Fastnet: The Final Challenge, by Stephen Redmond
What does it take to swim the Oceans Seven?
Or rather, what did it take to become the first person to swim the Oceans Seven?
Stephen Redmond crossed the 29km wide Tsugaru Strait on his fourth attempt on 14 July 2012, his final swim of the Oceans Seven. It was the cumulation of a marathon swimming journey that started in the English Channel three years previously, when he didn’t even know about the Oceans Seven, a concept that had only been devised in 2008 by Steven Munatones.
After swimming the English Channel, Redmond thought he might have a go at the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland on the dubious grounds that it was in his own country and so should be relatively cheap as it didn’t involve flights or complicated logistics, but ignoring the fact that at this time only 10 people had completed it. He became only the second person ever to complete it on his first attempt. A good thing too, as the swim, despite being done on a budget, cost more than €4,000, and Redmond would not have been able to afford a second try.
At this stage, he thought he was done with channel swimming, and he was dealing with overdue credit card bills and trying to make up with his family for the time he’d taken away from them while training – not to mention the missed family holidays because the holiday budget had been spent on swimming. But as 2011 crept around, Redmond couldn’t shake off the idea of swimming from Europe to Africa across the Gibraltar Strait. He was thinking it was warmer and shorter than both the English and North Channels, so should be easy – or at least easier – and being in Europe certainly wouldn’t cost as much as the other Channels in the Oceans Seven. Naturally, it didn’t go quite to plan, but I’ll leave the details for when you read his book.
Of course, the Gibraltar Swim wasn’t the one last swim Redmond thought it would be. The Oceans Seven seed was planted and the idea wouldn’t leave him in peace. But with no funds, and having exhausted the patience of his family, his options were limited. The search for sponsorship was initially fruitless but with the support of friends, Redmond embarked on a series of fundraising activities, including having his chest waxed for the cause, and momentum built towards a trip to the USA and swims of the Catalina and Molokai Channels. The first proved more challenging than expected and on the second he is pulled from the water because of deteriorating weather conditions. The good news however was that Red Bull came on board as a sponsor and helped support a trip to New Zealand for the Cook Strait, a second attempt at Molokai, and finally Tsugaru, in Japan.
These far-flung swims tested Redmond’s planning, communication and diplomacy skills to the limit, as well as those of his friends and family. He reeled at being described as “selfish in the extreme” for his single-minded pursuit of the Oceans Seven. And at many times his obsession looked like it would end in failure. He admits to having to spend many nights sleeping in the spare room and to moments of deep despair. But each success lifted him to a new level. The joy of completing the Oceans Seven made the trials worth it. Despite the arguments, his wife and children remained loyal supporters, even when, nine years after completing the Oceans Seven, he wanted to do another epic swim, one right on his doorstep, to the Fastnet lighthouse and back. This time, his daughter joined him in the water to guide him home.
Fastnet: The Final Challenge is available on Amazon and is a fascinating read for anyone interested in marathon swimming or the struggle to complete epic challenges. Alternatively, buy direct from the publisher here: https://sweeneyodonovan.ie/