Sarah Ferguson - Around Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) circumnavigation

60 km (37.3 miles)

19 hours, 8 minutes on 15-16 March 2019

Observed and documented by Camila Ahrendt

First circumnavigation swim of Easter Island

Contents

Swimmer

  • Name: Sarah Ferguson
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 36
  • Nationality: South Africa
  • Resides: Durban

Support Personnel

  • Sarah Houston (coach/feeder)
  • Rentia Denissen (doctor)
  • John McCarthy (safety)
  • Marta Vigoroux (support staff)
  • Hian Schneider (boat captain)
  • Juan Gustavo Ogaz (kayak support)
  • Te Manu ko Nui (Kayak support) Gabriel Lillo (kayak support)
  • Erik Aleynikov (videography/photography)
  • Karl Oftebro (videography/photography)
  • Camila Ahrendt - Director, Cientifica Plastic Oceans Chile (independent observer)

Collaborations with Chilean Navy, Hanga Roa Hospital, Nanaky yacht (Nautica Rapa Nui), Kayak Rapa Nui, Hotel Hotu Matua, Discover Agency.


Swim Parameters

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: South Pacific Ocean
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start & Finish Location: Hanga Roa Harbor (dock at terminus of Avenida Te Pito Ote Henua) (-27.146947, -109.431018)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 60 km (37.3 miles)

Swim Data

  • Start: 15 March 2019, 08:07 (Pacific/Easter, UTC-5).
  • Finish: 16 March 2019, 03:15
  • Elapsed: 19 hours, 8 minutes.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 25 25
Air Temp (C) 20 27
Wind (mph) 1 15

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot


Observer Log

Download PDF

by Camila Ahrendt - Director, Cientifica Plastic Oceans Chile

  • 8.07 am: Sarah start the swim from Hanga Roa

Sarah Ferguson started the swim with Sarah Houston, they look happy and strong. Camera men are focusing on her in this moment. We have been prepared all the things on the yacht. This is what we have been working for a long time ago… and I’m so happy.

  • 9:46 am: Location: -27°,18.5655’S / -109°,4.5372’W

Sarah arrives to the first difficult point of the swim, called Rano Kau. Slow wind, the team is working well, there is a lot of energy and we are focused on our job. We are listening to Rapa Nui music. Sarah Houston just came into the yacht again after feeding Sarah Ferguson, and she tells us that Sarah F. is happy. So, if she is happy, we are happy as well. The kayakers change the turn each 1 hour. Sarah are swimming fast, average pace 2 nots or 3.3km per hour.

John is focus, Rentia is watching to Sarah F. Marta, the captain, is super fast with decisions, also drives the zodiac and helps in everything. Tavo and Konui are the kayakers from Kayak Rapa Nui and they are so “involved” and listen to John with a lot of attention.

We are impressed about the BIG waves crashing in the big walls, the image is scary in some moments. I can’t believe that kayak people are used to kayak in these spots. I would like to know how Sarah is feeling, is she seeing fish? Plastic?

  • 12:42 pm: Location: -27°,10.786’S / -109°,22.446’W

Sarah F. completed the first difficult point! Much faster than we have been planning. She goes very well, in the same rhythm. We are in front of Vinapu.

Sarah F. is happy and a few minutes ago she listened a rock song! Sarah H. went with music in the zodiac to feed her, I don’t know if its ACDC? Or Metallica? But it sounds great ahaha. The rest of the team is a unit and focussed. Tokerau boat is near of us and we are sailing in average 2 nots. The wind is soft, we feel grateful.

  • 14:54pm: Location: -27°,9.311’S / -109°,18.156’W

We are almost in the middle of Rano Kau and Poike, 2 of the 3 difficult points of Rapa Nui. The sky has a few clouds. Sarah H. told me that Sarah F. is

“working hard, not in the entire swim she is top, sometimes she just swim”. We are with north wind, so the waves coming directly for us. We can see the Poike near: The second difficult point. One of the corners of the island, in that point the wind is of all directions and with big waves. There is “Matapari” that means “The eyes of hurricane. We are eating light food, and Sarah H. is preparing the food and drinks for Sarah F. She is swimming fast, strong. I admire her deeply. I see her and I see the ocean and I can feel the connection, the energy…. The Mana is with us, is with Sarah.

