Long ago I started writing a song called “Swimming Around the World” as a joke. Today I was surprised to learn that one man, Martin Strel, is serious about attempting this super-human aquatic feat. If anyone can do it, he can.
One of the most ambitious and successful open ocean swims ever documented was by Benoit Lecomte who was the first person to swim across the Atlantic ocean. Here’s what seems to be a publicity photo:
Possibly the greatest triumph of endurance is Benoit Lecomte swimming across the Atlantic ocean.
Lecomte, born 1967, immigrated from France to Austin, Texas, at age 23. When his father died of colon cancer in 1992, it spurred him to do something extraordinary to raise awareness of and money for cancer research. With the help of Edward Coyle, director of UT Austin’s Human Performance Lab, and dieticians, Lecomte trained to build his endurance, swimming and cycling 3 to 5 hours a day, six days a week for two years.
On 16 July 1998 he set out from Cape Cod with 8 wet suits, a snorkel and some flippers into turning weather. Navigated through the 40th and 50th latitude by two French sailors on a 12m (40 foot) sailboat and protected by an electronic force field, Lecomte swam 6 to 8 hours a day at two-hour intervals.
Benoit Lecomte swimming the Atlantic ocean
Reading the above, at first I thought we had some “electronic force field” as in Star Trek, but this photo shows what I think they mean by a foce field. More like an electric cage to keep him from being detected? I think this is how he was able to swim the Atlantic without becoming food for a shark.
He mainly used the crawl stroke, switching occasionally to a mono fin and using an undulating dolphin kick to carry him over the 5 600 km (3 736 nautical miles) of relentless waves. After 72 days later, on 28 September 1998, he swam ashore, exhausted but heroic, at Quiberon, France.
In a remarkable feat of endurance, 31-year Benoit Lecomte became the first man to swim across the Atlantic ocean, 1998.
Lecomte probably could not have done it without the modern techniques and clothing that have helped athletes reach astonishing levels of performance. The latest swimming costumes reduce drag resistance by more than 8%, resulting in a performance that is even better than when swimming naked. Consider that when Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel in 1875, his waterlogged woolen swimwear weighed about 3 kg (10 lb). By contrast, the new Speedo one-piece weighs just a few ounces, even when soaked.
But it is not just the clothes that maketh the man, or woman. To swim across an ocean, you have to become your own hero before becoming everybody else’s. That is the type of material that Lecomte donned – and what his challengers will need. …
Without flippers, compared to Lecomte’s 4,299 miles (3,736 nautical mi), the longest swim in the open sea was about 139 miles according to the Guinness World Records.
The longest distance ever swum without flippers in open sea is 225 km (139.8 miles) by Veljko Rogošić (Croatia) across the Adriatic Sea from Grado to Riccione (both Italy) from 29-31 August 2006. The attempt took him 50 hours 10 mins.
… the distance between his starting and finishing cities appears to be only a total straight-line distance of 121 statute miles (194.7 km), based on confirmation on Google Maps. However, information on the exact GPS coordinates of the starting and finishing positions are not known and were not reported.
How long would it take to swim the 24,901 miles around the earth? A little over 450 days according to the first person to attempt it. That’s an average of 55 miles per day. If you think it doesn’t add up, I’d have to agree. If he averages 8.5 hours of swimming per day, he’d need to maintain an average speed of 6.47 miles per hour, which, as far as I can determine, is not humanly possible, even with the amazing dolphin-inspired fin.
This design uses the largest leg muscles instead of just the calves and ankles, says DARPA Defense Sciences PowerSwim Program Manager Lt. Col. John Lowell. Top speed is about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) per hour, which still works with scuba gear, but more important, the PowerSwim is 70 to 75 percent efficient at translating effort into propulsion. “We’re getting to the point where its getting harder to imagine getting much better than that,” Lowell says. DARPA hopes to have working prototypes ready for military divers to test by the end of the year.
That 2.5 mph seems like an absurd lowball. First of all, fins make you faster. Second, a fast swimmer without any fins can reach 3.7 miles per hour and a few sites claim the world swim sprint speed record (again without fins) is over 5 miles per hour.
… The highest speed reached by a swimmer is 5.05 mph by David Holmes Edgar (US). Mark Spitz (US) in setting the 100 meter record of 51.22 secs. in 1972, required an average of 4.367 mph. – Guinness Book of World Records 1975. New York: Sterling, 1974: 620.
Florent Manaudou, 5th December 2014, Average speed = 5.52 mph (2.47 m/s, 8.88 km/h) – completed 50m freestyle in 20.26 secs
With fins, the fastest 50 meter swim with body suit was by Pavel Kabanov, June 2015, who averaged 8.13 mph. That’s more like it.
Average speed = 8.13 mph (3.64 m/s, 13.1 km/h) – completed 50m AP in 13.75 secs – (Apnoea finswimming) event, where swimmers must stay underwater for the whole event
Can Martin Strel maintain a 6.47 miles per hour average for 8.5 hours per day for 450 days? That still seems pretty crazy.
Martin Strel has a goal: swim more than 24,000 miles around the world to raise awareness of aquatic pollution.
The 60-year-old marathon swimmer will embark on this journey on 22 March 2016, which he announced last week, before displaying his swimming prowess in the rainy New York Harbor. Strel swam the 2.2-mile stretch between the Statue of Liberty and the marina near the World Trade Center in about an hour – a regular morning workout for the man who has swum the entire length of five large rivers.
