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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Boys Will Bring Us Home...Across The Bering Strait

Nuala Moore and dozens of other like-minded extreme swimmers from all around the world are currently on their way to the Diomede Islands. They will soon embark on what is, by far, the most dangerous and risky open water swimming relay in human history.

They will participate in an unprecedented 86 km relay of the entire distance of the treacherous Bering Strait.

Ireland's Moore explains her thoughts about her upcoming adventure near the Arctic Circle from Russia to Alaska.

"I can’t really explain the level of excitement that we are feeling in taking on the Bering Strait. It is somewhere between juvenile abandonment, absolute respect and genuine fear. The moment where you know you have to walk the walk, where despite all the wants and wills in the world at the end as a team we will bow to the power of nature. If we get through it, it will be because it was possible, not because we are great. And if we don’t, then it was have been fantastic that we tried, either way without doubt swimming in the Bering Strait will be the sum of the team involved and not any one moment."

Moore has completed a number of relay swims: the English Channel in 20 hours and the Round Ireland stage swim in 56 days, but this Bering Strait Swim will push her and her teammates in unprecedented ways. "There has never been a double crossing of the North Channel at 12ºC in a relay so bringing the temps lower to 3-7ºC, it’s hard to say if 40 hours would be adequate as swimming in these temps is much slower movement in the cold."

She understands the elements that the relay expedition may face.

"I think the variable that we need to look at is the massive movement of water of 3,000 meters deep from the Bering Sea upward and North into the Arctic through a small mouth and shallow that is the Bering Strait. How will the water react? Will it run strait or as it looks will it eddy northeast or northwest? Will we be carried backwards for as many hours just to stand still like the North Channel or are calculations based on constant progress? To find this out is all part of the adventure? The pilots will no doubt know the Bering, but will they have any idea how a body propelled by arms and feet react to the movement in the Bering?"

Great questions whose answers will be forthcoming. "One thing for certain in a fortnight, weather willing we will know. We have a ton of questions and to be honest there is no sense of entitlement, just a sense of wonder.

I love to consider adventure as swimming imitating life. We can only swim the water in front of us and even though hypothermia is one of the biggest challenges associated with the swim such as the multiple immersions. 8 hours between legs of the relay may seem like a long time, but if cold takes hold inside than the second and third immersions, it may have its own challenges
."

Moore asks herself a number of as-yet unanswered questions. "Will the core temperature recover enough to risk the fourth immersion? Will the challenge of not getting adequate sleep and recovery/nutrition affect our heart rate and blood pressure? Will the veins loosen enough to allow the blood through? We need to keep our anxiety levels down both in and out of the water. Most of us have completed 20 minutes at these temps before but it is the back-to-back impact.

How will the transfers work from rib to ship? We have suggested that the minute the swimmer finishes the stint that a rope is thrown to secure the swimmer in case the next stroke is overwhelming and just a stroke too far. It will important to stop with your back to the waves, and not lift your goggles off your eyes, if you do lift downwards. This is does not mean it is dangerous, it just means we are managing risks.


And they manage risk through simple tools as well as sophisticated communications equipment. "We are bringing whistles to tie to our swimwear. I would not hesitate to blow hard if we need to attract attention and also lights for our swim togs and hats. What is the procedure and signals to get a swimmer from the water immediately in the event of marine life? What is their recovery procedure? What is the separation of swimmer to rib procedure in volatile water, both for the swimmer and the crew? How will be lifted from the water into the ribs? In the cold it is difficult to pull your body up. What about the engines? If one swimmer is slow getting in and the other swimmer is gone on then how will that work on the rescue cover? How will the walk up the gangplank work in the cold and wind of the Arctic?"

The team is gathering only days before their actual swim, but they will have lots to do before they embark on history's most potentially dangerous open water swimming relay where literally everyone could be easily lost at sea. "We have suggested a harness to hold onto, but will also ask to do a dry run of everything before we leave shore. Once there are procedures, there should not be panic but this is where the trust comes in. We can’t do the job of the crews and they cannot do ours. They may be as worried about putting us into this water as we are of them not being able to watch us in the water. But this is where meeting of teams come into play. Without a doubt, the trust will be a challenge."

Many relay members have completed a mile at 3ºC+. Some have swim over an hour in even lower water temperatures so they all know the inherent risks. "But seeing and knowing how the impact of all of these swims have on the body and the cost to the physical and mental, we can only wonder in absolute awe and amazement at the ability of Lynne Cox to complete 4 km in 2 hours at these temperatures. We wonder at the impact of completing these distances in volatile water as opposed to a somewhat controlled environment which most of us operate in?

We have little fear about the swim. We are filled with absolute excitement and respect. If we feel for a second that this is not possible, there is no shame in that. The winter swimming at 0ºC in Russia in Tyumen and Murmansk has allowed us experience intense swims, bone with the other swimmers, and respect the approach that each of us has and the amazing sense of adventure and team spirit that exists in the cold water world and swimming in general. Over the years, we have existed with such excellent rescue cover at home where we accept that the teams we work with are constantly working to get us there.

As Anne Marie [Ward] mantras "The boys will bring us home...
"

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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