  • 15:52pm:

Sarah H. went to feed Sarah F. and she told me “now she’s happy again!!!” (pretty smile)

Great! So, If she is happy, we absolutely are happy.

I can see Sarah swimming so fast and always in 2 knots. We are listening to jazz music (wawwwwwwww, imagine that: work for the best swim, yacht, sun, ocean, friends, jazz AND we make the world aware about the plastic pollution … I’m with the right people, I’m grateful)

We have been feeling more wind, intense and powerful. Intense wind comes directly to us. We can see more and more close the Poike. The ocean is beautiful, big, deep… Blue in the sky, blue in the water… and Sarah is in the middle.

We already can see Tongariki, with the 15 Moai…and the Rano Raraku. The yacht is just in front of them right now. Most of the people can see them in the land, in the National Park, and we can see them from the water.

John looks focussed, calm, always watching Sarah. I guess he feels a deep connection right now with the ocean and with Sarah as well. Rentia also looks calm, watching Sarah.

The wind is strong. Comes from many directions sometimes and the waves are bigger. The yacht is moving a lot, I’m in the kitchen cooking and doing things are in the floor ajaaj, I guess I have to cook in some other time. It’s better.

  • 16:56pm: Location: -27°,7.95’S / -109°,14.496’W

We already in Poike, Sarah has been swimming in the same rhythm. 4 hours swimming from Vinapu point. We have north wind. And the waves are bigger, the yacht is moving a lot. It’s better not to cook right now ahahaah. I wonder how is Sarah’s feeling? Is she feeling the big waves? The wind? Sarah H. is

always happy, good mood. Also a great DJ. We have been listening rock, soul. Such good songs!

We are getting closer to the big Poike walls. And the waves are crashing on walls. Sometimes everything is white. We can listen the sound by the waves crashing into the walls.

  • 19:02pm: Location: -27°,5.219’S / -109°,15.043’W

We are ending the Poike. Suddenly the sun is turn off. Sarah continues in 2 nots, this is amazing. John have been diving twice. Sarah H. always keep the good mood and he is easy going. She’s very very nice. Every 30 minutes she has to go feed to Sarah and prepare 3 bottles and 1 tupper. She fastens all the things with a cord throws it in from of Sarah , Sarah F. eats fast and keeps swimming. I laugh with Wolfty, sometimes I really can’t understand his accent, but I try, and he tries to speak slowly. A good match ahaha

He filmed me in a video, explaining everything that I’m watching. I love to transmit the things that I’m living to the rest of the people.

Uuuuuuuuups, the yacht is moving too much. I can’t write any more. A few of the things in the kitchen are in the floor again.

We can “listen” to the ocean, because the wind brings the sounds.

  • 20:06pm:

We just took our first group picture! It’s a happy moment.

Suddenly I’m feeling a new sensation… The landscape is AMAZING, the energy is incredible. We are in front of “La Perousse”. We can see 3 hills, Marta tell me the names and tell me that when she was younger, every time that she was watching them, she thought that they were the back of the camels. WAW really, this is amazing. My favorite landscape since the beginning of the SWIM. Green hills, the sunset, the ocean is almost orange and Sarah… swimming against plastic, this is absolutely a great moment for all of us.

Sarah H. is preparing all the food with so much love, and I just saw something deeply beautiful. She kissed one of the tuppers for Sarah. She definitely has a good heart.

John has been swiming 3 times and he looks fascinated by the colour of the ocean. The moon is amazing, the view makes me feel lucky … Sarah is splendid swimming… she is strong, I send love to her.

