Attempts to cross the English Channel in a self-built raft with no rudder: Asif’s desperate journey


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asif-hussainkhilThis is the story of Asif Hussainkhil, a 33-year-old Afghan: he set out from Calais (France) for England with the intention of crossing the English Channel aboard a raft consisting simply of three wooden planks nailed together (and three others to form to serve as center beams), resting on floating buoys and with a sheet as a sail mounted on a homemade mast made of two crutches joined together. And finally, no rudder.

He was certainly not driven by a desire to set a new record, but by desperation: he was rescued by the French Coast Guard off the coast of Sangatte, not far from Calais, as the raft was encountering more than prohibitive weather conditions. The man fled Afghanistan in 2000 following the Taliban’s rise to power, and has been grinding out miles and miles ever since: Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland. Once in France, he prepared for the final journey: crossing the English Channel (“I had no money, so I had to make do in my own way,” he told the Coast Guard) he would reach England, where his uncle and cousins reside. An incredible and moving story, almost from De Amicis’ “Heart.”

It took Hussainkhil three weeks to build the raft, hidden in the sand dunes of the North French coast.When he was recovered, he had no food or a compass with him, and was dressed in a light windproof jacket and waterproof pants. The wind was taking him totally off course, partly because Asif has no sailing experience. The chances of getting to England were nil, and given the temperature of the water (17 degrees), should the Afghan have fallen into the water he would not have lasted more than 45 minutes.

This, according to Asif, is his third attempt to cross the English Channel-he has already tried twice by swimming, wearing self-made wooden fins. They “caught” him in both cases, after three hours the first time and after only an hour the second time.



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