Ben Lecomte set out six months ago chasing a world record by swimming from Japan to San Francisco. When the journey started on June 5 in Chōshi, Japan, the 51-year-old swimmer’s plan was to reach the Golden State by going straight through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a way to raise awareness for plastic pollution. Bad weather along the way detoured that route and this week, after six months of swimming an average of about 30 miles a day, Lecomte set foot on land for the first time in Hawaii.
“My legs are a little shaky. I’m not used to having something stable but it feels good. I grabbed some sand with my hand to feel the earth,” he said. “We had very bad weather along the way. We tried to fix a few things that broke on the boat, the reef and all that, but in the end, we couldn’t. It was putting too much stress on the boat and compromising our safety also, so we decided to hold off on the swim.”
It was actually late in November that Lecomte and his team decided to take a detour and abandon the bid for becoming the first person to swim the width of the Pacific Ocean but in his 115 days at sea, he still managed to prove his point about the plastic pollution problem. Researchers from 12 scientific institutions, including NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have been taking samples and collecting data along the way from the boat following him. They’ve recorded data on plastic pollution, radiation from the Fukushima disaster, and even the swim’s effects on Lecomte’s heart and psychological state.
“Sometimes we’re swimming with whales around, and then boom, 10 minutes later, a big floating plastic, a blob. A lot of it is something that we all use at home,” he said. “To see that with sea life, that was very disturbing,” adding that he and the crew would cross some form of plastic pollution every three minutes along the way.
With the detour putting Lecomte’s world record bid on hold, the swimmer actually still plans to finish what he started and will still be continuing on to San Francisco.
“The mission doesn’t ever stop. It will carry on with the same ideas, bringing as much awareness on ocean pollution, on plastic, to try to inspire people to change their habit,” Lecomte said. “It’s the way we live on land, the way we don’t recycle, the way that we use single-use plastic also contributes a lot, so we have to change that.”