The Oceans Seven
The Oceans Seven is the most elusive goal among the world’s marathon swimmers. In order to achieve the Oceans Seven, they must cross 7 of the world’s toughest channels. (Note: The distances listed are the shortest straight-line distances from point-to-point, but the actual distance covered by swimmers is significantly greater due to the tidal movements and currents.)
Location: Channel between Ireland and Scotland. Also referred to as the Irish Channel.
Reasons for Difficulty: Heavy seas, cold water, thunderstorms and strong currents are among the natural elements that must be overcome in the 21 mile channel.
Window of Opportunity: July through September.
Hazards: Considered to be the most difficult channel swim in the world with the water temperature 54ºF, normally overcast days, and tremendous difficulty in accurately predicting weather and water conditions. Swimmers face large pods of jellyfish if conditions are calm.
Additional Information: Has been attempted at least 73 times since 1924, but only 23 successful solo swims and 8 relays have been achieved to date. Most of the attempts have been abandoned due to difficult conditions and hypothermia.
Swim crossings are governed by the rules set by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. First attempt was made in 1924 and the first success was 1947.
Location: Channel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.
Reasons for Difficulty: 16 nautical miles across immense tidal flows in icy water conditions among jellyfish and sharks are extremely stiff challenges for only the most capable and adventurous swimmers.
Window of Opportunity: November through May.
Hazards: 1 in 6 swimmers encounter sharks on their crossings. Sharks only come around to be nosey. No one has ever been attached during a swim. Both sides of the strait have rock cliffs. Cold water 57º-66ºF over 16 miles, and heavy chop.
Additional Information: To 2010, only 74 successful crossings had been made by 68 individuals from 8 countries. Hypothermia and change in weather conditions during a race are the most common reasons attempts fail.
Molokai Channel (or the Kaiwi Channel)
Location: Channel between the western coast of Molokai Island and the eastern coast of Oahu in Hawaii.
Reasons for Difficulty: 26 miles across a deep-water channel with extraordinarily strong currents in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and aggressive marine life.
Window of Opportunity: As conditions permit.
Hazards: Extremely large rolling swells, strong winds, tropical heat and very warm salty water offset the incredibly beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands and deep-blue underwater scenery.
Additional Information: Deep-water channel with beautiful views of the Hawaiian Islands; was first crossed in 1961 by Keo Nakama in 15 hours and 30 minutes.
Location: Channel between England and France with the narrowest point being in the Strait of Dover between Shakespeare Beach, Dover, England and Calais, France.
Reasons for Difficulty: An international waterway of 21 miles at its narrowest point, cold water temperatures, strong currents and ever-shifting water and weather conditions.
Window of Opportunity: June to September.
Hazards: The world’s most famous channel crossing with 1,290 successful solo swims; 640 relays since 1875, but thousands of failed attempts due to strong currents and tidal flows, strong winds and whitecaps caused by changing conditions and hypothermia.
Additional Information: Considered to be the standard for channel crossing with the rules and traditions significantly influencing the worldwide open water swimming community.
Location: Channel between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. Formal name is the San Pedro Channel.
Reasons for Difficulty: Cold water (especially near coast), strong currents, potential for strong winds, marine life and distance. Shortest point-to-point course is 21 miles from Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island to the San Pedro Peninsula.
Window of Opportunity: June to September.
Hazards: A deep-water channel that is comparable to the English Channel in terms of water conditions, difficulty, distance and the physical and mental challenges to the swimmer, although the water temperature is a bit warmer, mid-60°F. Marine life seen on occasion includes migrating whales and large pods of dolphins.
Additional Information: First successful swim was in January, 1927, when Canadian George Young won $25,000 in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim. He completed it in 15 hours and 44 minutes.
Location: Deep-water channel between Honshu, the main island of Japan where Tokyo is located, and Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Closest points are Tappi Misaki in Honshu and Shirakami Misaki in Hokkaido.
Reasons for Difficulty: An international waterway, 12 miles at its narrowest point. Swimmers must cross an extremely strong current between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, large swells and abundant marine life ranging from sharks to deadly sea snakes. English and other western languages are not spoken in the area. Water can be 62– 68ºF.
Window of Opportunity: July and August.
Hazards: Swimmers are swept long distances due to the extraordinarily strong currents flowing from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean. Swimmers face large blooms of squid during the night. Swimmers are challenged by occasional patches of cold water that flow up from the depths and are caused by the screws of the large oil tankers from the Middle East as they travel through to the West Coast of the U.S.
Additional Information: First crossed in 1990; only 19 confirmed solo crossings have been achieved to date.
Strait of Gibraltar
Location: Strait between Spain and Morocco that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Shortest point is between Punta Oliveros in Spain and Punta Cires in Morocco.
Reasons for Difficulty: 8 miles across an eastern flow of water from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea with an average of 3 knots (5.5 km per hour). Heavy boat traffic, logistical barriers and surface chop confront swimmers throughout each attempt.
Window of Opportunity: June to October.
Hazards: Its boundaries were known in antiquity as the Pillars of Hercules. The currents remain of Herculean strength. Combined with the unpredictability of the water conditions and high winds, 487 successful one-way crossings and 9 regulation double-crossings, and one triple crossing has been made to date.
Additional Information: Most attempts are made from Tarifa Island due to the influence of strong currents, a distance of 18.5– 22K (10– 12 miles).
Michelle Macy has completed the Oceans Seven. She currently holds the record time in the North Channel Swim for the fastest solo female; and, it gets better, for the fastest solo overall! Her time was 9 hours 35 minutes. Congratulations Michelle!
She is a member of OMS and swims with the Tualatin Hills Barracudas.