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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When Things Go South In The North

This summer, the race to the Oceans Seven is on.

But the weather does not seem to want to cooperate...so far.

Penny Palfrey (Australia), Michelle Macy (USA), Anna-Carin Nordin (Sweden), and Darren Miller (USA) have all completed 6 of the 7 channels of the Oceans Seven.

They are now all lined up for the ultimate test, a challenge of unbelievable proportions and scope.

They have all completed (sometimes more than once) successful crossings of the English Channel (England-France), the Catalina Channel (Catalina Island-California), the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain-Morocco), the Molokai Channel (Molokai-Oahu), the Cook Strait (North Island-South Island), and the Tsugaru Channel (Honshu-Hokkaido).

But to complete the Oceans Seven, the ultimate in marathon swimming, they are now preparing for the final assault. The gnarliest, the most demanding, the coldest, and the fiercest waterway known to mankind: the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland is their final 21-mile goal. While they have braved tidal flows, cold water, jellyfish, sharks, whales, the pitch blackness of night, kelp, currents, and wind chop in other parts of the globe, nothing has quite yet prepared them for the granddaddy of them all between Scotland and Ireland.

It can be an angry waterway fraught with danger and inherent risks that range from very cold water to insurmountable tidal flows. Jellyfish are a given as is unpredictable weather and the unexpected.

But if any group of humans on Earth can successfully and safely cross this treacherous channel, it is this quartet of accomplished and experienced athletes. Each of them is as tough as nails and have proved themselves over and over again in the four corners of the globe.

Ice swimming: done that. Extreme swimming: been there. Huge ocean swells: in the bag. Jellyfish stings: gimme a break. Impassable currents: just wait it out. These individuals are the crème de la crème of the contemporary channel swimming world. If there was an aristocracy in the marathon swimming community, they would be among the royalty. But these skills, talents, and commitment are balanced with a humble nature and very human understanding that Mother Nature always has the upper hand. They quickly give credit and praise to their escort pilots and crews, and profoundly understand how fickle and impossible the weather and water can be.

And according to local reports, the water is colder than normal and conditions are predicted to be tough. But when things are going south in the North, we still hope for a break in the weather and for these four intrepid adventurers to complete their Oceans Seven quest.

What is most interesting is the unspoken goal of which athlete will become the first women to achieve the Oceans Seven? Will it be Palfrey, Macy, or Nordin? Each of them must balance going to early in the season and tempting an impossibly cold swim with the (possible) desire to become the first women. But each of these women is entirely capable of long swims in very cold water so we may not know who is attempting first until one of them reaches the other shore. Like the first to market in the telecom wars, confidentiality is key and no swimmer or their crew wants to publicly tip their hand. But when they do, it will be all over the social media.

What is also interesting is how a fast swimmer (Miller) can balance his speed and power in training with his cold water acclimatization and the inevitable hypothermia that will affect him. His story on how he maintains a fine line between speed and cold will be a lesson worth hearing and repeating.

It will be tough, but the quartet of marathon swimmers should make it a glorious - and successfl - season out in the North Channel this season.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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