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Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the first La Gomera – Tenerife swim by David Meca

20 years have passed since the La Gomera - Tenerife swim crossing

The day chosen for the feat that entered the Guinness Book of Records was September 1, 2001. At the hotel in San Sebastián where they were staying, at six am the peace of the night silence was broken by the bustle of numerous journalists, photographers, television cameras, skippers, sailors and members of the Asociación Mundo del Silencio.

They ate breakfast while the sailors were still discussing the ideal course or the forecast of the sea, while others prepared their cameras and instruments to immortalize the feat. 

Uncertainty and nervousness were palpable in the atmosphere: they were going to witness an unique adventure in the sea in the world. Swimmer David Meca, world record holder and protagonist of the event, came down from his room at 7.00 am. He knew the difficulty of what awaited him. He walked over to the hotel dining room and literally gobbled down an enormous quantity of bananas and yogurts. He needed a significant reserve of calories to support the nine or ten hours that he would have to spend swimming at sea. 

The journalists, along with the sailors and skippers, went to the San Sebastián dock to board the boats that would accompany the swimmer along the 44 kilometres between San Sebastián de La Gomera and Las Vistas Beach in Los Cristianos. While the engines of the boats were being started on the dock, David Meca and his assistants went to La Cueva Beach, which was the chosen starting point. It was beginning to dawn and the day was gray, rain was suspected and with it came the first difficulty, the water temperature could be below forecasts. He put on the thin neoprene suit and adjusted his glasses, the moment was approaching and he clearly heard the rumours among the older residents who predicted failure: "It is impossible to swim to Tenerife", "They don't know what they are doing, no one has ever been able to swim so far”... A channel with huge currents, strong winds and a hard and short wave period, which need to be surfed by boats and which can scare you by reducing speed drastically and catching you out, were the general comments. 

At 8:20 in the morning the boats were in front of the beach and David was hugging one of the members of the Association and promised to hug him again at Las Vistas Beach ten hours later. He approached the shore and dived into the sea to the sound of applause from the more than five hundred people who wanted to witness the feat. About a hundred meters away, the inflatable boat was waiting for him, which would sail alongside him all the time with the aim of providing him with energy drinks and, above all, in case something unforeseen happened to him. In it, only two people, his father and Sergio Hanquet, the official photographer of the trip and member of the Mundo del Silencio Association. 

Meanwhile, at Las Vistas Beach, the preparation of the stage to celebrate the event began, maintaining continuous contact with the boats in case everything had to be dismantled. The Güisa, the ship where the authorities had embarked, left the formation to disembark them at the San Sebastián dock and on its return to the meeting point it did not see the mast of the guide sailboat captained by Antonio Redal. It was incredible that in just one hour the swimmer and inflatable would already be in the open sea, but they were.

At nine o'clock in the morning, Fernando, one of the members of the Association, boarded Fred Olsen's ferry to arrive in Tenerife at ten o'clock and coordinate the reception of the swimmer. He travelled on the bridge with the captain of the boat and then the first upset came. Fifteen minutes after setting sail, everyone, binoculars in hand, scanned the sea looking for the swimmer, but he was not in sight, he must be behind the ship and it was concluded that something had happened. It was practically impossible for him to be ahead of the ship, but then someone on the bridge shouted: "I see him, he is ahead." Nobody could believe it, he had passed the ship and was swimming towards Tenerife. 

At sea David had a pace and speed much higher than expected, his strokes remained strong and energetic, he had managed to get more than 20 kilometres away from La Gomera and it was only 11.30 in the morning. Incredible! He was swimming at a speed of almost five kilometres per hour, the same as a person jogging on land. 

At twelve thirty, the doctor from the Mundo del Silencio Association, Dr. Niño, got on the boat to talk to David and ask him how he was doing while doing a blood sugar test. Perfect result, the world record holder swam full of strength and mentally convinced of achieving the feat. In the boats, however, there was another problem unrelated to the swimmer. Many of the journalists had been suffering for hours with the ups and downs of the boats when sailing at low speed, terribly shaken by the waves and the dizziness and physical discomfort. Some had to lie down. The doctor had more work on ships than at sea.

And then the pilot whales appeared and joined David as a harbinger of success. They swam for several miles accompanying him, while in the boats the fear arose that they could get too close to the swimmer and he would panic, but they did not. First the pilot whales and then the dolphins behaved wonderfully and uncertainty gave way to obtaining the most beautiful images of the union between man and those beautiful animals. 

At that moment everything was going perfectly. 

The surprise came around two in the afternoon. David Meca was on the perpendicular of the Los Gigantes Cliffs and that was not planned, he was three hours ahead of the estimated arrival time and on land the pace of preparation of the planned infrastructure would not finish until 4:00 p.m. It had been calculated that he would arrive at Las Vistas Beach at 6:00 p.m. and as it he was progressing, would arrive at 3:00 p.m. 

The southern highway was clogged with cars coming from all over Tenerife and they weren't going to get there in time to see him arrive. A decision had to be made and David was consulted. He had to slow down enough to reach the beach at least at 4:00 p.m. or change his course to increase the distance to the beach, that is, lose two of the three hours he had gained on the journey. David accepted the new challenge, to abandon his rhythm and swim slower. Absolute silence on the boats. The boss of the Güisa, Juan Francisco Reverón warned the land that, although David accepts it, he does not, that he must be exhausted and it is a danger to keep him in the water. Santos and Jóse Rodríguez, who were traveling on another boat, agree with Juan Francisco and line up the boats to Las Vistas Beach, where at 4:00 p.m. more than 10,000 people were waiting with as many others on the way.

Boats appeared from Las Vistas Beach on the horizon, an excellent sign that everything was going well. The question then was to prevent the public from getting into the sea and in the euphoria touch the swimmer and cause an accident. There was no reason to worry, David headed for the shore with even more force, drawing his relief on the sea and the vast surface of the waves. No one dared to approach. He came out of the sea reeling from the incredible effort, but he still had the strength to reach the stage and raise his hands in victory. He had just joined La Gomera and Tenerife by swimming for the first time. That night, during the celebration dinner, someone asked David, "What if we made the crossing from Tenerife to Gran Canaria?" There was a silence as in the ocean itself. But that's another story ...