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Friday, December 16, 2016

Ben Hooper Abandons Transatlantic Swim, Heading Home

Courtesy of Ben Hooper, Swim The Big Blue, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Unfortunately, the GPS tracking devices are switched off most of the time due to a failing generator," was posted on Ben Hooper's tracker during the last stages of his attempt to complete a transoceanic swim from Senegal to Brazil.

But Hooper experienced all kinds of unexpected problems and conditions over the course of the first 33 days. Ultimately, he swam 87 miles, but 15 days were lost to weather, medical, or boat technical problems.

Yesterday, Hooper called it a day and he and his escort crew are heading to Brazil with an estimated arrival of December 29th in Brazil and an estimated return back home to the UK on January 6th.

This is his assessment of the decision. "During the early hours of this morning, Thursday 15th December, we were subjected to our fifth day of Atlantic storms as a result of which the expedition support vessel the sailing catamaran Big Blue suffered damage to her steering and standing rigging.

The crew worked through the night to make the vessel safe for all on-board and we were able to assess the extent of the damage and the impact on the expedition at first light.

By this afternoon, emergency repairs had been made by the crew to enable the vessel to continue sailing safely towards Brazil. Unfortunately the damage has been severe enough to warrant a reappraisal of the expedition.

In the interest of the safety of all souls on-board Big Blue we have decided to postpone the expedition and sail directly to Natal in Brazil by the shortest route for the following reasons:

1. Further damage to the steering would prevent us from going to the aid of Ben should he become incapacitated in the water as happened when he was attacked by a Portuguese man o war jellyfish
2. Any additional damage to the standing rigging would impede our ability to control the direction and speed of the vessel to effect a recovery of Ben from the water or any 'man overboard' situation
3. Continuing the expedition at this time would endanger the continued safety of the crew of Big Blue
4. Continuing to support the expedition with a vessel carrying known faults would not be in the interest of best maritime practice and professional seamanship
5. It would not be in keeping with the expedition ethos of safety and education or indeed in the best interest of our sponsors and charities to carry on with little regard to the consequences

I would add that we are all safe and that Big Blue remains seaworthy and capable of completing crossing of the Atlantic Ocean during the months of December and January; and that the following preventative works were included with other works carried out before departure to ensure the seaworthiness of Big Blue:

a. The steering was inspected, dismantled, serviced and reassembled in September 2016 and showed no signs of the excessive wear that subsequently contributed to its failure
b. The steering was serviced and inspected again in November 2016 and again showed no signs of wear or fault
c. The standing rigging on both masts was inspected and adjusted in August 2016 and further inspected by a qualified rigger in Dakar in November 2016; at those time there was no sign of wear noticeable at the top of the stays or anywhere else that could contribute to failure

I reiterate that my attempt to become the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, every single mile remains, but that it has been postponed for the time being.

My crew have worked tirelessly to make this possible and this decision has not been taken lightly; indeed, the easy option would have been to carry on at all costs - that would have been foolhardy and unnecessary.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

We have NOT failed; we have achieved and gained the knowledge to succeed in the future.

We thank our families, Swim The Big Blue team, investors and sponsors, charities and followers for their love, prayer and support and this setback will not prevent us completing this record in the future.

Over the last few decades, a few people have planned a variety of transatlantic swims whether solo or relays. But, most have given up their dreams when they realized the enormous costs and difficult logistics of traversing the width of the ocean at the speed of a human swimmer.

"Reality of costs or conditions has an immediate and powerful way to rapidly change plans in the middle of the ocean," says Steven Munatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association that had agreed to sanction his swim. "Ben came up with a plan to 'swim every mile' of the Atlantic Ocean in a unique way - even if it meant to swim along the coast towards the end of his swim to 'make-up' for miles that his escort boat had either motored or drifted across the Atlantic.

Ben did not give up easily, but the risks inherent in transoceanic swims were far greater and far beyond anything that he could manage. Ben and his team were apparently willing to face these risks to a point, but it came to a point where danger and the reality of the situation overwhelmingly pointed to an abandonment.

Whether Ben swam in the deep offshore waters of the Atlantic or along the shallow coastal waters, his determination to swim all 1,635 nautical miles of his chosen course was impressive. We received only 9 days of information which clearly was an indication that his progress was not what he had planned. He ultimately made the right decision and is heading home to his family and friends with an experience of a lifetime and something he will never forget

* Hooper planned to swim 1,635 nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean whereby he would conduct a stage swim across the Atlantic Ocean. His plan called for literally swimming 1,635 nm. If during his traverse, he did not actually swim 1,635 nm under his own power, then he would "make-up" the remaining miles before he exited the ocean in Brazil (e.g., swimming along the coast of Brazil).

Swim logs of Hooper's first 9 days are posted here.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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