AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

Limbless Frenchman hoping to swim Alaska to Russia still beached by bad weather

Suzanna Caldwell
Cath Productions photo

A French swimmer attempting to be the first limbless man to swim the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia was still beached Wednesday, watching strong winds whip up 10-foot high seas in the sub-Arctic.

Philippe Croizon had hoped to swim from the Alaska island of Little Diomede to neighboring Big Diomede, Russian territory, on Monday, but stormy weather has kept him from making the crossing.

That storm has not passed and probably won't until Friday, according to Jim Brader from the National Weather Service.

The weather station at Wales, an Inupiat village on mainland Alaska about 16 miles east of Little Diomede, has reported sustained winds of about 30-40 mph with gusts up to 50 mph.

Thinner wetsuit

Croizon needs calmer water to complete his journey. He planned to wear a thicker wetsuit during the swim, but problems with that suit forced him to go with a thinner wetsuit, according to expedition coordinator Marc Gaviard. The warmer wetsuit didn't fit well and it would have taken weeks to have it tailored properly. Plus, the thicker material made swimming cumbersome.

The thinner wetsuit is designed to keep people warm in water temperatures around 55 degrees. Temperatures in the Bering Strait are about 42 degrees, just a few months after the sea ice that choked the strait all winter melted.

Because Croizon will use a thinner wetsuit, swimming fast is a priority. He won’t want to stay in the water long. With no extremities, Croizon gets colder faster than most swimmers, and hypothermia is his biggest concern.

The two-and-a-half-mile swim between the Diomede islands is expected to take two to three hours. He spent an hour swimming with the suit in Portage Lake, 40 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, before venturing to remote Little Diomede. Swimming in the lake -- nestled in the terminal moraine of Portage Glacier with some glacial ice chunks afloat -- left him very cold, Gaviard said.

If Croizon is going to complete the swim, he'll have to finish as close to two hours as possible.

“I just want to have control over my body and understand the pain I'll endure,” Croizon said through Gaviard, acting as a translator to Alaska Dispatch. “I hope my mind has control over my body and the pain.”

Winds calming Friday?

Starting Thursday night, winds are expected to decrease. Friday things should be calmer, although seas are expected to be about three feet high. Winds will pick up again Saturday and last through the weekend and into next week.

Croizon lost his limbs in 1994, electrocuted while trying to fix a television antenna on his roof. During his long rehabilitation, he watched a woman swim across the English Channel. Croizon decided that he'd attempt the feat, too, despite his new disabilities. In September 2010, Croizon completed the 21-mile crossing, wearing custom-designed flippers that attach to the remainder of his legs.

With the English Channel down, he decided to swim four channels separating five continents. The Bering Strait, separating Asia from North America, is his final crossing.

Croizon is swimming to support the charity Handicap International.

Gaviard said the team is budgeted to stay in Little Diomede until Monday, but could stay longer if necessary. However, Croizon has to return to London by Aug. 25 to serve as a commentator for the Paralympics, which start Aug. 29.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com