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HOW THE CROSSING MUST BE CARRIED OUT:

   The shortest distance across the Gibraltar Strait is from Punta Oliveros (Spain) to Punta Cires (Morocco) with a total distance of 7.8 nautical miles (14.4 kilometres) . Because of the characteristics of the crossing between these two points, it is not the most suitable course for the swimmer. Most of the attempts have been made from Tarifa Island to the vicinity of Punta Cires having to swim between 09 to 12 nautical miles (16.5 to 22 kilometres) due to the influence of the strong currents which prevail in the Strait. Only in the case where the swimmer attempts the double crossing (round trip) can the start of the crossing from the Moroccan coast be envisaged. The swimmer has the possibility to touch the African coast from Cires point till Almina point, near Ceuta (this is the last possibility to arrive).

   The fundamental factor to be remembered in the crossing are the currents which at any moment of the trip, may reach more than 3 knots (5.5 Km/h) taking care that this moment coincides with the final part of the event, in such a say as to help the swimmer to reach the Moroccan coast, increasing considerably the advance speed. This Association has registered currents until 7 knots (near 14 Km/h) in some periods of spring tides.

   Generally the selected hour for the crossing is two or three hours before high-water and, if possible, with a medium coefficient of tide (the tide coefficients may vary in the Tarifa area between 0,4 to 1,2) which does not mean that the trip may not be made in any other hour and tide conditions, depending on the swimmer’s fitness and stamina and the availability of staying time in the zone.

   The currents in the Gibraltar Strait are, generally, eastbound since the influence of the water contribution from the Atlantic to Mediterranean seas prevails (due to the high evaporation of this sea) over its own currents by the difference of tides. All these influences as well as the special orography of the area cause us to find throughout the course currents of different intensities and directions and also different temperatures and or salinity.

   At selected departure hour, normally, we can find a westbound counter current very close to the Spanish coast which must be taken advantage of by the swimmer to reach advance toward the west. Around high-water the current practically disappears and it is from one hour after the high-water when the current increases its intensity with an east direction, the moment in which the swimmer must be located in a good situation from Tarifa Island to finish the crossing helped by the strong eastbound currents of the south part of the Strait.

   The last crossings carried out in this way have given a high index of success and it is reflected in the navigation charts (issued by the Association) by a concavity curve westward with an almost straight part with arrival in Punta Cires or vicinity and, sometimes, almost a straight line joining Tarifa Island and the point before mentioned in Morocco.

   As a conclusion we will say that the swimmer starts the crossing two or three hours before high-tide on an average coefficient day and coinciding this hour at dawn with a southwestbound course until high-water. After that, the swimmer will take a southbound course which one will keep until the swimmer is located west of Punta Cires, where he/she will swim towards the Moroccan coast. The tracking of the swimmer is plotted on the nautical chart of the escorting boat as well as on the radar screen of Tarifa Traffic all the time. At any moment we may change the swimmer’s course if he/she is separated from the initial previsions in any way.

   The only condition to slect the day of the cross is the good weather and the excatly hour depend of the high-water/low-water hours (which should coincide near of the dawn) and the coefficients of the tide (which should be within acceptable margins). We must only then wait for the wind and sea conditions to be appropriate. This, however, is impossible to forecast until at least one or two days before the event. Many swimmers have had to go back to their country without crossing the Strait after having stayed many days in Tarifa and even have had to refuse the event due to a sudden change of wind when they had been swimming for several hours.

 

HAZARDS IN THE GIBRALTAR STRAIT:

Water temperature: The temperature of the water in the Strait of Gibraltar may vary from between 15ºC in winter to 22/23C in summer, so that it is advisable to attempt the crossing in the spring or summer period where the risk of hypothermia is smaller. The duration of the crossing depends on the characteristics of each swimmer and the sea and current conditions but it is estimated from between 4 to 7 hours. It is therefore essential that the swimmer be able to stay at least 6 hours in the water if he/she wants to guarantee a successful crossing. To fight against such a long period, it is convenient to protect the body with some type of grease (not many) made of lanolin and vaseline except the face and the hands which act as a temperature sensors. The Association organize the crosses from May to October varying the water temperature from 17/18C to 22/23C.

