Not drowning, but waving a flipper at the world

Atlantic swimmer leaves little to chance
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The Independent Online
IS HE swimming across the Atlantic or drifting on the ocean currents? Is he exploring new frontiers of human endeavour or just on holiday? Guy Delage, the Frenchman now splashing about somewhere west of the Cape Verde Islands, is having a little trouble winning respect for his grande aventure.

After eight years of planning, Mr Delage set off on 16 December to "swim'' from Africa to the West Indies. He has already travelled more than 500 miles, "swimming'' 10 hours a day. He spends the rest of the time reclining on a 15-foot raft, stuffed with computers and small motors which ensure that the currents guide him, as they are supposed to do, to landfall in Martinique four months from now.

Purists, knockers and spoil-sports in the French media point out that Mr Delage, 42, a former pilot and father of two, is not really swimming at all. When he is in the water, he paddles with his palms and the large flippers on his feet, towing his inflatable home behind him. When he is aboard the drifting raft, sleeping or recovering from sea-sickness, he makes better headway than when he is swimming.

L'quipe, the Paris sports newspaper, describes him as a "voluntary shipwreck victim''. "Why is he swimming so little?" the newspaper asked.

"So as not to slow down his progress, of course."

Mr Delage is breaking all the recognised rules. Channel swimmers, for instance, are not permitted to touch their support vessels at any time. Mr Delage spends most of the day aboard his raft, talking to French radio stations, eating, or just admiring theview.

Is he swimming at all? On the whole L'quipe thought not. "At best, to be nice to our hero, he takes each day a refreshing - albeit dangerous - dip for a few hours while his platform wanders in the Atlantic." Le Monde was equally unimpressed. It said Delage's undertaking "will put him in that book of records, in between the world accordion champion and the person who can eat the most snails''.

To all this, the cheerfully intrepid Mr Delage says, in effect, yes, they're right, but so what. "I want to know the sensation of absolute solitude being 2,000 kilometres from the nearest coast. Better to die in the jaws of a shark than in bed."

For all his insouciance, Mr Delage is taking few chances. When he swims, he clutches a float which contains a survival mini-raft, a desalination device, a distress beacon, a compass and an underwater rifle.

He can also repel sharks and poisonous jellyfish with a machine that sends out electric shocks.

In one of his frequent radio interviews from the raft, he spoke last week of his most exciting experience to date. "I saw three cylindrical bodies four metres long approaching. I thought they were sharks, but they were dolphins," he said, with an air of disappointment.