Courtesy of Ned Denison and Gary Emich, Devil’s Island.

Devil’s Island (French: île du Diable) is the third largest island of the Îles du Salut island group in the Atlantic Ocean, located 14 km (9 miles) off the coast of French Guiana in South America.

The island was a part of the controversial French penal colony of French Guiana for 101 years, from 1852 to 1953, but in spite of its being the smallest part of the penal colony, it is the most famous due to its use of internal exile of political prisoners.

The island-to-mainland course is part of the Prison Island Swims.

Ned Denison, Jills Vanegas, Jacques Tuset, and Gary Emich attempted the swim in February.

Emich reports, “I gave it a go, but after fighting the 6-foot waves for 2 hours 54 minutes and covering close to 5 miles, my 65-year-old body had had it and I got out.”

But Denison made it. “Devil’s Island has restricted access. So we swam from Île Saint-Joseph where they had the prison pits. The closest distance to land is 12.7 km, but of course there was NO CHANCE of going there so we landed further up the coast.

Jills, Jacques, and I swam together and finished in just under 4 hours, but it felt like more than 6 hours
.”

It was Denison’s 10th prison island swim and Jacques’ 16th overall prison island swim.

There were 2 to 3 meter swells and strong winds sort of going in our general direction. A strong current meant we sprinted for the first hour as it swept us to our right. Jills didn’t quite get the message to sprint only for the first mile, so we were treated to a brisk pace setter. It seems that February is the worst time of the year to swim. It was a real adventure.”

The escort boat captain was Bruce Foulquier with crew Michael McCabe and an experienced safety crew. Two individuals have finned and snorkeled the crossing before in 8 hours and Vanegas who completed the crossing twice before.

Tuset, Denison and Vanegas finished the 13.3 km (8.3-mile) swim from Île Saint-Joseph to the French Guiana mainland in 3 hours, 45 minutes.

The swim back in February was an historic first and part of the Prison Island Swims that Tuset and Denison has championed and long promoted as its leading pioneers. For more details of their swim, read their Marathon Swimmers Federation report here.

Prison Island Swims (listed by region and country):

Africa
* Mogador Island (Morocco): 2.2 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the late 1800s
* Île de Gorée (Senegal) 5.2 km to mainland, was known as the location of the House of Slaves
* Robben Island (South Africa): 7.4 km to mainland, was the former isolated prison home of Nelson Mandela and other South Africans
* Changuu (Tanzania): 34 km to mainland and 4.5 km to Zanzibar, was used in the 1860s as a prison for rebellious slaves
* Saint Helena (UK Colony in South Atlantic Ocean): 1,800 km to mainland was used as a prison for Napoleon

Asia/Oceania
* Rottnest Island (Australia): 19.7 km to mainland, was used as an Aboriginal prison between 1838 and 1931 for men and boys
* Fort Denison (Australia): 1 km to mainland, was used as a prison and for hanging in the 1800s
* Cockatoo Island (Australia): 0.5 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1839 to 1869
* Gunkanjima Island (Japan): 15 km to Nagasaki, was used as a prison from 1930s to 1946 during World War II
* Sado Island (Japan): 40 km to Japanese mainland, was used as a prison from 722 to 1271
* Kwajalein Island (Marshall Islands): 2,865 km to Papua New Guinea as reported in Unbroken – Louis Zamperini Story – Execution Island from World War II
* Côn Sơn Island (Vietnam): 85 km to mainland, was used as a prison from the 1960s to the 1980s

Central America
* Isla San Lucas (Costa Rica): 4 km to mainland, was used as a prison 1873 to 1991
* Coiba (Panama): 20 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1919 to 2004

