Tag Archives: Cuba to Florida

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 4 – Assisted or Unassisted?

Parts 1, 2, 3.

I’m really sorry that this is taking so long, I have better things to do myself! I’ve found it difficult to distil this subject down to essentials. I’ve written long series before, and there’s no way I’m giving Diana Nyad more blog parts than more important subjects like Understanding Cold Adaptation in Humans or Trent Grimsey’s  English Channel record. So you are getting long posts instead.

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An important moment came for me during the entire controversy. I’d asked for advice or even new questions from various swim friends for the review panel. One respondent, she knows who she is, gave some excellent media advice: Stick to the message, don’t get bogged down in technicalities that the public doesn’t understand or care about. I planned to do so. And then, on the panel, I realised that while it was excellent advice, it wasn’t the right advice for me just then.

I actually don’t really care if the American public paints an American flag on Diana Nyad’s face and makes her Queen. I only care about the swimming. (If I’d had to endure the media questioning, this may have been different but as a swim blogger, especially one outside the shadow Diana Nyad casts over the US media, I can both be dismissed and still retain freedom).

The words assisted or unassisted don’t matter to the general public, but they do matter … to me, to my friends, to the swimmers who came before Diana Nyad, to the swimmers who will come afterwards and they may even matter to Diana Nyad.

When you ask yourself who has a vested interest here, ask yourself which of us, myself or Diana Nyad, has more reasons for deception. (None of all this writing gains me one cent toward funding any of the swims I can’t afford to do).  If you are a Diana Nyad supporter, maybe you can ponder that while you are waiting for your credit card to process.

I speak for myself and no-one else. I came to believe that the level of deception was deliberate and purposeful, some unwittingly so by crew chosen with little understanding of the context and apparently no guiding rules.

The extent of that contravention is unknown. Experienced marathon swimmers and crew, who know what we are looking at, who can make judgements based on knowing when something looks wrong, will keep going back to this brief video when Diana Nyad is supposed to be going at her fastest pace due to a current assist.

The public through Diana Nyad’s website and Daily News of Open Water Swimming and repeated public speaking and writing were led to believe that the swims would be attempted unsupported, especially the 2011 and first 2012 swim.

In the absence of published rules, I can only infer that Diana Nyad contravened rules generally adhered to around the world for over a century. These rules are called English Channel rules and dictate swimming not just in the English Channel but any swim where aren’t specific local rules. They are guidelines. There are exceptions to these rules (Cook, Manhattan) BUT these exceptions are codified and in place BEFOREHAND, and not used to claim records and aren’t directly compared to unassisted swims.

The media and the Diana Nyad team have since the swim repeatedly focused on these words, “English Channel Rules“, and used them in a deceptive manner. “Throw out that stuffy rule book“, said one of Diana Nyad’s team on the forum, showing a profound lack of understanding of the debate. No-one ever said that Diana Nyad had to use these rules. However in the absence of any clarifying guidelines, for which no-one but Diana Nyad herself is responsible, these rules are a universal constant of marathon swimming, like water. Diana Nyad only has herself to blame because she squandered or deliberately misplaced any opportunity to clarify before and after every attempt.

If you want to play games with experts don’t be surprised when they don’t buy your line of bullshit.

I already mentioned that I was contacted, along with other swimmers, to “respectfully” contribute to a discussion of a device under consideration for the second 2012 swim. We’ve seen Diana Nyad use the word pre-emptively respectfully repeatedly with the media and with swimmers, and the media bite this hook. I’m not the most perceptive person you’ll meet in person but damn it if even I didn’t see it for what it was; media manipulation by an expert, to an uncomprehending, uncritical audience, and damn it if it doesn’t remind me of how when Lance Armstrong was questioned he always used cancer as the response to divert.

Prior to September 2013 the most discussed marathonswimmers.org forum discussion was the 2012 discussion of Diana Nyad’s second attempt of that year. Following the announcement of her “success” on her fifth attempt in early September this year, the forum lit up with discussion of that swim, of which thread I initially stayed clear. It has became the most discussed topic in forum history. What that tells you is that the majority of marathon swimmers, best qualified to understand and support or question, were engaged.

As I wrote previously those threads are fascinating reading and essential if you want the context and the thoughts of a wide selection of actual marathon swimmers, and also of some Diana Nyad crew and supporters.  There were extraordinary revelatory moments, amongst which was swimmer Andrew Malinak’s actually scouring of the data from Diana Nyad’s website, that led to the questions about Diana Nyad’s speed increase after thirty hours. It led to the subsequent engagement by Diana Nyad’s webmaster, Chris. (Had Diana Nyad ensured her Observers were of the same calibre of transparency as Chris, this issue could have been over by now). And Sarah Thomas’ hugely popular articulation of how many feel, and also Niek Kloot’s detective work on Walter Poenisch.

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It’s a lot isn’t it? The forum, the blogs, the newspaper and online articles, the media interviews, this seemingly interminable series… How can you really come to a definitive conclusion?

