Hey Sentinels! I hope you all had an incredible summer! For my part, although it’s been great getting away for a while, it’s also a relief to be back to cooler weather! It’s been a hot one in the Mexican coastline.
During this period, I came upon a couple of amazing stories that I would like to share with you.
The first one below is about an astonishing expedition which is currently taking place just as you are reading this article.
The other one I will publish next week and deals with some insights I learned during my last surf trip to Puerto Escondido.
So, let’s get right to it!
The mission continues…
For the better part of this year, I have been dedicating a fair amount of time writing about ocean conservancy and disposable plastic awareness. This is an essential topic which is slowly gaining traction worldwide.
From heroes like Sian Sikes to ocean conservation organizations, such as Sea Shepherd and Surfrider foundation, environmental awareness and active involvement is key for our ocean’s survival.
My attention finds itself captivated once again by yet another extraordinary expedition: The Longest Swim.
This adventure is nothing short of mind-blowing. It involves an extraordinary individual and his desire to not only break physical and mental boundaries but also bring scientific fact about our oceans precarious condition: The Longest Swim’s main protagonist is Benoit “Ben” Lecomte.
Ben is attempting to swim across the Pacific Ocean in 180 days….let me write that one again folks…as you are reading this, Ben Lecomte is swimming, right now, across the Pacific Ocean, having started in Choshi, Japan and ending in San Francisco. That’s a distance of 5,500 miles, swimming an average o 8 hours every day!
Ben has trained for the last 6 years for this expedition, having previously swum successfully across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998.
“A team of researchers from 13 scientific institutions including NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will conduct studies on 8 different subjects during The Swim. From plastic pollution to space exploration, this adventure will be a unique opportunity to collect data and learn more about the oceans and the human body in extreme conditions.”
Lecomte is not of this planet!
At the core, The Swim is all about scientific discovery…
Besides lending his mind and body for scientific studies focusing in human super endurance, the expedition has also other very clear objectives which will be at the top of the expedition’s priority list:
Other challenges he will be facing will be low water temperatures, special nutrition needs, solitude, swimming through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (extending for a colossal 1,000 miles!), and ocean wildlife (including sharks…not the main concern when compared to swimming through swarms of jellyfish).
The supporting cast…
Ben has been joined by his faithful support crew of 6, traveling side by side during his swim aboard the “Discoverer”, a sturdy, 67 ft (20 m) steel monohull sailing boat Challenge 67. “Disco” as She is affectionately called by all the crew, was designed to take part in the legendary Global Challenge round-the-world race.
Disco’s deck and the main structure are in steel. This material is a favorite maritime construction due to its durability and sturdiness. The Pacific has some of the roughest weather patterns in the planet. Discoverer was designed to face impacts and challenging weather conditions, a given the crew knows they will have to endure at some point during their crossing.
And why a sailboat?
According to Ben and Discoverer’s skipper, Scotty:
“…a sailboat is an ideal choice since it will require for very slow sailing along Ben’s 6-month journey. Relying on an engine during this expedition, with no stop-overs whatsoever, was definitely not the way to go”.
So, wind power is the order of the day for Discoverer’s Seeker support crew. Other than Ben and the ocean, the Discoverer is the third main protagonist of this incredible story.
Preparation of mind and body…
Besides choosing the ideal transport for the crossing, Ben has also prepared himself by swimming countless hours in open waters, and of no less importance, learning and sharpening his mind by using visualization and disassociation techniques. Visualization is pretty straightforward to understand, as many of us who have practiced some extreme sport know, having used visualization at some time or another, when facing challenging conditions out in the water.
Dissasociation, however, is entirely a different matter.
In an interview with AFP news, Ben explains:
“The mental part is much more important than the physical. You have to make sure you always think about something positive. When you don’t have anything to occupy your mind it goes into kind of a spiral, and that’s when trouble starts”.
Challenges and adversity the order of the day…
Through such distances and uncertain environments, far away as one could possibly imagine from any civilization, adversity is almost a daily affair.
It takes extremely clear objectives and clarity of purpose to get you through those inevitable rough patches, as Ben retells his experience during a difficult day:
“This morning the wind and waves were coming from the north and were stronger than yesterday. We still had to progress toward the north and this was going to be a challenging day.
Maria was back in the kayak. She communicated a few times with the crew on the VHF to verify that we were going in the right direction. Each time we took a break to feed me we felt we were pushed back from where we came from. Maria was drifting in the opposite direction, the wind and waves dragged her much faster than me.
She was trying her hardest to keep the pace but she was paddling slower than I was swimming. After a few hours, I knew I wouldn’t be able to swim for a full 8 hours at that pace because it was too slow and I couldn’t generate enough heat to stay warm.
At midday, we had planned to have Paul trade place with Maria. At that time Seeker wasn’t close to us, I could only see the top of the sails at the horizon. Maria gave them our position and corrected it a few times as we were drifting fast. After 45 minutes Seeker finally reached us but by that time I had waited too long in the water and was cold, I decided to get back on the sailboat and stop swimming for the day.
Even in those challenging conditions, Maria managed to collect a big 5 gallons clear plastic bottle…”.
Ben’s final thoughts…
And so what’s next for our lone hero’s awe-inspiring adventure? As I publish this post, it is August 29…Ben and Disco’s crew are located here, approximately 750 miles east of Choshi, Japan.
They have seen their share of natural wonders out in the deep sea, as well as constant reminders of our indiscriminate use of plastic waste.
Ben finishes this article, adding a final thought that we should all take to heart:
“What do I stand for? I am not against plastic, I am for a responsible way to use plastic, one that doesn’t pass on any liability down to the next generation. Like many people, I am struggling with how I can reduce my use and limit my impact. My bad habits are still entrenched in my daily life and like any bad habits I find it difficult to change them. I have a tendency to resist change and feel more comfortable sticking with the status quo.
I know how to push my physical and mental limits and how to get out of my comfort zone but I found it very challenging to stop my relationship with plastic, stop following the easy path and more convenient way when using plastic.
For the past few years, I have made some changes in my life to reduce my use of plastic and try to single-use plastic, but I have more to do. I am very fortunate to see firsthand how pervasive plastic is and how vast is the problem we have created. This is a very strong motivating force for me to make more changes.
I am very fortunate to be where I am and foster a unique relationship with the ocean. This has a profound impact on me, it is reshaping me as a person and redefining my role as a human being; I feel I have a responsibility to give a voice to the ocean.
Thank you to all you for following and supporting us. You inspire me to be a better steward of the ocean and I appreciate any feedback that would help me achieve it”.
Ben’s commitment and candor are truly inspiring.
Like Sian Sykes, whom I have also mentioned in past articles, and her incredible marine conservation awareness odyssey in Wales, Ben has taken his interest and that of other ocean conservation organizations to a whole different level.
This is how involved we must be…not swimming a whole ocean, no. That’s for super-men and women like Ben and his crew.
But we can also be heroes, unassuming and perhaps a bit humble, in our daily efforts, but, together, we can make a HUGE difference.
I hope you liked Ben’s continuing odyssey in the Pacific. He is truly one of a kind, as are we all, in our battle to protect our fragile planet. Please share this article with your friends and loved ones.
They must know about Ben and what he is trying to accomplish.
Thanks again for reading and talk soon!