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Shortly after the Fourth of July the Boston Globe ran a story about 26-year-old Frenchman Charlie Girard. Monsieur Girard intended to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a high-tech $270,000 row boat. In his first attempt, he did not make it out of the harbor before uncovering leaks in the hull.

Undaunted, he made a second attempt, lasting a whopping 29 hours, getting 50 miles into a 3,500-mile journey before calling for help. He was in 5- to 8-foot waves, he had been rolling “like a washing machine” and his lower back was bothering him. Plucked from the craft by the Coast Guard, his $270,000 row boat is drifting in the current heading towards the Canadian coast where he hopes to retrieve it.

You cannot make this stuff up, can you? Reading it left me torn. Was this a tribute to French engineering or to their inner strength? Is Charlie Girard a descendent of one of the masterminds behind the Maginot Line or one of DeGaulle’s military advisors during World War II? Indeed, they could likely be one and the same, as it was classic French arrogance that had them unable to comprehend that enemy forces could get behind the turrets and rotate the guns 360-degrees to fire onto French soil once said enemy had overrun them.


How fitting, then, that this 26-year-old brashly went off utterly convinced of his infallibility only to have to call on American technology and generosity to save his butt. No doubt he will be incensed at our ineptitude in the event something happens to his leaky, unstable, gaudily expensive rowboat that could not make it out of the harbor without taking on water.

A favorite historical moment for me happens to have been the retelling of a meeting between French demigod Charles DeGaulle and LBJ’s secretary of state Dean Rusk. DeGaulle had always been a little antsy and never felt particularly appreciated by the allies for holding down the fort in London while British and American forces took back his land for him. He generally got a case of the yips anytime there was a Cold War sneeze.

DeGaulle ultimately decided to withdraw troops from the NATO Alliance for whatever reason, but likely to try to avoid blame within the Cold War. In so doing he had a meeting with Rusk. Though a speaker of fluent English, DeGaulle insisted on speaking French and using an interpreter whenever entertaining foreigners on his shores. As such, it was through an interpreter that DeGaulle asked Rusk to remove all American troops from French shores. Reportedly Rusk leaned forward, looked DeGaulle in the eye, knowing full well he understood every word he was about to mutter, and asked him if that request included “the dead ones.”


Charlie Girard needs to get the bill for being rescued from his own idiocy, hubris and cowardice. That said, the Coast Guard ought not expect repayment. Marshall Plan loans were only repaid by one country, and it wasn’t France. Besides, no one from Finland would be stupid enough to pull a stunt similar to Monsieur Girard’s.

Mr. Woollacott is president and founder of Renaissance Group International Inc., a market research and consulting firm focusing on the information technology market. Contact him directly at

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