How can I get this monkey off my back? A soupçon of Socratic Method, cut by Occam’s Razor, leavened by gut feeling. Questions and answers. (Or lack of answers in this case).

Throughout this controversy there has been one recurring issue for actual marathon swimmers, rather than the adoring public, an issue that’s been growing: The question of integrity.

I’ll put it another way: There are serious questions over Diana Nyad’s probity and trustworthiness.

“But she’s a 64-year-old woman who did an astonishing swim you couldn’t do! She’s an amazing inspiration”.

Yes, I’ve already heard that. Playing to the gallery means nothing. Had Diana Nyad taken the most simple of steps, we could have been all celebrating her. But most of the people best qualified to understand Diana Nyad and her claimed success certainly aren’t so doing. You need to grasp that fact. The fact that most marathon swimmer’s don’t seem to believe Diana Nyad is a very telling weathervane.

Diana Nyad’s actions in the 1970’s and 1990’s were a demonstration of her questionable probity when she attacked both Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney in the media over their respective Cuba to Florida assisted swims. She attempted to subvert Walter Poenisches  attempt and unleashed a vicious attack on him afterwards, only retracted on legal threats. For over 30 years she falsely claimed to be the first woman to swim Around Manhattan.

(This article about Walter Poenisch, his wife and widow, and the part a much younger Diana Nyad played in trying to destroy his life is astonishing, essential reading).

Yet she herself is now being defensive and even duplicitous about similar issues. Her 2010 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims incontrovertibly showed that she was still not above misleading everyone prior to, during and after swims. It is safe to say that those swims alienated many members of the marathon swimming community. She held onto and got into support boats. She herself was the cause of the alienation, not this bad man from Ireland. She took the trust people initially placed in her as a swimmer, and she destroyed it.

She’s not the first swimmer to make dubious claims, and won’t be last but this is the swim where I draw my own line.

Here is the swim and the swimmer where I choose to say: No. I don’t believe you. Clearly, so anyone who chooses can hear.

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Diana Nyad demonstrated a complete lack of interest in rules.

Rules. A small word, a big concept, but one that is easy to grasp. Rules are essential as guidelines for all human activity, and specific in the sporting realm. Clear published rules allows us the ability to judge and evaluate, to demonstrate fair play and to aid in the evaluation of effort, to present a level playing surface for all competitors. To separate the merely excellent from the truly historic or exceptional.

Rules aren’t a burden. They also protect the average honest athlete giving their all to the effort, dividing them from the cheats and the self-promoters. One of the features of rules is that they need to be published. Why do I have to explain that rules need to be known to everyone BEFOREHAND? I’m frustrated that, in light of this shambles, I, an adult, am trying to explaining what rules are for and why, to you, other adults, all of whom already know this. 

Nor did Diana Nyad care about what actual marathon swimmer thought, despite her later protestations, despite the faux-respect of the panel. Our concerns previously had no effect on her, and she had only engaged when it became clear that we were being listened to. We weren’t disgruntled because we were feeling left out, or that we wanted to be in control, as the Extreme Dreamers would assert.

A brief perusal of the marathon swimmers forum will demonstrate a lively, energetic, engaged community, celebrating and supporting swims and swimmers around the world.

Instead we had genuine questions, that could so easily have been assuaged with information and some planning changes. They knew we were here, so they had to have known the questions and concerns. Diana Nyad also didn’t choose to get the marathon swimmers on her side, and you have to wonder why, since media and public attention is clearly at the heart of what she desires. Could it be that actual experienced swimming Observers would be so much more difficult to bamboozle?

Diana Nyad  has only reacted in 2013 because our debate got outside the swimming community, first published by Simon Griffiths and H2Open magazine on Septemeber the 2nd, then followed by a National Geographic web story and then Suzanne Sataline for the New York Times, which then very quickly became the story of the week. We were tarnishing the image, and far more importantly I suspect, the earning potential, and casting a shadow on her ego, so clearly seen in her claims of a new world record.

Her probity and integrity was amply demonstrated (and probably irreparably to the swimming community) to be at odds with the values of the marathon swimming community when she attacked volunteers. This is no small matter for people who place their dreams and lives into the safekeeping of those selfsame volunteers. The About page on Loneswimmer.com written well over three and a half years ago expressly thanks those who have helped me in my minor achievements. Every swimmer I know understands this. Without exception.

People have pointed out her attack on what she perceived as her competitors, Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, both of whom have acted in an entirely more honourable and open fashion regarding the same swim. I do think it’s possible to put that aside, even though a lack of willingness to help others in the community achieve swims is also anathema to marathon swimmers. The attack on the volunteers is very different and a repulsive attitude to the worldwide cadre of swimmers.

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The post-panel email discussion went on for over a week. Other additions to the panel included Skip Storch, who had attempted the swim in the 90’s,  Captain Timothy Johnson, Author of The History of Marathon Swimming, Sid Cassidy, a Team USA coach, and I’ve heard Lynne Cox was listening in (allegedly). Members of the panel were part of the post-swim discussion. A few days in, it seemed to me, (very subjective), that there may be a move to have some kind of a vote by the IMSHOF members, who would have included from the panel, I think, Steve Munatones, Skip Storch and Penny Dean.

