Dancing with the Lion Mane Jellyfish: Abhejali swims from Northern Ireland to Scotland (35 km) in 10 hours 23:48
On Aug 15, 2017, Abhejali Bernardova, a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team from Zlin, Czech Republic, completed her 6th Oceans Seven challenge by conquering the North Channel from Donaghadee in Northern Ireland to Portpatrick in Scotland (35km - about the same distance as the English channel) in an excellent time of 10 hours 23:48, assisted by her experienced crew (Catalina, EC, Tsugaru): her sister Jana from London, Scottish team member Dhavala Stott and Jayalata from N.Y. According to the ILDSA (Irish Long Distance Swimming Association) it was the fastest crossing of the six solo swims so far of 2017.
The North Channel is widely regarded as one of the hardest sea swims in the world, due to low water temperatures (10-14°C, warmest in August), ubiquitous Lion mane jellyfish that surface with the sun, strong currents and very unpredictable and changeable weather. Abhejali is the first Czech swimmer – male or female - to swim the North Channel, the 17th woman overall and only the 49th person in the world to successfully complete the swim.
A 50:50 chance of a swim
The night before her actual swim, pilot Quinton Nelson said there was a 50:50 chance for a swim the next morning. Some forecasts were good, some predicted strong winds. It was agreed to meet at the boat at 5 a.m. in the morning to assess the actual weather conditions and make a final decision. On Tuesday morning, conditions on the Irish side were very calm, so it was a go – still with conflicting forecasts for the rest of the day and the distance. The team asked all her supporters to pray for conditions to stay good and swimmable - and maybe it helped. The wind only picked up a little to force 3 or 4 for a few hours later on, even though some forecasts had predicted force 6 or even 7. The sun came out quite soon, and rain came only an hour or so before the landing (it rained heavily on the way back). A few days after the spring tide, the currents were still quite strong and Abhejali was asked to swim hard, to feed only every hour to avoid wasting time and being swept off course, and even hours from the finish the pilot told her to keep up the pace and to give it her all. Still, currents pushed her back south past the nearest landing point, the lighthouse, adding another ½ mile. Water temps hovered around 14°C – but she had trained for that with ice baths at home and arriving early to the Irish Sea to acclimate, plus swimming hard all the way also helped. Special blessings were a dolphin and seal near the start and a beautiful rainbow over the landing point. Jellies were present – but the 12 stings on her arms were nothing compared to the painful stings she got in the Molokai Channel, Abhejali said.
The first successful swim across the cold North Channel actually took place exactly 70 years ago by Brit Tom Blower. The first woman in 1988 was Alison Streeter, the Queen of the English Channel. Abhejali said after the crossing: "I knew it was going to be challenging, because of the cold water, so I put on 12 pounds in preparation. The weather was not perfect, but it was the only slightly possible day in my swim window. In the end I was the only swimmer to attempt a North Channel swim that day. I encountered a lot of Lion Mane jellyfish and got stung by about a dozen of them, luckily not in my face. The weather worsened and the water was really cold, so I tried to swim as quickly as possible. Eventually we were caught up in heavy rain."
The Oceans Seven Challenge
Having swum 6 of the toughest Channels in the world: the English Channel (2011), Strait of Gibraltar (Europe to Africa, 2013), Catalina Channel (USA, 2015), Tsugaru Strait (Japan, 2016) and the Kai'wi Channel (Molokai to Oahu, Hawaii, 2017), only the Cook Strait in New Zealand is missing for Abhejali to complete her Oceans Seven, the marathon swimming equivalent of the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge, which only 7 people (3 women) in the world have achieved so far.
Abhejali has been practicing meditation and a vegetarian lifestyle since 1995, and she clearly feels that wholesome plant-based nutrition and the inner peace, poise and focus gained by her regular meditation practice are helping in her athletic endurance challenges in many ways. She also is a multiple Czech running champion for 100k and 24 hours and completed a six-day race in New York with 616 km. In March 2017 she organised the first 6 hour indoor swim race in the Czech Republic, which was quickly fully booked out. In her free time she also runs in and organizes the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, the longest relay run for Peace and Friendship in the world.
Through her channel swims Abhejali tries to connect places and people and inspire others to overcome their own perceived limitations.
For more information or to interview Abhejali, please contact: [email protected]
And here a very inspiring video about Abhejali's North Channel swim: