Briefing: Curious Whales, Currents and a Final Sprint to Barcelona

Monday we finally met the gatekeeper to the Strait, Rafa Gutiérrez Mesa, from the ACNEG (Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association) for a debriefing of the swim.

Here are the details from the meeting:

1) June 21st. The last swimmable day was June 21st but no one was here to swim it (had we known…).

2) Swimmers waiting. The last 3 groups (Spain, Mexico, Argentina & Germany) have gone home without having had the opportunity to get in the water due to the winds. That means nobody stands between Swim4good and the Strait except for the Levante winds until July 15th when the next group arrives.

3) Wind. Winds and gusts of 70km/hr (43mph) at present will have to come down to 10km/hr (6mph) for us to be allowed to attempt the swim. To give you an idea, a Tropical Storm has winds from 63-100km/hr. Living in Tarifa is like living in a tropical storm without the rain.

4) Forecast. The weather is looking promising for Friday and Saturday. This poses quite a problem for me: I have a 10:45am flight Sunday July 14th to California with my 3 children (8,6,4). Swimming Saturday is cutting it Hollywood-movie-Style close especially since the tides tell us that we can’t leave before 12:00 noon.

Doing the math makes catching a flight or train back to Barcelona impossible if we start swimming to Africa at 12:00pm on Saturday. We could drive all night right after getting out of the water; a 6-hour swim there, 1-hour boat ride back gets us to Tarifa at 7:00pm. A quick shower and check out gives us an at 8:00pm ETD from Tarifa to Barcelona. The drive is 10 1/2 hours giving us an ETA of 6:30am in Barcelona without stopping for gas, bathroom or food breaks, Let’s not bring up the fact that we might be too tired to drive and that we might get lost on the way. Does anyone work at USAir who can make this plane wait for me? The next available flight is not until 7 days later with large changing fees.

If I do go home to fill my family obligations, Susan and Mau could swim without me, leaving me to come back in the fall if I feel courageous enough to continue with this challenge and the opportunity presents itself. I have decided to shelf these worries with the others that are infesting my mind as there isn’t much I can do about them.

As the week progresses, this swim to Africa feels increasingly like it has been scheduled like a quick lunch between important meetings. With so much planning, how did this happen? How could it be that, if all goes well, I would be getting to the Barcelona airport barely 2 hours before my flight departs? Please, oh please, let us swim Friday.

5) Marine Life. Although there is an absence of sharks (yippie), there are large pilot whales that apparently are particularly curious. Groups of them will swim underneath the swimmers checking them out. While my teammates expressed their excitement at this possibility, I am praying that all of the pilot whales have been blown out of the Strait with the strong Levante winds and they won’t have made it back to investigate swimmers until I am safely on my plane ride to the US. Yes, I am the largest chicken to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. If I can do this, anyone can.

Emily is shown pictures of pilot whales swimming very close to the swimmers

Emily is shown pictures of pilot whales swimming very close to the swimmers

6) Jellyfish. Jellyfish the size of tankers infested the coasts last summer for a two week period, making it impossible to leave Tarifa. Fortunately for us, there should only be a few of those suckers scattered around.

7) Currents. Currents in the Strait of Gibraltar are tricky. In fact, the reason why Gibraltar is considered one of the 7 most difficult swims in the world is due to these currents. We take a current out of Tarifa but quickly have to sprint out of it into the shipping lanes or we will most likely end up in Malaga. Approaching the coast a similar phenomenon will happen; we must swim hard to get out of the current headed to Libya or we won’t make it to the coast. This is especially tough because we will be at about 16,000 strokes into the swim at this point and won’t have much energy to pull on. In fact most people we have spoken to who have successfully crossed have had a particularly difficult time here. You drift further and further along the coast but do not approach it. Last night we met a Masters swimmer at the Club Natación Jerez who told us of his account of not being able to get out of this current and ended up swimming an extra 4km. Let’s just say, having escaped the ships and the whales, I hope there is something left in me to find success at the final stretch.

Rafa explains the complexity of the currents to the team

Rafa explains the complexity of the currents to the team

8) The shipping lane is another area of concern. Over 300 ships pass through the Strait on a daily basis. The traffic controllers in Tangier and Tarifa will be notifying the ships of our swim and hopefully they will respond by veering around us should we be headed for a collision. But these large ships aren’t always alert so if our captain sees us in danger, he will scoop us out of the water and take us 1km back to avoid a death-by-cargo-ship. Once the ship passes, we get dropped back in the water where we were taken out. Do I even try to imagine what I might feel like if I have to get back in the water at that point?

300 of these ships pass through the Strait each day

300 of these ships pass through the Strait each day

9) Good news came when we found out that if the side boat runs into us, we can push it away. Formerly we were told that under no circumstances could we touch the boat or we would disqualify our swim. So if we touch the support boat in an effort to avoid being smashed they won’t disqualify us.

10) Pulling Out. If one of us is consistently swimming too slowly, they will pull that person out. In this event we have decided as a team that we will drag that person ashore to finish the swim together. Unlikely but this swim will not be a success if we don’t finish together. I don’t expect this to happen, but we need to know that we can all have bad days and that nerves can take us down. Swimming in rougher seas causes me to tense up and not breathe so I will practice a few mantras to keep the nerves at bay like “it’s just water, it’s just water…”. I can also distract my mind by trying to imagine how on earth I am going to get to Barcelona to make my flight on Sunday or make lists of all of the things I still need to pack. My body will swim while my minds does mental gymnastics.

11) Fog. When there is an absence of wind there is fog. If there is fog, we will have to abort. So let’s concentrate on light winds to keep things clear.

12) Vomit. Finally, we should try not to swallow water as salt water would make us make us vomit. Vomiting once isn’t so much of a problem but continuous vomiting will wear us down and dehydrate us. If I am so nervous that I can’t breathe, then I will not be opening my mouth and hence won’t be at risk of swallowing water but I probably won’t make it to the first shipping lane either.

We plan on stopping every 45 minutes for a quick refueling and news from Mark and the Captain. If you have any messages you can send them to Mark (+34 626 106 785) via Whatsapp/text or comment on our Swim4Good Facebook page or on Twitter (@Swim4G) using the #Swim4Good hashtag. He will have a whiteboard to post important news and inspiring messages for us and he will be posting updates and photos of the swim on our Swim4Good Facebook Page. Mark will be our trainer, bartender, cheerleader, coach and communications director. He is key to our success so please don’t send him specific questions (Mom!) as he won’t have time to answer them.

Categories: Marine life, Open Water, Swim4Good

Tags: , ,

6 replies

  1. Emily…wow…I got tired from reading…let´s get in positive mood…everything will work out well…not only will you swim across but you also will be on time to fligh to Stanford…if it were Berkley I would be worried…abrazos Antonio

  2. I might have just cried a little for you! Your entry gave me such good insight into what you all are having to endure, so thank you! I love Suz and Mauricio and so I am quite certain I would really like you too! Many positive thoughts coming your way….you all can do this…you all can do this!! We are so proud of each of you.
    Lindsey (from North Carolina)

  3. Good luck Emily!
    It has to be friday !!
    Great reading too
    Abrazo, animo y suerte!


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