“Swimming to Africa”, i.e. swimming the Strait of Gibraltar from the southernmost tip of Europe (Tarifa, Spain) to Africa (Morocco) – 15-20 km – is not comparable to an English Channel swim, but bridging two continents has a special magic to it. And there are similar challenges: unpredictable weather, days of waiting, currents, fog, huge container ships in the shipping lanes – but nicer marine life. The success rate is higher since the swim is shorter and easier – but you never know exactly what the currents and wind will do on your day, or if you get to swim at all. (→ See the post about my own Gibraltar Straits swim Oct. 2012)
On Monday, Sept. 16th, 2013, Abhejali Bernadova from Zlin, Czech Republic, fastest swimmer in our international English Channel relay 2009, English Channel solo swimmer 2011 and Manhattan Island Finisher 2012, became the 2nd Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team member to conquer the Strait of Gibraltar – in a very good 4 hours 35 minutes. Which made her the 3rd Czech Strait woman to do so – and the fastest of them! Conditions were less than ideal, windforce 3-4 most of the way – the AGNEC certificate says windforce 4 – and on the video the waves and whitecaps of the first hours are quite impressive compared to my own swim in 2012. Luckily everyone had taken seasickness pills – so seasickness only became a problem when they went dolphin watching (again) a few days later. Sunday, when a leftover team from the week before got to swim, was still sunny and calm (the photo at the top was taken on Sunday), but on Monday, on swim day, even though only windforce 2 was predicted, the Straits showed a different face.
Not easy, but very beautiful
Abhejali was still very lucky:
1. She got to swim at all (it is not rare for swimmers to come and not get a shot at all due to the weather).
2. She had an early morning start at 8 a.m, and the current – although unfavourable at the start – was not very strong near Africa. On the way back the pilot measured the current 5 km off Tarifa – and it had become basically unswimmable!
3. Abhejali had great company: not only her helpers and of course the boat pilots, but lots of dolphins! On one video she keeps swimming without looking up for quite a while – because she was looking at the dolphins swimming only a few meters below her. When a huge container boat passed, dolphins were surfing on its big bow waves! Her helpers saw them everywhere. “I had wanted to swim with dolphins,” she said, “and it worked!”
On the website of ACNEC there is a link where you can follow the tracker of the pilot boats, Columba Uno or Columba Dos
In the first hour she only swam 2 km due to the strong currents (almost full moon), but after 2 hours she was told in 20 min. she would be half way – so she was able to pick up speed. One shoulder soon started to hurt from swimming in the waves – which she had not been able to practice in training – and pain killers did not help very much.
“It was not easy, but it was very beautiful,” Abhejali said after her swim.
What will be next?, I asked her. Catalina, Cook Straits – or any other of the 7 Oceans swims? Maybe later, she says. She would love to swim from Europe to Asia (the Bosporus – an even shorter swim). “But now I’d also love to go back to running a little”, she says – a 24 hour and 100 km champion in her country, and lover and long time co-organizer of the World Harmony/Peace Run.
→ Videos of Abhejali swimming the Strait of Gibraltar, Sept. 16, 2013
→ more Photos
→ Link to ACNEG – the organisation for Strait of Gibraltar swims (swim list is not up to date on the website!)
→ Abhejali and myself at the IMSHOF ceremony in Long Beach, California, September 2012
Huge Congratulations to Diana Nyad! Never too old to chase your dreams!
I believe in dreaming big. – Diana Nyad
5 attempts, spread out over 35 years, were needed until she finally made her dream come true and wrote history – with tremendous willpower, determination, patience, vision, faith, dedication and an absolute never-give-up-attitude! In “only” 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds (she expected to swim around 80 hours), supported by favourable currents and a huge team of helpers but without sleep or rest, long distance swimmer Diana Nyad conquered the approx. 103 miles (166 km) from Cuba to Florida – at age 64! Reaching Key West, Florida on Sept. 2nd 2013, around 2 p.m. local time, she became the first person to swim across the Florida Straits without a shark cage after Susie Maronie did it back in 1997 protected (and aided) by a cage.
After her 3 recent defeats in 2011 and 2012, when she was forced to stop due to life-threatening box jellyfish stings, and after 2 failed attempts by faster and younger accomplished long distance swimmers Chloe McCardel and Penny Palfrey, many thought her dream was simply impossible to realise. But Diana was determined to give it a last try and again put everything into it – body, mind, heart and soul. Plus creativity and inventiveness. And with the help of an amazing team of specialists in many fields and believers in her vision including individual sponsoring from all over the world now everything seemed to come together. Even Mother Nature seemed to send her blessings, letting her swim in an almost strait line supported by the currents, in mostly calm seas and with only one small thunderstorm during the first night. Her main problem this time was sickness – the difficulty to keep feedings down.
Her mantra: “Find a way”
Diana did not swim completely according to English Channel rules, but her use of a mask and suit to protect herself against deadly box jelly fish especially at night, allowing herself to be touched, and using a streamer to help her swim in a straight line, does not necessarily take away from her accomplishment, which included incredible amounts of solitary training hours – it rather shows her determination and creativity to find a way to reach her goal.
“I have three messages”
Barely able to speak with exhaustion and a swollen mouth after her arrival on her “Other Shore”, she still had 3 messages to offer:
- we should never ever give up;
- you are never too old to chase your dreams;
- it looks like a solitary sport but it is a team.
Holding the Peace Torch with Diana Nyad at the Global Open Water Swimming Conference on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Sept. 2012
More in many articles and videos:
- Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, the Hemingway Marina commodore who helped organize the Cuba side of Nyad’s multiple attempts, is quoted by USA today:
“More than the athletic feat, she wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness … between the people of the United States and Cuba,” he said.
- Shortly (end of September), Diana Nyad is releasing her feature-length documentary film, The Other Shore, about her “jaw-dropping journey” to manifest her → Xtreme Dream.
“The fullness of life lies in dreaming and manifesting the impossible dreams.” – Sri Chinmoy
Also interesting to read: