The Longest Swim: Tropical Storm Hits Pacific Ocean Open Water Challenge

lonest swim ben lecomte

A severe tropical storm has disrupted the first week of Ben Lecomte's bid to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean.

Open water swimmer Lecomte began his 5,500-mile challenge last Tuesday, but has already missed out on two days in the water after Japan's Pacific coast was hit by a storm bringing heavy rain and winds of up to 60mph.

The 51-year-old and his support crew were forced to abandon their swim on day three last Thursday, and instead headed back closer to land and anchor. Day four was spent adjusting Lecomte's course so he could avoid the storm's path and resume swimming.

He started his swim from the Japanese coast, and is hoping to reach San Francisco in around 180 days.

"Our weather service advised us the threat had grown so much we needed to get of out the direct path," Lecomte wrote on his blog.

"For the sake of the overall effort, the only option for us was to go back towards land and anchor in a protected location, let the system pass and then sail back to where I stopped to resume swimming.

"Once we will be out in the open ocean and face those systems we would only be able to try to get away from them or if not we would have to ride them.

"I had mixed feelings when I first saw land again. I was slowly starting to seep into my rhythm of swimming, sleeping, and eating and yet this big developing weather system forced us to turn back for cover."

Before the storm, Lecomte hadn't quite managed to meet his pre-swim target of eight hours per day in the water, but had been making steady progress. He ended his first day's swimming after six hours on the advice of his medic, having covered around 11 miles, and had also remained in the water despite two shark scares.

Lecomte wrote: "In the fifth hour, my support RHIB got a call from Seeker to let us know that they had spotted a 5ft long shark. They were sending out our medic Maks on a kayak to bring us our shark protection device.

lonest swim ben lecomte

"Before Maks got to us I saw a 3ft long shark swimming right below me in the opposite direction. I stopped to look around but couldn’t see anything, I had limited visibility. Paul and Ty who were on the RHIB asked if I wanted to get out of the water but I decided it was safe to continue swimming so I just did."

Lecomte said an upset stomach made it hard to keep his food down initially, and a midnight pasta meal resulted in further bathroom visits overnight. The support boat had also drifted further than expected, so vital time was lost at the start of the second day as the crew navigated back to the spot where Lecomte had left the water the previous afternoon.

An extra layer helped Lecomte cope with the lower water temperature, and he stopped every 30 minutes for feeding with warm soup, but soon the declining weather conditions made things tougher.

"My hands felt the cold each time they were out of the water, and the top of my shoulder as well," he said. "It started raining and the air was colder than the water. During my feeding time, I noticed that Ty and Maks started to put on more layers and our visibility started to diminish.

"After about five hours, Maks grabbed my hands to assess my body temperature, his hands were colder than mine. Since our visibility was dropping and we were losing light, I decided to swim another half-hour before stopping for the day. At times we could not see Seeker, stopping was a wise thing to do."

With the worst of the storm having passed by the end of Sunday, Lecomte is hoping to resume the challenge and get back into his swimming rhythm today.