Ocean’s Seven

Marathon swimmers' hell or heaven?

The Ocean’s Seven is the name given to the toughest seven ocean swims in the world. In August 2014 marathon swimmer Adam Walker finished swimming them all becoming the first British person to complete the feat and only one of two in the world to do it first time without any failed attempts.

‘I started doing marathon swims after watching a movie called ‘On a clear day’ about a fictional character called Frank who loses his job and lost in his life, decides to see if he can swim the English Channel,’ says Adam Walker.

‘The movie resonated with me as I was a little lost in my career as an appliance sales man and wanted to put some markers down and see how capable I was.

‘I swam the English Channel and Gibraltar Straits and after that heard about a new challenge called ‘The Oceans Seven’ created by Steve Munatones, an ex-National US open water coach. The two swims I’d done were on it, and I wondered whether by some miracle I could do all seven!

‘To me Oceans Seven looked like the ultimate physical and mental challenge – testing myself against extreme cold, huge swells, strong current and deadly marine life.

‘I started in December 2006 having not swam competitively or trained for 8 years. I had no experience at all of open water swimming and swam initially for 45 minutes non-stop. I was very tired after the small session, but was determined to carry on. After 5 months I could do 5 hours in the pool. I then decided in February I had to test my open water swimming. I lasted 47 minutes in 9 degrees without a proper wet suit and became hypothermic with paramedics coming to my aid. It was a big lesson to build up slowly and respect open water. My next swim was 3.5 hours in the sea in August when it was warmer, followed by a 6 hour the week after and the rest is history. I didn’t have a regular coach and I trained before and after work including weekends.  I had to limit my training due to my shoulder injury.

‘I completed the swims in 2014. Here are the swims, in the order I completed them. The toughest swims? The Tsugaru Channel and Molokai Straits. The most magical? Swimming the Cook Strait a pod of dolphins swam around me – potentially protecting me from a shark – for one hour and a half.’

The English Channel

21 miles/ 14th July 2008 – 11 hours 35 minutes

The challenges are 15 degrees water temperature, strong tide, jelly fish and busiest shipping lane in the world. I swam from England to France. I was sick over 20 times, when I came in to the boat at 8 hours I had 3 miles to go. Another 1.5 hour later I still had 3 miles to go! I eventually finished in 11 hours 35 minutes. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my shoulder injury was a ruptured bicep tendon. After the swim my surgeon advised me not to swim long distance again. As this wasn’t an option I started to look into different ways of swimming to take pressure off my shoulders to prolong my swimming career.

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Gibraltar Straits

20 miles (2 way)/ 6th July 2011 – 9 hours 39 minutes

The strait has an abundance of marine life including whales, dolphins and jelly fish and is a tough swim. Most people swim from Spain to Morocco so they are assisted by the predominant current, I decided to do a two way as I knew the currents were twice as strong on the way back and would really test me. I broke two records in the process – I was the first British person to swim both ways, and did the one-way in 3 hours 25 minutes which was a record. It took over 6 hours to get back. I swam with dolphins and heard pilot whales during the swim.

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Molokai Straits, Hawaii

26 miles/ 21th June 2012 – 17 hours 2 minutes

The strait between Oahu and Molokai Islands in Hawaii may have warmer water at 22/23 degrees centigrade but it is known for being treacherous with huge swells, strong currents, and deadly marine life such as sharks and jelly fish. It’s a 26 mile swim, 5 miles more than the English Channel. I was stung by a Portuguese man o war after 13.5 hours in the dark, they have the poison of a cobra snake and can shut down your organs. I pulled tentacles off my stomach, lost feeling in my spine and had 3.5 hours to swim in agony to complete the swim.  I swam 37 miles in total as the currents pushed me sideways. It took every bit of will power to get across in 17 hours. I still have scars on my stomach from the tentacles.

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Catalina Channel, US

21 miles/ 16th October 2012 – 12 hours 15 minutes

The Catalina Channel is a 21 mile channel between Catalina Island and mainland LA in the States. It’s a testing endurance swim which has deadly marine life. You have to start the swim at midnight as the wind gets up in the afternoon. After 6 hours the sun came up and my bicep tendon ruptured – the re-emergence of a previous injury – and I had to swim for 6 hours with one arm to complete the swim. The fire service were out on their boat and cheered me in for the last few hours.

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Tsugaru Channel, Japan

15 miles/ 14th August 2013 – 15 hours 31 minutes

The Tsugaru Channel in Japan has been responsible for over 1000 drownings. Huge swells, deadly marine life and a current so strong it can be impossible to cross from Honshu to Hokkaido. I was sick for the first 4 hours of my swim and was told to sprint to beat the current. This continued for 11.5 hours with 10-12 foot swells. My heart has never beat so fast for so long. I saw a shark underneath me a couple of times and the current continued to hold me up for the last few hours. This was the joint toughest swim along with the Molokai Strait, however again made me mentally stronger.

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Cook Strait

16 miles/ 22nd April 2014 – 8 hours 36 minutes

The Cook Strait between North and South Island in New Zealand is another treacherous one which has captured hundreds of lives from ships capsizing. There are three currents to get across, otherwise you will be swept out to sea. I swam in April and the water was the coldest anyone has ever swam it at the end of April – 14 degrees. I was very sick at the start and at 3 hours dolphins surrounded me as if I was part of their pod. I looked underneath me and saw a shark hovering below. The dolphins encircled me for one and half hours. I am allowed a drink but can’t touch the boat and when I stopped the dolphins waited for me to continue. What makes it even more remarkable is all my seven swims have been in aid of whale and dolphin conservation. It felt like they were protecting me and guiding me home.

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North Channel

21 miles/ 6th August 2014 – 10 hours 45 minutes

The North Channel is the stretch of water between Ireland and Scotland. It is known for being packed with lion’s mane jelly fish – the biggest jelly fish in the world, who are also very poisonous. In addition the water temperature is very cold. I was stung a number of times, at one stage I swam backwards towards Ireland in an attempt to avoid swimming through them. When I finished it was surreal completing the Oceans Seven.

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