  • 20:32pm: Location: -27°,4.671’S / -109°,17.438’W

12 HOURS SWIMMING! We are in the middle of Poike and Ovahe. Bueautiful moment, this has been my favourite. I feel so much energy here. Also, this has been one of the most intense movements on board. The yacht is moving so much. There is a “north wind”. It could be for the energy… maybe.

I talk with Marta and Hian, they are a great people, we are connecting by the humor.

  • 20:38pm:

There is a car “flashing it ́s lights towards us” there is a signal for us! Konui and Tavo are flashing lights from the yacht! This is a great greeeeeat moment!! We are connected! People in the island are following and supporting us! And the best…. John told this to Sarah! I think she is happy too! We don’t know who they are, but we can feel the support and the happiness and that’s the best. These kinds of experiences and details make it all worthwhile

We are talking more with Marta, Hian, Konui and Tavo, they are ao cooperative and always want to help in anything.

  • 10:45pm:

Sarah is happy with her speed, average: 2 knots.

Sarah H. is singing nice songs and I love her good mood. A few minutes ago, everyone were looking at the stars and I was thinking that we are making a dream come true.. Thanks Universe..

The yacht is moving so much, the wind is increasing, we can see everything by the light of the moon. The waves are big and I can see the Sarah’s light sometimes, that make me feel calm …

Until the last momento I have followed Sarah’s arms and her stroke, I never let het out of my sight. Everytime that I was cooking, I looked through the window to see how Sarah was doing.

She doesn’t needs anything more that her body, her mind, her passion and her soul to complete the swim.. and EVERYTHING is for talking to the entire world about plastic pollution…. I admire her and her team so much. And some of the best things that I have seen on board is the deep love that Sarah’s team feel for Sarah.

  • 11:36pm: Location: -27°,3.284’S / -109°,23.376’W

We are near the north point of the island. THE LAST DIFFICULT POINT that we have been studying.

The yacht is moving more than never. There is a strong wind, here we can feel the power of the ocean! I wonder how is Sarah, can she feel the wind? In front of the island (on the right from the yacht) we can see a BIG storm coming directly to us! Dark clouds are on their way!

So, Hian and Marta decided to “move away” from the island a little bit, because there are many rocks and the waves are crashing strong.

  • 00:35am:

WE CAN SEE THE HANGA ROA LIGHTS!!!!! WE ARE SCREAMING! WE ARE HAPPY! EVERYONE IS APPLAUDING. John is kayaking next to Sarah and he also saw the lights! This is a good moment! The communication with the kayak is constant.

There is a thing that i’m thinking… I need “THE TOKERAU TO GET CLOSER TO US in case something happens in this last part of the swim” so I ask Marta if she can say to Tokerau that we need it closer, so we are talking with them now.

Post-Swim Observations

Now I’m writing this last point here in the hotel, because the last hours on board were so intense that I couldn’t write anything.

“There is a situation in the water… we are worried because the “whistle” has been sounding times than usual, 3 whistles means trouble, an emergency, and we have heard it already twice! The radio is not working, and Marta goes VERY FAST to the kayak!

Sarah has a problem in her “throat” , so Sarah H. is preparing glicerin and coco oil, also a broncodilatador. The waves are big, strong wind… we have to wait more.. the most important is the safety of Sarah F. …

And its particular, because we are super near of Hanga Roa, we can see the lights (I ask Marta “what’s our distance” and she told me “1,7km” … I really want that Sarah feels good.

Marta and I sent a messagge to Carlos, for the ambulance and we also talked with the Tokerau.

1.5km from Hanga Roa, Tavo and John are talking of how to end the swim: Tavo tells me his ideas and I’m translating to John. Tavo says that the best way to end is to be in the beach of Hanga Roa and turn to the left. Because the waves are so big and there are rocks too.

John is explaining that he is going to swim with her and Sarah Houston too. And the kayak will be next to them. We are waiting the best moment. “Without a doubt this experience has been the most intense of my life, I think we all have learned and reached our dreams.”