Concerned something like a “star-chamber” might arise to decree the swim unassisted, Evan and I decided to give marathonswimmers.org forum members their chance to cast their decision. For 48 hours we ran a simple unannounced vote on the forum on this simple question:

Was Diana Nyad’s swim assisted or unassisted?

Unlike the WOWSA awards this wasn’t a public vote. We allowed no new membership applications during the time to avoid vote brigading, (the biggest problem with the WOWSA awards), no comments were allowed in the thread and there was no prior notification of its announcement, and no canvassing. Just a simple vote. Diana Nyad repeatedly spoke about the consensus of the marathon swimming community after her swim. Here was a way to see what that consensus was.

After 48 hours the vote was

82 votes for Assisted 

2 votes for Unassisted

Actual marathon swimmers had spoken. Overwhelmingly and unambiguously.

The consensus Diana Nyad which looked for has happened, but that consensus of marathon swimmers said her swim is Assisted. Which makes her the Third Assisted Cuba to Florida swimmer after Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney.

Two weeks after this vote, Diana Nyad, who reportedly said “I don’t want the record if they’re going to call it assisted because that’s the equivalent of fins or shark cage” is still doing the media rounds.

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I’m almost there, I promise, just one more to go. Stay with me and let’s all see this series through to the end.

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 3 – Diana Nyad, Penny Dean and me

Parts 1& 2.

As I said previously, I endured three hours of the panel on the telephone before bailing out about thirty minutes before the end. You are surely thinking to yourself, only three hours compared to this unending series? Yes, that’s how I feel also, actually. :-)

Swim promoter, panel organiser, Moderator and former Observer and Sponsor of Diana Nyad, Steve Munatones said there would be people from Hawaii to Germany on the call, but mine was the only voice from outside the USA, and as such I felt uncomfortable, a token voice of the stuffy English Channel community. The bad European from Hollywood movies, my Irish brogue an unusual substitute for the more common clipped tones of a German or English film baddie, (apologies to my English and German friends)! Rampant paranoia, I have to admit.

Because this wasn’t the world of swimming I know, the world of shite-talk about swimming, and craic* with friends at the Guillamene, in Sandycove or Dover, going for a Sandycove lap or three. Instead this was a world of famous swimmers, lawyers, media and manipulation.

Other facts contributed to my paranoia. In the lead-up to the call, Steve Munatones emailed that he was looking forward to my contributions on the subject of the current. This set off more alarm bells for me. I write here about tides and currents for swimmers, but mostly tides because I think it’s a woefully under-represented subject that’s really important for safety, and if I can learn something and pass it on that’s helpful.

Ocean currents are specific to their region and as such beyond my limited knowledge. I’m not even a sailor. The only ocean navigation map I have studied in any great detail is the English Channel map. I quickly disabused Steve of any notion that I claim expertise. I can understand the global and macro regional details but that’s about it and that’s only because I like reading about that stuff.

It was enough that I had to suffer the essential charade of the panel. Can we agree that I did so you didn’t have to?

I’ll stick mostly to my own input, with an occasional foray into other’s contributions as I saw them. Should any of the other panel members wish to add any comments here, please email them to me guys, and I’ll add them here (publicly identified Panel Members 1 to 10, number 11 Mike Lewis has his own paid outlet, he was a conflict-of-interest previous Nyad Observer, he can take a flying jump) .

The call started with Moderator and Diana Nyad supporter and swim promoter Steve Munatones introducing everyone very briefly, extended introductions would have been interminable (like this subject) and intimidating (for me).

Diana Nyad made a lengthy opening statement. The word respectfully was used by Diana Nyad again, apparently without any irony. It included a statement that she has never cheated in her life. As with almost everyone she said, I felt her statements were not for the panel or the subject, but with a firm eye to the media. Yes, I had preconceptions. I am not at all embarrassed by this.

Ding, Ding. Round 1

The significant first portion of the call contained John Bartlett outlining experience with his confirmation of the existence of the northerly current. Then we went through a round of Q&A with each member of the panel. John Bartlett answered some, Diana Nyad or Bonnie Stoll answered some others. Then next round would move onto the next subject.

You can jump the technical parts by going straight from the bold arrow below, to the next bold arrow further down.

——>> Jump.

Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page
Gertrude Ederle, just to break up the page

I can swim in the winter in Ireland because as every Irish school child knows, the 50º+ North Latitudes of Ireland and Great Britain is kept clear of ice during the winter months by the North Atlantic Drift current. This is part of the Global Thermohaline Circulation, also known as the Global Conveyor Belt. The North Atlantic Drift current is fed by the warm Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream comprises two main components, the important-for-our-discussion Florida Current and the Antilles Current which flows north and east of Cuba to where both join off the Florida coast. The Florida Current flows out of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean between Cuba and the Florida Keys, a long stretch of interconnected islands and atolls. Deep breath.

