Photo of Ned Denison, Jills Vanegas and Jacques Tuset courtesy of Gary Emich on Devil’s Island.
“I started the bucket list for fun,” describes Triple Break visionary Ned Denison. “I enjoyed having the largest number of escapes [from former island prisons] for some years.
But in 2014, I noticed that a French swimmer had set a goal for 7 escapes that summer. There were only two viable options: lock him up or embrace his drive…so I invited Jacques Tuset to fly to Cork [Ireland], stay with me and swim Spike Island [together]. We ‘competed hard’ over a long weekend in four different swims – and forged a friendship. He returned the hospitality in France.”
That mutual respect and prison island brotherhood has led the duo to further develop the Triple Crown of Prison Island Swims to a global series of unique crossings.
“This past January, we took on Devil’s Island (French: île du Diable) just north of Brazil [shown above].”
Located 14 km (9 miles) off the coast of French Guiana in South America, île du Diable is the third largest island of the Îles du Salut island group in the Atlantic Ocean. The island was a part of the French Guiana penal colony for 101 years, from 1852 to 1953, known as internal exile for political prisoners.
The island-to-mainland course is part of the Prison Island Swims.
Denison and Tuset tackled the island-to-mainland course together with Jills Vanegas and Gary Emich this last 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 the other three 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.
The quartet was escorted by Bruce Foulquier, Michael McCabe and an experienced safety crew. “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,” said Denison as the trio finished their 13.3 km (8.3-mile) course from Île Saint-Joseph to the French Guiana mainland in 3 hours 45 minutes.
Denison and Tuset’s bucket list has steadily grown, discovering and disclosing new destinations for swimmers to try something completely different and definitely bit historic. The Triple Break Sites or Prison Island Swims below are listed by region and country:
* Mogador Island or Île Mogador (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.
* 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.
* Tasmania Island (Australia): 198 km to mainland, 70,000 individuals were transported there from the early 1800s.
* Hao Island (French Polynesia): 920 km to Tahiti, in the late 1980s, two French intelligence (DGSE) operatives were briefly confined to the military base on the island after France obtained their release from a New Zealand prison for sinking the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.
* 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.
* Isle of Pines (New Caledonia): 49 km to mainland, 3,000 individuals were deported from the Paris Commune in 1872.
* Côn Sơn Island (Vietnam): 85 km to mainland, was used as a prison from the 1960s to the 1980s.
* St. Helena (Australia): 4 km to mainland, was used as a prison between 1826 and 1932.
* Isla San Lucas (Costa Rica): 4 km to mainland, was used as a prison 1873 to 1991.
* Guantanamo Bay (Cuba): 90 km to Haiti, used as a prison in recent times by the American military.
* Coiba (Panama): 20 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1919 to 2004.
* Alderney Island (Alderney, Channel Islands): 15 km to mainland, was a camp for Russian slave workers for the German occupational forces during World War II.
* Goli otok (Croatia): 3 km to mainland, was used as a political prison from 1949 to 1989.
* Drakes Island (England): 0.75 km to mainland, Two famous Roundheads were imprisoned from 1662 to 1683 when both died on the island.
* Spitbank Fort (England): 1.3 km to mainland, was 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 and 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.
* Ile d’ Yeu (France): 20 km to mainland, was used until 1950s from 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 delle Femmine (Italy): 0.5 km to mainland, was used as a female-only penal colony in the 1600s.
* Isola di Capraia (Italy): 62 km to mainland, northwesternmost of the seven islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, 30 km to Corsica, 32 km to Elba, penal colony from 1873 to 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.
* Grmožur (Montenegro): 1.5 km to mainland, The “Alcatraz” of Montenego from 1843.
* Mamula Fortress (Montenegro): 1.2 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1800s.
* Bastøy (Norway): 2 km to mainland, was used in the 1898 as a children’s prison and now is trying to become the first ecological prison in the world.
* Cabrera (Spain): 25 km to mainland, was used in the early 1860s 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 m 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.
* Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, California, USA): 2.3 km to mainland, was the former isolated prison home of Al Capone and other celebrated American criminals.
* Santa Cruz (Santa Barbara, California, USA): 33 km to mainland, was used to house prisoner after Mexico’s independence from France.
* Fort Warren (Boston, Massachusetts, USA): On Georges Island, 11 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the American Civil War until 1862.
* Long Island (Boston, Massachusetts, USA): 1 km to mainland, during the Winter of 1676-1677 all the local American Indians were collected and abandoned on the island.
* Fort Jefferson (Key West, Florida, USA): 110 km to Key West Florida, was used as a prison for USA Civil War deserters and plotters who killed Abraham Lincoln.
* McNeil Island (Steilacoom, Washington, USA): 4.5 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1880s up to 1,200 inmates.
* Johnson Island (Alderson, West Virginia, USA): 5 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1861 with up 2,500 Conference prisoners.
* Peddocks Island (Boston, Massachusetts, USA): 0.4 km to mainland, was used as a prison during World War II for Italian prisoners.
* Deer Island (Boston, Massachusetts, USA): does not qualify because it is no longer separated from the mainland, but was used as a prison from 1880 to 1981.
* Rikers Island (New York City, New York, USA): 0.1 km to mainland, used as an active prison.
* Sunflower Island (Missouri, USA): is no longer an island. It was a prison during the Civil War for those with smallpox – and prior to that the location of a duel challenge with future President Abraham Lincoln.
* Île Saint-Joseph (French Guiana): 13.3 km to mainland, was a well-known location of the French penal system.
* Devil’s Island or Île du Diable (French Guiana): 14 km to mainland, was a well-known location of the French penal system and a leper colony.
* Ilha Anchieta (Brazil): 0.4 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1902 and 1952 at which point a prison riot led to its closure.
* Ilha Fernando de Noronha (Brazil): 350 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1900 and 1990.
* Ilha Grande (Brazil): 2 km to mainland, was used as a penal colony between 1900 and 1990.
* 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.
* Islet Mother (French Guiana) 11 km to mainland, started as a leper colony in the 18th Century and then became a prison for 600 convicts and political prisoners.
* Salvation Islands: Devil’s, St Joseph’s and Royale (French Guiana) 12.7 km – 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.
The Triple Break or Triple Crown of Prison Island Swims is nominated for the 2016 World Open Water Offering of the Year among the following:
1. Prison Island Swims (International)
2. KIM SWIMS (USA)
3. Samsung Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim (Turkey)
4. Ocean City Swim Club Unified Team / Legion of Ocean Heroes Surf Lifesaving Festival (USA)
5. KAATSU Aqua (Japan)
6. Hawaiʻi Tiger Shark Tracking (USA)
7. OceanFit (Australia)
8. The Power of Swimming or Simma med Stjärnorna (Sweden)
9. Wildswim.com (United Kingdom)
10. Instabeat (International)
11. Terroir Project Collection (Denmark)
12. Agar Plasticity (Japan)
13. Swimming in the Sink: An Episode of the Heart by Lynne Cox (USA)
14. Global Alert Platform by the Ocean Recovery Alliance (Hong Kong)
15. Blue Mind Summits by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols (International)
To vote for the WOWSA Awards, visit here. Online voting continues until December 31st 2016.
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