Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
The Seven Summits are the highest mountains in each of the seven continents.
Successfully scaling these mountains is a mountaineering challenge attained by only the strongest. As of 2007, 198 climbers have achieved this expensive and physically demanding goal.
Open water swimming’s version of the Seven Summits is the Oceans Seven.
The Oceans Seven includes (1) the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, (2) the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, (3) the Moloka’i Channel between Oahu and Molokai Islands in Hawaii, (4) the English Channel between England and France, (5) the Catalina Channel in Southern California, (6) the Tsugaru Channel between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan, and (7) the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa.
No human has yet to complete the Oceans Seven.
Achieving the Oceans Seven requires an ability to swim in both very cold and very warm seas. It also demands the swimmer is physically and mentally prepared to overcome every condition known to defeat open water swimmers, from strong currents to stiff winds.
Like its mountaineering cousin, the Oceans Seven requires a tremendous amount of planning, time, financial resources and multi-national support teams of knowledgeable local experts.
A description of the Oceans Seven follows. Note the distances listed are the shortest straight-line distances from point-to-point, but the actual distance covered by swimmers is significantly greater due to the tidal movements and currents.
1. North Channel
• Location: Channel between Ireland and Scotland.
• Reasons for Difficulty: Heavy seas, cold water, thunderstorms and strong currents are among the natural elements that must be overcome in the 33.7K (21 miles) channel.
• Window of Opportunity: July through September.
• Hazards: Considered to be the most difficult channel swim in the world with the water temperature 54ºF (12ºC), normally overcast days, and tremendous difficulty in accurately predicting weather and water conditions. Swimmers face large pods of jellyfish if conditions are calm.
• Description: Has been attempted at least 73 times since 1924, but only 8 successful solo swims and 5 relays have been achieved to date. Most of the attempts have been abandoned due to difficult conditions and hypothermia.
• Additional Information: Swim crossings are governed by the rules set by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. First attempt was made in 1924 and the first success was 1947.
2. Cook Strait
• Location: Channel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
• Reasons for Difficulty: 16 nautical miles (26K) across immense tidal flows in icy water conditions among jellyfish and sharks are extremely stiff challenges for only the most capable and adventurous swimmers.
• Window of Opportunity: November through May.
• Hazards: 1 in 6 swimmers encounter sharks on their crossings. Sharks only come around to be nosey. No one has ever been attached during a swim. Both sides of the strait have rock cliffs. Cold water (14ºC-19ºC or 57ºC-66ºF) over 26 kilometers and heavy chop.
• Additional Information: To date, only 71 successful crossings have been made by 61 individuals from 8 countries. Hypothermia and change in weather conditions during a race are the most common reasons attempts fail.
3. Molokai Channel (or the Kaiwi Channel)
• Location: Channel between the western coast of Moloka’i Island and the eastern coast of O’ahu in Hawaii
• Reasons for Difficulty: 26 miles (41.8K) across a deep-water (701 meters) channel with extraordinarily strong currents in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and aggressive marine life.
• Window of Opportunity: As conditions permit.
• Hazards: Extremely large rolling swells, strong winds and tropical heat and very warm salty water offset the incredibly beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands and deep-blue underwater scenery.
• Additional Information: Deep-water channel with beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands was first crossed in 1961 by Keo Nakama in 15 hours and 30 minutes and has only been crossed by 8 individuals to date.
4. English Channel (