The Florida current is fed by the warm waters and weather of the western Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico and must flow in a north-easterly direction to exit into the Atlantic, since of course there is land is the way otherwise. This gap between Florida and Cuba is known as the Florida Strait. A Strait, like the Dover or Cook Straits, is a narrow stretch of water that connects two larger bodies of water and as such is usually typified by strong currents, the so-called finger-over-a-garden-hose effect.

To swim from Havana to Florida, Diana Nyad had to swim across this current to the north, when it would be trying to push her North-east, away from land. To see the effects on the path of a swimmer swimming across a normally three knot tidal current, look at the first section of almost any English Channel swimming map of which there are many out there. (Ignore Trent’s world record map as atypical). Aand relax.

——>> End of jump.

Part of the problem of analysing the swim is that Diana Nyad apparently swam almost due north across the usual flow of current or had it flowing directly behind her pushing her toward land. And she did so at a greater than world record pace. Bored yet? You will be.

John Bartlett, Team Nyad Navigator essentially said that the team had the advice of an oceanographer who used a process the oceanographer called altimetry. This is a phrase for measurement of the ocean surface height, presumably from satellite. I have been unable to determine the origin or wide-spread use of this phrase in meteorology but I do know satellite altimetry is used to measure tidal movement. Measuring the ocean height would lead to the identification of upwellings and downwellings. These are the flows of cold water (upwellings) and warm (downwellings water of water from and to the ocean surface respectively. One will supposedly come with an anti-clockwise rotation, the other with a clockwise rotation, I can’t remember which is which. I do know that other things such as prevailing wind also affects the surface current direction of either.

I’d like to point here out that I, a self-identified disbeliever of the Diana Nyad story and not-at-all-an-oceanographer-or-navigator, can convey this more clearly than any of the vague hand-waving of Team Nyad outside the panel, and apparently better than Diana Nyad, who was seemingly content to not understand any of this, as she herself said. I don’t really even want to go into the incredulous story of what they claimed about last year’s swim but briefly the pilot and handler knew the 2012 swim wasn’t possible but they went out for 40 hours of swimming anyway. Seriously.

Correct identification of the current state of the ocean would allow Team Nyad to catch an anti-clockwise gyre (rotational current) across the prevailing north-easterly current and essentially catch a free ride to Florida, pushed by currents. It sounds good to a layman. I’m a layman, so I can’t really interrogate it. All this took quite a while and I found John Bartlett credible, like I found Diana Nyad’s webmaster Chris, (who unfortunately had nothing to do with the swim). I know, you are shocked, you thought I was going to argue with everything. If so you misunderstand me.

John Bartlett says that he confirmed the presence or absence of this current over many trips out in the Florida Straits over at least two years, taking about 100 drift measurements. He spoke about using special equipment, but I’ve seen ordinary boats with regular GPS identify currents or lack thereof, so that means nothing one way or t’other, it’s just curious.

I wanted to use my first round of questions in a particular area related to this so I started asking about the measurements. I wanted to get to a quantification of the area of measurement, and measurement deficiency, and a feel for the GIS grid of the prediction. No idea what I’m talking about? That’s ok, I doubt any of the other panel members did either and please remember I really am not even slightly expert in these areas. it might be worthwhile taking a jump over the following section, as I can tell you now it led nowhere.

Jump ——>>

Here’s an analogy: Weather forecasting in the upper-latitude eastern United States is excellent and very detailed and specific in time compared to the western Irish Atlantic seaboard where it’s less accurate. Do you know part of the reason for this? The prevailing winds are the same for both in the same latitudes. But one of the factors that improves the US forecasting is the large number of sensors to the west. You can have a large number of sensors…because it’s land. West of Ireland is the Atlantic, and measurement is difficult because … deep water. Satellites are increasingly used but local sensors are still essential. The further apart the sensors the quicker minor variations between them turn in unexpected localised weather changes. Weather is a chaotic unpredictable system (technically a dynamic non-linear system), and this is exactly what the butterfly flapping its wings analogy is  intended to convey. The GIS grid is the Geographical Information System, or more simply the size of the measurement grid.

I was interested in trying to understand measurement time and distance intervals to see how granular they could get in identifying the magic current. To identify such a current, I think you would need a very small, very granular GIS measurement grid. Small in GIS terms is still intervals of miles. 

This line went nowhere, when John Barlett told us there was no Oceanographer to answer these details, so I stopped and I’m finally explaining here what I was trying to understand. If I had any chance of identifying the feasibility of the theory, I needed to understand how it is identified and measured.

I know Forrest Nelson, President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Association had a conversation separately a few days before with John Barlett, but I don’t know any more than that.

Oh, you want another more apt analogy, that speaks specifically to the subject of marathon swimming?

