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French adventurer, 75, disappears attempting to row solo across the Atlantic

Jean-Jacques Savin, shown in May at age 74, tests his rowboat at a shipyard in Lege-Cap-Ferret in southwestern France. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
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Jean-Jacques Savin, a 75-year-old French adventurer who was attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean solo, has disappeared after sending distress signals last week, authorities said Sunday.

The Portuguese coast guard found Savin’s boat, a specially built capsule, overturned near the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago, on Friday.

Savin’s team had posted a statement on Facebook early Sunday saying he had been found dead in the boat. But later Sunday, the Portuguese Navy said no body had been found, and his team posted a message from his daughter saying she had been informed that he had not been recovered.

Savin activated distress beacons Thursday night into Friday morning, his team said. Manon Savin, his daughter, said the beacons signaled a situation of “great difficulty,” and French, Portuguese and American officials were immediately alerted.

Portuguese authorities launched a search and rescue operation late Thursday, the Portuguese Navy said in a news release. Eleven merchant ships, three Portuguese aircraft and a Portuguese naval ship joined the effort.

The crew of the first ship to spot the vessel said it also saw a man, but when it approached, did not find Savin, the navy said. One of the merchant ships found a waterproof bag with the missing person’s identification documents.

The search was called off late Saturday. Authorities issued a warning to navigation to alert ships of the possibility of sighting the missing man.

Savin departed from Portugal Jan. 1 in what he described as his “last challenge at sea”: rowing across the Atlantic from Portugal to the Caribbean. The journey was estimated to take about 100 days. He celebrated his 75th birthday on Jan. 14.

In his last Facebook post before sending the distress signals, Savin said his solar power device, used to charge the machine that desalinated his drinking water, was not working, forcing him to use a manual device that “costs me physical energy.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not in danger!” he wrote. He noted a forecast of strong swells and winds but expressed optimism that the winds would help push him toward the Azores.

He said his morale was “very good.”

Savin crossed the Atlantic in 2019, floating 2,930 miles in a bright orange barrel-shaped vessel. He celebrated his 72nd birthday on that trip, for which he had packed wine and foie gras. He also crossed the Atlantic in a sailboat, ascended Mont Blanc and swam four times across France’s Arcachon Bay.

A successful journey this time would have made Savin the oldest person to row across the Atlantic solo, according to Guinness World Records. The current record holder is Graham Walters, a British man who made the trip in April 2020 at age 72.

Savin’s trip, aboard a boat named l’Audacieux — the Audacious — kept him more occupied than the voyage in the barrel: He thanked friends and family for sending texts and emails, but told them that as he was no longer simply floating, “I don’t have time to reply.”

In his last dispatch, Savin said that “after long reflection, I continue this adventure which I think will be exceptional.”

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