Alain Bombard

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Alain Bombard
Born(1924-10-27)27 October 1924
Died19 July 2005(2005-07-19) (aged 80)
Known forSurvival skills
Scientific career

Alain Bombard (French pronunciation: [alɛ̃ bɔ̃baʁ]; Paris, 27 October 1924 – Paris, 19 July 2005) was a French biologist, physician and politician famous for sailing in a small boat across the Atlantic Ocean without provision. He theorized that a human being could very well survive the trip across the ocean without provisions and decided to test his theory himself in order to save thousands of lives of people lost at sea.[citation needed]

He was a Member of the European Parliament from the Socialist Party for France from 1981 to 1994.


On 19 October 1952 Bombard began his solitary trip across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies, after visiting his newborn daughter in France. He had sailed in the Atlantic Ocean solo before, from Tangier to Casablanca (13-20 August) and from Casablanca to Las Palmas (24 August – 3 September). The original plan had been to sail across the Atlantic with a friend, English yachtsman Jack Palmer, with whom he sailed just before from Monaco to Menorca (5 May – 11 June) but Jack abandoned Alain in Tangier. Bombard sailed in a Zodiac inflatable boat called l'Hérétique ("the heretic"), which was only 4.5 metres (15 ft) long, taking only a sextant and almost no provisions.

Bombard reports he survived by fishing (and using fish as source of both fresh water and food) with a self-made harpoon and hooks, and harvesting the surface plankton with a small net. He also drank a limited amount of seawater for a long period on his trip. On 23 October, the fourth day of the journey, Bombard had to mend a torn old sail, while the backup sail was blown away. He also made a major navigation mistake which made him believe that he was sailing much faster than he actually was. On the fifty-third day of the journey he encountered a ship. The crew told him that he was still over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) short of his goal. However, after the ship's crew offered him a meal, Bombard decided to go on. Bombard reached Barbados on 23 December 1952, after 4,400 kilometres (2,700 mi) of travel. Bombard had lost 25 kilograms (55 lb) and was briefly hospitalized. He published a book about his trip entitled Naufragé Volontaire in 1953.

Bombard's claim was later tested and contested by Hannes Lindemann, a German physician, canoeist and sailing pioneer, although both the French and Taiwanese navies concurred with Bombard's findings, the Taiwanese exercise extending to 134 days. Lindemann wanted to repeat Bombard's trip in order to gain a better understanding of living on salt water and fish, but found that he needed fresh water (from rain) most days. Lindemann later claimed that Bombard had actually taken along fresh water and consumed it on the ocean, and that he had also been secretly provided further supplies during his voyage. Lindemann's own observations about reactions to scarce fresh water supplies became the basis for the World Health Organization's navigation recommendations. However, it appears that Bombard may have been misunderstood in regard to the possibility of survival without fresh water. Bombard never argued that human survival is possible only by drinking seawater. On the contrary, he indicated that seawater in small quantities can prolong survival if accompanied, if rainwater is not available, by the absorption of liquids present in the bodies of fish. On its own, he only claimed the seawater can extend the period of consciousness during which alternatives can be sought. Bombard's legacy is still debated; in any case, an inflatable survival raft is still very often called a "bombard" in French, in memory of the doctor's adventure in the Atlantic.

In 1958, Bombard and six men were testing a rubber dinghy in rough waters off of the coast of the French town of Étel when a wave capsized the craft. A rescue crew of seven, standing by during test, came to Bombard's rescue in a lifeboat which was capsized by a huge wave that knocked nine of the 14 people on board overboard. Bombard and four men were the only survivors. [1]

Bombard died in Toulon in 2005 at age 80.

Media appearances[edit]

Bombard was featured in an episode of the educational television program 3-2-1 Contact in 1986, in which he coaches two of the teenaged cast members on his life-raft survival techniques using a real raft on the open sea.

Books in English[edit]

  • The Voyage of the Heretique, Simon and Schuster (1953) OCLC 148763771
  • The Bombard Story (1955) OCLC 806059973
  • Dr. Bombard Goes to Sea, Vanguard Press (1957) OCLC 1578224

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Nine Lost Testing Dinghy Off France— Survival-at-Sea Expert Rescued Twice", The New York Times, October 4, 1958, p. 3
  2. ^ "The Red Sea Sharks". Retrieved 25 August 2021.

External links[edit]