A British man aiming to be the first person to swim across the Atlantic said on Thursday he is grappling with sharks, jellyfish stings, choppy water — and a sea moth that tried to nest in his left ear.
Ex-policeman Ben Hooper, 38, says he embarked on the nearly 2,000 mile (3,200 km) crossing from Senegal to Brazil to prove that nothing is impossible, inspired by explorers like Ranulph Fiennes, who crossed the Antarctic on foot.
But since setting out on Nov. 13 he has only swum 67 nautical miles, meaning that at the current rate he will not arrive until early 2018, many months behind schedule. A former crew member said a support vessel had only packed food for 140 days.
“Yes, this is far tougher than envisaged,” said Hooper in a Facebook post. “Jellyfish sting me repeatedly every day and we have now seen sharks on two confirmed occasions,” he said, adding that he remained committed to swimming every mile.
Hooper told in an interview shortly before his departure that he had repellent made from rotting shark cartilage which is supposed to keep them at bay.
He is set to swim through shark breeding grounds near Brazil, where mothers may lash out to protect their young.
Ten days ago, he had to stop swimming and ask the medic to remove a sea moth nesting in his left ear. He has also been flipped over many times by large waves and encountered sprawling islands of floating trash.
Hooper’s post also confirmed that a second support vessel crammed with pasta and rice had returned to Dakar, forcing the team to rely on military ration packs.
In a message today on his social media account in response to rumours, Hooper said: “It has been brought to my notice that certain sections of social media networks have been casting aspersions as to the integrity of my trans-Atlantic swim.
To address the concerns of those who endeavour to scupper my World record making feat of human endurance, I make the following statement of the facts:
1. ALCOHOL – The support vessel S/Y ‘Big Blue’ is a dry boat; we do not and cannot partake of alcohol and I have not taken alcohol during the four years of preparation for this challenge.
2. HOT-TUBS – We are able to lower a cargo net into the water between the aft hulls of our support vessel upon which the crew are able to enter the ocean in safety without the fear of been lost at sea.
3. TRACKER – The two SPOT trackers on-board require charging from an electrical source and do not give a message indicating low battery. Additionally, they stop transmitting when our speed is low – which it often is when I am swimming. We do transmit our position via the VHF radio AIS system which is permanently switched on for safety and good seamanship reasons and can be monitored at any time by other vessels and by shore stations.
4. BATTERY LOW – Our generator failed soon after leaving Dakar meaning that our only means of charging batteries is our solar panels which do not produce electricity during the 12 hours of equatorial night. Electricity is limited to 12 volt batteries and prioritised as follows:
a. Water maker – without potable water we are all dead
b. VHF radio – for emergency GMDSS use, efficient and safe watch keeping and AIS
c. Navigation charts – to fix our position by GPS whenever Ben is in the water and hourly when out of the water
d. Satellite ‘phone – to pass messages to our UK Land Support team, to issue daily light-hearted blogs reflecting the mental capacity of a long distance swimmer, to send swim observation records to WOWSA for ratification and to receive regular weather reports and forecasts
e. Navigation lights – as required by maritime regulations
f. Swim watch – for post swim use of data to ratify the WOWSA observation sheets and ship’s logbook
g. Computers – to complete the ship’s log and transcription of WOWSA record sheets and convert into a format suitable for transmission via a satellite ‘phone with very limited band width
h. Cameras – for the documentary film
i. SPOT trackers – we don’t know when they are working
j. Personal tablets, computers, MP3 players and ‘phones
5. OBSERVER – The medical officer on-board the support vessel is independent of the expedition hierarchy and as such has the approval of WOWSA and Guinness world records to make factual and impartial records of the swim as agreed pre-swim with both WOWSA and Guinness. As an expedition with charitable aims, all personnel on the expedition are voluntary and unpaid. Observations are sent to WOWSA every few days in txt format and are backed up by the ship’s logbook each week and my swim watch post expedition.
6. MILES SWUM – These are recorded for each swim session on the WOWSA observation form and submitted every few days for ratification. As at 29th November 2016, I had completed 124 km = 67 nautical Miles = 4.11% of the total trans-Atlantic distance of 1,635 nautical Miles. As originally stated, I remain on target to cross in 120 to 140 days. My swim sessions only occur when conditions are safe for me to enter the water, be in the water and get back on the support vessel from the water. All decisions regarding safe swim conditions are recorded on the WOWSA observation sheets and ship’s logbook.
7. HOW I’M FEELING – Yes, this is far tougher than envisaged. I had expected the ocean to be more rolling and less choppy. I am regularly turned upside-down by freak waves and have currents all over the place during each session despite swimming in one direction. Jelly fish sting me repeatedly every day and we have now seen sharks on two confirmed occasions. The support vessel requires constant maintenance and repair meaning the crew get little rest during the day and fight the elements to main contact with me when I am swimming. Emotionally this is frustrating as the first few days have been far slower than anticipated and I am really missing regular contact my family and friends as the satellite communications have not proven to be as robust and reliable as promised. Physically I am taking a battering and needing regular attention from the expedition medical officer.
8. DIET – Military grade ration packs are our sole source of nourishment. They are convenient and high in calories, but we all miss “real” food. Swimming on an unfamiliar diet is not easy and I regularly vomit during swim sessions. We had hoped to be followed by a supply vessel with pasta, rice and other “normal” provisions but they returned to Dakar.
9. CLOTHING – As per the ‘Swim’ page on the Swim the Big Blue website, I swim wearing Arena trunks, goggles and Vaseline under my arms. When sunny, I have factor 50 sun cream on my back and shoulders. I do not use a shark cage or shark shield which requires 240 volt mains electricity to charge, neither do I wear a wetsuit as it is far too hot to wear the one that was specially designed for me.
10. SWIM RULES – All swim rules are detailed on the “Swim” page on the Swim the Big Blue website and were agreed with WOWSA and Guinness before the start of the swim as was the total swim distance of 1,635 nautical miles. Every mile must be swum – nothing is impossible!
To quote Dwight D Eisenhower ‘a sense of humour is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people and getting things done’.”