I’ve known Benja and his family for six years, and I’ve just been down visiting them in Punta Arenas, Chile, for a couple of weeks. Benja had already done his Strait swim before I arrived. He trained for this crossing for a year, both in the pool and in the river in Valdivia, where he is studying marine biology. The narrowest part of the strait is in the far north, starting from Punta Delgada on the mainland, about 5 km across to Bahía Azul, on the island of Tierra del Fuego.
Currents are strong throughout the Strait, but especially here at the narrows, so the timing of his crossing was very important: aiming to swim at slack current. But the Patagonia weather is wild! You can predict the tides weeks or even years in advance, but you never know what the weather is going to hand you. Fortunately, his chosen day of January 8th was relatively calm… so he, accompanied by his trainer and family, set out. And his crossing went perfectly. As Benja explains it, before he knew it Tierra del Fuego was right in front of him. His crossing time was just over an hour (1:01:35, to be exact), a new Chilean record.
Bárbara completed her swim while we were away – second Chilean woman ever to have swum the Strait. Benja and I returned to Punta Arenas to congratulate her. (Bárbara, who is a South American open-water swimming champion, had also just swum across from the mainland to the outer coastal island of Chiloé the week before). She did her Strait swim on February 13th, in a time of 1:24 (the strong current meant she actually swam an extra two km) – second Chilean woman ever to swim Magellan Strait, and the new Chilean female record holder.
Bárbara and and I had several days of overlap in Punta Arenas, staying with Benja and his family, and I sure enjoyed getting to know her. Here is a little video I shot of the two of them on one of their training swims (runs 1 minute 15s):
Later, the three of us went to the local pool together (yes, I will go swimming if the water temperature is acceptable…) They attempted to teach me flip-turns (which I did not master) and how to swim front crawl backwards (which I did master!) among other useful things (such as how to sink and crawl like a crab on the floor of the pool, and how to blow bubble rings from the bottom, two of Benja’s specialties). And, upon leaving Punta Arenas, Bárbara gave me a Chile swimming camp, which I now wear with pride, and which will always make me think of these two: inspiring swimmers and wonderful friends.
I am such a wuss in the cold water. But these cold-water addicts have really motivated me. I have a decent wetsuit, and I live just a 10-minute bike ride from Tonquin Beach. The nearest public swimming pool to do laps in is 125 km away… Of course I should train in the waters at my front door. I don’t really have any excuse, do I?
I am not saying I am going to do it. But I am seriously thinking about it.