Back in 1969, Austrian adventurer Klaus Pechstein attempted to swim 1,231 km (765 miles) in an assisted (wetsuit) stage swim along the entire length of the Rhine River from Switzerland to the Netherlands. He made a valiant attempt in an earlier era, but he was forced to abandon his attempt somewhere in Rotterdam.
Despite heavy rains, strong currents and frequently changing weather conditions, the Professor ultimately completed the goal of swimming the Rhine with a large team of scientific collaborators and logistic enablers. The Professor not only swam the mighty Rhine, but he also stayed true to his calling as a teaching professor, research scientist and accomplished inventor. While Professor Fath swim from Lake Toma in the Graubünden Alps of Switzerland to the North Sea estuary in Hook of the Netherlands, he also conducted 28 days of unprecedented research in the Rhine.
“Yes, I am a bit crazy,” laughs Dr. Fath, a Furtwangen University Professor of Physical and Analytical Chemistry specializing in Ecological Engineering about his 1,231 km Rheines Wasser (Swim for Science). But he is also as inventive and inspirational as he is crazy.
“As a long-distance swimmer, I am passionate about water which also explains my interest as a scientist. Of course, the river will test me, but I’m going to test the river, too. I’m interested in how good the quality of the water all along the Rhine is, between the Alps and the North Sea.”
His Rheines Wasser was an athletic, navigational, logistical and scientific challenge. He gathered a large scientific and logistics team [see below] of colleagues and students from Furtwangen University and partners from the Water Technology Centre in Karlsruhe, the Alfred Wegener Institute in Helgoland, the University of Bayreuth, the Swiss aquatic research institute EAWAG, and the Dutch centre of excellence for sustainable water technology Wetsus.
Dr. Fath took water samples taken throughout his 28 days in the Rhine and tested the water for industrial chemicals, hormones, antidepressants,
sweeteners, antibiotics, painkillers, drugs, pathogens and micro-plastics. His project team also measured current speed, pH values, conductivity and the temperature of the water. “We collected a great deal of new scientific data including, for example, the level of micro-plastics’ pollution in the Rhine between the source and the North Sea. My real goal in the long run, after we analyzed the results of the Rhine measurements and determined the source of the pollutants, is to develop systems and processes which remove these substances before they even reach the water.”
While the former competitive swimmer spent a year training for the swim, he also prepared unique methods and instruments to test the water. He used a chip – that can detect up to 150 micro-organisms such as pathogens or bio indicators at the same time – and a special plastic membrane attached to the lower legs of his wetsuit in order to collected samples of the organic materials that he swam into.
The team included Martin Aichele, Windy Asridya, Johannes Baudrexel, Max Bodendorf, Michael Böhm, Tim Bornschein, Hubert Braxmaier, Dennis Carrer, Tatjana Engel, Christian Gehrig, Carsten Hennig, Anne Jenner, Dennis Kipper, Philipp Kron, Jana Lipowsky, Jonas Loritz, Erik Meiß,
Philipp Walter Neek, Jutta Neumann, Achim Rau, Mario Siebold, Carsten Tessmer, Tam-Tam Tran, captain Bernhard Vondenbusch, Helga Weinschrott, Norbert Kopp, Daniel Albiez, Franz Wölfle, Felix Wölfle, Helena Herner, Marina Taichrib, Morag Lehmann, Nicola Fath, and Leo Fath.
The 25 stages of this swim included the following:
Etappe 1: Lake Toma – Ilanz
Etappe 2: Ilanz – Chur
Etappe 3: Chur – Sargans
Etappe 4: Sargans – St. Margrethen
Etappe 5: St. Margrethen – Constance
Etappe 6: Constance – Stein am Rhein
Etappe 7: Stein am Rhein – Eglisau
Etappe 8: Eglisau – Bad Säckingen
Etappe 9: Bad Säckingen – Basel
Etappe 10: Basel – Breisach
Etappe 11: Breisach – Kehl
Etappe 12: Kehl – Karlsruhe
Etappe 13: Karlsruhe – Mannheim
Etappe 14: Mannheim – Mainz
Etappe 15: Mainz – St. Goar
Etappe 16: St. Goar – Koblenz
Etappe 17: Koblenz – Bonn
Etappe 18: Bonn – Köln
Etappe 19: Köln – Düsseldorf
Etappe 20: Düsseldorf – Götterswickerhamm
Etappe 21: Götterswickerhamm – Emmerich
Etappe 22: Emmerich – Wageningen
Etappe 23: Wageningen – Vreeswijk
Etappe 24: Vreeswijk – Rotterdam
Etappe 25: Rotterdam – Hoek van Holland
For more information on his stage swim, visit here.
Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association