Aspen woman’s Atlantic swim carries an asterisk
February 9, 2009
Jennifer Figge is a hero to multitudes of wannabe athletes, but she didn’t even come close to swimming across the Atlantic Ocean.
If she had, she would have swum faster than Michael Phelps ” pre-bong ” hour after hour, day after day.
The 56-year-old Aspen resident started in Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and arrived at Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela 24 days later, on Thursday, a distance of some 2,700 miles.
At that rate, she would have had to swim about 112 miles a day.
She admitted that she didn’t swim at all five of those days, and that on several of the other days she swam for far less than eight hours.
So, if she averaged six hours a day for the 19 days that she did swim, she would have been swimming for 114 hours, or at a rate of 24 miles per hour.
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Someone who runs a four-minute mile goes at a pace of 15 mph.
For that matter, Benoit Lecomte, the French long-distance swimmer who in 1998 was credited with being the first to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, did nothing of the sort.
He traveled 3,716 miles between Cape Cod and Brittany, France in 73 days, including a week-long rest in the Azores.
According to reports he swam about 7 hours per day, or a maximum possible total of 462 hours.
To actually swim the 3,716 miles, he would have had to average slightly better than eight miles an hour.
That’s equiavalent to swimming a mile in about 7 1/2 minutes, or about half the time of the current world record for swimming a mile.
It is difficult for very good swimmers to average more than about 2 or 3 miles an hour for more than a few miles.
In the summer of 1966, Chinese Communist propagandists announced that Premier Mao Tse Tung, who was in his early 70s at the time, had just swum 14 kilometers across and down the Yangtze River ” some 10 miles in a little bit more than an hour.
That would have been a world record then, and would be a world record today.
To her credit, Figge never said she was going to swim the whole way. Her manager, David Higden, told the Guardian newspaper in London that that would be physically impossible or would take years. He said Figge didn’t get in the water as much as she wanted because the waves were so high.
But most of the other news articles about her swim imply that she swam across the ocean.
Figge swam behind a catamaran, inside a 20-foot by 13-foot cage that rested partly below the water.
She and her crew say they haven’t yet calculated how many miles she swam.
Good swimmers can swim a mile in about 20 minutes. If she could have kept up that pace hour after hour, day after day, she may have swum about 350 miles.
“Some of the more sensational stories made it sound like she got in the water at point A and never stopped swimming, like Nemo, until she got to Trinidad,” Higden told the Rocky Mountain News on Monday.
“That wasn’t the case, and it never was supposed to be the case.
“The plan all along was for her to swim a little bit every day and then get in the boat.”
In the middle of the ocean, a boat can’t drop anchor, so the boat continued westward during the hours she was aboard, he said.
The captain made the call when it was too dangerous for Figge to swim. That was any time the crew couldn’t see her because of the waves.
The most she swam in one day was 25 miles, and that was because there was a fast current moving with her, Higden said.
“Jennifer once told me, ‘This is about the romance, not the science,'” he said. “She loves to be in the water.
“She had an amazing will and drive and passion for doing this,” he said.
It would be a shame if the sensational inaccurate reports of her feat detracted from the great adventure, he said.
“Whales literally came up to her,” he said. “She swam with dolphins some days.
“There were also Portugese men-o-war” that chased her back into the boat.
“She did the swim that the sea gave her,” he said. “That’s all she could ask for.”
She finished not exhausted, but exhilarated, he said.
On Trinidad, she attended a steel-drum festival, where she experienced sensory overload, after all those days of seeing nothing but water and blue sky.
The plan is for her to sail to Tobago on Wednesday, and then swim back to Trinidad.
But it depends on what the sea gives her.
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