Choosing to Leave


While you can’t row solo across the ocean without training, there are limits to what you can prepare for.

“There’s a first time for everything’!” my mentor Hermel told me over the satellite phone, just before I set the parachute anchor as I approached my first real big storm, in September 2013. I was crossing the North Atlantic at the time.

On the high seas, you can see a low-pressure system coming from afar. We know its size, its importance, the height of the waves it will provoke, the power of the winds that will accompany it. The pressure displayed on the barometer tells us where we are in the weather system: sometimes it reassures us, sometimes not.

Photo credit: Mylène Paquette

In the cabin, we tie up and put away anything that could be damaged or turned into a projectile. On deck, we stow the sliding seat, buckets and water bottles, and attach the oars and antennas.

The first few times, I shivered. But after a few experiences, I became more at ease.

This time, however, was going to be different. As the most threatening storm I’d ever faced moved in, I remember telling myself that I had to live this first time to the full, and seize every opportunity to learn from the challenge.

I remember looking at the sea through the porthole of my little cabin and telling myself how beautiful it was, this nature, this sea, when it was angry.

Every wave.

Every bit of sea on deck.

Every sudden, severe, dramatic creak. A show, music, a concert.

After a few hours, my storm had become a hurricane: Humberto.

I kept telling myself, “It’s just a hurricane, there have been hurricanes on Earth for millennia, but this one is mine!”

Photo credit: Mylène Paquette

There was no one left for miles around-other boats had long since fled. I was the only one trying to cross the North Atlantic with my insignificant little oars. Humberto was my travelling companion, I kept telling myself.

I was trying to make this cyclone more modest, more digestible, less insurmountable.

Embracing Humberto, this beautiful stranger a few kilometers wide. To use humor to make his passage more comfortable.

To better advance into the unknown, the unsuspected, the inseparable.

For some, the unknown means rowing across the ocean. For others, it’s having their first child, or raising a second on their own. It’s starting a new job, or setting up a project that’s close to your heart.

In the end, Humberto capsized my boat three times. Cold sweat, shortness of breath, well-founded fears. But, after a few technical breakdowns, I was ready to go again.

Humberto scared me, yes, but he also enabled me to experience intense moments of bliss, and incredible encounters: it was thanks to him that the famous Queen Mary 2 came to cheer me on.

Without Humberto, my story would be very different today.

Photo credit: Arnaud Pilpré

Crédit photo Ronan Algalarrondo

Mylène Paquette

Navigator and speaker

In 2013, Mylène Paquette became the first person from the American continent to row solo across the North Atlantic. Since then, she has given lectures and training workshops while contributing to causes close to her heart, including the environment and sick children.