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Boardsailing ‘addict’ conquers a third sea

After crossing the Indian Ocean, the 46-year-old veterinarian says there’ll be no more

After crossing the Indian Ocean, the 46-year-old veterinarian says there’ll be no more

It took Raphaëla le Gouvello two months in conditions she had never faced, but the Frenchwoman has crossed the Indian Ocean — single-handed and unassisted — on a specially designed sailboard.

On June 8, the 46-year-old le Gouvello sailed across the finish line at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. She set sail from Exmouth in Western Australia April 9 and sailed 4,075 miles to the island on her custom 25-foot sailboard, which has a small cabin. The passage took 10 to 15 fewer days than she expected.

“This is a great passion in my life,” le Gouvello says in an interview with Soundings. “I’ve been boardsailing for 30 years. I’m an addict. Crossing an ocean with a wind surfboard has been a great dream of mine. This was a big experience for me.” She also has boardsailed across the Atlantic (in 2000), and the Pacific (2003).

“For me, sailing across three tropic oceans symbolizes an adventurer’s way of drawing attention to environmental issues, like preserving the oceans,” says le Gouvello, who is a veterinarian.

It took le Gouvello about a year and a half to prepare her sailboard and herself for the crossing. After studying weather patterns and sea conditions, she says she knew this passage would be her most difficult. “Physically it was challenging,” le Gouvello says. “I faced conditions I’ve never faced before. There were some really big waves. There were big swells from the south, and waves from the east. At one moment everything would be perfectly calm. Another it would be blowing 35 knots plus. Not very comfortable conditions.”

Le Gouvello recalls a point when she wasn’t sure she would be able to finish without help. “One day it was too harsh to be sailing,” she says. “A big wave came from the side and pushed me right off the boat. I was under the impression that I wasn’t going to be able to get back on. I did, though, and had to stop sailing right there. It was too dangerous. You don’t feel too well after something like that. That’s the kind of decision you have to make under those circumstances.”

Le Gouvello’s feat even caught the attention of French President Jacques Chirac. “You are the first person to have crossed the Indian Ocean on a surfboard, and I am delighted to send you my most sincere congratulations and express my admiration at this exploit,” Chirac wrote in a statement.

Now that le Gouvello has returned to France she says she is finished boardsailing across oceans and isn’t sure what adventure she’ll take on next. “Up until the very last moment when I got onto land it was very difficult,” she says. “I had to keep my attention up all the time. I won’t be boardsailing across another ocean — I can say that for sure. As for anything else, sailing a normal boat across the oceans or whatever else, I’m not ruling anything out. It’s just too early to say.”