When presented with the idea of traveling across the Atlantic in a giant orange barrel, most people might have a few questions. Like, for example, "Why?"
But for Jean-Jacques Savin, a 72-year-old former military parachutist and pilot who just completed the voyage from the Canary Islands (off the coast of Morocco) to an island in the Caribbean, the question is an easy one to answer: to prove that man could survive the trip.
Savin was inspired by fellow countryman Alain Bombard, who in 1952 to travel across the Atlantic living only off plankton, saltwater, and raw fish in a lifeboat for the sake of the challenge. Savin read Bombard's book about his trip, Naufragé volontaire (Voluntary Castaway), and then decided to make his own voyage, departing the day after Christmas 2018 and arriving on the Dutch Caribbean island of last week.
His barrel was made of resin-coated plywood, built by two French barrel makers. The measurements worked out to 10 feet long and 6.8 feet across. Savin hoped his new home would prove sturdy enough to handle orca attacks.
The Frenchman got an assist from , an international marine observatory, which provided him with markers to drop off at various parts of the sea to help study ocean currents.
Though his voyage lasted 128 days, it was mostly unremarkable. He posted updates on and told site near the end of his journey that he had had just eight difficult nights in total, including a rough sea that forced him to leave the barrel and navigate difficult waters from outside his cozy confines. He also rarely encountered other humans.
While Savin had hoped to end up on an island with French history to make things easier in terms of paperwork, the ocean doesn't care about your plans. Instead, he landed on St. Eustatius. But his social media popularity helped him: Although he showed up on the island unannounced, a SCUBA center offered to set him up in a hotel room.
"Some joked and asked if they were arresting him on arrival for being so crazy," St. Eustatius resident Dorette Courtar, who watched the barrel pulled from the ocean by a crane, . "Others, like myself, were fascinated by this journey and technology."
Make the trip in complete isolation in a small craft, sure. But Savin he "would not have set off with him [Bombard] at the time" because of his inspiration's insistence on spartan living. Savin brought along a bottle of Sauternes white wine and a block of foie gras for New Year's Eve, as well as a bottle of Saint-Émilion red wine for his birthday.
Savin plans to return to France on a plane. Now that his journey is over, he plans to submit himself to doctors to study the effects of solitude in close confinement, and, presumably, fly his barrel to the moon.