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.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck. The global open water swimming community wishes you all well. Swim safely.