——>> End of jump

The English Channel waters, (yawn, yes here we go again, Diana Nyad supporters) west of Cap Gris Nez are the most swam marathon waters in the world and the highest marine traffic lanes in the world. The charts are therefore pretty complete and the waters relatively well understood. Yet, as many channel swimmers and pilots will tell you should you ask, (as I have ’cause I’m a Channel Junkie), unexpected currents, weather shifts and changes of timing regularly occur. Fast swimmers are slow, slow swimmer are fast. Tide show up 30 or more minutes early, or late. Localised micro-depressions appear (one did during Sylvain Estadieu’s swim) not visible on weather forecasts or radar. And this happens in an area with all this traffic and recording on both sides, and two actual marine traffic control centres exist. Get my point? Unpredictable, in a smaller area, even with fairly close measurements. So you can extrapolate from there why I was asking: I can guess cold water temperatures all I like based on experience, but I have to calibrate that against an actual thermometer.

The Scientific Method considers physical testing (i.e. measurement) as important as the actual hypothesis.  Intervals and measurement accuracy are important for understanding, and hence for prediction. 

Now there have been many public discussions of the biggest questions over Diana Nyad; the sudden and sustained speed increase, the direction, the lack of feeding. I’m not going to go through them one by one here but I will address them later. Once again, I point you back to the forum discussion which has all the relevant information. There will be no surprise data announcements in these posts. Instead I’m trying to do what I said to Diana Nyad I was going to try in my second round questions to her, to synthesize what was already available or discussed.

Round 2. Seconds out. Let’s keep those punches above the belt.

Penny Dean, a global legend in open water swimming, Steve Munatones’ and former US open water coach, former English Channel world record-holder and the woman who literally wrote the book on open water swimming, (sigh) had been at best sycophantic on the first round. She apologised to Diana Nyad for the questions she was being asked, obviously by the rest of us. But Penny had no right to apologise for us. Prior to any real discussion she congratulated Diana Nyad. I don’t like writing that and she is entitled to say anything she pleases given her record especially compared to me, but  I really don’t know why she was on the panel, if this was “a review panel”.

Possibly sensing the whitewash direction of the call, some of the panel shifted to a more direct path for the “second round”. Since I don’t want to speak for any of the panel I can say the questions varied and Barbara Held, someone who claims large admiration amongst marathon swimmers went directly to the point of the seven and half hours with no feeds. Dave Barra questioned which record Diana Nyad was actually claiming. Ron Collins asked about the apparent freshness of Diana Nyad immediately post-swim. Richard Clifford questioned on the discrepancy between videos and what was reported, such as apparent stroke rate, and recorded comments from the navigator. Evan Morrison asked specific questions about whether she exit the water or touched the boat and then about training. The answers were no (she didn’t exit), she couldn’t remember touching the boat, her speed is 50m per minute in training, i.e. two minutes per 100m but she can hold this “forever” and the unsolicited nonsense about peeing in the pool, again done for the media.

I’ll have to let those guys give their own public impression should they wish to so do but they all sounded great to me. I didn’t feel alone.

The call had already heard plenty of faux drawing-room courtesy, straight from Oscar Wilde with lots of effusiveness on both sides. I was somewhat sucked in, I’m now embarrassed to say. But this was an American call after all, I was the interloper, replete with Irish scepticism.

When the second round of questioning came to me, I waffled too long in asking my question. I hadn’t prepared it other than having it on a vague list, as I had no idea which way the call would develop. So I winged it, which led to a too-long introduction from me.

I was far too long-winded. But my essential question did make it through clearly: Why, in a swim with global visibility and of a commercial nature, therefore unlike any other swim, didn’t Diana Nyad set out to maximise transparency and use fully independent observers?

We as humans are attuned to communication signals. I sensed, in the ether of telephonic cyberspace, where the words in a telephone network switch meet, that Diana Nyad had just crossed me off her Christmas Card list.

The response was frosty and disingenuous, at best. As with earlier, I felt the answer really wasn’t going for me, but for the media, but further that I had made her uncomfortable. In the response, (no “I’m glad you asked that question” for me)  Diana Nyad said that she had been out of marathon swimming for 30 years and was unaware of the rules, and wasn’t aware that she needed to personally know the observers.

At this point Penny Dean intervened and started congratulating Diana Nyad again.

So I had to stop her.

Me, a nobody, had to stop one of the most famous open water swimmers of the latter half of the twentieth-century from speaking. You couldn’t hear it in my voice but I think there was a quaver. It was in a way one of the most scary moments of my swimming life.

I disabused Diana Nyad of her response. I said that the rules of marathon swimming go back 138 years and they were in place before she stopped and are well-known, and that I wasn’t postulating a mass conspiracy theory, nor did I believe in one. Essentially she was putting words in my mouth, (the old straw-man argument tactic, say your opponent said something they didn’t so you can knock it down).

She responded again this time saying that no-one in the marathon swimming community reached out to her. This response was utter nonsense.

If you’ve read the forum thread you will know that I said that a person (Ned Denison) had emailed Penny Palfrey, Diana Nyad and Steve Munatones 18 months previously with three options on how to handle a future swim, including an offer to actually set up an zero-cost official Florida Straits Swimming Association and allow Penny and Diana Nyad substantial input to setting out Florida Strait rules. Thus giving Diana Nyad exactly what she and her supporters have been saying, that only she or the first person to do it, which at that time could only have been Penny.