Download original handwritten log


Narrative

by Sarah Ferguson
29 March 2019

The Easter Island swim has been the toughest I’ve done, and I really had to dig deep. On March 15, as dawn was still to make an appearance, my team and I readied ourselves for this momentous challenge that lay ahead. Around me, people gathered with messages of well wishes and encouragement and the sound of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ filled the air. It was one of those moments where I tried not to think too hard about what I was about to do and just dived into the water and began, leaving behind the echoes of shouting and cheering.

The water was warm and Sarah Houston and I quickly got into a rhythm. The first kilometre was quite choppy and I was still trying to settle my nerves. That combination made me feel nauseous and the need for a suppository was calling. I began to feel seasick with the rising swells. Only ten minutes after my departure, the harbour had closed because of the increasing swells which means I had made it out just in time. To my relief, the nausea passed as I continued with each stroke; my watch keeping me informed of my stats. After reading my speed of 16 minutes a kilometre, it then decided to stop working altogether. I was being challenged to new heights as, being my instrument to gauge my progress in the water, I now felt a bit lost without it.

I was given a suppository profilactively at my first feed anyway and it settled me down nicely. John started out on my left with the kayak and after the first feed switched to my right. We learnt in Hawaii to shift sides of the kayak at each feed to allow my breathing to be bilateral which it usually is, but sometimes I will favour one side especially if visibility gets poor. The yacht was further behind me to the right.

The swell was massive coming from behind me and a bit side on with the wind creating chop and the rebound of the breaking waves off the cliffs causing more turbulence to swim against.

The coast of Rapa Nui was no joke. Photo: Wofty Wild.

I could feel the water change as we neared the first corner of the island. I was out in the big, deep blue depths of the ocean which was mesmerising- a bit like being suspended in space. As we approached closer I was graced with the sight of a giant pinnacle rock protruding from the water to my right. Behind it was a smaller island (2km from shore.) I later discovered that this was the iconic island used for the bird man competition. Communities would live on the side of the crater at the cliff edge in small stone houses with tiny entrances. They would enter backwards into the entrance to avoid letting any spirits into their home. The people of Rapa Nui have a strong spiritual tie to their ancestors.

The men would then have to swim to the island, climb up the cliffs and collect a bird egg and then swim back on a handmade raft with the egg intact. The winner was crowned ruler of the island for a year until the competition would happen again.

I rounded the first leg of the swim in record time. The conditions were a bit wild, with the swells and wind but nothing too crazy. John had switched with Tavu and Konui by then and was back on his 2nd shift. The rotating of the paddlers every hour really helped me keep track of time as I no longer had my watch. As a rounded the first point, the yacht pulled up closer to cheer and whoop and on my next feed Sarah H played Thunderstruck on her speaker. It gave me a real boost to start the long slog to the next point.

The start of this 25km stretch came with its own terms; the heat of the day and swimming against the current. However, aside from the heat of midday, I was experiencing headaches and taking strain from the salt burning my mouth. This was tough because it was not something I am familiar with and didn’t expect. I had been putting Vaseline in my mouth and lips every second feed to try and combat it, but nothing seemed to help. The lysterine would help for 10 minutes before the salt got to me again. Rounding the first point I swam straight into a current. I could see the bottom and pieces of seaweed and microplastic as well as small fish swimming under me against me- with the current. Konui was on his shift and there was loads of manky foam around me and that did not set a great tone for what was to be my toughest slog ever.

About 3 hours into the long grind and 7 hours into the swim I was taking strain. I still had 75% to swim left to go but I was feeling tired and the salt was really getting to me. This was not a good sign, but quitting was not an option. Sarah H noticed my strife and jumped in with me to try and cheer me up for the next 3 feeds. It was a welcome distraction. She did her usual underwater craziness pulling faces and making me smile inwardly. It helped but I could not return the smile as smiling was too painful. Wofty and Marta managed the feeds while Sarah H swam alongside me and on John’s

3rd stint on the kayak he summoned Sarah H back to the yacht to assist as Rentia was man down with sea sickness. Eish!

Sarah Ferguson staying hydrated during the swim. Photo: Wofty Wild.

