A 38-year-old British man set out on Sunday on a 3,200 km swim from Senegal to Brazil, seeking to become the first person to make it across the Atlantic Ocean.
Ben Hooper, a former military policeman who has been training for the challenge since 2013, expects to take between four and five months to swim to Natal in Brazil.
Wearing swimming shorts, he waved to well-wishers, saying “See you in Brazil” before wading into the water at Dakar’s Monaco beach and starting a steady front crawl in the direction of Goree island.
A group of Senegalese onlookers said a prayer for him.
Hooper, who is 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, may have to swim through heavy seas, as well as shark breeding grounds close to Brazil.
“We’re here. 12 million metres plus training, over 400,000 pounds in equipment and sponsorship, and an incredible team… we’re going, and together we’re going to show that nothing is impossible. I just want to raise 1 million pounds for charity as I go,” he told Reuters before his departure.
Hooper has had a lifelong passion for swimming since nearly drowning at the age of five. He said he first conceived of the Atlantic challenge while battling depression in later life.
The swim, which aims to raise a million pounds for charity, has been delayed several times. In recent days, three crew members including a skipper and medic dropped out before the planned start. They have since been replaced.
Sources formerly involved said that there had been concerns about the safety and readiness of the vessels.
“Its been a whole rollercoaster from beginning to end over the past three years – good, bad, and really ugly and not just my face! I was determined that we were going and with a bit of luck… even yesterday, we broke something on the boat and knocked a socket kit off the boat, and you just think, what is the universe trying to do to me here? But as you can see, both boats are here, and it’s time to go, and that’s all that matters. The journey here has been incredible,” said Hooper.
In particularly risky zones, he will wear a camouflage wetsuit and use cans of rotting shark cartilage that are supposed to act as a natural repellent.
He aims to swim up to 12 hours a day in two sessions and then rest on board one of the two support vessels sailing alongside him with nine crew members and an English Mastiff named Tank.
The boats have been loaded with water, ration packs, bottles of vinegar for jellyfish stings – and a Christmas tree.
To ward off the inevitable fatigue and dips in morale, Hooper said he will think about his daughter but also bear in mind the exploits of explorers like Ranulph Fiennes, who crossed the Antarctic unsupported on foot, and is backing the mission.
“Mentally I’m tired, but that’s the way it goes. I’m not going to be as tired now as I will be in probably 2 or 3 months time. So that’s it, I’ve got to go. I’m a little bit nervous, I’m a human being. I have a few fears hanging around like I don’t want to let my team down or my daughter, let alone my charities and followers,” Hooper said.
During Hooper’s 45-day stay in Dakar leading up to the big departure, he made a friend. Mamadou Sen, who met Ben at the beach while he was training, said he instantly felt part of the team and wanted to be a part of the project.
Although Sen was excited to set off, he said it was hard to leave his family behind.
“He would often tell me that he wanted to take me with him and that I should come. I wasn’t okay with it at first, but I talked to my family and in the end, I couldn’t let him do this on his own. That’s why I decided to go with him,” said Sen.
Nigel Taylor-Schofield, captain of one of the vessels, said the tiller had broken on the eve of departure and had to be repaired overnight.
READ MORE: Why every woman should take a solo trip
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge of seamanship. I’m used to crossing the Atlantic in two, maybe three weeks. We’re going to be doing this in three, maybe four months. So the real test is actually getting the boat to go slowly. Ben swims at about 1 and a half, maybe 2 knots, and I have to slow the boat down to that speed,” he said on the beach.
Besides rough seas, another challenge will be crossing the low-pressure area near the Equator known as the Doldrums, where boats can be becalmed for weeks.
French-born Benoit Lecomte claims to have swum the Atlantic in 1998 but it was not recognized by Guinness World Records and Hooper said his pace was impossible.
Hooper’s ocean crossing attempt is being followed by Chief Productions who, working alongside drone footage supplier Luek Productions, are creating a documentary charting his efforts.