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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Marathoning From Mozambique To Madagascar

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

On February 28th, an intrepid pair of South African swimmers - Thane Guy Williams and Jonno Proudfoot - set off to make history. By merely walking off the shore of Mozambique and swimming towards the island of Madagascar, they did.

The attempt to cross the Mozambique Channel was historic. Their successful crossing was epic in every sense. They ended up swimming 458.7 km after 155 hours total in the water.

This is their story of their unprecedented charity stage swim from Mozambique to Madagascar:

"We started swimming just south of Nacala, Mozambique on February 28th," describes Williams who had worked relentlessly for months on this unprecedented project and audacious vision. "We started on a random small beach, full off sea urchins. On March 24th, we finished on a beach in Cap St Andre on Madagascar."

Their total distance swum was 458.7 km (285 miles). With the straight line distance being 439 km, they and their crew kept to a remarkably straight tangent across the Mozambique Channel, given all the currents, waves and turbulence. "We had a support rubber duck with a compass which guided us on bearing as we swam 3 sessions per day. It started with 3 hours, 2 hours, and 1 hour. Then after about 6 days, we upped it to 3.5 hours, 2.5 hours, and 1.5 hours. Typically we swam 7.5 hours per day."

Disciplined as they were, they stuck to their plan like clockwork. The typical day would start with wake-up at 4:30 am with the sunrise at 5 am. "We were in the water at 5:30 am and would swim for 3.5 hours. We would stop after 2.5 hours for water. Then it was breakfast on the mothership [the Ocean Adventurer, a yacht]."

They would have a 1.5-hour break over breakfast and then dive back in the water about 10:30 am and swim for 2.5 hours. Day after day without fail, they strictly followed their daily routine. "We came out for tea, coffee and snacks. Again we had an hour to an hour and a half break, and were back in again by 2:30 pm and out the water at 4'ish."

In the channel, the sun sets just after 5 pm. The jellyfish and blue bottles were at their worst in the late afternoon so they tried to be done with each day's effort by 4 pm. But Mother Nature does not always follow swimmers' plans. "Despite our schedule, we got stung a lot. I would have to say thousands of times. It was not too bad, but mostly just an irritation."

Besides the appearance of jellyfish and blue bottles, mechanical issues also caused unexpected problems. "A few sessions were cut short or delayed because of outboard problems on the duck. Idling for so long was not good for the engine. Additionally, both the accelerator and gear lever cable snapped. In the end, it was a makeshift engine with a screw as the accelerator and a chisel as the gear lever. [We used] many spark plugs, but it worked."

458.7 km of ocean swimming, even if spread out over 24 days is difficult. South African tough. Williams explains, "Physically, it was very tough especially in the beginning. I got bicep tendinitis after day 2. It got better after a few days, but was very painful. Jonno had bad problems with his left shoulder as he only breathes to his right."

And there were other problems from sleeping to salt water abrasions. "Our shoulders were always sore, so turning on your side at night would wake you up. All the time! Our mouths also became very raw making warm or spicy food was almost impossible to eat."

But the duo was adaptable to the issues they faced and made the best of situations in the middle of the channel. "It's remarkable how the body adapts, learns to cope, and gets stronger. The toughest part was most certainly the mental aspect. Being in isolation for so many hours a day was hard; it was keeping the mind busy that was tough. Thinking about pain or how much time was remaining made the hours pass slowly."

But the swimmers and crew came to grips out of necessity and internal motivation. "For me, I broke each session into smaller, more manageable segments. Also, once you are in the water and swimming, it became enjoyable rather than being on the boat and thinking about the session that was to come."

As they crossed the massive body of water, their biggest difficulty was the currents. For a few days, currents ran were in their favor, but for most of the swim they faced difficulties as well as marine life. "That part of the ocean is somewhat of a desert. The visibility in the channel was incredible: 40-50 meters deep on most days. We encountered sharks 3 time. That we saw. Two oceanic white tip sharks and one black tip reef shark. The second white tip we saw, we swam with and really enjoyed. The first was quite large, about 2.5 meters, so we let him pass, then carried on. Other than that, there were no real dangers. A few days, we swam through rain squalls with strong winds. That was probably the most dangerous situation. If the ducks engines fail and the wind had to blow it away from us and they lose sight of us, it could have been very bad. But we were very safety conscious. We also saw pilot whales that swam with us. And plenty dolphins. They were amazing. And of course the jellies…"

On the homo sapien side of the equation, there were fortunately no pirates or other such problems. On the contrary, they were boarded by the Madagascar Coast Guard who were very friendly. On their trip back to Mozam, they stopped at a French Island, Juan de Nova. "Here we were detained because they didn’t know what to do with us. It’s a small island with a military base, that’s all. We tried radioing them, but they didn’t respond so we snorkelled ashore. Long story short, 8 hours later and phone calls to Paris, they let us go. But they were actually very nice. Our cell was a boma on the beach, playing rugby with the soldiers and tropical water. So not too bad."

It was an adventure worth retelling over and over again. The team made the adventure happen successfully and safely. "Our team was amazing. It all came together very last minute and we had to fly a crew member up from South Africa the night before we left. Our team was the captain ‘Stormin’ Norman Horner, first mate Vernon ‘Cubby’ Deas, deckhand Bodean Bosogne, and my girlfriend Dr Daphne Lyell. She spent every minute on that duck or sometimes swimming an hour with us. The last team member was David Karpul, a friend who called me two days before we flew to Durban in order to wish us luck. We needed an extra set of eyes. It turned out he was between jobs and was lecturing at Cape Town University. He ending up joining us for the adventure and was a perfect fit as he is an electro-mechanical engineer and had also worked with Professor Tim Noakes at the Sport Science Institute in Cape Town."

Every skill set and worldly experience of the crew was necessary for the unexpected happened. "Everything that could have broke, broke. The was a cyclone in the channel days before we started swimming and now there is another across our route. But I must say that everything worked out perfectly because we managed to complete the swim in 24 days, and managed to swim every day."

It was historic. It was epic. It was unprecedented. It was a true modern-day adventure.

Additional articles on the dynamic duo include:

* It Was A Mad, Mad Swim Across The Mozambique Channel
* Swimming Where No Man Has Swum Before
* Miles Of Smiles From Mozambique To Madagascar

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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