Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Bering Strait-Living life at the limit..

"One Cannot Be Prepared For Something, 
While Secretly Believing It Will Not Happen" Nelson Mandela

For me the moment we got the invitation of be part of the Bering Strait Relay, like a monster inside of me-I would walk over the street and start laughing, this random round of applause and often clinch with excitement that we were going to swim in the Bering Strait. I come from a fishing family, my job as a child was to sit on the back window for hours, watch the storm and wait for that moment when my dad’s boat would turn the rocks home. I took that job so seriously as a 7 yr old-I watched that storm and tried to figure out the waves. We have lost 3 boats to the sea, all men saved but I know the power of the water-respect for it beaten into me by generations but also inside is the need to be in the middle of it so taking on a swim in the Bering was as natural as breathing air to me.
Groundhog day off Roundstone... ! 

As swimmers, the sum of our experiences have brought us to this day-so privileged as to live life to the limit again. The Round Ireland Swim tested every fibre in our physical, mental and emotional-it felt brilliant being a member of that amazing team-the wheel was coming full circle and grown from our experiences this was one brilliant opportunity.
The full team had a huge infrastructure of swimmers, speed, endurance, strength, madness and experience-you need it all. Initially there was talk that the number would be too high but whatever it is, without doubt the Bering Strait would test everything.
The months leading up, we treated it as an expedition, Anne Marie and I planned for nutrition, and packed dried foods in case we wouldn’t be able to make meals etc, we brought coffee, tea, nuts, and protein.
always a panic in case no food!! 
Despite being on a hospital ship we packed all medical requirements from BP monitors to HR monitors, dioralytes, re hydration powders, antihistamines, painkillers-we went through every eventuality that we would manage and we catered for it. We packed torches, head torches, reflectors, I cut the whistles off my lifejacket and tied it to my swim togs, swimming lights, multiples of everything, thermals and finally our super immersion suits. I plan for everything-there is no loss in preparation. We were ready to go. Once in Dublin airport we met Padraig Mallon, I realised that I hadn't written a will so I did one there and then, photographed it, witnessed it. Reality... 

The fact that we knew and worked with about 60% of the swimmers in advance was brilliant..You are handing over your safety.  It is so fantastic to know where we sit in such a wonderful group and it was super filled with respect for each other-speed is an asset, so is strength, so is calm and so is endurance.
Never having been there, I started to study everything I could.

To do a risk assessment for any swim you talk about the end game-you discuss and try and manage the greatest risks-NEVER really thinking that they will happen but you plan for them, we would be working with a marine team whom we did not know-The swimming is the rotation of arms there are so many variables that we need to work on. You visualise the swim-you plan. we have seen it all so now we plan. 

  • How would swimmers transfer from rib to ship up the gangplank in big seas-from ship to rib is it a big drop?-how would we get onto the zodiacs in big seas, in trailing waves? 
  • If there are rolling waves knowing that the zodiac needs to be saved first with the crew-who saves the swimmer? is there a plan? 
  • Who would cover the swimmer heading off when the other swimmer was being picked up? 
  • What would happen in low light conditions? Is Fog an issue in the Bering? 
  • Would they use propeller guards on the outboards? 
  • What was the swimmer separation policy? Would the groups work in teams?
  • Did the coxswains know how to manage a swimmer? could the crews identify anxiety? 
  • Did the swimmers all know how to swim with a zodiac? or even in Open Water? 
  • How would the body respond to back to back immersions? 
  • Would the medical crew be enough for a huge volume of freezing swimmers? 
  • Would swimmers who had never seen open water before manage when exposed to the madness that is the Bering Strait? 
  • What was known about the tides you have thousands of miles of oceans trying to squeeze through a small gap? The back lash will be insane for water that can't make it-is that planned for? 
  • How would the team work under the pressure cooker of "nothing is personal"-would they understand it's about the end goal of just swimming to USA?
  • Would be agree on what is safety? 
  • How would the transfers work in freezing temperatures and really how would we work with each other-all experienced in our own areas-but how would we play together when the chips are down. it goes on and on.. Rotating your arms is nothing compared to the plan.. 
I put all of these out there in advance-some of them as far back as March/ April-you manage for end game, you manage for the casualty-you supersize the challenges and mostly you prepare the biggest monster. That's what we did.. 
Jackie, Moi, Melissa, AM

Arriving in Yatutsk was exhilarating. The team seemed absolutely huge in numbers and personality. On the journey to Yatutsk both Anne Marie and I were exhausted. Both coming from a work schedule that was massive so once we landed-our bodies started to drop. I had a fractured tooth which had loosened on a flight-I couldn’t believe I had forgotten dental cement. How was I going to manage a fractured tooth with freezing water? I was tortured. Ireland had been caught in a plankton bloom before we left with high sea temps, Anne Marie had picked up a skin infection made so much worse by 5 flights and airports. Bed rest and antihistimes it was. We had 5 days before any water as such. 

The primary meeting with the organisers was surreal. Their approach was so fantastic. We were a huge group. There will be one voice, one decision but all opinions would be listened to, I have a passion for the military approach-despite adversity there would always be a plan b, c, d and e. No Drama. I needed there not to have fear as a driver so this was so exciting.  I loved the message-we are here to succeed but not at the cost of safety.
However the edge is where we would hover. To physically be on that edge of survival is what life is about..  I love that moment. The most emotional moment at the beginning was the Shaman blessing. The Shaman are a very special group of spiritual leaders-we were invited into this room and the Shaman blessed our journey and brought positive energy to the group.You believe in everything.Our plane to the ship was a military one, supplied by Admiral Sidenko. Until you’re on this, there is no understanding. No air hostesses, no safety briefing, no over head luggage compartments, no attention to “please sit down”… just military pilots, doing a check as doors are closed and we roar up into the sky-no one was sitting down- I'm health and safety freak.. I was saying “will ye just cop on and sit down everyone”
No lights flashing nothing. They sat in the aisles, sharing a drink and a sandwich. It was a 3 hr flight.
Landing in a military airbase was surreal. The protocol-Lifting the luggage out of the hold ourselves in a production line, this was end game expedition-I was excited.

After a few festivities we went to the supermarket for last minute supplies and boarded the ship. All we could think about was water and purchased 10 litres, wine, fruit, some chocolate, washing powder and toilet paper-we were expedition ready.  We boarded the ship. The ship was huge and seeing everyone on the helipad, the realisation that this was a colossal expedition- we felt so proud to be flying our flag. 

It was one of the most surreal moments as they cast off the huge ropes.. a tug boat guided us from port and the reality that the next land we would see would be the USA-wWe stood on the helipad of a Russian Military Hospital Ship-with a team and crew of over 130 people.. from 17 countries, 15 Russian Federations. We had a team of medicals in a functional hospital-a crew who may have seen war- and would cater for every eventuality.. the highest level of Russian Military on board and the most committed fruitcake swimmers that you could put on one ship.. it was one flew over the cuckoo's nest in the best possible way... Laughing was all we could do-if we stopped for one second it sounded so strange.. we are preparing to swim from Russia to the USA for real.. wow.. 


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