North Atlantic Crossing by Rowboat (2013)
Attracted by the sea and dreaming of one day being a navigator, Mylène Paquette learned about ocean rowing. Then, as the result of a disturbing conversation with a seriously ill child, she decided to change her life around. On November 12, 2013, after 129 days at sea, 10 capsizes and waves taller than 12 metres, Mylène Paquette became the first North American to cross the North Atlantic Ocean by solo rowing, from Canada to France.
NORTH ATLANTIC CROSSING
AND WE’RE OFF
Mylène develops a punishing seasickness in the very first days, but rapidly regains her bearings. After only two days, she acclimates to her new environment. The first week’s navigation conditions are quite variable and force her to shelter inside her quarters or to use her sea anchor to maintain her position when facing headwinds. As the days pass, she becomes more at ease with her maneuvers. As though making it through a rite of passage, she conquers the sea.
SOUNDS FROM THE WATER
When conditions allow, Mylène places a hydrophone underwater and takes an acoustic reading of the ocean. She marvels at the sounds she hears with her headphones: the melody produced by wildlife that is astonishingly ubiquitous and in harmony. A fin whale rouses her from sleep as she progresses eastward, enjoying an escort of dolphins, while grey whales greet her along the way.
AT SEA, NOTHING IS CERTAIN
Suddenly, Mylène faces her first sideswiping wave. A doozy. Barefoot on the deck, hands gripping the rail, she and her boat tilt and sway, swallowed up by the ocean for a moment by this voracious wave. The wave unfurls and makes her boat disappear beneath the foam with a tremendous roar. Dazed, Mylène notices her boat has not capsized this time, but heeds the incident as a warning. At sea, nothing is unchangeable.
THE SHALLOWS OF NEWFOUNDLAND
AN OCEAN BOTTOM WITH A MOONSCAPE
Setting course eastward, Mylène is finally headed in the right direction. She discovers that things are quite different from one’s preconceived notions. Approaching the shallows of Newfoundland, she fears facing difficult currents, fog or rough waters. Against all expectations, the conditions prove favourable and she heads light-hearted toward Europe.
The ocean depths reach more than 331 feet at this location. Mylène imagines the universe beneath her. A moonscape despoiled by intensive fishing, where the too frequent passage of trawlers has driven away the fauna and destroyed the abundant flora of bygone days. Or an underwater mountain with a graveyard of sunken ships to which the sea refused passage.
THE OCEAN IS EVER PRESENT, READY TO BOUNCE…
Mylène is reflecting. Good weather makes it easy for a routine to slowly settle in. But is a routine such a good thing at sea? Routine can be insidious and give comfort, but alertness and vigilance are imperative at sea. Though habits may settle in, the ocean is always present, ready to pounce…
LOOPS AND WHALES
THE DAYS PASS BY AND NO TWO ARE THE SAME.
Rowing. Advancing little under a gloomy sky. Rowing. Advancing rapidly and making progress beneath the sun. Rowing. Observing the birds and the impatient dolphins. Rowing. Coming up alongside a family of whales. Rowing. Watching the whales encircling the boat. Rowing. Worrying. Rowing. Marvelling. Rowing. Preparing the boat for the next drop in level. Rowing. Taking a bath manually, outside, surrounded by whales.
HUMBERTO - FIRST CAPSIZE
THE DAY MYLÈNE SPILLS HER HOT CHOCOLATE…
Mylène is in the middle of a reading break, comfy and dry in her airlock with her hot chocolate. The ocean is raging, the wind is howling.
Mechanically, she performs all the usual maneuvers and is poised for all capsizing scenarios. But during her reading break, with a throatful of hot chocolate (made all the more delicious because it has been rationed) in her mouth, she suddenly flips over, is injured in the process and lands on her bed now wet with saltwater. It has finally happened! She has experienced her first capsize. She is now a bona fide ocean rower!
AN AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN MARY 2
AN UNDREAMT OF ENCOUNTER!
Astonished and very moved, Mylène prepares to come up alongside the luxury ocean liner Queen Mary 2. Appearing at first as a speck on the horizon, the ship grows in size and ultimately is transformed into a memorable experience.
Mylène removes her sea anchor at the right moment to join the approaching luxury liner. She, alone at sea for days on end, can make out the crew members on the foredeck, and soon all the passengers on the other decks. The excitement is at a peak! She busily tries to catch the supply bundles thrown from the bridge of the Queen Mary 2. Each attempt at approaching the ship is met with encouragement. Each accomplishment is met with applause. Mylène describes the scene to a team member on land, who feels as moved as she does.
A DIVE INTO THE WATER
Mylène needs to dive into the water to clean her boat’s hull, except that the thought of being immersed in water fills her with dread. Ever since she was a young child, and even much later when, as a newly minted rower, she would capsize, she has felt an intense horror.
Afraid of the possibility of encountering aquatic predators, she finally overcomes her fear and within minutes is beneath the surface of the water, to her own surprise. Here she is, relieved and satisfied with the work she has accomplished. The hull is clean, her fear has been subdued.
CELEBRATING AT SEA
TIME TO TAKE STOCK
Mylène celebrates her 35th birthday on board. She takes stock of the steps that enabled her to savour the joy of being on the open sea. She recalls the night of her 30th birthday, when she first told her friends and family about her crazy plan. She looks back to England, where she tried an ocean rowing boat for the first time, and then to her return from the Magdalen Islands in 2011, without her boat. She’s in the middle of the ocean, but her phone is ringing off the hook. She gets calls from her team and her parents, her friends call to wish her well, and she’s receiving text messages by the dozens. She even receives a call from Premier Pauline Marois wishing her a happy birthday!
