Anyone who likes a good adventure ought to read Steven Callahan's "Adrift" (Houghton-Mifflin Co., $15.95), the saga of 76 days in a life raft after his 21-foot sloop crashed into an unidentified obstruction at night and sank in the mid-Atlantic. During the ordeal, in which Callahan steps over to the land of the dead more than once, he discovers and explores the startling power and resiliency of the survival instinct and the remarkable adaptability and skill of a good sailor.
It's a fine book, thoughtful and understated. Having read it, I thought Stephane Peyron and Alain Pichavant might have some revelations to share after their 24 1/2-day Atlantic crossing aboard a 31-foot sailboard.
After leaving Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 23, they followed a westward route similar to the one Callahan wound up drifting, using the North Equatorial current and the trade winds to help them along, and they all ended up in the same place -- Guadeloupe.
But if Peyron and Pichavant, two handsome, 25-year-old Frenchmen, learned anything of substance from their voyage, they're keeping it to themselves.
They've been busy playing the international corporate greed game, which leaves little time for reflection.
The pair sailed fitfully, on zephyrs of wind, up the Potomac into Washington last week and were at Annapolis all weekend at a regatta designed to drum up trade for Timex, which knows a good gimmick and sponsored their voyage.
This pitch has everything: glamor (in the shape of Peyron's girlfriend, flown in from Paris); patriotism (final destination, Statue of Liberty, July 4); glitz (champagne receptions at cities all along the East Coast), and competition (sailboard regattas at each stop).
It's all leaving Peyron and Pichavant, who had no problem surviving 3 1/2 weeks at sea on an oversized surfboard, a bit frazzled.
"During the trip, we sailed three hours on and three hours off, one sailing and the other sleeping," said Peyron, dreamily. "We never had trouble. But since then? Well, it is difficult. You have to be here, you have to be there . . ."
Even Lisa Gordon, the public relations woman promoting the tour, which started in Miami April 2, conceded there was "much more excitement in the early stops. There was a lot more emphasis on the trip."
Peyron, who comes from a little town at the mouth of the Loire River in Brittany, dreamed up the idea of a two-man Atlantic sailboard crossing after failing three years ago to make the same trip on a standard-sized board, sailing in rotation with three other men housed on a catamaran that tagged along behind.
This time Peyron and Pichavant, both world-class sailboard racers, had no following boat. And when they capsized two days out of Dakar and drowned their radio, they lost their only link to civilization.
But they, like Callahan, had a sailor's truest friend -- a seaworthy craft.
The board, designed by Peyron with the help of a naval architect, was essentially unsinkable. Four feet wide and two feet deep, it was a slender, air-filled reed that couldn't go down as long as hatches stayed shut and the hull wasn't breached.
Peyron and Pichavant found the nights exhilarating and the days dreadful, as the scorching sun wore them down. For Callahan, it was the same.
The Frenchmen didn't do much preparation. It wasn't until they were at sea, rolling along on 20-foot-high ocean swells, that they figured out how to cook.
"I put it like this," Peyron said, cradling a salt-encrusted, aluminum pot between his legs, "and with the wind at my back, we cooked. Once we knew this -- that we could have hot food every night -- we knew we would be all right."
The hollow board was long enough to accommodate the two sailors in private, coffin-like cabins six feet long and 1 1/2 feet deep. When the wind howled over 40 knots, they dropped sail and repaired to the cabins.
For navigation, Pichavant took morning sights and noon sights with a sextant, and they landed exactly where they expected to, which was an achievement.
The boat was rigged with standard sailboard hardware -- unsupported masts and "wishbone" booms that only can be controlled by a sailor standing up.
"The boat is very stable," said Peyron. "Would you like to try?"
"You bet," said I, and lit out for the dock at a near sprint. But before we could cast off, some foul-tempered promotions specialist came finger-wagging down the beach, demanding that Peyron come back immediately to do a TV thing.
We sailed two minutes -- out and back. Then Peyron sighed a Gallic sigh and trudged off to work.
Timex tries to make a big deal of every landfall for the Liberte de Timex as she works her way up the coast.
It's always champagne, and lots of hearty spritzing. Maybe there was some real cheer back in Guadeloupe, but after stops in St. Bart's, St. Thomas, Grand Turk, San Salvador, Nassau, Miami, Cocoa Beach, Jacksonville, Hilton Head, Charleston, Wrightsville Beach, Virginia Beach and now Washington, the whole deal is wearing thin.
When Callahan in his life raft sighted shore there were no crowds -- just two fishermen, launching a skiff off the beach, who intercepted the shriveled survivor a mile off shore. He was covered with saltwater sores and was thin as a ghost, but when they offered to take him in, he demurred. "No, I'm okay," he told them. "I have plenty of rain water. I can wait. You fish. Fish!"