You’ll also know from the forum that she said she never received it, despite that Penny Palfrey and Steve Munatones had, and that Steve Munatones  was actually sitting beside her at that point. Steve neglected to mention this for the camera or anyone else. Diana Nyad said she couldn’t respond to an anonymous critic, which is fair, so I pointed out that the person (Ned) is an Honour Administrator in the International Marathon Swim Hall of Fame, which at least means a lot of people know him. When I said I would give the name to Steve Munatones privately, he never mentioned that he already knew whom it was.

Why would she turn this down? I can postulate that any prior disclosure of any rules at all was still too limiting to what she had planned.

On the forum Angel Yanigahara of Team Nyad later said that “perhaps only Diana, Chloe and Penny should make the rules for this body of water“. She is not the only supporter of Diana Nyad to make a similar claim. Indeed Diana Nyad herself back in the 1970’s claimed that the first swimmer got to make the rules, though of course Diana Nyad herself ruined the life of the first person to swim those waters, Walter Poenisch.

Would you like that bread buttered on both sides, Diana? And how about a slice of this special cake-that-you-can-have-and-eat also?

I also mentioned that Team Nyad had of course directly Tweeted me the previous year soliciting my opinion and input, as mentioned previously.

As was the tone of the entire call, when it suited Diana Nyad, her team were responsible whether either things went right or things went wrong, to suit herself and she, a journalist, doesn’t know how to use Twitter or Facebook.

I finished with the specific point that she had made two demonstrably incorrect claims regardless of what she had just claimed.

With that I was done. My foreboding of a whitewash and setup didn’t waver. I think that the reason Diana Nyad didn’t use the panel more widely afterwards was that she assumed we would be more easily wooed or impressed or roll over. Many important questions were never answered or even addressed, especially the other Observation questions.

Diana Nyad never did answer that question I’d asked.

I got two hours sleep and left for Dover, hoping to decompress from this nonsense and to crew for Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel butterfly. English Channel two-way legend Lisa Cummins was sitting beside me on the plane, and had to listen to it all, poor her. (If you haven’t visited Dover beach with Lisa, you really don’t understand how she is viewed).

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I’ve finished writing. I’m not even sure how to describe the next part except it’s long. Long even by these standards. There will be a final part after that, just in time for the Global Conference in Cork. I didn’t originally plan it that way, I found no way to comprehensively cover the subject and we know that DNOWS won’t do it. Far too many words and too much time on this for me.

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*I refuse to clarify this post with a definition of the indefinable yet quintessential Irish word craic. The easiest way to find is to come to the Global Conference in Cork. Lots will be had. For giggles, you could watch Steve Munatones and I dance warily around each other. We should teach him The Siege of Ennis … in swim togs. (Someone should teach me first).

Comments on Diana Nyad’s Heat Drip device

I’m writing this because Diana Nyad asked me on Twitter to comment on her blog, after I’d previously commented on Twitter regarding the unveiling of the Heat Drip device being considered for her Cuba to Florida swim. (To be clear, other than that, I have had no contact with Diana Nyad and don’t know her).

So you  need to watch this video first to understand the context.

When Diana called for respectful comments on her blog, in fact significant vitriol was aimed at the actual distance swimmers commenting about this device, by people who could not in one single case state that they were themselves distance swimmers. And it was based on that lopsided bias of blindly following someone rather than having an open debate by actual swimmers, that I decided to keep my response here, not wishing to add further to the circus over there.

If you want a one-line synopsis, I think it’s nonsense.

I also think the only people qualified to understand the context of the debate are other marathon swimmers and those involved in our sport. This probably applies to all sport of course. If you wish to see this as elitist, so be it, however, let me say there is nothing standing in your way of becoming qualified yourself, as all it requires is time and commitment.

I am an average Channel swimmer, nowhere near Diana’s capabilities with no desire to swim for 40+ hours. But I swim in and write mostly about cold water and Channel swimming, as you are all aware. But I have put in the time and the commitment which I believe gives me the ability and the right to comment. I sometimes feel like I’ve paid  my dues to get to stand on the stage wings and see the greats from the perspective of an insider rather than just the audience. I can hold up my head in their presence but I never delude myself I am one of them.

I believe strongly in the 137 year old principles of Channel swimming but I accept and also welcome the place of some improvements to opens up swimming to others and I have written previously in support of wetsuits to allow people to pursue dreams (though in retrospect I realise I was arguing a point that Scott Zornig hadn’t been making).

What I dislike (and the point that Scott Zornig and others have made, and that I agree with) is the blurring of boundaries by the media and some other folk to equate assisted swimming with “traditional” marathon or Channel swimming. I dislike the traditional term as it carries other disputed connotations such as conservative, bureaucratic or exclusive. As swimmers we have a responsibility to be clear & honest in what we do, as non-Channel and marathon swimmers strive to understand our world.

