Irish marathon swimmer Stephen Redmond has one goal in life: to be the first human to conquer the infamous Ocean’s Seven of the world. With three swims already tucked under his cap, Redmond battled the 22-mile channel separating Los Angeles and Catalina Island. He had no idea it would be the toughest swim of his life. Click HERE to start at the beginning with Volume 1; all images by Chris Baldwin.
It is now just past 1 p.m. back in the boat, and Redmond is making his final slow, methodical, relentless push towards the shore. He looks like a strange, xenomorphic beast — a blubbery aquatic juggernaut, flabby around his barrel-like stomach, muscular and enlarged around his massive shoulders and arms. He’s fluorescent white, almost pink against the dark navy blue of the afternoon water. Under his arms to the back shoulder there’s an even whiter patch where viscous lanolin is smeared — much less foul smelling than the goose fat he’s accustomed to slathering over his body in Ireland. The overall effect lends him the look of a two-tone porpoise, strangely bonier and fatter at altering places.
He’s nearing the coast. Only there is no smooth sandy beach to land, the rock-filled breaks are numerous and treacherous—two swimmers already cracked ribs this winter. But he fights his way through the thick kelp beds, around the spraying rocks, and after twelve-and-a-half hours and 20 miles he hits ground and begins making a wobbly ascent to the shore. Yet he can’t quite stand up, his blood pressure shot, his massive pillar-like legs shaky like a newborn giraffe’s. Then he stands. “I never want to see this bloody place ever again,” is the first thing that angrily spills from his mouth.
Then Redmond flops on board with a loud thud, and thanks to the pale pallor of his Irish skin, the Vaseline jelly smeared across his wide body, and the ample blubber built up to survive the cold and dire energy needs of the swim, Stephen looks not unlike a beached manatee (for these cross channel swims, Redmond swells from 10 percent body fat to 18 percent). He just sits there motionless on the deck, a glistening mound of bluish flesh heaving with each shallow breath. Quickly the skipper throws a set of thick towels around him and tries to get Stephen up, but he’s not moving. “That was the hardest swim I ever swam,” he says with a protracted sigh that betrays the fatigue in his bones. “I couldn’t get over the current, I really didn’t think we were moving a lot of the time, Christ everything was hard. The dark…”
Redmond coming back to Earth below; hit the Jump to continue reading The Long Way Home vol 3: Marathon Swimming the Seven Channels of the World…
” He just sits there motionless on the deck, a glistening mound of bluish flesh heaving with each shallow breath…”
Soon he is in the shower, shivering violently, steaming hot water pouring over his body. His head falls into his hands heavy, where it remains as the water cascades over his shortly cropped scalp. He can’t believe it, he is finished. Clutching his head in his hands, it’s not clear his mind is even in his body at the moment. “I don’t wanna swim again. For a loooong time. I don’t even want to see water; the sooner I get off the boat the better.” He curses under his breath, muttering to no one in particular something about an “abject hatred of swimming.”
But as rotten as he’s feeling — eyes bloodshot and swollen shut from the brine, stomach empty and knotted, shoulder limp and battered, body convulsing and muscles in shutdown mode — there is a sparkle of recognition, even if he’s not totally there to witness it himself. “It’s a funny kind of sport; that one second touching the rock and everything becomes quite crystal clear. Simple. The whole swim is just for that one blinding second of brilliance; you couldn’t describe it to anybody, the finish,” mumbles Redmond, more to himself than anyone, his brain still out there swimming in the cosmos of post-traumatic shock. “It’s cataclysmic —it’s kind of a blinding flash in your head that you’ve made this swim. You try to imagine it over and over again, what it’s going to be like, and every one of them is different. You’re hooked into it and you can’t help yourself. You have to go again…”