Thursday, September 15, 2016

Elizabeth Fry Heads North To Hokkaido

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Elizabeth Fry trailblazed another channel to add another notch in her illustrious International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame career.

Fry, a 57-year-old financial services expert from New York, took off from the eastern peninsula of Honshu, the main island of Japan, and landed in Toi on the southern cape of Hokkaido, the northernmost major island of the Japanese archipelago after a tough 15 hours 48 minutes.

The Tsugaru Channel with only 19.5 km separating Honshu island from Hokkaido is a deceptively difficult strait to cross with its relentless winds, notorious currents and unpredictable eddies. "I was in shock as I had no idea how bad the current was," said Fry.

Her zig-zag crossing took her across the Tsugaru Current. "I am happy I never looked back." Compared to times of her other marathon swims and channel crossings, tackling the Tsugaru was indeed a challenge:

2016: Tsugaru Channel Honshu-to-Hokkaido, 15 hours 48 minutes (19.5 km)
2016: Molokai Channel tandem swim, 17 hours 30 minutes (42 km)
2016: Catalina Channel, 12 hours 37 minutes (32.5 km)
2015: English Channel, 12 hours 15 minutes (32.5 km)
2015: S.C.A.R. Canyon Lake, 7 hours 27 minutes (28.8 km)
2015: S.C.A.R. Saguaro Lake, 7 hours 32 minutes (30.4 km)
2015: S.C.A.R. Apache Lake, 15 hours 47 minutes (54.6 km)
2015: S.C.A.R. Roosevelt Lake, 6 hours 18 minutes (20 km)
2013: Round Jersey: 9 hours 33 minutes (65.9 km)
2011: English Channel two-way, 13 hours 20 minutes (34 km EF) and 11 hours 20 minutes (34 km FE)
2011: In Search of Memphre (Lake Memphremagog), 13 hours 25 minutes (40.2 km)
2011: Ederle Swim two-way, 11 hours 5 minutes (56.3 km)
2009: Manhattan Island clockwise, 11 hours 41 minutes (45.8 km)
2008: English Channel, 12 hours 1 minutes (34 km)
2007: English Channel, 11 hours 11 minutes (34 km)
2005: Catalina Channel, 8 hours 56 minutes (32.5 km)
2003: English Channel, 9 hours 5 minutes (34 km)

Upper photo shows her course from Honshu to Toi, Hokkaido. Lower photo shows Liz Fry with her sister Peggy Gaskill on the escort boat in the Tsugaru Channel.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

American Swimmer In The Water Seeing Stars

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Japanese fishermen and escort boat crews often fly a flag that says 遠泳中 when a swimmer is swimming alongside their boat.

The three-character word is pronounced "en-ei-chu". The three characters, in order from top to bottom, mean in English "distance" (or long or far), "swimming", and "in the middle" (or ongoing or current). In other words, "a swimmer is in the water (on a long distance swim)".

The flag was most recently flown when American marathon swimmer Liz Fry swam across the Tsugaru Channel between Honshu and Hokkaido on Honshu's eastern peninsula on September 11th in 15 hours 48 minutes.

"I am happy I never looked back. After 9 hours of thumbs up, I was told that I had to swim super hard for the next hour to reach a certain point past the shipping channel otherwise the Japanese Coast Guard would pull me," reported Fry on her Facebook page. "The sun was starting to set with clouds that didn't help. Apparently I made the mark as I was allowed to continue.

I was in shock as I had no idea how bad the current was. I did not expect to swim in the dark here in Japan; however, I left my Catalina supplies with Peggy when I traveled to Seattle after Nora's and my Catalina swim. Luckily, it included beacons and every light stick the San Pedro Marina store had had.

They swapped my dark goggles for polarized grey goggles and the beacon. And off I went. Unfortunately I was swimming against a 1+ mile/hour current at a pace of 2 1/2 miles/hour. My team would say just 2 more miles, several times...until I was done. I returned to the boat, we were all very happy. The boat pilot Ataka-san was very happy. He did an extraordinary job. He told me today that he knew I could make it because he read about my double crossing of the English Channel

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association. He did an extraordinary job. He told me today that he knew I could make it because he read about my double crossing of the English Channel."

