Courtesy of WOWSA, Molokai Channel, Hawaii.

Hiroko Ashikawa is the first Japanese swimmer who is attempting the Oceans Seven.

But she has had a tough start in the Pacific Ocean. First she started her Oceans Seven journey in her home base of Japan. But weather conditions led to a DNS (Did Not Start) of her planned Tsugaru Channel crossing.

The non-stop did not deter her commitment and optimism.

So she was off to Hawaii where she prepared for a 42 km attempt across the Molokai Channel from Molokai to Oahu.

She started at 3:55 pm on April 1st and swam through the night with an experienced veteran escort team including Chris Harmes, Mike Scott and Shelley Oates-Wilding as kayakers and Michael Twigg-Smith as her escort pilot [see above].

After she got past the shore break on Molokai, she was swimming well over the gentle ocean swells in the channel from Sunday evening into early Monday morning without problems. But, then fate intervened. She was 7 km from shore when she was stung badly by a Portuguese man o war and by a box jellyfish at 12 km from the finish on her shoulders. The stings were bad and the venom was taking its toll.

Then she faced the worse-case scenario – even scarier than the painful jellyfish.

An oceanic whitetip shark swam close by and headed toward her and Oates-Wilding who was her kayaker at the time.

Ashikawa quickly climbed on the back of the kayak causing the kayak to flip. The kayak had a Shark Shield, which may have helped as Twigg-Smith and the others were able to get both Ashikawa and Oates-Wilding to safety on the escort boat. But the shark continued to circle the boat scaring everyone. Due to her stings and the shark encounter, Ashikawa was later taken to the local hospital when she returned to shore.

Wilding wrote on her Facebook page, “The challenge became very real for all of us! Can’t explain the feeling when you really are faced with a shark coming straight at you and someone you are taking care of…it wasn’t fear. It wasn’t distress or disbelief it was…he was in his ocean and we respected that, but we were not going to be his food today.

[The shark] came straight at me in the kayak as Ashiko clambered up the back over the Shark Shield.

With both of us awkwardly on, we slowly flipped into the ocean while our boat deterred the shark and we got back on while it continued to come at the boat and kayak.”

For additional first-hand details of the shark encounter, read here.

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