Adam Walker tackles Japan’s Tsugaru Strait
Adam Walker has now completed five of the Oceans Seven swims. His fifth, Japan’s Tsugaru Strait, was his toughest yet. He tells the story here.
I arrived in Japan on Saturday evening 12 August. I’d had no sleep on the plane and was exhausted after a 12 hour flight. The next day I went to see the pilot and Japanese translator at 3pm and was told my swim would start at two the following morning – i.e. less than 11 hours away.
At this point I’d had five hours sleep in two days so was a little concerned with how tired I was. We asked a number of questions including the possibility of shark attacks. The translator said there were sharks out there but to date no one had been attacked, which provided little comfort.
We also asked if there was anywhere to heat up my drinks, which there wasn’t. Fortunately I didn’t see temperature as an issue as it was around 22 degrees in the water. However the translator said it does significantly drop close to the finish.
We then went to get some last minute provisions. I ended up going to bed at around 8.30pm but couldn’t sleep at all. At 1.30am I got dressed and made my way down to the boat with of my support crew: girlfriend Gemma and best friend John. We boarded the boat and after a few checks set off at 2.30am.
The boat trip was extremely rough and I became concerned we wouldn’t be able to start due to the wind and the size of the waves. The journey to the start should have taken around 90 minutes but it took an extra hour due to the waves.
Half way through the journey the translator said that we would go to the start and make a decision on whether the swim could go ahead. She also said the issue was that the following day was forecast to be worse and I only had a two day window and was concerned as I didn’t want to have gone all that way and not swim at all. By the time we arrived the sea looked a little calmer and the translator said the pilot believed it would improve closer to Hokkaido.
We waited a further 20 minutes and I made the decision to go for it. I jumped in the water bang on 5.30am and swam 100 metres to the nearest rock to start the swim in Honshu. I touched the rock and a siren was let off to signify the start of the swim. I was off and there was no turning back!
I started with a steady pace trying to keep my nerves under control. Gradually I got into a decent rhythm and, although felt a little tired, was generally in good shape. I knew the first two hours were always the worst but tried not to think about it. I got to 30 minutes into the swim when a big wave smacked me in the face. I swallowed a mouthful of the water and was instantly sick. Being sick seems to be part of every open water swim I do so this was not uncommon, although I wasn’t normally sick so soon into a swim and it was normally from physical tiredness. Anyway I carried on and tried to forget about it.
Shortly after being sick, I got stung in the face by jelly fish. I didn’t see them, so I knew they must have been very small but they caused discomfort nonetheless. I then got to the first hour and had my first first carb drink. I use Cytomax. Nearly all endurance swimmers use similar drinks as they are extremely high in carbohydrates. I’ve always struggled with these drinks for some reason and they can often make me sick. After the first drink at one hour I was actually sick again and something seemed wrong. I then continued to be sick for the next three hours.
At 3.5 hours I had an electrolyte drink for salt replacement and again was sick on this. I wasn’t sure what to do as this was becoming a real concern as I knew you burn about 1100 calories an hour while swimming and if you have 600 ml of carb drink you consume 300 calories. After two hours I decided to have drinks every 30 minutes but as mentioned before I just couldn’t keep them down.
Four hours in and I was then told the current was trying to push me sideways at two miles an hour, so I had to swim faster for 20 minutes, so I put a sprint on. After 15 minutes I was told the current had stopped so I could slow down again, much to my relief. The relief was short-lived though as the pilot soon said the current was flowing strongly again so could I please swim faster. This went on and off for the next six hours.
At this point I was 10 hours into the swim and tired for doing sprint sets. The crew told me I could take it easy for a while but over the next two and a half hours I was battered by waves, some as high as 2m.
This took everything out of me and I’ve never breathed so hard in my life. My chest was tight and my shoulders were really sore from the hours of swimming and being bashed around. I turned around to my crew and said my chest hurts and I feel really sick. They then began to get really worried as I was clearly close to total exhaustion. After another 90 minutes the waves seemed to subside and I saw land for the first time.
I began to believe I could complete the swim. However this channel still had more plans for me it seemed. I was told I had just 1.5 miles to go, so I pushed on for the next hour. I then asked how far left and it was told “two miles”. The current had pushed me back faster than I could swim. It then pushed me sideways for another hour.
By this time the sun was going down again and my next concern was that there would be sharks. Sure enough, 30 minutes later I saw a six foot shark swim underneath me.
The boat was around 50 metres away, so I shouted at them that I’d seen a shark and to come closer. They didn’t hear me and so I sprinted towards them. They told me to keep going and that the sideways current should subside soon.
I then swam yet another hour until I got the word that the current had stopped and I had 800 metres to go. I started sprinting like my life depended on it: 50 strokes, then another 50, then another 50. I was aiming for a lighthouse. At this point my left shoulder had packed in and I had a terrible pain in the middle of my right shoulder but was determined to finish.
I eventually landed after 15 hours 31 minutes and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
The translator said she was very emotional over what I went through to conquer the swim. The boat pilot said I was the strongest swimmer he’s evey seen which was a massive complement as there have been so many great swimmers who have taken on this swim. I was the first British person to complete the crossing and the 17th in the world. I have now finished five out of Oceans Seven and just Irish Sea (North Channel) and Cook Strait in New Zealand to be the first British person to complete the set. My aim is still to become the first person to complete every swim on his first attempt.
My swims are for whale and dolphin conservation and you can support their cause at:www.justgiving.com/japanswim
And please follow my progress on www.adamwalkeroceans7.co.uk