Fog: The selected period for most swimmers is the summer and specially the month of August. In this month dense fog usually forms, especially in the hours close to sunrise and sunset. Such fog gives rise to two serious problems that would compel us to cancel the event; one is the possibility of losing sight of the swimmer, which would leave him totally abandoned and disorientated; the other is the risk of collision with some of the numerous ships sailing through the Gibraltar Strait, due to the impossibility to sight the small boats that escort the swimmer. Also the Sapnish Maritime Authority not permit visibility less that 5 nautical miles.

The traffic of vessels: The Gibraltar Strait is one of the busiest maritime zone of the world, with up to 300 vessels sailing through daily, not counting the ferries which cross between the harbours on both coasts of the Strait as well as many fishing and pleasure boats.

   This gives rise to not only a risk of collision but an inconvenience if these vessels pass very close to the swimmer. Their bow-waves will always break the swimmer’s rhythm.    To avoid such situations, we count on the invaluable and kind collaboration and support of Tarifa Traffic and Tanger Traffic, which broadcast security warnings at regular intervals, so that the ships give a wide berth to the swimmer’s position and to the escorting boats, for which we are eternally grateful. Apart from this, the escorting boats are equipped with all technical means to detect and get in touch with the ships that proceed dangerously towards the zone (Automatic identification system, AIS). In spite of all these measures, it is not always possible to avoid that some ship or other may pay nil attention to the warnings and it will be necessary to raise the swimmer aboard the escorting boat in order to avoid the collision. This incident will be considered as an exceptional case and the swimmer will be able to continue the crossing from the last point.

 At this point it would do to add the additional risk that might be produced if, due to an exceptional reason, the trip were extended over-night and the swimmer were located in the middle of one of the two traffic lanes, which would compel us to discontinue the event in view of the risk not only of the difficulty in the follow-up from the escorting boat but the impossibility to be detected visually, with enough time, from the vessels sailing through the Strait.

Currents: The influence of the currents and the way to make the trip in such a way as to be helped by these currents has been previously described. In spite of all available data to forecast the general currents in the Strait, the calculation is not mathematical and we can come up against unexpected and prompt currents which an interfere in the advance and direction of the trip. Because of that, from the escorting boats and from Tarifa Traffic, the crossing is monitored everytime in order to check if the evolution complies with the previously established route and, otherwise, to take the appropriate measures.

 Normally, these measures consist of an appropriate change of course to avoid swimming against the current and to extend the event unnecessarily or we'll require to swimmers increase their speed for a short period of time to escape of the unexpected currents. This problem has caused many swimmers to abandon the crossing after several hours and even, in some instances, when they were very close to the end of the event since due to weariness it was impossible to reach the Morocan coast because of drift.

Sickness, vomiting and cramps: The appearance of such symptoms can be fatal for the swimmer and it would be advisable to abandon the crossing. The causes of these symptoms can be multivarious, emphasizing among them the exhaust fumes from the engines of the boats; swallowing sea-water; swimming into polluted waters, caused by oil spills; weariness, stress and/or the cold. All these are avoidable and we will be very attentive in staying sufficiently far away from the swimmer, so as not to disturb him/her. It is convenient the swimmer breathe from both sides so as to avoid the sea-wind at the moment of breathing, as well as to avoid swallowing salt-water. If is necessary is better to take a pill for sickness.

 

WEATHER CONDITIONS:

   Certainly we should include it in the "hazards" paragraph but, because of its special importance, we give it a paragraph of its own.

   The wind is the most determinant factor in the accomplishment of the crossing and we anxiously await the weather forecast for the selected day of the crossing and expect that the forecast will be of slight winds of variable direction or westerly winds; if not we should wait for the next days.

   Concerning the wind force it is convenient that it does not exceed force 3 or 4 on the Beaufort scale, although some crosses have finished with force 6 or 7 but never at the beginning.

   The Strait of Gibraltar and especially the area of Tarifa is a very special zone, meteorologically speaking, which present a microweather where sudden changes of wind and strong and persistent easterly winds prevail. Many swimmers have had to abandon the crossing after remaining many days in Tarifa, it is for that reason that this area deserves special attention in the weather forecast issued for the Strait of Gibraltar. It has also been demonstrated that August and September are the months which present the least number of days with strong winds. Even though this does not serve to assure good weather conditions, it does increase the possibility of a successful crossing. The different meteorological bulletins are facilitated from the Maritime Centre of Tarifa, so that the Association determines the best day for the crossing, pending the hour in accordance with the tides. Once the crossing has begun with favourable conditions the Association will remain in charge of cancelling the crossing if the meteorological conditions change substantially from the forecast and the integrity of the swimmer will be put in danger.

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