She is more than three quarters of the way across the Indian Ocean alone on a surfboard. She has so far sailed 1811 nautical miles, 670 to go, and things are going well. . It’s nighttime and she’s asleep. Without warning, the surfboard turns turtle and remains on its roof. She doesn’t know it yet, but she has just lost all her fresh water. It’s not a tall tale, it’s true and it’s happening now.
This extraordinary anecdote is just received from the Raphaëla le Gouvello shore team, supporting her bid to cross the Indian Ocean alone and on a surfboard from Western Australia to Reunion Island:
It was 4 o'clock in the morning for Raphaëla, fast asleep and securely installed inside her board, when suddenly it turned on its side then turned right over. The world looked upside down in the tiny 'cell' that has sheltered the sportswoman for the last 49 days on this rough crossing. Raphaëla knows that, 'You always have to be on the lookout', and the Indian Ocean has reminded her of that in its own way, with a tip-up.
The windsurf was rigged in 'night mode', equipped with a small mast (1,20m) to which are fixed a flashing light, the active-echo (for cargo ships' radars) and a piece of polystyrene (to help right the board in case of capsizing). In spite of this safety equipment, the board remained on its roof. All the tests had, so far, met with success. After a moment's questioning, Raphaëla realized that nothing was happening so she decided to launch the procedure to inflate her air bag. This cylindrically-shaped bag, located at the rear of the windsurf, was perfected by the European Space Agency, in collaboration with the architect Guy Saillard in 2002, after Raphaëla's Mediterranean crossing.
After just a few minutes, by which time the bag was half-inflated, the board righted itself. The operation had worked perfectly. The Breton woman had just had a fright but was not injured. This unexplained capsizing caused quite a mess inside her living quarters, in addition to the loss of all her fresh water supplies (from 5 to 8 litres). The most problematic thing now is to make enough fresh water using the water-maker, which entails a great amount of energy consumption for today.
During the 5 a.m. phone link, Raphaëla calmly said, ' I don't know how it happened. The sea wasn't rougher than usual, maybe even calmer.' Her team has to a guess, since we don't have any precise information, as Raphaëla cut the call short so she could finish sorting out the board. Perhaps the board was drifting and was caught sideways on by a wave that was higher than the others, pushing the board onto its side, beyond the balancing position. Maybe this movement lasted a short while and then there weren't enough high waves to set the board upright again. The main thing is that the air bag did its job properly.
To read the full story and background of the gutsy woman’s ongoing adventure, go to the Raphaela le Gouvello website, and to see her current position, click on the small map thumpnail below to enlarge.
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