Steve Redmond has swum seven channels, and he’s not done yet, writes LOUISE ROSEINGRAVE
‘NEVER. GIVE. UP.” The extreme swimmer Steve Redmond used the phrase coined by his eight-year-old son as a rhythmic mantra to guide him across seven of the world’s most daunting sea channels. Each time, clutching victory from the jaws of defeat, he faced a breaking point, “a moment of insanity”. “In that moment you go into another place. You realise you are close to death, but you are not going to die. You keep stroking, it becomes mechanical and the arms become effortless.”
Sitting at the kitchen table of his west Cork home, Redmond throws an eye over the mist that shrouds Ballydehob Bay. The sea is invisible, and Redmond is glad. “Right now I never want to see it again,” says the father of two, although he is down for a 42km swim, in the near future, from Baltimore to Schull around Fastnet Rock in aid of Cork Southwest Autistic Association.
Each ocean channel presented a unique challenge. The 46-year-old swam through mutating walls of jellyfish and smiled at sharks circling beneath him. “They look you in the eye, as if to say, ‘We will come back when you’re dead.’ What can you do but smile back?”
The story of Redmond’s epic achievement – he is the first person in the world to complete the arduous seven-channel swim – is peppered with preposterous scenes. On the first crossing his wife, Ann, played her button accordion in the dead of night as ferries navigating the English Channel rumbled by. In the darkest moment of the North Channel crossing, Redmond’s brother Anthony, travelling on the support boat, entered the water with him.
“It was an incredibly brave thing to do – he’d never even swum at night before. We were laughing so hard, two idiots in the water. That’s the trick. You go as far as you think you can, then a little bit further. And then it becomes their swim: you can’t let them down,” he says.
Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in May last year, Redmond dodged a constant stream of tanker traffic driven by ruthless skippers spurting bilge in his path. At this point Redmond was way behind his three main Oceans 7 competitors, who had conquered five channels each. “They said we didn’t have a chance. But I said, ‘To hell with this, why don’t we?’ That’s when I really got going,” he says.
Five months later, in the build-up to the Catalina Channel off the California coast, also known as Shark Alley, Redmond was on his knees praying. In the water he was overcome by ferocious stomach cramps. He wanted out. “I was screaming for 15 minutes. Then I get this message, that my kids had been on the phone, wanting to know why I was messing about. That was my brother again. He knew what buttons to push. I took a mouthful of saltwater, puked everything up and kept going.”