For the thrill seekers…
The vigorous sea, the menacing waves, the roar of the visually undetected whirlpools, the sting of salt in the eyes. Ten young men make their ways through it all. Their limbs ache. Their muscles threaten to give in. Yet their minds are focused, set to achieve the one thing they have strived so long to achieve. No matter what, they will defy the odds and gods, all those voices that resonate in derision. These ten men are attempting the seemingly impossible- to swim their way from Teknaf to the St. Martin's island.
Organised by Benchmark and Daccabasecamp, the “Shark Crossing Bangla Channel Expedition 2007” was sponsored by the popular Shark energy drink. The ten participants, who took up the challenge to swim the long stretch of water, were all from Daccabasecamp. The red letter day was February 27, 2007. It was not, technically speaking, a swim. Rather it was snorkelling, with the swimming being done underwater in Lycra snorkelling gear.
To note, Daccabasecamp was founded in 2001 by a group of energetic young men thirsty for adventure. Since its inception, the organisation has been providing training for high-adrenaline-pumping action and hard-core adventure quests. On the 16th of January 2006, three of the members set out for the very first time to conquer the Bangla Channel (that is, the waterway from Teknaf to St. Martins through the Bay of Bengal).
“It was the first time ever that such a thing was being attempted,” says Fazlul Kabir Sina, the President of Daccabasecamp and also a participant, “The thrill was immense. Although many people discouraged us, called us insane to venture out on such a quest, we held strong.” These three men were not going to let anything get in their way. Not after more than three years of training that involved daily laps in the Dhaka University swimming pool as well as the Turag River. Finally the hard work paid off, and the ill-wishers choked on their own venom. The quest was a success.
After a year, the expedition has taken itself to a larger magnitude- longer and harsher training sessions, more participants and greater funding. There was also strong media backup. Lipton Sharker managed to finish first at the 5 hour mark. Mr. Sina, who also participated this time, stated: “The water was more violent this time. It was very unpredictable. Whereas we were done the last time within 5 hours and 10 minutes, this year took its toll- we took about 5hours and 45 minutes.”
When asked how they succeeded in pulling off such a feat, Mr. Sina laughs. “I would be lying if I said it was easy. It was far from it. You need a lot of stamina to keep your limbs moving. There are times when the current unexpectedly switches direction- before you even know it, you could find yourself in the midst of a bad whirlpool. And there is always the risk of losing your sense of direction.”
In order to prevent any mishaps, there are rescue boats to assist a misguided swimmer. Every now and then, a swimmer surfaces, removes his snorkel and the rescue boat pumps in a drink of honey and oral saline.
“After about 2 hours of swimming, you tend to go into the auto-pilot mode,” says Mr. Sina, “The body by then has learned to synchronise the movement of the limbs and the breathing. You go to a point where physical fatigue is no longer imposing. From then on, it is a complete mind game- whoever is the strongest mentally survives the stretch.
“There are also certain preparations you would need to take. To swim over such a distance you would need to have a lot of fluid in your body. Usually, 24 hours before we set out, we go into a water-only diet.”
What of the possibility of aquatic predators like sharks? “We do not believe in just diving in, without calculating any risk whatsoever. A few days before the actual lap, experts test the waters for any possible bars including sharks. They then set the trail likewise.” Understandable enough. “But we do have to take special caution against the jellyfish. That is where the Lycra costume comes in. It serves a dual purpose- smooth underwater propulsion and fending off jellyfish.”
To end on a happy note, Benchmark is planning on more follow-ups of the program, possibly taking it on levels yet larger. The primary aim of such a program is to promote activity and youth. Thumbs up for the initiative, and we hope to see more of such events.
By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky