May 27th 1998 : two more days after 79 days at sea, I should cross the finishing line. I am overjoyed. It is 7.30 am as I approach the islands. The currents and waves get stronger and stronger as the minutes go by. The sea is irregular, rough, with waves up to 6-7 meters high. The greenish-grey light is strangely worrying. I put my harness on with great care as the waves break against the boat making a horrendous noise. Impatient to reach my destination, I open my porthole to reach my oars. In a strike of lightning, a violent breaker capsizes the boat.

In fractions of seconds, I find myself trapped, stuck by the harness which blocks me under the boat. I cannot reach the surface. Horrified, I start becoming dangerously agitated, wasting my oxygen. I must gather my thoughts, reach for the life line and unfasten the snap hook which ties me to the boat. I manage to find shelter in the air pocket of the cockpit which gradually disappears under the water. Straightening the boat is useless. Under the ballast tank effect, it is already 80% submerged.

It is the end ! …

I have no choice but to send my distress beacon. I am 75 nautical miles away from the coast of Guadeloupe. In theory, It should take the air-sea rescue approximately 2.5 hours to reach me. A brief feeling of frustration and injustice vanish from my thoughts, leaving place to the absolute priority :

1D

 SURVIVAL.

Altogether, it will take the rescuers 9 hours to reach me. 9 hours during which, straddled on the hull of the boat, only one thought comes through my mind : Will they find me before nightfall ?

The sea has become hostile. A few meters away, 4 meter sharks swim around the boat, delighted by the food that has fallen out of the boat.

Since capsizing, I must have dived at least 20 times to reach the cabin so as to get another distress signal in case of malfunction of the first one. Every time I dive, I take the risk of being knocked out inside. The waves are so strong, so powerful. But I have nothing to lose. I am afraid that the boat might sink. It is already 4 pm. In less than 2 hours, it will be sunset.

All of a sudden, the sound of an airplane attracts my attention. It is definitely coming towards me. I start waving at them with my distress signals. They don’t see me, they can’t see me. I have no choice. The boat is going to sink more and more, but I must dive. I must reach and open the tight bulkhead where my distress rockets are stocked.

The combination of salt and sun has affected my eyes which burn like hell. Praying, that is all I have left. 20 minutes later, another aircraft appears. Sending my distress signals was my last hope. Having flown above me, it turns and at last makes a signal with its wings. They’ve found me. The customs drop a lifeboat less than 5 meters away. With rage in my heart, I must abandon ship, my faithful companion after having moored my argos beacon to the rudder, hoping to see her again.

A 250 meter long and 20 meter high freighter then picks me up. A rope ladder hanging and swaying against the hull seems endless, unreachable. Rescued at night in a raging sea, it will take me 1.5 hours to reach the deck.

recup

The extraordinary greeting as well as the following day with the American coast guards who pick me up to take me to Pointe-à-Pitre fill me with joy. Family, friends and officials welcome me whole heartedly. To them I achieve a record breaking performance. To me it is nothing but an unfinished victory.

F1000007

I had proved that a woman could do it but had not crossed the finishing line.

I swore to myself that I would do it again.