Cork man Stephen Redmond felt that the ocean was ‘a widowmaker’ during a gruelling swim across the Cook Strait yesterday. The 46 year old open water swimmer, from Ballydehob, West Cork, swam the Cook Strait, the stretch of ocean between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, in 13 hours and ten minutes.
He had set out set out from Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds at 7am to swim to Mana, where he planned to arrive by 7pm, but tough conditions meant it was nearly midnight when he finished. He was greeted by over 100 supporters from the Irish community. Speaking from his hotel room in Wellington this morning, Mr Redmond – who was very tired and a little sunburnt – said he had “an awful lot of luck” in completing yesterday’s crossing.
“Every time you stopped you could lose ten metres,” he said. “It took two hours to swim a kilometre and a half. It’s like building a statue out of stones, it beats you mentally and physically.”
He had support from a team of paramedics and the organisers of the Irish People in New Zealand group, who helped with accommodation and training upon his arrival in the country on Monday.
“It was quite humbling to have people like that help me,” he said. “You come to Wellington and you feel like you’ve been here before. We’re very lucky to have a group of Irish people like that here.”
Each hour during the swim he took on protein drinks and high carbs to keep his energy levels up.
However, the main difficulty was, he found, in maintaining his emotional and mental spirits.
“When you get into the water you spend the whole time thinking about getting out.”
A series of mantras about his family and supporters got him through, coupled with advice and expertise from New Zealand’s decorated ocean swimmer Philip Rush, who travelled alongside in a boat.
“I really thought it was trying to kill me and did not like me … there’s days when the water just doesn’t like you and it can be a widowmaker,” said Mr Redmond.
He is hoping to become the first person to complete the Ocean’s Seven challenge, which involves swimming the Irish Channel, the Cook Strait, the Moloka’i Channel between O’ahu and Moloka’i Islands in Hawaii, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel near LA, the Tsugaru Channel in Japan, and the Strait of Gibraltar.
He said he hoped his swims were raising awareness off the sport and helping with fundraising for an autism centre in West Cork.
“It’s all self-funded and we have no major sponsors because it’s a loo-loo sport … and nobody really gets it,” he joked.