NEW YORK — To anyone who’s seen the film “Open Water,” wherein two scuba divers are stranded in shark-infested waters after their tour boat leaves them behind, the idea of finding oneself alone in the middle of the ocean is more than slightly terrifying.
Fortunately, Maud Fontenoy, who at age 25 became the first woman to row solo across the North Atlantic, lives in Paris and has never even heard of the film. She was also raised on a boat and sailed around the West Indies with her family until she was 15. So the prospect of crossing thousands of miles of ocean was more realistic for her than for an ordinary landlubber. Her four-month summer journey is chronicled in her new book, “Across a Savage Sea,” out this month from Arcade Publishing.
Armed with two desalinators, some dehydrated pasta and fruit, a global positioning system and a few vacuum-packed changes of clothes, among other essentials, the courageous French adventurer rowed from Saint Pierre in southern Newfoundland to La Coruna in northwest Spain. Sometimes, the trip was idyllic — she spotted nine dolphins cavorting alongside her. But at other times, it was horrific — she capsized 17 times in one night during a particularly lengthy and rough hurricane. Though she suffered some other frightening and sleepless nights, Fontenoy maintains she never lost hope.
“I was very scared, but I didn’t stop [manning the boat] because, at that point, no boat can come to rescue you anyway,” she says, “so you need to wait until the next morning and by then you find the energy inside you to continue.” She communicated daily via satellite, battery-powered cell phone with her family and Canadian meteorological services onshore.
Despite the treacherous conditions, Fontenoy’s love for and loyalty to the sea has not waned. In March, she finished a rowing journey across the South Pacific and she’s now seeking sponsors for her next trip, but she won’t announce where she’ll be sailing until the sponsorships are finalized.
It may seem there is no challenge Fontenoy can’t face, but that’s deceiving. As long as she’s at sea level, she’s fine; any higher above ground, and she buckles. “I’m afraid of heights,” she says. “I will never go bungee jumping.”