December 23, 2011 - Man Crosses Ocean with No Food (?)

– 1952

Don't try this at home! Or on the ocean! Or anywhere!

On this date in 1952, Frenchman Alain Bombard arrived in Barbados after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean alone with almost no provisions. That means he had almost no food or fresh water with him on his small inflatable boat!

Or so he claimed.

Bombard was a biologist and doctor. He had already sailed across the ocean solo twice before, but this time he wanted to prove that a human being could survive such a trip without provisions. By testing his theory, he said that he would help save thousands of lives – which seems to me a weird claim. (Surely shipwrecked and lost people don't commit suicide once their water runs out, right? They try to survive, I imagine...)

Bombard visited his newborn daughter in France and then set off on October 19. He said he made a harpoon and hooks and was able to catch or spear fish with these—and the fish were a source of fresh water as well as of food. He also harvested surface plankton with a small net. According to Bombard, he sipped a little salt water when necessary. (Warning: drinking salt water will cause dehydration, and eventually seizures and death. Don't do it – not even in little sips.) 

On the fourth day of his journey, Bombard's backup sail was blown away, and he had to mend a torn sail to continue. On his 53rd day, he encountered a ship. The people on the ship gave him a meal and warned him that he was still 1,000 kilometers away from his goal, but Bombard chose to go on.

When Bombard arrived in Barbados, he had lost 25 kg (around 55 pounds), and he had to go to the hospital for a short time. However, he recovered, wrote a book about his adventure, and lived to be 80 years old.

Some people think that Bombard's story is too unlikely to be true. A German doctor named Hannes Lindemann tested Bombard's claim by trying to repeat his journey. However, he found that he needed fresh water from rain most days. Lindemann has speculated that either Bombard secretly took fresh water along on his journey or was secretly provided supplies along the way. The World Health Organization bases its recommendations for ocean crossings on Lindemann's findings, not on Bombard's story.

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