CAPSIZING AND LOSS OF THE WIND TURBINE
DRIFTING, CAPSIZING, REPAIRING
Mylène is going through a difficult time; her last capsize was more dramatic than the previous ones because her wind turbine broke at the same time. In the preceding days, she drifted, capsized a few times and spent a gruelling day working on Le Hermel to ensure it was in good condition. She repaired her antenna, fixed an oar, and all this smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic! While doing a bit of cleaning up, she finds forgotten treasure: some peanut butter and honey. She is days away from her destination and is preparing herself mentally to once again set foot on soil.
Mylène Paquette is the first person from the American continents to row solo across the North Atlantic—a human adventure that’s far more than an achievement in sports.
Above all, Mylène is an inspiring adventurer and a celebrated speaker recognized here and abroad for the positive impact of her message and her involvement in different causes and the sea in particular. She is also concerned about the environment and the footprint she’ll leave for her children and future generations. Day after day, she pushes her own limits to crack open new horizons.
Michel, a meteorologist and router, had followed Mylène since her beginnings as a rower in 2010. A guardian angel of sorts, and a witness to Mylène’s dream, Michel fanned the flame Mylène had kept alive on her own since returning from her first crossing. A seasoned pro, he tracked her movements between the two continents daily. Michel’s impact as a member of the team was significant. His scientific approach and unshakeable confidence allowed everyone to be optimistic for the duration of the crossing. Every day, Mylène would receive a position to aim for and row toward.
As the saying goes, behind every great woman is a great man.
Hermel Lavoie was one of the key pillars in the achievement of Mylène’s odyssey. He not only prepared the vessel, christened the “Hermel” in his honour, but also accompanied the adventurer daily in the extraordinary jolts the Atlantic had in store for them. A trained mechanic and a navigator and outboard repairer, his experience was called on in all phases of the project. His endearing personality and sense of humour allowed the team to unwind when necessary. A right-hand man, mentor and friend, the man with the stars in his eyes left us in 2016. Despite his absence, he holds a special place in Mylène’s daily life and his influence is still felt to this day.
Months before Mylène went to sea, Dominique was already one of the key people involved in the project and an equally important friend and advisor. As the head of communications and media relations, she had countless ideas to help Mylène gain visibility and convince potential partners. It was her guidance that helped the project gain momentum.
Hermel Lavoie’s son gave a lot of himself. He joined the team a few weeks before the departure and provided support for the adventurer several times a week. With his insatiable humour, critical eye, and unwavering support for his father Hermel, Jean-Pierre was busy on all fronts: participating in meetings, problem solving, developing software programs to enable Mylène to more easily transfer files remotely, and making Mylène laugh, over and over.
In his stellar career in human resource management, Benoît has seen all kinds of critical situations. During the ocean voyage, he was one of the people responsible for emergency measures or search-and-rescue initiatives; acting as a conduit with the family in crucial times; participating in the search for solutions in times of crisis; and keeping morale up for the team and the rower herself. In short, indispensable!
Sylvain Croteau is an emergency physician and a triathlete who has been rowing for years. Mylène met him the day before he left for his own crossing. The next day, he flew to Africa to become an ocean rower himself. In March 2011, he successfully participated in “The Big Blue” project with an international team of 14 rowers during their Atlantic crossing from Morocco to Barbados. During her crossing, Mylène knew she could rely on a doctor who could understand exactly what situation she might be in.
Christiane is an experienced emergency physician. Through mutual friends, Mylène had the chance to rely on this budding friendship for help with her project. Christiane, who is herself an enthusiast of water sports and outdoor activities, is more than qualified to accompany the rower in case of health issues. Her analytical mind, kindness, and listening skills are put to use throughout the journey. And beyond emergencies, Christiane has intervened on several occasions in prevention for Mylène. Christiane was a perfect fit to be part of this great team.
Jacques’ help was monumental for the pre-departure work. Many things remained to be done and Jacques was there to accompany Mylène in her ups and downs as well as teh rest of the team including Hermel, Martin, Suzanne, Jean-Pierre. Jacques was involved months before the departure to validate procedures and create a disaster plan for search and rescue at sea. As a career military man, Jacques had been involved in search and rescue operations at sea for many years and was well experienced, and equipped, to help Mylène make the right decisions before her immense challenge. Lastly, he accompanied Mylène out to sea on the morning of of her departure July 6, 2013! He was also there, upon arrival in Lorient, France to welcome, assist Mylene and prepare the boat for the return to Canada.
Bruno Babin, Jacques Simard, Martin Bernier, Hermel Lavoie.
The Hermel was well supported by Bruno, Jacques, Martin, Suzanne St-Pierre, Bill Gleeson, Gilles Plourde and many other people who lent a hand . Without them, the boat would not have been ready to leave the city of… Rimouski!
Bruno built the wind turbine, Jacques had a hand in most of the work including electrical work with Hermel. Bill was Hermel’s right hand man. Gilles and Martin were precious collaborators. In addition to the immeasurable help given to the Hermel, Martin and his partner, Suzanne, went all the way with Mylène and accompanied her until the last minute on the Atlantic, before leaving her to face the ocean off the bow!
THE CROSSING IN PICTURES
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