The Odyssey of Three French Paddleboarders and a Message in a Bottle
Night in the North Atlantic ocean. Black blue so dark, deep, and boundless you wouldn’t know which way is up if not for the stars exploding out of the unthinkable black canopy above you. The water frigid, the waves relentless.
You are on a paddleboard 50 centimeters wide, over a thousand miles from land. You started paddling off the coast of Canada, pointed toward France. With two teammates, you trade off paddling for two hours at a time, and you never get more than an hour or two of sleep between shifts. Your goal: Cross the Atlantic ocean using nothing but the power of your arms, and the board. After more than three weeks of nonstop paddling, you are only halfway there…
If you can possibly believe it, what I am asking you to imagine is actually real. This happened. And on August 5th, 2009, professional paddleboarders Stephanie Barneix, Flora Manciet, and Alex Lux where in exactly this position. Cape Breton, Canada was 1,267 miles behind them, and Capbreton, France was 1,267 miles ahead.
Filmmaker Lucie Robin, who documented their record-breaking journey, was aboard the support vessel. On a whim, full of joy for the women and pride of their achievement so far, not knowing whether they would reach their goal, she sent a message in a bottle to commemorate their journey.
French Paddleboarders’ Message in a Bottle Found
In 2019, just before the pandemic, I knew I had found something special when I stumbled upon this message in a bottle.
Why? I can’t really say…
It was beautiful; it was dry; it was written in French, in cursive…
Most messages in bottles are very brief. But this one? The scrawling handwriting covered the whole page! Like it told a story. But what story?
An Impossible, Totally True Story in a Bottle
As soon as I opened the bottle, I began to type the words into Google Translate. What did it say? Who sent it? Why?
I could not believe what I read… The story of Stephanie, Flora, and Alex unfolded in broken, translated lines. I kept reading, thinking – they paddled where? They crossed WHAT?!
Then I found the blog they all kept of the journey. One post from skipper and accomplished French sailor Yves Parlier mentions that Lucie has stepped outside the cabin of the support vessel to toss a message in a bottle commemorating the trip! My jaw dropped as I read the translation of this post:
“The moon and Jupiter are setting, Venus has risen, and the sun is about to come…Nothing in this infinite space bears witness to the major event that will occur at this precise location at 44°27 34 N and 30°58′ 62 W. We have crossed half the course. At 5:33 a.m. universal time, right on the rotation between Flora and Alexandra, we found ourselves equidistant from the island of Cape Breton in Canada and Capbreton in France, i.e. 2346 km. It’s party time on board, we kiss each other, the siren on board blares to wake the crew off watch. A hot drink enhanced with a liquid dear to our Caribbean islands of an amber color flows freely. Like Sir Edmond Hillary when he reached the summit of Everest, here we are at the top of the mountain, we now only have to go down to the finish line and Lucie, as a flag, throws a bottle at the sea with the whole history of the Ucar Cap Odyssée.”
That’s THIS message in a bottle! This one right here in my hands! I thought, as I read. WILD! Bananas!
As I began to research and translate 10-year-old articles about their expedition, I began to understand the importance of what they had done.
No one had crossed the Atlantic on paddleboard before them, and no one has done it since. They hold the Guinness World Record for longest journey by paddleboard. These three women did something so physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding, that no one else has ever dared attempt it. The only other similar crossing was completed in 2017 by Chris Bertish on a standup paddleboard that looked considerably like a boat, including a long oar for paddling and a small cabin to sleep in. Totally impressive, of course, and Chris Bertish is clearly a beast! But these women? They did it by hand.
Just think of that: they paddled themselves across the Atlantic ocean. By hand.
Lucie’s Bottled Message Tells Of French Women Paddleboarding Across Ocean
Lucie Robin told a beautiful, moving story in her message in a bottle.
Here is the full message, translated:
5 August 2009
1267 miles from Cape Breton (Canada) – 1267 Miles to Capbreton, France
In the North Atlantic Middle
This is the story of three women, three athletic young women, passionate about the ocean, who decided to cross the Northern Atlantic on their paddleboard. A tiny little plank 50 cm wide and 5 m long, propulsed by the current, by the sole strength of the arms of the rower.
It’s already an incredible thing that these three young French gals, Stephanie, Flora, and Alexandra (took off / did it). Every 2 hours, the three friends and coast guard professionals, took turns rowing, progressing by their bare hands on this unpredictable sea.
Beyond the athletic exploit, it is proof of shared work and solidarity, of defense of the environment, of respect for the ocean and belief in mankind that motivates this challenge. A story I hope to tell you one day…
Don’t hesitate to contact me when you will have found this courageous bottle that survived the ocean elements.
