Four SA swimmers join Arctic sea relay

2013-08-17 00:00

FOUR South Africans wearing only Speedo costumes, caps and goggles were among 60 relay swimmers to complete an icy and gruelling five-day, 134 km crossing of the treacherous Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska last week.

Ice swimmers Andrew Chin, Ram Barkai, Ryan Stramrood and Toks Viviers were part of the international relay swim in Arctic gale force winds, strong currents, five-metre swells and freezing water temperatures, the SA team said on their return this week.

The world-first epic relay adventure began on August 5 from Cape Dezhnev in remote Russia. A large Russian army vessel and two small Zodiac “rubber duck” boats supported the swimmers, for whom visibility in the stormy ocean was further hampered by thick fog.

At halfway, the water temperature dropped to two degrees Celsius, accompanied by a sub-zero wind chill, meaning the swimmers were severely tested, physically and mentally, they said.

“We prepared ourselves for cold water and flat sea, but for five days the sea boiled with fury,” said Barkai. “Nothing prepared us for that deadly combination.”

“At one stage, one of the swimmers was rescued with a fish gaff after sinking from cold and exhaustion. This was one of many crazy, frightening moments,” said Stramrood. “Swimmers started to drop out and we ended with only the strongest 15 enduring 15-minute intervals at a higher frequency,” he said.

After they reached Alaska, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the ship’s captain to congratulate the team. The swim has been submitted as verification for a world record.

Viviers said: “No words can describe how insane this expedition was.”

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