor, had different hopes for his daughter.

Seven years later she spends six months of the year in Australia as a professional competitor in Surf Life Saving.

Geyer-Barneix' greatest challenge also came off the water. At 28, she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She began her chemotherapy with five other women. "I buried one, and then the next," she said. "Now they’re all gone." Her brush with mortality steeled her resolve: "if you have a dream, you make it come true."

"Cap Odyssey" becomes reality on June 22, when the first paddler pushes off from Nova Scotia, her compass set for home.

Suzanne Mustacich/AFP/Expatica

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