Darren Miller analyzed his 7 channel swims of the Oceans Seven:
Miller’s impressions on the relative level of difficulty for the Oceans Seven channels are as follows (from most difficult to least):
1. Tsugaru Channel
2. Molokai Channel
3. North Channel
4. Cook Strait
5. English Channel
6. Catalina Channel
7. Strait of Gibraltar
Miller explains, “I have been asked quite a bit recently on my ranking from easiest to difficult among the Oceans Seven swims. After some careful thought, I ranked the Tsugaru Channel as the most difficult due to the sheer aspect of swimming for 15:55, when mentally I was prepared for an 8:00 attempt. The temperature of the water was not an issue for the first 13:00, but was extremely difficult to navigate at times, and I felt that it simply did not quit punishing me. The final 2:00-3:00 was calmer waters; however I was not expecting the water temperature to drop into the upper-50s, when it was a solid mid-60s throughout. Being told to sprint for 2:00 after being beaten up for the first 14:00 was not a pleasant experience. The sheer aspect of continuing to push through the mental and physical barriers when I was told that I was not making any ground during the final few miles – only to be able to cut a 90-degree angle during the final mile(s) toward the Hokkaido coastline.
I ranked the Molokai Channel next in difficulty due to the intense undulating sea throughout the day, warm water and the mental challenge of knowing there was a more serious threat of marine life. The box jellies can be lethal; one direct sting can cause paralysis and a host of other problems. They surface one day a month, typically 10-days after the lunar cycle – the day we chose to swim. It was being asked about ‘whether I wanted to go during this time’ after a news report had flashing box jellyfish warning signs on the television the night before we left – all of this after zero sleep for three days leading up to the event. I remember being up the whole night on Molokai, listening to the ‘Any Given Sunday’ speech on my iPhone, picking hibiscus flowers off the ground to press and remembering the sounds of barking dogs and hens all night long. I was physically exhausted due to sleep deprivation around the half-way point when Jeff yelled that if I kept up my pace I would be in under the current record – so glad he did. It was one of the toughest barriers I ever had to push through in my swimming.
The North Channel was next in line because of the stress I was under for the weeks leading up to the swim knowing that I wanted to finish the Oceans Seven with a flawless record. I had to complete it because I didn’t want to let down my sponsor, my hometown and the friends I’ve made around the world who were tuning in at all hours of the day to follow the SPOT tracker. Couple that with the fact it was notorious as the most difficult of the seven, due to the cold and overwhelming amount of Lion’s Mane jellyfish. The reality was my two weeks of acclimatizing (a 25-degree difference from back home) prior to the attempt allowed me to become more comfortable in the water. The water was fairly calm through the swim, I handled the mid-50s water and my exposure to the Lion’s Mane was limited. It was a long time spent in Northern Ireland – but so well worth it!
The Cook Strait and the English Channel were pretty much a tie, as the Cook Strait was a tougher swim for me than the Channel, however the Channel had more stress involved since it was the first major marathon swim I had attempted, as well the sheer aspect of it being ‘the Channel’. The Cook Strait had tougher tidal flows; however the Channel had colder water. The Cook Strait had a unique challenge since Craig Lenning and I had to stay together the entire time – not an easy feat in a tough waterway.
I ranked the Catalina Channel as one of the least difficult channels of the seven because the swim was a quick experience at 9:15, and was one of the most memorable because of my friends who were along for the journey. Although jumping into the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the night is an interesting experience to those of us not from the coast – especially those of us unfamiliar with the concept of not thinking about what is swimming below you. For the most part, the swim began around 67-degrees at Doctor’s Cove off Catalina Island, held mid/low 60s throughout and the final few miles dropping down below 60. Just an overall beautiful experience, and had such a great trip meeting many of Southern California’s finest marathon swimmers.
Probably not a shock, I put the Strait of Gibraltar as the easiest swim of the seven – it was also my favorite. Traveling ‘across the pond’ with Jen Schumacher, Kim Plewa, Michelle Nelson, Jamie Patrick, and Oliver Wilkinson (with Brian Patterson as our photographer/interpreter) was just a wonderful experience as we got to spend a great deal of time together. Swimming a ‘four way’ across a relatively calm Strait, 59-degree water and it felt great the fact we fed off each other’s energy and excitement!”
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