AltaSea is preparing to say bon voyage to the support crew and ship of The Longest Swim, Ben Lecomte’s audacious project to swim across the Pacific this summer to raise awareness of plastics pollution clogging and killing the ocean. Along the 5,000-mile journey, Lecomte and his crew will conduct thousands of tests and samples to help scientists measure the extent of the problems and their impacts on humans.
Lecomte – a French-born architectural consultant living in Austin, Texas – has been preparing for the arduous trip for years. So too has his support team, whose members have been working out of AltaSea facilities since July 2017. While here, crew members have been converting the Discoverer, a 67-foot sailing ship, into a floating home/research station for eight.
At the end of this month, the crew and Discoverer will set sail to Hawaii, a journey expected to take about 7 weeks, in a shakeout cruise of sorts. This first leg of the trip will allow the support staff to begin to figure out who will be the final members of the crew during the eight months or more it will take for Lecomte to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco.
After a short layover in Hawaii, the Discoverer will then head to Japan, and make final preparations to begin the long journey across the North Pacific once seas calm in the late spring. The Longest Swim is expected to take about eight months.
Lecomte will swim eight hours a day, then eat, sleep and be tested as the crew measures their location in the ocean. The next day, they’ll sail back to the previous day’s ending spot, and Lecomte will repeat the process. Along the way, the crew will monitor Lecomte, watch for debris, sharks and other problems, all while conducting regular water and air measurements.
All the data about the condition of both Lecomte and the ocean will be used in research projects from a number of organizations.
The research project sponsors include NASA, which wants to learn the effects on Lecomte of such extended exposure to a low-gravity environment, i.e., the salty ocean water. It’s not quite like being confined in a space station at zero gravity for months, but the Longest Swim is about as close as it gets for humans here on earth. Part of the research will assess impacts of the low-gravity environment and constant physical activity on the condition of Lecomte’s heart and mental health.
Lecomte hopes to publicize the Great Garbage Patch, the vast biological dead zone in the Northern Pacific that is clogged with pulverized pieces of plastic trash. A related issue is increasing acidification of ocean water, which creates biochemical conditions hostile to most marine life.
AltaSea offered The Longest Swim team access to space at its Los Angeles Harbor wharf because the two organizations are similarly committed to researching the ocean, understand its challenges and driving support for solutions, said AltaSea executive director Jenny Krusoe.
The Discoverer’s departure should be a low-key affair late March. AltaSea already hosted a public going-away event on March 1 to allow the community to say goodbye.
Now comes the next stage of the hard work, making the trip to Tokyo, and testing how well all the work so far has gone. If everything goes according to plan, The Longest Swim team will unmoor the Discoverer from the AltaSea docks and quietly slip past Angels Gate, headed to a Hawaii holdover and then on to Tokyo and their date with destiny.
We at AltaSea will miss the friendships we’ve made with Lecomte’s team and wish them a safe, fast and productive trip.
To hear Ben LeComte’s conversation with AltaSea’s David Bloom from last fall about why he decided to embark on The Longest Swim, click here.