Air temperature 4°C / 39°F, Water temperature 0°C / 32°F
Duration of swim: 17 minutes 30 seconds
There is an Inuit parable that tells of two wolves that battle inside each of us. One is a good wolf, the other is bad. The wolf you feed is the one that will win the flight.
I’ve never been able to successfully banish the bad wolf into the wilderness, and today I had to battle hard to keep him from ruining my swim.
It wasn’t just any swim. Today we did the flagship swim in the Bellingshausen Sea, to launch the Antarctica 2020 Campaign. It’s the reason I came down here again, and the swim I’ve been training for, ever since my emergency back surgery in May.
WOLF AT THE DOOR
We chose Half Moon Island as our site, and found the perfect location along a stony inlet with its own small iceberg, on what we hoped was the seal-free side of the island.
Two hundred metres into the kilometre-long swim, I knew I was in trouble. And that bad wolf was right beside me.
Sometimes during a swim you go to a very dark place, when doubts threaten to drag you under. It hasn’t been long since my surgery, and my body just isn’t moving like it should. I don’t have my kick back, and I wasn’t moving as quickly as I needed to. This became even more urgent when my tongue started to freeze; every time I turned my head to breathe, as well as taking in air I was gulping in sea water. I started to think I might not survive the swim.
Six months ago I was flat on my back in a hospital bed. Now I’m down here in Antarctica swimming in the environment I love more than any other. I should be elated. But during that swim I just felt exhausted. If it had just been about me, I would have given up after 200 metres.
I had David Mocke’s voice next to me urging me on, counting out the metres and urging me to dig deeper. I had all the team members here and back home who’ve travelled this road with me for the past two years as I’ve campaigned to have more marine protected areas (MPAs) declared in these splendid Antarctic seas. I knew how hard they had all worked to get me here today.
I also knew that now, on the back of our success with the Ross Sea MPA in October, we have the chance to create even more protected areas. MPAs that will help protect the livelihood of the creatures that have lived here for thousands of years. We have no right to take that away from them. But if we don’t protect them, the magnificent seas around Antarctica will go the way of all the others in the world.
I know the risks I face when I swim down here, but I consider them to be less than the risks the world will face if we lose.
Pics via Kelvin Trautman
Lewis Pugh is an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans
He was supported by the MS Midnatsol and the Hurtigruten Foundation