An Obscure World Record

Joe Oakes

Over the years I have chased down a few records that others seem to have overlooked.  In 1994, at age 60, I became the first person to swim in the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska.  At times I have done other things that some might think odd, but it has always been challenging, fun and kept me out of trouble.

So, as I approached my 83rd birthday I decided to sneak in another one.  Sylvia and I love sailing the world on Holland America’s cruise ships, and one of our favorites is the ms Prinsendam: It is one of the few ships with a salt water swimming pool.  A few years back we sailed around South America on the Prinsendam, with a foray off the coast of Antarctica.  It was my pleasure during our time in Antarctica to swim a mile in the ship’s pool: the air was cold, but the water was kept at a tolerable temperature.

In June of 2017 we found ourselves on the Prinsendam again, this time off the North Cape of Europe, in Nordkapp, Norway, beyond 71 degrees North Latitude, considerably north of the Arctic Circle.  After taking the ship’s land excursion to the magnificent North Cape, it was time for me to go for my new record:  By swimming a mile in the ship’s pool off the North Cape, I set the extremely obscure record (who really cares?) of swimming in the same swimming pool in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, half a world and thousands of miles apart.  The water in the pool had a slight chill, the sky was cloudy, and there was a cold Arctic breeze that made me want to stay in the (relatively) warm water.  And it was made possible by being faithful to the Prinsendam.

Note: Joe has done a few other things of note.  He is the only person to swim a mile and run a full marathon on all seven continents.  He is the only person to do all of the recognized Intercontinental Swims.  He has swum from Alcatraz 41 times.  And he completed a non-motorized circumnavigation of the earth.  In the interim, he and Sylvia found time to become a member of Holland America’s Presidents Club, with 1,500 days at sea.  All of the above were done after the age of 50.  You can find his books on

Editors Note: This was taken from the back cover of, Open Water Swimming: Lessons from Alcatraz. “Over the past 30 years Joe Oakes has guided more than 30,000 swimmers across the frigid waters from Alcatraz. He has finished open water swims all over the world; 130 marathons; 51 ultradistance runs and many triathlons (including six IRONMAN contests in Hawaii). Joe was the first person to swim from Russia to Alaska. For his adventurous travels, he was honored as a Fellow of the Britan’s Royal Geographical Society.” This book was co-authored with Gary Emich, who is the Alcatraz Swim record-holder, with 750 crossings without wetsuit or fins (as of the books publication date of 2009). With a Single Step is the story of Joe’s non-motorized circumnavigation of the earth. Joe’s son wrote a lengthy and interesting note about this book in the comment section at

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