February 12, 1995 in Nation/World

Trans-Atlantic Swimmer In Over His Head Man Caught In `Infernal Grinding’ Of Detractors Who Challenge Achievement, Motives

Craig R. Whitney New York Times
 

A 42-year-old French swimmer who crossed the Atlantic Ocean only to see his exploit ridiculed at home as a publicity stunt when he stepped ashore in Barbados said this weekend that he did it because he was heavily in debt.

“I have been caught up in an infernal grinding of gears,” Guy Delage, the swimmer, told the French daily Liberation, referring to detractions that he had not really swum the entire way across the ocean and had tainted his achievement by doing it for money instead of pure adventure. Delage began his crossing from the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of Africa.

“I had imagined a difficult arrival, and it was even worse than I feared,” he said in an interview with the newspaper after he emerged from the ocean after 55 days of solitude.

“You have to understand that when I left I was saddled with debts. I had no choice.”

Many of Delage’s contemporaries were critical of the fact that his trip was sponsored by a French-Italian group called Sector OceaNantes, which negotiated exclusive rights for the coverage of Delage’s arrival in Barbados with the main French television channel, TF1, for a reported $160,000.

How much Delage was paid for doing scientific experiments and testing the immersion suit and the flippers he wore was not disclosed.

When he waded ashore in Barbados, a horde of journalists, disregarding the exclusivity arrangements, went into a frenzy that threatened briefly to do more harm to Delage than the sharks he had feared so much in the water.

“I will certainly refrain from tearing Guy Delage apart, since people made fun of me,” said Alain Bombard, who traversed the Atlantic in a rubber raft in 1952.

“But it would have been better to explain that of the 4,000 kilometers he covered, Guy Delage only swam 2,000.”

The main criticism of Delage was that he had used a 15-foot raft, in prevailing winds and currents that kept him moving west even when he was asleep.

Delage said he swam for up to 10 hours a day, but some experts quoted in French newspapers this week raised suspicions over even that claim.

“Since it was out of the question for the swimmer to tow the raft, it had its own mode of propulsion, a kind of sail controlled by an automatic pilot,” wrote Jean-Michel Barrault in the daily Le Figaro on Friday. “Was it in front of, behind, or beside the swimmer?”

“Any object put into the sea in the Cape Verde Islands will arrive on the other side of the ocean after a few months,” said Barrault, a veteran sailor.

Still, one way or another, Delage covered 2,335 miles alone in the ocean, a feat that by itself demonstrated courage and determination, Barrault conceded.

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