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Round The Island Theme Achieved

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In July 1976, Dr. Sean O’Connell, a mathematics lecturer at Bermuda College, attempted the first swim around the island of Bermuda.

I had to quit during my first attempt because of currents against me were too strong and relentless, blocking progress for hours and hours with no end in sight. I had already been swimming for 35 hours and had only covered half the distance. It was truly hopeless and very frustrating,” recalls Dr. O’Connell. “[Along the route, I saw jellyfish and barracuda. Also, I noticed nurse sharks resting below during my failed try.

I was covered with Esso Multi-purpose Axel Grease before launching into the water. The idea was to protect my body temperature as long as possible but it wore off very quickly so was essentially useless.”

Six weeks later, Dr. O’Connell made a second attempt on August 21st. After 37.5 miles (60.3 km) later, he completed the first circumnatation, swimming clockwise around Bermuda and finishing on August 23rd.

Several key points [around Bermuda] proved to have strong currents both in training and during my failed try in July. Expert opinion seemed certain that such water flows are inherently unpredictable,” explained Dr. O’Connell. “Therefore, the smartest advice was to be flexible as to direction, to place dye-markers in the water right before starting near two of these trouble spots and choose direction based on the actual conditions then and there.

On the morning of August 21st, when this testing was carried out, the sea was dead calm so by starting at the marker just outside Ely Harbor by Robinson’s Marine and swimming clockwise, I could clear two of the three problem locations early on without difficulty early on.”

The swim was enabled by dozens of volunteers who manned the boats and helped with the logistics.

During Dr. O’Connell‘s 43 hour 27 minute swim, he encountered the expected salt inflammation and irritation that tropical marathon swimmers always encounter. “My regular feeds for the first few hours included apples, oranges, sandwiches, and Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed with Energol, liquid protein and milk. Pretty soon, eating anything became impossible due to the swelling and soreness of my mouth, lips and tongue from the salt water, so drinking was my only source of nourishment after that.”

But what he encountered – even after his 35-hour initial attempt – he was well-prepared for. “I did several training swims. I picked up the theme of “round the island” charity effort in 1979 by running around Bermuda, about 59 miles and then in 1981, pushing wheel chairs around. Both of these were successful. In 2001, I tried to surf-bike around Bermuda, but my bike broke down about 60% of the way into it, and I was forced to quit. All told, these initiatives raised about $30,000 for the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association. Then, the 30-year anniversary effort in 2006 raised another $30,000 thanks to those 50+ swimmers all doing sponsored legs.”

But it was a struggle. “The most physically challenging aspects of my swim were (a) continuing through utter exhaustion when my energy reserves were almost completely consumed, (b) fighting through the nausea and vomiting that afflicted me at the end of my journey, and (c) staying awake when the need for sleep was ever more pressing and oppressive.

The most mentally challenging aspects of my swim were (a) dealing with the terror of an actual shark attack coming at me at any instant, particularly at night, without warning, (b) coping with the alienation of living in a liquid world for such a long period, and (c) enduring the loneliness of the long distance swimmer when crawling through the darkness of the deep.”

30 years later, Dr. O’Connell did the final leg of the 30th anniversary swim. “It was roughly a 2-mile stretch. I also served as a consultant to Nick Strong of the Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association,” recalls Dr. O’Connell. “Over 50 swimmers took part in the swim between August 19th and 20th 2006 while securing sponsorship. This effort raised $30,000 for the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association.”

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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