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Motoko Honma Solos Across The Tsugaru Channel

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Motoko Honma (本間素子) is a Japanese open water swimmer who has participated in a number of relay channel swims.

She was a member of Team Umiou (海王《うみおう》that completed a 12 hours 45 minute crossing of the 19 km Tsugaru Channel in northern Japan in 2013 together with Tomokazu Sakurai, Nobu Arihirsa, Yuko Isozaki, Shinpei Kamata, and Fujiko Kawasaki.

Then she crossed the 43 km Sado Channel in western Japan on the Ocean Navi relay that took 16 hours 18 minutes to swim across Sado Channel together with Masayuki Moriya, Hidehiko Kato, Kaori Fukusima, Noriko Kawasaki, Ayako Kawasaki, Yoshimitsu Kitazawa, Noriko Kimura, Jun Kuwabara, Kumiko Koizumi, Maki Sakamoto, Akira Shima, Etsuko Shima, Akiko Niide, Isami Mitsuhashi, Kyoko Morikawa, and Eriko Yoshino.

Then in June this year, Honma made her second Sado Channel crossing on a relay. This time, she and Hiroko Kasahara, Noriko Kimura, Kumiko Koizumi, Maki Sakamoto, Daisuke Tanaka, Mayumi Doi, Rei Yamazaki, and Masayuki Moriya completed a crossing in 13 hours 40 minutes.

Finally, she was ready mentally and physically to attempt a solo crossing.

Last month on July 22nd, Honma finally realized her dream and completed a solo wetsuit crossing of the Tsugaru Channel in 13 hours 26 minutes.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Terrific Toshio Tominaga Tackles Tsugaru

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In his younger days, Toshio Tominaga (富永俊夫 in Japanese) played water polo and swam in school. He was competitive, but then he began his professional career at a Japanese electronics corporation.

As the intervening decades passed, Tominaga stayed in good shape, but he had to dramatically reduce the number of hours that he trained in a pool.

But after retirement at the age of 62, Tominaga took to the oceans surrounding Japan and started to make up for lost time.

For years, he did numerous ocean swims from Okinawa in southern Japan and occasionally traveled overseas to swim in the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey (2009) and the English Channel crossing (2013). But the most difficult ocean swim in Japan, the Tsugaru Channel, was in his sights. He trained and trained and got himself physically and mentally prepared. He studied the logistics and different strategies of crossing the technically difficult channel.

Today in Japan, the 73-year-old retiree finally achieved his dream swim.

"Tominaga-san had marvelous conditions as he started from Gongenzaki Cape on Aomori Prefecture [shown on left] on the main Japanese island of Honshu," explained Steven Munatones. "With Captain Mizushima at the helm, he started much later than other Tsugaru Channel swimmers, entering the water after 7 am."

Then he started to head north towards Hokkaido with a slight bearing just west of his goal. On his main escort boat, Captain Mizushima continued to adjust his course based on the strength of the currents and wind.

On his secondary boat to his left, his 67-year-old wife Yukiko cheered him on.

"Imagine looking at the palm of your hand with your thumb outstretched. The ideal start is at the tip of your thumb and you are heading for the tip of your forefinger," explained Munatones who crossed in both directions in 1990. "Due to the tidal flows caused by the difference in water levels between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, the Tsugaru Current is swift and always pushes swimmers eastward. Plus, channel swimmers nearly always have to deal with giant swirling eddies that are caused by the topography and shoreline of Hokkaido as they approach their goal."

But Tominaga was lucky.

He was able to swim on nearly a straight shot between his start on Gongenzaki Cape to the town of Fukushima on the southernmost part of Hokkaido, taking only 9 hours 58 minutes to cross.

"His time was the seventh fastest in history. He kept up his stroke and maintained a great pace throughout his crossing. Without a doubt, it was a remarkable swim for anyone, but is especially great to see a swimmer his age take on this challenge. His time reflected his preparations, his navigational strategy, and the generous conditions offered by Mother Nature."

Photos courtesy of Masayuki Moriya of Ocean Navi.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association