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Barrington Man Swims with Heart for ALS: Part 2

Doug Swims without fear
Doug Swims without fear
Doug McConnell

Doug McConnell, 56,is set out to achieve the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming when he competes in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) on June 28.

In the unique world of marathon swimming, successfully completing swims across the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and around Manhattan Island is considered the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming. If Doug completes the third leg of this challenge, he will be in a select group of fewer than 100 swimmers with that honor.

Here is part 2 of my interview with the Barrington resident.

Andrea: What is your next adventure after the Manhattan Island swim this month?

Doug: There certainly is no shortage of channels to swim in the world. Two future swims that we’re considering are the Strait of Gibraltar and the Molokai Channel. Just like my other open water, endurance swim -- Tampa Bay, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and the Island of Manhattan -- each has some interesting challenges:

Strait of Gibraltar - Swimmers start near Cadiz, Spain, and swim essentially straight south to the shore of Morocco. The Strait is about 11 statute miles, and most people swim it between five and seven hours. Because of the east/west orientation of the Strait, the prevailing weather is headed right down the “sleeve” that separates two huge continents. As a result, there can be some pretty wild waves moving west to east as you try to swim north to south. So, waves, currents and tides are considerations that you want to take pretty seriously and respectfully.

In addition, there is a great deal of commercial shipping traffic through that Strait, based on all of the commerce of the northern Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and North Africa. As we learned in swimming the English Channel (another huge shipping channel, with some 600 ships a day heading either north or south) a boat escorting a swimmer has the right of way over all other traffic. As a practical consideration, however, no swimmer wants to “play chicken” with an ocean-going freighter or tanker. The escort boats that take swimmers across the Strait of Gibraltar are inflatable Zodiac-style boats, and the typical tanker is 1,300 feet long. I can tell you from first-hand experience that tanker and container ships look pretty overwhelming from water level; it is like seeing something the size of your hometown go by. Even at slower speeds, they can generate a wake that has 10-foot waves.

Most people swim the Strait of Gibraltar in late summer, so cold water is typically not too much of a problem. Some wildlife has been reported, but isn’t the overwhelming issue with planning the swim. From a family/crew standpoint, we would love to do the Gibraltar swim. We have found that going to a place with a marathon swim as a goal is a pretty unique way to explore it; southern Spain should be no exception.

Molokai Channel - Swimmers start on Molokai and swim straight west to Oahu. The Molokai Channel is about 28 miles, and most people swim in it in 15 hours plus. The Molokai Channel is really open ocean. It can have very large waves (I have seen videos of 8-foot rollers) which to some extent can be managed around by the phases of the moon, but trade winds from the west definitely play a part. It is just a long, slow, grind-it-out kind of swim in what can be very lumpy seas.

Time of day plays a part, too, as marathon ocean swims are scheduled to take advantage (or to avoid the impact) of tidal movement. Hence, a Molokai swim is likely to be partially in the dark. Big segments of our English Channel and Catalina Channel swims were at night, and that blackness requires some fortitude. It is darkness like you have never seen before; as the swimmer, I can always see the escort boat, but the crew can only see me because of blinker lights I attach to my goggle strap. I can only imagine the ink-black sea along with the twinkling stars in the sky in Hawaii.

During the day, I am told that the water in the Molokai Channel is so crystal clear that it will mesmerize the swimmer. Hawaii is far enough south that cold water is not a problem, but with warmer water comes different challenges; wildlife. The area is known for two or three different species of sharks (including Great White and Tiger sharks) and stinging jellyfish are plentiful.

Of course, from a family/crew standpoint, a Hawaii swim is a high priority. I can’t say I blame them.

Coming up next, I asked Doug... What do you want people to remember most about you. Stay tuned for Part 3.

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