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Daring Frenchman sailing solo across the Atlantic - on a board

Stephane Peyron's bid to be the first solo windsurfer across the North Atlantic goes into its second month this weekend - and if all goes well, he will land on the shores of his native France sometime late this month. Peyron, the French board sailing champion, set off from New York on June 10 on the more than 3,000-mile journey, which is expected to take 40 to 45 days. But the long solo trek didn't seem to intimidate the 26-year-old adventurer, who already knew the perils of the voyage via a tandem crossing he made last year.

``We are never sure of the radio communications because of the sea air,'' he said. After capsizing two days into last year's crossing, he and his partner lost all use of their radio. Preparing for the worst this time, he said he was ready to go the whole trip without a radio - but so far he has been able to maintain contact on this trip.

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Peyron doesn't have to stand all the time. At night, he attaches a kite to guide his direction, closes a hatch, and sleeps in a virtually air-tight compartment.

``During the night, every 40 minutes I put my head out to check if there are any ships, see if everything is in good position, and get more air,'' he says. ``There is never enough air.''

If he capsizes he has at least 10 hours of air. But he is usually out ``in three or four minutes - it's not a place you want to stay.''

Inspired during the 1986 crossing to attempt a solo voyage, Stephane has chosen a northern route this time - which means rougher seas, higher winds, and more encounters with big boats. So far he has been averaging 75 nautical miles per day, which is about what he expected, as he follows a course designed to bring him eventually to La Baule on the west coast of France.

If successful, Peyron will secure his place in history and set a difficult precedent for others to follow.

Coming from a family of sailing daredevils, Peyron learned to sail when he was 18 months old. The youngest of three brothers, he is the only professional windsurfer in the family. His older brothers have crossed the Atlantic, but in an 18-foot catamaran - a ``huge'' boat compared with Stephane's board.

``We are three brothers who are very crazy,'' he says.

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Peyron's specially designed craft accommodates provisions and a sleeping/sitting area without altering the dynamics of board sailing. The trip begins with not much room between Stephane and his equipment, but as the voyage continues there is a whittling away of supplies, and his share of the 2-foot-deep, 4-foot-wide space increases. Soon, however, he expects to make a mid-ocean rendezvous with a boat that will replenish his store of supplies.

Peyron's easygoing personality, combined with the time and money invested to anticipate many of the difficulties inherent in such a voyage, make success a real possibility.

Sponsors of the trip have underwritten a special salt-free food that can be simply mixed with sea water and eaten. According to Peyron, it tastes good, like instant soup. Although six months in the making, it's not a product with wide marketability, unlike the wet suit designed for his trip, which is already available. The suit which Stephane wears has a zipper from the neck to the ankle and can be removed in seven seconds. The arms and the legs are also removable.

At first glance, Stephane, who is short and slight, doesn't seem an equal match to the rigors of the sea.

``It's not a question of being strong,'' he says. ``I have time, so I can stop and get rest and go again. It is a question of organizing my time. It's physical of course, because it's 45 days.''

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