“It’s not such a big deal,” Strel said.
Strel has always been a swimmer. Born in a small town in Slovenia filled with rivers and creeks, Strel spent nearly every day of his childhood swimming and began to swim competitively in university.
“My life is very connected with water,” Strel, who now lives in Phoenix, Arizona, said.
In his 37-years of swimming, Strel has swum with piranhas and sharks in some of the world’s largest, most polluted rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Danube in Eastern Europe, the Parana in South America and the Yangtze in China.
He swims to raise awareness of the rapidly polluting waters around the world. The journey he announced last Thursday will cover 24,901 miles in 107 different countries. He aims to complete the swim, which will include the Panama and Suez canals, the English Channel, the Amazon, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Red Sea, in 450 days.
Strel will swim between five and 12 hours each day, accompanied by an escort boat for emergencies and breaks. Travel costs will be organized by the Arizona based TDG global marketing and branding firm.
Here’s more detail about Strel and what he has survived:
So let’s start with the obvious: Martin Strel is the world’s greatest athlete, the greatest of all time.
The Slovenian once jumped into the Danube, swam for 80 straight hours, and emerged from the waters having covered 313 miles (501 kilometres) using nothing more than the Australian crawl and a wild, flailing stroke of his own invention that he manages unconsciously for a few minutes at a time. Yes, Strel can swim in his sleep. By comparison, Phelps, in the water for just a couple of minutes at a time, is not a swimmer so much as a bather. Phelps breaks records by hundredths of seconds, Strel by hundreds of miles.
For others, an entry in the Guinness book of world records would be a life-defining event. In the Strel canon, those 313 miles are one line that you might miss down at the bottom of the page. Likewise, you might not catch his traversing the Strait of Gibraltar, becoming the first man to swim from Europe to Africa, a test that had claimed the lives of seven before him. Swimming the English Channel is so minor that he often has to be reminded that he did it at all, a mere afterthought.
Tasking the several-times-larger-than-life Strel with these small, wet matters is like asking Superman to help you move a refrigerator. No, his greatness has required the greatest of stages and he is trying to swim them all. Think of it as the Grand Slam of the World’s Rivers.
First, in 2000, he swam the length of the Danube, covering 1,878 miles in 58 days, setting a world record and providing a mere portent of things to come. Two years later, he broke that record on the Mississippi, swimming from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, 2,360 miles in 68 days, spending about 12 hours in the water each day.
In 2004, he took on the toxic waters of the Yangtze, covering 2,488 miles in 50 days, passing several floating corpses along the way. Over the last miles, Strel was ready to join the ranks of the not-quite-buried at sea, near death, his liver as black as coal. The Yangtze provided a useful tune-up for his greatest swim to date, the Amazon.
In 2007, he swam from Peru to the South Atlantic, 3,278 miles in 68 days. It is said that the Amazon is home to one-third of the animal species in the world and Strel encountered most of them up close. In fact, he maintained he was in communication with all manner of beasts and pleaded for safe passage. It mostly worked. He avoided the candiru, the infamous, pitiless creature that crawls up its victim’s penis and then shoots out bony spines. He managed to swim past crocodiles that lined the shores in shallow waters. He escaped bull sharks, a subspecies of the predator believed to have claimed more lives than any of God’s beasts. Strel wasn’t able to dodge all the predators, however. He believes parasites burrowed into his brain. He brought home to Slovenia a souvenir he’ll never lose, an eight-inch gash across his back where piranhas bit through his wetsuit. It is a half-inch deep. He didn’t bother to get it stitched.
According to his passport, Strel was 52 when he climbed out of the Amazon. …
Strel stands five-feet-eleven and has a curb weight of 240 lb. Using the BMI scale, he’s clinically obese. He has hands as big as Zdeno Chara’s hockey gloves and the wingspan of a condor. His hairless torso is something like the hull of a barge. … His 34 percent body fat is entirely strategic, keeping him buoyant and warm when he’s swimming in mid-winter waters almost icing over. He works hard to maintain his girth, his diet consisting of 75 percent carbohydrates, eating a family-sized portion of pasta with meals the way an average guy would have a dinner roll.
This less-than-textbook body only makes the beauty of the great man’s stroke all the more remarkable. His elbow position, reach and pull are exercises in perfect physics, his imperfect physique notwithstanding. For Strelians, watching Strel travel through the water at alarming speed is like watching the NBA slam dunk contest won on a 360-windmill number performed by Jonah Hill in his early funny period.
And, of course, since this is not being written in memoriam, he is a medical marvel. When Strel was featured on National Geographic’s The Great American Manhunt, a forensics-focused reality show, his blood test showed the presence of two separate strains of malaria, a marker for partial immunity to the disease. He also tested positive for schistosomiasis, a chronic organ-destroying disease carried by snails in river waters he swam and not something he contracted from a serving of escargot. Counting the piranha attack, Strel could have died four times already.
As far as the parasite, he may be able to get rid of it and recover completely.
Early antiparasitic treatment, especially with acute schistosomiasis, may allow people to recover completely without developing chronic disease. A few people get the disease but recover completely.
Martin Strel postponed his previously planned world swim until 2017. Will it happen this year? Wishing him luck.
Martin Strel and his team have re-started the preparation for the World Swim project. We hope to have some great news soon to re-launch the official start date in 2017.
My “Swimming Around the World” song was started over 15 years ago. Will I finish it before someone does swim around the world? The race is on.