Kite surfing the Bering Strait might not seem too difficult a challenge to many of you out there… it’s only 56-odd miles after all. The recent crossing of the Irish Sea from Cloghy in Northern Island to Silloth in West Cumbria by 5 friends was double the length and equally hard to organise as they had to wait a year for the right weather.
However, The Bering Strait are rather special and very different from any other planned landmark crossing. Saddled between Alaska and Russia, and at a latitude of about 65° 40′ north it is slightly south of the polar circle and offers up some of the worst weather on the planet. Although the tides are not severe, with the average depth being just 30 – 49m, or 98–160 ft, the Strait lies just south of the Arctic Circle and so is subject to seriously extreme weather.
An international team of two, Troy Henkels, Alaska and Geza Sholtz, Switzerland, attempted to become the first people to cross the Strait on kitesurfers in the Maurice Lacroix Bering Strait Expedition of 2010. “Chaotic currents, unpredictable storm systems, cold water temperatures (2-3C), poor visibility, and consistently nasty weather are a few of the dynamic conditions we have to expect,” said Troy Henkels.
Although two attempts were made, both were unsuccessful and there were moments of near farce for the expedition when the zodiac took more time and attention than anything else demanding daily tlc before it was abandoned in disgust for another craft.
While this expedition was in Wales waiting for the right weather, another expedition arrived. This one was from the Dominican Republic whose swimmer, Marcus Diaz, has been swimming the oceans of the world in an effort to unite the continents and show that we, as an international people living on different continents, are really not that far apart. His aim was to connect 8 countries from 5 continents in 4 crossing.
- The first crossing was to unite Oceania to Asia – from Papua New Guinea to the shores of Indonesia.
- The second crossing united Asia and Africa by swimming from the coast of Yemen to the beaches of Djibouti.
- The third was between Africa and Europe swimming from Morocco to Spain.
- And the 4th and final leg was uniting Europe to the Americas by swimming from Russia to Alaska, America via the Diomede Islands.
The initiative of the Dominican athlete was sanctioned by the United Nations and welcomed by Bank Ki-moon “given the need to comply fully with the Millenium Development Goals.”
He arrived in Wales (Alaska) for his final swim between the Diomedes, and successfully completed the distance in 1 hour and 5 minutes.
The Diomede Islands lie right in the middle of the Strait and a rather amusing fact is that because the International Date Line runs equidistant between the two islands, Little Diomede and Big… at a distance of 1 mi (1.6 km)…
… the Russian and American sides are usually on different calendar days, with Cape Dezhnev (Big Diomede) being 21 hours ahead of the American side. The islands are sometimes called Tomorrow Island (Big Diomede) and Yesterday Isle (Little Diomede) because of this, approximately, one day time difference.
That means that in the short space of 1 hour and 5 minutes Diaz skipped a whole 21 hours of time and lost a day!
Another wonderful little on-dit that I came across when writing this article, courtesy of Troy Henkels website, is that Airport Pizza in Nome do great pizzas, but not only that – they do delivery orders all over the Alaskan bush, via Bering Air….at no extra cost!!
The citizens of Wales have seen many an expedition coming to their remote shores and are forever helpful and generous with their time and advice. They are, after all, the people who know and understand this area better than anyone else and they are likely to see many more ‘first ever…’ attempts of one sort or another.
The past is peppered with successful Bering Strait expeditions – peppered, but relatively few and far between:
- 1648 – the Cossack Semyon Dezhnyov was the first recorded European to pass through the Bering Strait.
- 1728 – Vitus Bering entered it
- 1878/79 – Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sailed along the complete northern coast of Siberia, proving that there was no northern land bridge from Asia to North America.
- 1989 – July, a British expedition, Kayaks Across The Bering Strait, completed the first sea kayak crossing of the Bering Strait from Wales, in Alaska, to Cape Dezhneva, Siberia. Not only that, but the 4 expedition members kayaked from Nome up the Alaskan coast, and around Cape Prince of Wales, before crossing the Strait via the Diomede Islands. Having completed the crossing they continued north to Uelen, where they were welcomed by the Soviet Sports Committee and eventually returned to the UK via Moscow. This journey has been described as “The Everest of the Canoeing World” and was recorded in the film “Kayaking Into Tomorrow” (1989).
- 1998 – Russian adventurer Dmitry Shparo and his son Matvey made the first known modern crossing of the frozen Bering Strait on skis.
- 2006 – March, Briton Karl Bushby and French American adventurer Dimitri Kieffer crossed the strait on foot, walking across a frozen 90 km (56 mile) section in 15 days.They were arrested for not entering Russia through a border control.
- 1987 – swimmer Lynne Cox swam the two miles (3 km) between the Diomede Islands from Alaska to the Soviet Union in 4°C (40°F) water during the last years of the Cold War.
- 2008 – August, marked the first ever crossing of the Bering Strait using an amphibious road going vehicle. The specially modified Land Rover Defender 110 was driven by Steve Burgess and Dan Evans across the straits on its second attempt following the interruption of the first one due to bad weather.
- And finally, actor Ewan McGregor said in an interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that part of the inspiration for his Long Way Round motorcycle journey from London to New York was that, when seen on a map, the gap between Russia and the USA across the Bering Strait looked very small. McGregor and his team crossed the strait with their motorcycles loaded onto a Magadan Airlines plane, flying from Magadan, Russia to Anchorage, Alaska, USA.
Although the 2010 kitesurfing expedition was unsuccessful I am sure it is no more than a matter of time before the Strait is successfully kitesurfed across. It is an extraordinary stretch of water (or ice) whose appeal never wanes…. an elusive challenge for many.