In her message, you can really sense the love and admiration Lucie feels toward Stephanie, Alex, and Flora. But my favorite thing about Lucie’s message is the emphasis on shared effort, the larger goals that are possible when people work together.
Finding Lucie Robin
Lucie Robin is a film maker, and she made a documentary about these women and their incredible paddleboard journey. You can see the teaser for the film, called, L’Odyssée d’un rêve, on her website (and order a DVD). You can also see a longer clip posted by Stephanie Barneix on Stephanie’s Youtube channel.
When I wrote to Lucie, telling her of my discovery, I waited for a reply…and waited…days went by, and I began to worry she didn’t receive it. Or hell, these days, I thought…what if she died of Covid or something awful? It’s amazing how much you can worry about someone you’ve never even met, once you have found their message in a bottle. It’s a connection like nothing else…
Then – Boom. Lucy wrote back!
“What a hell of a surprise!!” she said, “I’m very surprised and so happy that my message got somewhere! lucky you found it!”
She mentioned that she could show the message to the paddleboarders, and I nearly had a heart attack! These French women had become my personal heroes! I never dreamed I would get to speak with them directly! But sure enough, their emails soon followed Lucy’s…
French Paddleboarders’ Respond to Ten Year Old Message in a Bottle
Stephanie wrote first: “I can’t believe you find this bottle!! Amazing!” Stephanie continued, “When I receive the mail from Lucie about the bottle … I cried! Unbelievable!!!” I felt the same way!
Alex wrote next! “It’s so amazing to find this bottle with Lucie’s message just now,” she said, “If you come in France, we are so happy to meet you and share a little moment together.”
Flora wrote, too! “Wow, this is amazing, this bottle find by a treasure hunter 🙂 What a story to tell!” Flora added an invitation, too! I was amazed!
Stephanie, Alex, and Flora offered to meet little old me! You may as well have told me Michael Jordan was willing to hang out with me, or Ed Sheeran. In my eyes, these women are total celebrities, and personal heroes of mine. Here’s hoping I can visit someday – nothing would make me happier!
French Paddleboarders Dream Bigger Than Ever
Stephanie, Flora, and Alex all continue to be badass women, doing hard, awesome things all the time.
Through email, Stephanie told me something truly staggering about what she and Alex have planned next…
“We are working on another crossing from Peru to French Polynesia! About 8000 KMs to raise money to help children who suffer [from] cancer!” And she sent the following link to the expedition website: www.capoptimist.com
This mission is especially close to Stephanie’s heart, because she is, herself, a cancer survivor. In fact, just 5 years before crossed the Atlantic with Alex and Flora, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent treatment, and fought as hard as you would expect her to (I don’t think she’s ever heard of “giving up”). In part, the Cap Optimist mission will show children with cancer that the disease does not have to define them. That not only is there hope of defeating the disease like Stephanie did, but there is also hope for each of them to go on to do great things in life, too.
Stephanie also sent a teaser for the expedition, with English subtitles: Cap Optimist Teaser.
If you want to donate to this worthy cause, go here!
A Message in a Bottle…With a Message!
What I love about Lucie’s message in a bottle and the story it tells is quite simply this: It reminds me that there are good people everywhere, doing good things all the time. People who inspire us to do better ourselves, to believe in ourselves and each other, and to “live your dreams” as Stephanie says. To me, that’s the real “message” in this bottle. Like Lucy Robin, I am simply inspired by these women 🙂
I don’t know if a message in a bottle can change the world. But this one changed me! I don’t think I’ll be crossing the ocean on a paddleboard any time soon. But if Stephanie, Alex, and Flora can do that, then surely there’s something little I can do, in my own life, perhaps even today, that makes the world a little bit better… Something that says “No!” to doubt, “No,” to bickering and petty grievances. Maybe, if they can do something that hard, I can, at the very least, do something nice for someone. Pick up some litter. Help a neighbor, be kind to a friend who is feeling down. Goodness knows we all need a little grace, and there’s no one to give it to us but us.
Thank you, Stephanie, Alex, Flora, and Lucie for reminding me to believe in myself, and to live my dreams!
If you were inspired by Lucie’s message, I hope you will check in here on the blog from time to time, as well as my Facebook page and my Instagram profile. I’ll be sharing more messages in bottles soon, and I will need help solving some of them! Also, make sure to follow Stephanie on Facebook and on Instagram for updates on the Cap Optimist mission!