SA Swimmers Victorious

SA swimmers complete epic world first relay from Russia to the USA

Four South Africans wearing only Speedo costumes caps and goggles have returned home triumphant after completing an icy and gruelling five-day, 134km relay crossing of the treacherous Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska, USA.

Ice swimmers Andrew Chin, Ram Barkai, Ryan Stramrood and Toks Viviers were part of the  international relay swim in Arctic gale force winds (at times up to 44 knots), strong currents, five metre swells and water temperatures ranging between 2◦C and 8◦C, the SA team said on their return.

The world-first epic relay adventure began on August 5 from Cape Dezhnev in remote Russia. A large Russian army vessel and two small Zodiac “rubber duck” boats supported the swimmers whose visibility in the stormy ocean was further hampered by thick fog.

At half way the water temperature dropped to 2◦C. Accompanied by a sub-zero wind chill, the swimmers were severely tested, physically and mentally, they said.

“Icy waters, darkness, fog and massive swells, made it feel insane,” said Chin.

“We prepared ourselves for cold water and flat sea, but for five days the sea boiled with fury” added Barkai. “Nothing prepared us for that deadly combination”.

“At one stage, one of the swimmers was rescued with a fish gaff after sinking from cold and exhaustion. This was one of many crazy, frightening moments,” said Stramrood. “Swimmers started to drop out and we ended with only the strongest 15 enduring 15 minute intervals at a higher frequency,” he added.

After reaching Alaska, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the ship’s Captain to congratulate the team. The swim has been submitted as verification for a world record.

“The SA team led the effort with flying colours — we even received a special letter from the Admiral in charge of the challenge, commending our efforts,” said Barkai.

Viviers added: “No words can describe how insane this expedition was.”

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