Announcing to the world that you are doing a stage swim rather than a Channel swim, only after you have gotten on the boat, is an example of this. I wrote last year that I lost interest in Diana Nyad’s swims as I believed this had happened. I may have been wrong, it may have been clear to others that Diana’s last swim was a stage swim, with which I have no problem, but if I was confused about what she was attempting, then likely so were others. This blog also is not intended to be purist but to reflect my interests and I am be interested in some stage swims such as Dan Martin’s (still hoping it’ll happen next year) Atlantic swim, because Dan is transparent about what he is planning. It is the confusion I dislike and mistrust, especially when people are disingenuous about their methods and goals.

Having set out my stall, I’ll address some of the points raised by Diana Nyad and her crew, but my primary contention is; hypothermia will NOT always occur when swimming in temps lower than body temps, contrary to statements by Diana supporters.

Hypothermia is offset by

  1. Swimming, which generates heat (thermogenesis)
  2. Fuel intake (food)

Hypothermia is delayed in cold water by acclimatisation training. Cold can be relative and acclimatisation training is the process of increasing cold exposure ability and duration by increasing brown fat in the body, lowering of stress hormones and heart rate and learning to stay efficient at lower temperatures. The acclimatisation training process is the swimming Lisa Cummins and Kevin Murphy and myself and all Sandycove and Channel swimmers put in in the depths of winter, by swimming in water temperatures of five to six degrees Celsius (38 to 40F) or whatever cold water temperatures are available. It is painful and dreary and numbing and yet utterly necessary.

We train so we can swim in cold water. Water that’s at most 18C in the English Channel (that’s unusually warm for the Channel). Water temperatures in the mid or high 20s C (80sF) are not “cold”. If they were then indoor pools would be dangerous and it beggars my believe that this assertion can be made. Open water swimmers often have problems with dehydration in water temperatures in the mid 20s as Ciarán and I did in Manhattan.

“But Diana will be swimming longer from Cuba to Florida” it’s say. Well King of the Channel Kevin Murphy spent 54 hours in the English Channel at an average of 16C. Lisa Cummins spent 35 hours in water under 17C. Lisa trains up to 12 hour sessions here in Ireland in temps of 11 to 15C.

It’s the training, it’s all in the training. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

If you are going to be cold at whatever your relative temperature is, then you train to offset hypothermia at that temperature. Of course there’s no denying ten degrees Celsius is cold and hypothermia will always result given enough time. At twenty degrees Celsius though Cold is certainly more of a relative  connotation since to many of us it is very warm.

Traditional rules specify a textile costume, hat and goggles. Nothing that aids heat retention.

On the practical side of this device, the idea of applying heat externally is, as others have pointed out and I have written about previously, actually dangerous to cold individuals, due to peripheral vaso-dilation, which will actually make someone colder as heat applied externally (except in a precise and controlled manner), will cause colder blood to flow to the core. This kind of puts the question to Diana’s assertion that her crew are “very smart”. They may well be but they obviously know little about cold if they think this is smart.

But that is a diversion. I assert that the expected temperature is not cold. To say temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius for a marathon swimmer is relatively cold is contrary to the experiences of the global community of marathon swimmers. Thermogenesis from swimming with constant energy supplied from food and liquid, (hot if necessary) is sufficient for swimmers of similar duration in far far colder water for over a hundred years. Also, contrary to what’s stated on the blog, there is no such thing as momentary hypothermia. Therefore I question Diana’s  “very smart” people assertion.

Apart from the issue of the practicality of the device is the more fundamental problem of actually using it. This device, contrary to Diana’s anecdote says about Channel swimmers in the 70s having buckets of cold water dumped over their head, is outside accepted practices in marathon swimming. No discussion should be required from experienced marathon swimmers to understand this. This should be understood as a core  aspect of what we do. Let me ask this question; if Diana was even considering the use of this device, anathema to Channel swimmers the world over, what other changes to normal practice could be compromised during her swim?

Not one Channel or marathon swimming association in the world would recognise Diana’s device as acceptable in a Channel swim under English Channel rules (or any variations thereof such as Manhattan, Cook etc) and senior and highly respected swimmers from these organisations have already spoken on this issue.

I wish Diana Nyad the best,  I think pursuing a dream in swimming regardless of what it is is laudable and I’d encourage everyone to so do.

But let me just say: Stephen Redmond.

It’s okay to make up one’s own rules for new swims, just so long the public isn’t misled into thinking that those rules equate to the generally accepted rules by Channel and marathon swimmers worldwide.

Penny Palfrey has started Cuba to Florida (at 12pm GMT)

Update: After swimming strongly all through Saturday, and well into Saturday night, unfortunately Penny was pulled after over 40 hours of swimming, around 6 am GMT, due to encountering a strong south-easterly current which was pushing her away from land. As always, thoughts and best wishes to the swimmer and her crew this morning.

(Mid-day GMT time, Friday 29th).

Her tracker is LIVE! at

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0cAjquq6FOarjFHTO97xpp2abd0R729uN

Penny’s twitter account for irregular direct updates.

