For those who don't know him, Christian Jongeneel is a tremendously positive person. He needs to be, to tackle the enormous challengers he undertakes at sea. That's why, hearing him speak with concern about the ordeal he suffered on Thursday last week, when he swam across the Molokai Strait in Hawaii, you know it must have been really bad.
The swimmer from Malaga has become one of only 61 people ever to have completed this crossing, although in his case and unlike the others, it was for charity. He wanted to raise funds to install water purifiers in schools in one of the most desert areas of India, in collaboration with the Fundación Vicente Ferrer.
Jongeneel dived into the water at 6am from the island of Molokai. Ahead of him were 55 kilometres in an expanse of water which is exceptionally dangerous because of the currents and the marine fauna which inhabit it. Everything started off well, but things soon became complicated.
"It was a total battle against the ocean. The sea is really powerful here," Jongeneel told us over the phone from Oahu, after completing his challenge. "At first everything was fine. The first 12 kilometres were fast but then, about halfway, I came across some really strong currents and could hardly make any progress. I swam for half an hour at a time and when I stopped to drink water or have something to eat the current dragged me back quite a few metres. I really thought I wasn't going to manage it," he said.
He started very early in the morning because he was advised to do so. He didn't like the idea of swimming in the dark, but it was better that people could watch him on the Internet because more of them would be likely to make a donation to his cause.
"The people who organise these crossings are very professional. They told me the winds drop during the night and that makes it easier to swim, but of course without the wind the current is stronger. I was swimming so slowly that it was also difficult for the support boat. Ángela Hidalgo, a firefighter who was on it, became sea sick and so did the two captains. Also it had rained a lot during the night and that complicated the process of preparing the food and so on. I thought it would never get light. Here, being so close to the Equator, the nights are really long, 12 hours, and it was terrible," he said.
The final stretch was easier
At last it became daylight and that made the final stretch of his journey a bit easier. He was accompanied at all times by a kayak, which was equipped with a device to scare off sharks, but even that caused problems. "The people in the kayak, who had LED lights to be seen during the night, were relieved every hour and a half. They were the ones who were directing me so I didn't lose the route. They told me to keep close to them, but several times I came up against the anti-shark device, some black bands which hung below the kayak and it was like being lashed," he explained. It was a real odyssey, despite it not being the biggest challenge he has undertaken. The sharks didn't appear, but jellyfish did and he was badly stung.
Still, it was worth it. Brazadas Solidarias, the association he founded years ago, raised nearly 10,000 euros for drinking water in schools in Anantapur, to change the lives of more than 1,500 children in this region, one of the most desert-like in India. That is all due to the courage of this swimmer from Malaga.