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Monday, February 11, 2013

Streaming Straight In The Open Water

Photo courtesy of Christi Barli in the Florida Straits with Diana Nyad.

In the Marathon Swimmers Forum, there was criticism of Diana Nyad for use of a swim streamer during her attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.

The criticism ranged from a discussion that it aided her in propulsion to swim streamers are not allowed by other channel swimming organizations.

However, our perspective and opinions are different.

It has been assumed for centuries in Japan and among other sea-faring populations and naval historians that use of a long stream of cloth or other fabric in the water underneath a swimmer is an effective shark deterrent. Even in times of war when men would occasionally find themselves floating in the ocean as their boat was damaged or sunk, this concept was used.

For example, during World War II, Japanese soldiers who were lost at sea due to naval conflicts were told to unwrap their fundoshi - a long strip of cloth - and let it float behind them in order to make their appearance (silhouette) larger in the water in order to help ward off sharks.

Fundoshi is traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males. It is no longer widely used, but is occasionally still used in festivals and as traditional swimwear. Fundoshi are used by a few competitive masters swimmers including those in the Japan International Open Water Swimming Association events and marathon swimmers who are attempting crossings of the Tsugaru Channel.

Experienced shark divers, including those familiar with sharks in the South Pacific and Caribbean, know that sharks are generally wary of objects larger than themselves. So an item like a swim streamer floating underneath a swimmer are useful as a shark deterrent. So while some individuals criticize Nyad and swimmers in Japan for use of a swim streamer, they are concurrently comfortable with use of Shark Shields that serve a similar purpose.

That being said, the swim streamer is also useful for swimmers who have the correct head position and look straight down. The swimmers can not only see their accompanying escort boat when they breathe to the side, but the swimmers also can see the swim streamer below them as they look straight down. (At night, the swim streamer can be illustrated with soft red lights.) The swim streamer is also beneficial to the escort boat pilot. Because the pilot is asked to remain in a position parallel to the swimmer, the use of the swim streamer forces the pilots to always maintain the optimal position relative to the swimmer. On marathon swims, this interdependency between swimmer and pilot is usually beneficial to both.

If certain organizations wish to use swim streamers for historical or safety purposes, or if swimmers wish to use a swim streamer for safety or navigational purposes, we think that should be allowed. But the swim streamer does not aid in propulsion by any means. Conversely, in solo and relay channel swims like in the North Channel, English Channel or California Channel islands, their use is prohibited and swimmers must follow the local rules.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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