For those of you non-swimmers, Cuba to Florida has long been a swim dream since Diana Nyad first attempted it in the mid 70’s. Susie Maroney swam it in a shark cage and wetsuit (so it is considered an assisted swim). Diana Nyad made two attempts last year, which, though beyond the reach of most of us, were coloured by deviations to the normally accepted rules of Channel swimming. She was stopped by severe agonizing jellyfish stings. She will make another attempt this year.

But if anyone in the world can do this it’s (Lisa Cummins or) Penny Palfrey. It will be a long weekend just watching, so imagine how it will be for Penny swimming. We are all behind her, Penny is considered currently the world’s greatest marathon swimmer by those in the sport (and will do this swim without the huge and all-pervasive publicity machine of Diana Nyad so there won’t be as many information sources).

Penny will FOLLOW this warm water beast, where there are huge risks of sharks and Box Jellyfish, (which cause enduring agony for swimmers stuck) by attempting to complete the Ocean’s 7 with The Mouth of Hell, the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, in August, at the other end of the temperature scale and with our local Lion’s Mane jellies which though not individiually as severe as Box, exist in larger blooms and have a paralysing cumulative toxic buildup effect.

Penny is a member of marathonswimmers.org forum, where she occasionally posted in-between all her insane training.

 

End Polio

The Penny Palfrey Project

 Astonishing ultramarathon swimmer Penny Palfrey launched a new website last week to promote and support her Cuba to Florida swim next June, AND next year’s Rotary Club charity Global Swimarathon to eliminate polio. The two are inextricably linked. Penny is the first Global Ambassador to end Polio, and she needs to fund-raise for the Cuba-Florida attempt.

Cuba to Florida has been attempted by a few, and even swum (by Susie Maroney) but in a shark cage. Penny will be swimming without a shark cage. Penny Palfrey is the world record holder for the longest solo unassisted open water ocean swim and Penny is regarded as “the best” open water marathon swimmer in the world, highly respected and admired by her peers and the one of the few people capable of defeating the water that divides Cuba from Florida.

The Rotary Global Swimarathon’s website. The swim will be on February 25th organised by local Rotary Clubs and you can register interest on the website for updates, download a poster for the project, donate to the charity or sponsor Penny directly. Sponsors can even get to join Penny’s team.

You can contact the Rotary Clubs in your area (e.g Irish Rotary club directory or International). I’ve contacted Waterford Rotary Club to offer assistance in organising a swim for that day. The original Rotary Swimarathon was a team relay to do the maximum number of lengths in 55 minutes, something many of us could do by ourselves. Why don’t you do the same?

And the Cuba to Florida isn’t all. Penny is signed up for the Mouth of Hell, the North Channel in August of next year, the last swim for her in her attempt to be the first to complete the Ocean’s Seven, having recently completed Tsugaru.

As the quote above says, marathon swimmers (and others) around the world consider Penny the world’s best. But it’s a costly sport. For Penny to complete these swims in her own words; “we need to raise the money to pay for it”; she doesn’t have a huge PR organisation.

The Rotary Club has a donation page for one-off, or recurring donations. The Rotary Foundation enables Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty.

Edit: By the way: here’s Penny’s Twitter account.

 

 

Global Swimathon, June 2012, Penny Palfrey Cuba to Florida, Stephen Redmond

From The Daily News of Open Water Swimming:

Rotary International emblem
Image via Wikipedia

The Rotary Club made an announcement about its Global Swimarathon with a bit of additional news on the open water swimming front. According to the press release issued on World Polio Day, Penny Palfrey is going to attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida sometime in June 2012.

The past 22 years, the Rotary Club of Grantham, England has held a highly successful RotarySwimarathon every February that has raised over £500,000 for local charities and deserving causes.

In 2012, the Rotary Club will also hold an extra event – the Rotary Global Swimarathon – that will attempt to break the world record (presently 2,533) for the most number of people swimming at the same time anywhere in the world. So far, swimmers from New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Hong Kong, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Argentina, Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Croatia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Holland, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Phillipines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Wales and the USA have registered in a charity event to eradicate polio.

Penny was named the official Ambassador of the Rotary Global Swimarathon in their ‘End Polio Now’ campaign. Concurrently, Penny will be in training to attempt the 168K channel between Cuba and Florida. 

The Rotary Global Swimarathon will take place on February 25th 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT. To qualify for the World Record attempt, swimmers will have to swim just 100 yards without stopping within the hour. There will be a nominal entrance fee which will all go to the Rotary Foundation and help in the campaign to rid the world of polio.

Contribution received will help Rotary raise US$200 million to match US$355 million in challenge grants received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting US$555 million will directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries, where polio continues to infect and paralyze children, robbing them of their futures and compounding the hardships faced by their families. 

Two big items there:

1. The global swim itself, something everyone can do, which will probably do more for open water swimming than that Ronan Keating nonsense.

2. Penny Palfrey to swim Cuba to Florida. If there was  rating system in non-professional open water swimming, Penny would certainly be recognised as the current world’s best marathon swimmer and someone I’d LOVE to meet, maybe some day I’ll be lucky.

Also from The Daily News is a Youtube link to Stephen Redmond talking about Catalina!