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Lakewood man finishes journey down the Mississippi River in solar-powered trimaran

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 5:32 p.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 11:42 p.m. CST

Marquette, Joliet and now Ray Christie.

It took the Lakewood man a couple of years, and he endured everything from mechanical troubles to choppy waters and exotic critters, but he completed the same journey as the 17th century adventurers.

Christie sought to voyage down the Mississippi River along a route known in history as the "French Corridor." Instead of the birch bark canoe used by Marquette and Joliet, Christie did so in his solar-powered boat CalypSol and tracked his progress at www.calypsol.com.

Departing from Chicago in June of 2012, he arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in June of this year. Encompassing about 1,450 miles in all, the trip was broken into segments and delayed at times by motor damage and the weather.

But in the end, the sites and people along the way made it all worthwhile.

"Sunsets and sunrises were spectacular," said Christie, a native of Switzerland, who traversed the last and hardest portion of the journey from Memphis, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge with co-navigator Jean-Claude Barras of Switzerland.

To fund the adventure and create the boat, a high-tech solar powered 22-foot trimaran, Christie co-founded the CalypSol Group with his friend, Larry Kozak of Algonquin. Kozak originally had planned to make the journey with Christie before suffering from health issues.

Christie ended up joining with various friends and co-navigators with Kozak providing support back home as Christie checked in or encountered any troubles on the route.

For the last portion of the trip, Christie and Barras slept on the banks and shoreline wildness along the river, arising throughout the night to push the CalypSol away from the banks back into the water as river levels dropped.

"We had to fear the animals," Christie said. "We had bobcats, snakes. We didn't see any alligators, but we saw some wild boars, quite a few exotic animals down there."

The waters also were challenging, especially when freighters and barges roared by, causing turbulence.

Along the remote banks of the river, supplies were miles away.

"We always found people would help us," Christie said. "They would bring food and whatever."

The CalypSol tended to draw attention, floating alone down the Mississippi, and people took notice, he said.

Christie ended up doing radio interviews, and he and Barras were treated to a reception at the Swiss Consulate in New Orleans upon the completion of their journey.

"What began as an expedition turned out to be more of a meeting of townspeople and getting to know other people in the cities along the river. It was quite an adventure," he said.

Along with the beauty came some views of poverty along the river, especially in portions of Mississippi, Christie said.

Yet, people throughout the journey went out of their way to help, such as those in Cairo, who helped him retrieve and fix the boat after the motor broke down, and a man who owned a canoe shop in Mississippi who took Barras and Christie in for the night.

Days would begin at about 6 a.m. with breakfast on the river bank. Lunch was eaten on the water, and the pair typically started looking for a place to moor the boat around 4:30 p.m. They'd travel 30 to 50 miles a day.

"Some days, the barge traffic was low. To the CalypSol crew, it felt like the entire Mississippi belonged only to them," Christie wrote of the journey.

"With the absence of light contamination from cities, most of the nights were filled with stars, but also with strange sounds from deer, wild boars, coyotes, frogs and bobcats. … The songs of multiple bird species would wake up the crew every morning announcing the new day on the river."

Having completed the trip, Christie already is envisioning another journey, this one down the Ohio River from Pittsburg to southern Illinois and with Kozak by his side.

If there's a message in his adventure, he said it's simply that a big power boat isn't needed to traverse the country's beautiful rivers. Imagine the pollution that would be prevented if more people traded in their motor boats for those powered in more natural ways, he said.

"We did something we built ourselves and conquered the world with our small means," he said.

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