28 December 2009

Magellan Swimmers try Beagle Channel in 2010

Four American swimmers to attempt January 2010 Beagle Channel crossing between Chile and Argentina, with support from Chilean Armada and Claudia Molkembuhr of Chiledeportes

In the third week of January, a trio from Brooklyn's Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS), together with a swim-partner from Seattle, will go after another frigid success to augment their 2009 Strait of Magellan swim: a Beagle Channel crossing. R. Cristian Vergara, 51, a Chilean-American accountant and accomplished distance-swimmer from Brooklyn, NY; Rachel Golub, 33, a New-York based musician and writer; and Olympic trials finalist and 200-meter butterfly world-record holder (50-55) Scott Lautman, 56, Human Resources Manager for Alaska Airlines in Seattle will swim the icy, choppy waters in simple bathing suits, caps and goggles. They will also be joined by another intrepid year-round CIBBOWS swimmer, Patricia Sener, 43, a photographer and casting director from Brooklyn, who was on the crew for their January 2009 Magellan swim.

The four are extremely grateful to Claudia Molkembuhr, a program director for Chiledeportes, without whom neither swim would have been possible. Molkembuhr has singlehandedly managed logistics and liaisoned with the Armada, making two extraordinary swims tangible for the team.

The swim will head North from Puerto Williams, Cabo de Hornos, Chile--the southernmost town in the world, just 75 miles from the last island of South America-- to Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego.

Chiledeportes, the Chilean Sports Ministry that organised the Strait of Magellan swim last January, has enlisted the Chilean Armada to support the swim. The organisation runs athletic programs for children, young adults and professional athletes across Chile.

"We anticipate that water temperature will be close to 4 degrees celsius, or 39.2 degrees fahrenheit," says Vergara. "Having swum for nearly two hours in those conditions on our Strait of Magellan crossing, we're confident that we'll be able to succeed in the Beagle Channel as well, though it certainly won't be any less physically or mentally challenging".

In fact, some of the most difficult challenges surrounding such a swim are logistical. Chiledeportes representative Claudia Nelyda Molkhembur Sapunar (Region de Magallanes) will co-ordinate with the Armada to determine which day will have the best weather, organise the escort boats and recruit coast guard personnel. The swim requires a large and well-coordinated support team of at least ten, as well as a large ship and several smaller boats.

"Serious training and cold-water acclimation are required for even a short swim in water under 40 degrees, but the exhilaration of swimming in such a remote place and our apparently freakish talent for cold tolerance took us across the Strait of Magellan in twice the time we'd anticipated", Golub weighs in. "We are really hoping to find clean waters there, but pollution taints even the most remote wilderness these days, and the Beagle Channel sees plenty of shipping traffic. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this swim is about re-asserting our connection with our environment, albeit in a rather extreme manner." Golub is developing a musical instrument that will play bodies of water in real time, using oceanographic data, to transpose the concept and emotions of the swim into music.

The swimmers will be in the water for at least one hour, depending on conditions, swim speed, and currents over the 3-mile distance. Only Lynne Cox, the pioneer of cold-water distance swimming, has successfully completed the crossing, which is complicated by strong currents, unpredictable weather, and frigid water temperatures. There are also pernicious katabatic winds in the Beagle: the uniquely ferocious and unpredictable Williwaw gusts up to 200 knots, coming off of the Andes under compression.

Cox did the initial swim in 1990 as a way to promote co-operation between the Chilean and Argentine Armadas in a region that has been plagued by bitter border disputes since the land was initially settled in the mid-20th century.

Team jackets have been graciously provided by Patagonia.

countdown to puerto williams

we leave in just over two weeks for Santiago.

this is one of these crazy moments in life when I feel poised to spring in about seventeen different directions. a week abed watching movies- I never knew Cool Hand Luke was such a religious parable!-- leaves me surprisingly fresh-minded, which is a good thing, because there's just too much about to happen: my vocal coming-out performance; some chamber-orchestra recording sessions; my record release in March; our trip South. I'm holding tight to the old adage that Lance always quotes: it's better to be fifteen percent undertrained than one percent overtrained. That's a grand thing, in my case, since I've been either working or ill so often this past month that I've only made it to the ocean two or three times. Time will tell. Stay tuned here for more details.

14 December 2009

the beagle has landed...

our swim dates aren't totally confirmed, but my travel plans are...southheading once again this january, arriving a month from today in Santiago, Chile, and with the incredible assistance of the intrepid Claudia Molkhembur Sapunar (of Chiledeportes, the Chilean ministry of sports) we have again enlisted the support of the Armada in Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams. We plan to swim from Puerto Williams, Chile, to Ushuaia, Argentina-- a distance of at least 3 miles in similar temperatures to the Strait of Magellan. We'd initially hoped to attempt a double crossing, but the distance doesn't seem short enough for that to be feasible (plus, getting out and back in to 38- or 39-degree water would be psychologically complex). Lynne Cox, my heroine in more ways than one, is the only woman who attempted and accomplished this swim. Lynne did the crossing in the early 90s, as a way to encourage co-operation between the Argentinian and Chilean Armadas (Coast Guard) at a time when the two countries were in bitter dispute over this remote southern area. Our goals are more personal, and have more to do with the challenge presented by the elements, the environment, and the joy of our ability to do these swims. We are also so thrilled to have Claudia on our team making this swim happen!

Sponsorship from Patagonia, the clothing company, is pending, and we are thankful to Kristo Torgersen for his help and support.

Water temperatures in NYC have reached the low 40s. It looks like we may be heading into the 30s by early 2010-- a rapid drop compared to last year. My body is ready for the challenge, but the initial cold days will test my endurance for pain in my hands. Luckily for my violin career, there doesn't seem to be any long-term damage from regular training in the 30s, as long as we don't stay in over 20 minutes. That's about a quarter-mile sprint, for those of you who might ask how far we swim when the water hits 32. We would swim longer, but we still have to get something on and make it up the beach! Even more pressing, i often have to rush off to play a concert somewhere.

I still haven't found my haute-couture bikini sponsor, sadly...