In 2002, 55-year-old Xavier Kirchner lost his job in the hi-tech sector and separated from his wife. So he became a taxi driver, earned his pilot’s licence and told all his friends he was going to paddle a foldable kayak across open seas to Menorca, a distance of 216 kilometres. Six months later, on June 14th, 2003, his sons Sergi and Marc watched him disappear off the coast of Garraf. “They didn’t try to stop me. They knew I was crazy enough to do it,” Kirchner told Metropolitan, describing what sounded like a terrifying ordeal as “less dangerous than riding a motorbike.”
What made you do it?
I worked for Nortel Networks in Spain, but when the Internet bubble burst I was made redundant. My kids were grown up, I separated from my wife and I felt free. I decided on a flexible job so I became a taxi driver. For half a year I drove and I planned.
Did you have any experience of the sea?
I didn’t learn to swim long distances until I was 27, and I started to sail at 30. In 1981, I completed a cross-Atlantic journey from Plymouth [UK] to Newport [Rhode Island, USA], a distance of around 7,200 kilometres, in a trimaran vessel with José-Luis Ferrer. It was dangerous and not many people wanted to risk it.
Had you paddled a kayak before?
Yes, I have a French Nautiraid foldable kayak: it’s five metres long. I’ve kayaked rivers in Spain and France. On the sea, I have circled around the Balearic Islands. I also went to Turkey by plane and then travelled along the southern coast for 20 days, but this was the first time in open sea.
What did you take?
I was carrying enough water and food for 10 days. I was drinking at least 3.5 litres of water, soymilk and isotonic drinks a day. I was paddling 16 hours per day, so I ate carbohydrates: cookies and cereal bars. You have to wear something that does not retain water, and you have to be warm and dry, so at night I wore a Lycra suit with a polar fleece on top. I used a GPS [Global Positioning System] to navigate, and a compass, although on clear nights I used the stars. I carried flares. A radio is useless in a storm, because they can’t see where you are.
What did you experience out there?
You hear the kayak catching the water and the soft murmur of the waves. While you’re paddling you don’t think of anything. You see the blue sky and the solitary sun, I saw once what I thought were dolphins, which I could hear at night. I took a picture, but when I developed the film I saw that they were huge tuna fish…and a shark.
Did your journey go to plan?
I wanted to arrive at Fornells in the north of Menorca, but on the fourth day the wind made it difficult to advance. I decided to sleep, but at 4am the wind started pushing me towards the rocky coast. This was dangerous: there’s no place to land. If I’d hit the rocks, I would’ve died, so I went with the wind past the Nati cape and landed at Ciutadella in the west. It took me five days to complete the journey.
How did you feel when you returned?
I felt closer to the sea, it was like a companion to me. I was very proud of doing this when I was 55. I think as long as we keep dreaming, age is no barrier.