A Grueling Transatlantic Journey Ends in Triumph for a Pair of Hardy French Sailboarders

updated 08/12/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/12/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Thirty-eight days, two hours and 51 minutes after they set out from New York Harbor on a sailboard, Frédéric Beauchêne and Thierry Caroni reached Lizard Point, England—and not a moment too soon. They had survived one near-drowning, two capsizings, ripped sails and the loss of food and camera equipment.

The two Frenchmen, both 31, were well equipped for the 3,200-mile journey. Their custom-built 22-foot craft had two watertight compartments with enough space for a one-man sleeping berth as well as 50-plus gallons of water, 660 pounds of food, two radios and satellite navigation gear. The first half of their trip was relatively uneventful. On their best day they covered 135 miles; on their worst, they were pushed back two. Twenty days out, a tornado forced Beauchêne and Caroni to take down their sails; they went nowhere for 30 hours, the twister's funnel passing only 250 yards away. A week later a freak 30-foot wave caught them on deck, capsizing the vessel. They righted the boat after 10 minutes.

On the 37th day, gale-force winds capsized them again while Caroni was sleeping below with the berth hatch open. Beauchêne was tossed into the sea, and although attached by a lifeline, his voluminous oilskinlike trousers filled with water, pulling him under. Caroni, now awake, plunged after his comrade, slashed furiously at Beauchêne's trousers with a diver's knife and helped him to the surface. This time it took them two hours to right the craft, and they lost valuable camera gear, movie footage and all remaining food. Fortunately they sighted Lizard Point the next day, ending the world's first unescorted transatlantic sailboard crossing.

The men were in remarkably good health. Even so, Caroni, a professional sailboat racer, wished only "bonne chance" to anyone who tries to best their record. Beauchêne, an accomplished sailboarder, cautioned, "I know now that this is very dangerous. We were very close to death at times. I don't want to be responsible for other people risking their lives. I don't know what I would do if the record is broken. I'll just put the sailboard in my garage and wait and see."

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