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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Craige Crosses Gibraltar In Ernest

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Ernest Craige, an American swimmer, had a dream to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar.

The 69-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina explained his journey on his first major channel crossing. "It took me three years to get a slot with the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association [or the Asociación Cruce A Nado Del Estrecho De Gibraltar, ACNEG]. Last summer, I was accepted and ratcheted up my pool mileage.

I found the crossing to be one of the hardest things I've attempted. But I'm glad I did it. Maybe it allowed us to be pebbles of goodwill in the earth's oceans. It certainly felt as if we'd joined many people across borders and that makes me want to get back in the pool again. The Gibraltar Crossing has an element of international peacemaking that I'd never experienced before.

His 4 hour 57 minute crossing was eventful for the first-time channel swimmer. "To swim the Strait of Gibraltar from Europe to Africa, I took a boat called the Columba from the port of Tarifa to Europe's southernmost spit of land, Isla de las Palomas. Then you jump in, touch a mossy rock and a siren announces game on. You try to adjust to frigid water. The teal sea slaps you in the face. You take your first stroke. You have 14.4 kilometers to go.

Lesley Fanning from Charleston, South Carolina, and I slid into the 57°F water at 12:15 pm. Why then? The pilot, Antonio Montiel, assured us that all of the auspicious signs were in alignment. Specifically, he pointed out that the Mediterranean Sea had stopped flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and had reversed direction.

I couldn't believe he knew such a fact when the deep waters seemed indecipherable. But he was right. The 20-knot gusts blowing towards the west dropped to zero. The air started moving in the opposite direction. The complete transformation of the chaotic, churning water between the Mediterranean and Atlantic took about 10 minutes

He explained his strategy as he traversed the channel. "Over the first miles, we had been told that the shore current could knock us back to Spain, so we swam hard the first hour.

Between hours 2-4, the winds picked up to 12 mph and pushed us around like corks. There were 3-foot swells and many unwelcome whitecaps. The currents gradually dragged us to the east so our route took a big curve and added distance. Frequently, Antonio whistled for us to stop drifting out of the proper route.

As we approached Africa's mountainous coast in Morocco, the pilot pointed us to a series of tidal waterfalls. I couldn't believe our good fortune. All of the practice and icy baths had been worth it. We touched the rocks, but just to be sure, I swam back and jumped up and down so there would be no doubt in the mind of anyone. I heard the boat's siren blasting, announcing that we'd hereby met the requirements for a sanctioned crossing. The screech was also a sign that we had to board the officials' boat quickly, since it really was between rocks and very hard places.

After boarding his escort boat, Craige vomited several times. "Antonio said tenderly, 'Oh, that's normal! Don't worry. You did a great job. Drink lots of electrolytes. And kudos to my wife Kim, who accompanied us in the Zodiac and threw energy drinks every 30 minutes. She and the crew deserve medals for enthusiasm throughout a rough crossing.'"

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