T Minus 10ºC – Has Fergal Somerville Set The Standard?

Courtesy of WOWSA, North Channel, Northern Ireland – Scotland.

When Fergal Somerville of Dublin completed the first North Channel crossing of 2013, he may have set the standard in cold water endurance.

When Somerville completed the North Channel in 12 hours 21 minutes on June 16th, he accomplished it after the coldest winter in Ireland in 62 years and he was the only swimmer ever to do it before July. With the average water temperature of 9ºC (48ºF), Somerville may have swum the longest distance and time of anyone under 10ºC in history.

The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF) is reviewing its archives to confirm if there were other longer, colder swims anywhere in the world.

A cursory review of the cold water swims in the IMSHOF archives usually starts with the swims of Honour Swimmers Kevin Murphy of Great Britain and Cliff Lumsdon of Canada.

Canadian professional marathon swimmer Lumsdon once completed an 11 hour 35 minute crossing of the Straits Juan de Fuca between Washington State and Vancouver Island where water temperatures are reported to average 48ºC. He also swam 51.5 km (32 miles) in 18-plus hours in water ranging between 8.8° – 11.1°C (48°F – 52°F).

Over the course of his career, the British legend has experienced more than his fair share of long, cold little dips as he calls his marathon efforts. “…in [my] Loch Ness [crossing], I went unconscious for six hours because I went down with hypothermia. In fact when I am actually swimming, I hate it when I am in there. I spend the entire time thinking, ‘What am I doing here and when can I get out?'” What I enjoy doing is finishing. I enjoy the adrenalin rush, overcoming the odds including one’s own frailties.”

He explains the cold, “The temperature when I started my first North Channel swim over 11 hours 21 minutes was 9ºC (48ºF) but fortunately by half way across, it had warmed up to 12ºC (53ºF). Aurlandsfjord‘s 27.5 km in 10 hours 46 minutes was also a little chilly while passing the inflow from glacier lakes. But again, it warmed up later on and offers fantastic scenery if anybody fancies having a go at that one.

My hurt gauge of my hands and feet tells me that Loch Ness (10.5 hours) is generally 9-12ºC with colder patches across the deeper bits which can be more extensive if the water’s been churned up by the wind. When Des [Renford] and I raced in it [for 9 hours] there were said to be temperatures of 6-7ºC (42-44ºF). I don’t know because I was too numb, but neither of us made it to the end.”

Bert Thomas swam for 11 hours 17 minutes in 8.8°C (48°F) water on his fifth attempt to cross the 29 km (18-mile) Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island in Canada and the American state of Washington in 1955.

If any readers know of a verifiable solo open water swim that was longer in terms of time or distance and colder than Fergal Somerville‘s 12 hour 21 minute North Channel crossing this year, please contact the IMSHOF here at Long Cold Swims Under 10ºC.

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