Jacques Tuset Talks Prison Island Swimming On WOWSA Live (In French)

Sponsored by KAATSU Global, Île Sainte-Marguerite, France.

Jacques Tuset, an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer, ice swimmer, and the King of Prison Island Swimming, talked about his swims and unique niche of open water swimming with International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame chairman Ned Denison on the 10 May 2020 edition of WOWSA Live.

Tuset has planned and completed 33 prison island swims to date including his 1.3 km swim from Île Sainte-Marguerite to Cannes, France which was previously used as a military prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was held captive.

English translation of Jacques Tuset’s interview by Catherine Fravalo:

Ned Denison: What was your best swim?

Jacques Tuset: Hi Ned and Steve. Hi to all marathon swimmers. My best swim, and the most memorable, remains the English Channel. It was certainly the most difficult and the most challenging for an open water swimmer. That day, I had sunshine at first followed by rain and wind, calm seas followed by 2-meter swells. Out of 6 boats that left on the day, there were 5 relay teams and 1 solo swimmer (myself) and I was the only one who finished. That really made a huge impression on me and afterwards I was awarded the Peter Van Vooren Trophy for the crossing completed in the most arduous conditions that year. I should add that Fabienne, my wife and most ardent supporter, gave birth to our son, William, one month later. William now is my top crew member on all my swim challenges. You can see why the English Channel holds a special place for me.

Ned Denison: What was your favourite swim, and why?

Jacques Tuset: Well, I have a lot of ‘favorites’ among my 400 or so swims. The one that made a very big impression on me was a swim I did in Hawaii in Waikiki Bay in 1999. I was swimming side by side with a Fijian swimmer when suddenly a pod of dolphins joined us and we swam together for half a kilometer in total harmony. It was pure magic.

Ned Denison: What was your most difficult swim and why was it so?

Jacques Tuset: Well, the swim which I found the toughest to complete was Capri–Naples. Capri–Naples, that’s 36 km and my boat pilot was a novice. He made the mistake of putting my feeds in the sun and after the first 3 hours it became impossible for me to feed. I was forced to continue swimming for another 6 hours without feeding, relying on my mental strength and determination, with no encouragement or support from the boat. It was a dreadful experience which caused me to doubt whether I would swim marathons again. I wanted to quit. Of course, 2 days later I had cheered up and two weeks after that I was in Greece for a 26 km marathon.

Ned Denison: Tell us about your Around Manhattan race in 2005.

Jacques Tuset: Manhattan was very traumatic for me because it was the first time I had to be pulled from a swim. We had started that morning in beautiful sunshine and for the first 5 hours the conditions were excellent. When I reached the Hudson River, in the last stretch so to speak, and as I was about to swim under the George Washington Bridge, the boat came up to me and told me that I needed to get out as the weather was taking a turn for the worst with a hurricane on the way. All swimmers must get out and wait until conditions improved and they would get back in the water. I climbed onto the boat and saw that the sky behind me had turned to black. It started to rain and all the boats filled with swimmers.

When we got to the start, the weather had changed again: the sun was shining and the conditions were perfect. I thought that we could have completed the swim and found the whole experience hugely frustrating. It took me 14 years to find the motivation to go back and complete the swim, which I did last summer.

Ned Denison: Devil’s Island swim. How difficult was it to organize the swim? Could you tell us about your chosen charity?

Jacques Tuset: You and I, Ned, did the Devil’s Island swim together to raise funds for France – Chloroïdérémie. Chloroideremia (English) is an inherited retinal disease that causes progressive blindness. It began with a contact I made through a swimming friend, Jean-Yves Faure, whose children are affected by the disease. Jean-Yves is a former French swimmer who competed at international level and whom I knew when I was younger. The idea was that I would swim under the banner of France-Chloroïdérémie and provide an opportunity to highlight the disease.

The first swim that I did for France – Chloroïdérémie was a swim in the Seine, across of the city of Paris over 12 km. The second swim was between Fort Boyard (a Napoleonic prison) and La Rochelle: that allowed us to get more people to learn about the disease. We then decided that we also needed to raise funds. That’s how we arrived at the prison-island break challenge and that’s how I met Ned.

The challenge caught people’s imaginations and I was approached by many people about the possibility of more prison-island breaks than I knew were possible. I began to make an inventory of prison-islands around the world.

Ned and I were interested in organizing a swim from the Salvation Islands (Îles du Salut, off the coast of French Guiana, north of Brazil – Devil’s Island in English. I tried to make contact with local swimmers and came upon a skipper who had good knowledge of the area and who had, among his relatives, a person who had suffered blindness. He became the connection which allowed us to make progress in the organization of the swim. We finally made it happen, with 2 other swimmers, Gary and Jilles, from Guiana.

For me, it was a great challenge, for personal and human reasons, as well as a great sports achievement and cultural experience. We had a great time, mixing with the locals, sufferers of the disease, etc.

Ned Denison: Tell us about your local club and how you take swimmers from marathons to ice-swimming.

Jacques Tuset: Initially, I swam on my own and trained alone in the sea. We all know that is not the best way as even good swimmers can suffer unexpected problems in the open water and it’s better to swim with others. I created a new group in my local club Aqualove, in Palavas, near Montpellier, with the idea of bringing together open water swimmers who were also swimming alone so they would have a group to swim with and be motivated to push towards new challenges.

When that was set up, we moved to ice-swimming, which as we know, relies a lot on mental preparation.

I also set up training camps for aspiring Channel swimmers. For instance, we organize a camp every April where swimmers can complete their 6 hours prior to their Channel swim. Unfortunately, it was not possible to have the camp this year because of the COVID-19 situation. We hope for better conditions next year.

Stéphane Lecat, that you mentioned earlier, asked me to organize and promote ice-swimming in France, which has not had the same popularity as elsewhere. 2 years ago we set up the French Winter Swimming Championship, with the French Swimming Federation.

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