Europe
* Alderney Island (Channel Islands): 15 km to mainland, was a camp for Russian slave workers for the German occupational forces during World War II
* Spitbank Fort (England): 1.3 km to mainland, built in 1878 and served later as a prison
* Île du Levant (France): 12 km to mainland, was used as a children’s prison
* Fort Royal de Sainte-Marguerite (France): 1 km to mainland, was used as a military prison where the famous Man in the Iron Mask was held captive
* Le Château d’If (France): 5 km to mainland, was a fortress and prison for 400 best know through the novel The Count of Monte Cristo
* Fort Boyard (France): 18 km to mainland, is an oval-shaped fort and military prison
* Île de Brescou (Brescou Fort) (France): 1.5 km to mainland, was used from late 1600s for 200 year as a state prison for crimes such as treason
* Oleron Island (Île d’Oléron) (France): 3 km organised race to mainland, was used as a state prison between 1789-1870
* Château du Taureau (France): 0.7 km to mainland, was used in the 1720 as a small prison (10 prisoners maximum)
* Belle-Île (France): 15 km to mainland, was used from 1902 to 1977 for children
* Île d’Yeu (France): 20 km to mainland, was used until 1950s the 1860s as a state prison – famous for Marshal Petain
* Saint-Martin-de-Ré (France): 16 km to mainland, was used as a transfer prison for convict destines for Devil’s Island
* Makronisos (Greece): 5 km to mainland, was used in the 1946-1949 as a prison political prisoners
* Fortress of Bourtzi (Greece): 0.5 km to mainland, was used from the 1865s as a prison
* Spike Island (Ireland): 2 km off the larger Island of Cobh, was the former isolated prison home of infamous Irish inmates
* Isola di Capraia (Italy): 62 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1873 and 1986
* Pianosa (Italy): 18 km to mainland, was used from Roman times and later for Mafia members as a prison, part of the Tuscan Archipelago
* Elba (Italy): 22 km to mainland, was used as Napoleon’s prison, part of the Tuscan Archipelago
* Isola di Capraia (Italy): northwesternmost of the seven islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, 30 km to Corsica, 32 km to Elba, penal colony from 1873 to 1986
* Grmožur (Montenegro): 1.5 km to mainland, The Alcatraz of Montenegro from 1843
* Mamula Fortress (Montenegro): 1.2 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1800s
* Cabrera (Spain): 25 km to mainland, was used in the early 18060s as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars – once housing 25,000 prisoners
* Tabarca (Spain): 21 km to mainland, was used in the 1700s as a prison
* Isla de San Simón (Spain): 0.4 km to mainland, was used from 838 to 1927 as a prison and leper colony
* Långholmen (Sweden): 0.3 km to the center of Stockholm, was used as a prison for 250 years – closed in 1975

North America
* Alcatraz Island (U.S.A.): 2.3 km to mainland, was the former isolated prison home of Al Capone and other celebrated American criminals
* Santa Cruz (U.S.A.): 33 km to mainland, was used to house prisoner after Mexico’s independence from France
* Fort Warren (U.S.A.): 11 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the American Civil War 1862
* Fort Jefferson (U.S.A.): 110 km to Key West Florida, was used as a prison for USA Civil War deserters and plotters to kill Abraham Lincoln
* McNeil Island (U.S.A.): 4.5 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1880s up to 1,200 inmates
* Johnson Island (U.S.A.): 5 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1861 with up 2,500 Conference prisoners
* Peddocks Island (U.S.A.): 0.4 km to mainland, was used as a prison during World War II for Italian prisoners

South America
* Robinson Crusoe Island (Chile): 597 km to mainland, 1704, British privateer Alexander Selkirk was marooned from 1704 to 1709
* Gorgona Island (Columbia): 35 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1946 and 1959
* Isabela Island (Ecuador – Galápagos): 1,100 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1959 and 1984
* Devil’s Island (French Guiana) 14 km to mainland, was a well-known location of the French penal system and a leper colony
* El Frontón (Peru): 5 km to mainland, was used as a prison until the 20th century
* Île Saint-Joseph (French Guiana) 13.3 km to mainland was a well-known location of the French penal system

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association