Architect set for epic swim across Pacific

Mr Ben Lecomte in Choshi, Japan's Chiba prefecture, on Sunday. His bid to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean begins in Japan and is expected to take more than six months, finishing in San Francisco.
Mr Ben Lecomte in Choshi, Japan's Chiba prefecture, on Sunday. His bid to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean begins in Japan and is expected to take more than six months, finishing in San Francisco.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHOSHI (Japan) • Having once vowed never to attempt such madness again, Mr Ben Lecomte is set to take on giant waves, sharks and a pile of floating garbage the size of Texas in a perilous quest to swim across the Pacific Ocean.

His bid to become the first swimmer to accomplish the daunting 9,000km feat begins in Japan and is expected to take more than six months, finishing in San Francisco.

Part adventure, part scientific research, Mr Lecomte and his eight-person support team will conduct a host of experiments as they seek to raise awareness of ocean pollution and plastic contamination.

Two days after turning 51, Mr Lecomte will set off today, after which the swimmer will be at the mercy of the elements.

The danger of sharks and paralysing jellyfish also lurks - but the Texas-based architect tweaks the nose of fear. "I like to push my personal limit and try to find what that is," Mr Lecomte said in an interview aboard his yacht.

"The mental part is much more important than the physical. You have to make sure you always think about something positive or you always have something to think about... I try to disassociate my mind from my body and everything that happens to my body - pain or cold, I try to put aside."

He plans to swim for eight hours a day, burning more than 8,000 calories. The rest of the time he will rest, sleep and eat on the 20m support boat Discoverer that will drop him back in the water at the same spot he exits every day.

Mr Lecomte, who will wear a wetsuit, snorkel and fins, is no stranger to adventure. After swimming across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998, he promised himself "never again", but Mr Lecomte felt compelled to take on the monstrous Pacific after starting a family.

He leaves from Choshi fishing port in Chiba prefecture - the same starting point as Frenchman Gerard d'Aboville when he rowed solo across the Pacific in 1991.

Part of his daunting swim will take him through the Texas-size Great Pacific garbage patch that floats between Hawaii and California, where tangled plastic poses extra dangers. "Pollution of the ocean has a big impact," said the father-of-two, who will be gathering oceanographic and medical data for 27 scientific organisations, including Nasa. His team will collect water samples to learn more about the build-up of micro-plastics littering the area.

"When I was little and I was with my father walking on the beach, I didn't see any plastic, or hardly any. Now every time I go with my kids, we see plastic everywhere," said Mr Lecomte. "It made me think what (the) future for my kids is going to be like."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2018, with the headline 'Architect set for epic swim across Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe