Four Years of Effort Pays Off for Atlantic Challenge Actuary

By Jean-Guy Sauriol, FCIA

As I stumbled onto the dock of the Port St Charles marina, four years of visualization, planning, preparation, and rowing came to an end. Just a few hours earlier I had seen land for the first time in 74 days. As a solo ocean rower, hugging my wife and my son was my first human contact since leaving the island of Gran Canaria in the Canaries on November 24, 2013. I completed my journey on February 6, 2014, just a few hours before the start of the Winter Olympics. In the meantime, I spent Christmas, New Year’s, and my 60th birthday alone at sea.

It all started with the story of Katie Spotz in 2010. When I saw how she had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I realized how I would do my own crossing. I had become fascinated with the idea of crossing an ocean in a human-powered boat when, 10 years earlier, I read the story of Hannes Lindeman. He crossed the ocean twice in the 1950s, once in a canoe and once in a kayak.

I had absolutely no rowing experience and had never been in a small boat on the ocean. Everything was new to me. All I had was my fascination for such a feat. Reading all the books I could find and buying a WaterRower (an indoor rowing machine) in September 2010 were my first concrete steps towards achieving my goal. I went to the Canary Islands to check out the start of a rowing race in 2011. I went to Ireland in 2012 to check out a boat. That’s when I met Tony Humphreys for the first time. Those who have followed my crossing know that Tony would become extremely important to this project.

I eventually opted for a new boat that was built in England in 2013. I registered the boat under the Canadian boat registry. I named her Maple. I am very proud I flew the Canadian flag across the Atlantic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but asking Jamie Fabrizio to build a boat for me was critical to the success of this project. Along the way, the boat and I became an extension of one another. I learned how she reacted to the wind, the waves, and the current. She protected me against the elements and the hazards of the ocean. I took care of her, cleaning her and keeping her "as new" throughout the crossing for the next owner. On deck, at times, I felt edgy, scared. But when I retreated at the end of the day to the safety of her cabin and closed the watertight hatch, I felt as safe as if I was going home after work.

I built my routine around sunrise and sunset. Twelve hours on deck, 12 hours in the cabin. Typically, I would wake up at dawn. I would prepare breakfast and gather everything I needed for the day: water, energy bars, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, gloves, cameras. I would be on deck just before or after sunrise. After a pit stop to the black bucket, I would get the boat ready for a day’s rowing. I stopped rowing at sunset. At dusk, after stowing everything for the night, I would say goodbye to the ocean for the night. In practice, I rowed between 10 to 11 hours a day. The last week, I did a bit of overtime to ensure I would arrive at North Point, Barbados, with enough time to make it safely to the marina during daylight.

Rowing between 10 to 11 hours a day is hard and eventually the mind takes over. It’s no longer a matter of being able to do it, but a matter of wanting to. From the day you start, there is no reprieve and the other side of the ocean is the only option. The real obstacle to finishing is adverse weather.

When I first decided to cross the Atlantic solo, it was clearly a personal project. However, along the way, I realized that people are inspired by such stories. This is why I decided to link my adventure to the Actuarial Foundation of Canada and the Breakfast Club of Canada. I raised in excess of $10,000 for the club. There are no clear records as to how much my adventure inspired you to give to the foundation. Hopefully, if you haven’t done so already, reading this bulletin will be a reminder to do so right now as it is never too late.

I graduated from Université Laval in 1977 and became a Fellow of the CIA in 1981. That’s how long four years are. After four years into the Maple Lys Solo adventure, I was on target, on time, and on budget. As I sit at my computer trying to write this story, I feel a bit like I did when I completed my exams: happy, proud, and with all this time on my hands. What am I going to do next? Frankly, I don’t know. I will find out eventually because apparently people like me always look for and find something, just like I did when I completed my Fellowship. There is anecdotal evidence I may be the only person in the world to have run a marathon, finished an Ironman triathlon, completed the Yukon River Quest solo, and rowed an ocean solo. For now, beyond the videos and the pictures I brought back with me, I will savor the memory that counts the most: I did it.

Jean-Guy Sauriol, FCIA, is the founder of seclonLogic.

Jean-Guy back on shore at the end of his journey.

Jean-Guy Sauriol aboard his rowboat, Maple.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires