Alain Louis Bombard, biologist, physician & politician, Died at 80

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Alain Louis Bombard died on July 19, 2005 at the age of 80, he was a French biologist, physician and politician famous for sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat.

Born on October 27, 1924 he theorized that a human being could very well survive the trip across the ocean without provisions and decided to test his theory himself in order to save thousands of lives of people lost at sea.

Bombard reports he survived by fishing (and using fish as source of both fresh water and food) with a self-made harpoon and hooks and harvesting the surface plankton with a small net.

He also drank a limited amount of seawater for a long period on his trip. On the October 23, 4th day of the journey Bombard had to mend a torn old sail, while the backup sail was blown away.

He also made a major navigation mistake which made him believe that he was sailing much faster than he actually did. On the 53rd day of the journey he encountered a ship.

The crew told him that he was still over a thousand kilometers short of his goal. However, after the ship’s crew offered him a meal, Bombard decided to go on. Bombard reached Barbados December 23, 1952 after 4,400 km of travel. Bombard had lost 25 kg and was briefly hospitalized.

For 53 days he survived on a diet of raw fish and plankton and drank rainwater and up to a pint-and-a-half of sea water a day. Twelve days before completing his voyage he went aboard the British steamer Arakaka and accepted a meal of an egg, an apple and some vegetables before soldiering on.

He had a radio message sent to his wife in Paris saying that he was well, and asked the BBC to play one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos for him on Christmas Day.

Bombard was written off in France as “Docteur Fou”, for he got no support for his theories from doctors, and marine experts had little confidence in his boat’s ability to weather the journey.

A small, round-faced man with a quirky, enthusiastic manner, Bombard published several books about his experiences.

He found a particularly warm reception in Britain, where the launch of an English translation of his account of his voyage, The Bombard Story, was hosted by Ernest Marples and attended by a galaxy of admirals.

It was noted with approval that his ship-board library had included the works of Shakespeare along with those of Rabelais and Montaigne.

The 19th of September saw him set out on the final, gruelling stage of his voyage. Suffice it to say that it was not uneventful – he weathered storm, low morale and superstition.

Alone on the sea, he became grimly determined to survive both physically and mentally. Despite visitation from sharks, storms and a variety of ailments (from sores through constipation and rashes, he continued to believe that he would finish and make landfall.

He mastered his little vessel, continued to feed off fish and plankton and maintain his hydration levels, drinking seawater when necessary. When his boat sprang a leak (a result of friction against one of the floats) he repaired it using the patches supplied.

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