The most remarkable journeys always begin with the smallest of steps. In an ongoing series Avaunt looks at the preparation, training and planning involved in the greatest of challenges.
This spring, long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte will undertake The Longest Swim – an expedition that will see him swim across the Pacific Ocean from Tokyo to San Francisco, eight hours a day, for six months. Supporting him on this epic feat of endurance will be the sailing boat Discoverer.
Led by skipper James ‘Scotty’ Scott, the 67-foot steel-hulled yacht will be on her own unique adventure, sailing the ocean at a much slower pace than traditional crossings. In the first of a two-part series on Lecomte’s swim, Scotty tells Avaunt how he is preparing for the logistical, technical and psychological aspects of the challenge.
We tried to find the boat that was the best-suited for the job so we’d only have to make smaller tweaks where necessary. The reason we chose Discoverer is because she was built and designed for the BT Global Challenge, a race the ‘wrong way’ around the world against the prevailing wind and current. It means she’s very strong and designed with long-term maintenance and usability in mind, so she was already perfect for what we were doing.
In terms of the adaptations we’re making and are continuing to make when we get to San Diego, it’s all about getting her ready to do six non-stop months off-shore, which is quite unusual for any boat. To deal with that we’re doubling up on all critical systems to make sure there’s a 100% redundancy: two generators, two automators, two satcom systems.
From my perspective, the biggest potential for failure in the project is with the equipment, so I want to make sure that everything that might break has either a 100% redundant system or we have got the ability to fix it in situ.
Our primary function is to give Ben a guide because he’s got no sense of direction when he’s in the water. I don’t think it’s going to be possible to make the boat go slower than Ben swims with any consistency, so we’re planning on having a rib in some conditions that will fulfill that role. This means the bigger boat is free to sail a pattern around Ben but we’ll have to employ various tactics to make sure we’re in range – we can choose to stay close to Ben as he swims or to sail ahead, stop and wait for him for catch up.
The other aspect is the wider strategy of going so slowly in comparison to the weather systems. Because of the changing weather we’ll have little control over where we end up, so we’re working with a team of weather researchers on land who will be giving us a huge amount of advice. They will be vital.
I personally believe that six months on a boat would be easier by yourself than with eight other people. The social aspect is going to be very challenging and it’s very hard to get a real grip on how people will respond in that situation. There is no way of simulating that, not on a boat in the middle of the ocean with things going wrong.
I did the quick around-the-world race in 2013 so I’ve been talking to a lot of my own skippers and a lot of skippers who did it previously. A lot of them have gone into team building and leadership management and I’ve been taking a lot of advice and doing research to make sure I am as up to speed as possible.
We need to make sure Ben feels included and not isolated from the team, so it’s very important that we create an atmosphere where he wants to get back onboard, but obviously not so nice that he doesn’t want to get in the water the next day! He just needs to enjoy his time out of the water in a warm, happy place that allows him to physically and psychologically recuperate.
In conversation with Mayer Nissim
James ‘Scotty’ Scott is currently sailing Discoverer from Plymouth to San Diego. You can follow his progress on the Longest Swim Live Tracker.
IMAGES: THE LONGEST SWIM
ONE SMALL STEP: SAILING THE PACIFIC OCEAN