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French woman will try to row across the Atlantic for a second time

Anne Quéméré, a native of France, will try to row across the Atlantic for a second time.

08:31 AM EDT on Monday, April 19, 2004

Journal Sports Writer

Special to the Journal

Anne Quemere, who says she's spent half her life on the ocean, tests her 24-foot boat off the coast of France earlier this year.

Rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, alone and unassisted, doesn't require courage, says Anne Quéméré. "I was born in May, and my mother took me on a boat in July," she says. "I've spent half my life on the ocean. It's my normality. If someone asked me to climb Mount Everest, that would require courage. I don't know anything about mountains."

Born in Brittany, France, 37 years ago, Quéméré lived in the United States for 10 years and worked as a city guide in New York and New Orleans. She was in Rhode Island last week preparing for her second crossing of the Atlantic, this time from west to east. If she is successful, she will be the first woman to row across the ocean in both directions.

Last year, she rowed east to west from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe in 56 days, shattering the women's record by a month.

Quéméré's new 24-foot boat is being shipped to Rhode Island, where it will be provisioned for her next crossing attempt -- 2,700 miles, from Cape Cod to Brittany in less than 90 days -- scheduled to start in late May or early June, depending on weather conditions.

"The northern route is definitely more risky than the previous one," Quéméré says. "Even though the dominant winds in the north are usually western winds, they are far from blowing with the same regularity as the trade winds [in the south]. Adding to this is a series of depressions sweeping this part of the ocean, or even worse, the anticyclone that brings with it an eastern wind."

Marc McGinisty, the architect of Quéméré's previous boat, designed the new one to be built of red cedar and epoxy. Unsinkable and self-righting with a water-ballast system for rough seas, it is painted bright red. It was built in Yves Tanguy's shipyard in Brittany.

The 24-footer has a 5 1/4-foot beam and contains several water-tight compartments with a clear dome so Quéméré can look outside without leaving her living quarters, which are so tight she cannot sit up straight. The only time she can sit up is when she is rowing, sometimes for as long as 18 hours a day.

"You are at the oars for that long," she says, "but you're only rowing efficiently for six, seven, or eight hours."

On her best day rowing from east to west, she gained 70 nautical miles. The new boat has an ergonomically designed sliding seat for rowing.

"The most discouraging days are when you have been rowing for 18 hours and you sleep for an hour," she said. "When you wake, you look at your [navigation equipment] and you realize that that you are where you were yesterday, or worse, where you were the day before."

One day, on the east-to-west passage, she rowed 40 miles forward, and drifted 22 miles backward.

"In 2 hours, I lost what I had done in 10 hours," she says. For her voyage to France this summer, Quéméré is trying several new American-made sea anchors to limit, but not eliminate, drift.

Her safety equipment includes a device to warn a ship's radar of her presence, a hand-held VHF radio, and an Argos Beacon to track her position by orbiting satellites. The system can also activate an alarm to guide rescuers, if necessary. Quéméré navigates with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver. She plans to communicate with her shore team and family every day over a satellite telephone.

She will carry about 175 pounds of food, most of it dehydrated to conserve weight, and she plans to eat five times a day:

Breakfast at daybreak (20 percent of the daily ration) with cereals or Dutch toasts.

Lunch around 1 p.m. (30 percent of the daily ration) with dehydrated canned meals accompanied by carbohydrates.

Late afternoon snack (15 percent of the daily ration) with cereals bars or biscuits.

Dinner at sunset (20 percent of the daily ration) with dehydrated canned meals accompanied by carbohydrates.

Pre-night snack (15 percent of the daily ration) with dried fruits and nuts or cereals bars.

She also plans to carry chocolates for treats.

During her east-to-west passage, Quéméré lost 30 pounds. To prepare for her next crossing, she has gained extra weight. It looks to be all muscle.

"This adventure is really a mental challenge, more than a physical one," Quéméré says.

Nonetheless, her goal is to row 40 to 45 miles a day, so she has been training since last summer.

"I started with three hours of daily training mainly based on aerobic sessions of medium intensity over a long period," she says. "In January, I added sessions dedicated to strengthening those muscles used specifically in rowing: dorsal, lumbar, abdominal, shoulder and thigh muscles. . . . I intend to end up with five-hour daily training during the weeks before departure."

Quéméré says she's "more practical than spiritual" and makes no special preparations for the psychological demands of her adventures. However, she does ask her family and shore crew, "If you feel that I'm becoming crazy, please tell me." And she carries a digital camera for an unusual use: to determine whether she's hallucinating at sea.

"I remember the day a shark came to my boat and it was trying to bite the skeg," she says. "I said to myself, that cannot be, so I took my camera and took a picture. Later, I reviewed the picture and realized that it was real. Whenever I see something strange, I take a picture. One time, at sunrise, I saw a man walking toward me, so I got the camera and took a picture. There was no man.

"Another time, I said something to my sister on the satellite phone, and she said to me, 'Anne, you just told me that three times,' so I said, 'OK, I'm going to have something to eat, get a little rest, and I'll call you back.' "

When she and her sister were girls, Quéméré said, "I was the tomboy. Fearless. I'm not fearless anymore. . . .

"Sometimes when you're on the ocean and the conditions are bad, you fear that it's going to be over, the game will be over pretty soon. It's not a good feeling. You think about the people you love," said Quéméré, who has a 6-year-old daughter.

"On the ocean," she says, "emotions are stronger because you're lonely, as lonely as you can be."

To follow Anne Quéméré's adventure, go to www.le- connetable.net


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