French woman attempts to row across Pacific

Frenchwoman Maud Fontenoy shows her boat in Limas port Callao
France's Maud Fontenoy poses in her boat in Lima's port city of Callao on Jan. 10.Pilar Olivares / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 26-year-old French woman set out in a row boat Wednesday on a 4,900-mile solo voyage to Polynesia, hoping to trace Thor Heyerdahl’s epic Pacific crossing six decades ago aboard the balsa raft Kon-Tiki.

“I’m leaving, a small woman with a little boat,” Maud Fontenoy told reporters as she prepared to embark from Lima’s port of Callao.

In 1947, Heyerdahl and his team sailed a primitive sail raft from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days, seeking to prove Heyerdahl’s theory that the South Sea Islands were settled by ancient mariners from South America — not Southeast Asia, as prevailing theory maintains.

In October 2003, she rowed 117 days in crossing the Atlantic Ocean from west to east, from Canada to Spain, joining the ranks of seven male rowers who accomplished the trip before her.

“I know I’m going to have different problems, big storms and loneliness,” she said. “But you know the victory will be bigger since it was difficult at the beginning.”

“I’m going to put my hand in the ocean to touch a dolphin and meet whales and be in total harmony with nature,” she said. “I’m looking for a different way of living, a simple life. Just me and the ocean.”

She said she expected her journey to take five months. Her vessel, the Oceor, is about 23 feet long, with a sliding seat and oars in the middle and small cabins at either end. It is equipped with dried food and two water purifiers — one manual and the other powered by a solar panel, she said.

Fontenoy said she has a satellite phone and geographical positioning locator and beacon to summon help if she runs into trouble in her unaccompanied trip.