I did maths 24 in my head, sang songs and thought of the finish. I tried zoning out but unfortunately that is something that happens naturally and cannot be forced.

We were now further from the coast in the big blue which I love, but it was impossible to switch off due to the long rolling swell, small wave chop and of course the salt. The coastline appeared endless, but it was beautiful as we passed a crater, some cliffs, caves and it was breathe taking.

In my battle to stay focused and try and disassociate from the salt water in my mouth, I came up with strategies to distract myself. One of which was going through the alphabet and thinking of each person in my life who I am grateful for and the impact they have had. I had planned to break the alphabet game into 3rds so I could do some for each stretch of coastline, but I needed to use it all on this long stretch! I also became aware of all the beauty that surrounded me; the waves breaking on the cliffs, the volcano, the navy boats that checked up on me and being able to look back on how far I had already come. It pushed me through the slow, hard grind.

Finally we started nearing the second point- Poike. The wildest point and one which everyone on the island feared the most. There is no road access to that point, only foot and cattle paths, and so no way to evacuate to the land. This was a wildness that I truly love. It was windy, and the sea had a mind of its own, reminding me of Cape Point; the wind pumping, the waves crashing, the boulders. I thrive in these conditions and was so excited for the challenge of rounding this section. I could feel the ocean change as we got closer and closer. The water got wilder and choppier, waves thumping against the cliffs.

I picked up a gear and was in my element. John was whooping with the energy of the water all around us and it meant a lot to me when he shared how incredible it was for him to watch me swim through this phase of my journey.

We rounded Poike well before nightfall and I then knew that I was on track to finish the swim in under 20 hours. Stoked. I had successfully passed through the 2 toughest corners of the island, 1 more to go and then the homeward stretch. I knew the next stretch would feel long and hard and so tried hard to disconnect. I sang more songs and thought of the finish. The sun was taking its leave and I was losing focus again. The moon was half full which was really pretty allowing me to rely on the silhouette of the Kayakers rather than their headlamps which I could not see as they were on the back of the head and not the side. My mouth was still taking strain.

A below-water shot capturing Sarah as she swims under the moonlit sea. Photo: Wofty Wild.

When it finally got dark, the phosphorous was difficult to see but every now and then you could see sparkles and it was beautiful. John jumped into swim with me around 11pm for a welcome distraction. I was fading again and having his somewhat thrashing style next to me was a comfort. Tavu was paddling by my side slow and steady with an occasional ‘yeehaa’

I was alone again after 30 minutes with John accompanying me in the water and aiming for the final corner. On John’s next shift there were whistles from the yacht and we were told to swim away from the cliffs as there was storm brewing and we couldn’t take a chance of being knocked into the cliffs. We did a 70 degree turn out to sea!

I could feel the change in the water as I neared it and knew I was getting closer

Around this time I had already gotten sick and brought up the contents of my stomach. By now I had relied on two suppositories to keep me well enough to continue. I had been stung about 3 times by jelly fish and could feel the chafe under my right armpit. The stings became a welcome distraction from the salt in my mouth. At some point I remember looking at the yacht during a feed and seeing it swaying from side to side at about 80 degrees. I was so stoked not to be on the yacht.

The final point was sharper than the other 2 which meant we did not hug the coast but rather went just past the point and then took a sharp turn to the left. There was a car on the side of the cliffs shining their lights at us which was another welcome distraction knowing that people were following on land as well as in the ocean.

I was swimming at 3.3km/hour which meant about 4-5 hours to go. As I rounded the final point it was 12km to go. I was taking strain again and asked Sarah to jump in and swim with me for a bit. I thought she would swim for 3, maybe 4 feeds and then get out as I knew she was tired. She had worked relentlessly between feeding me and the crew as well as getting on and off the zodiac in massive swell. This was not an easy task and Tavu actually cut his shin deeply in the transfer process and needed Rentia to do doctor duties.

I had delayed asking Sarah as long as possible, but I needed her now. There were probably about 10km to go when she jumped in. It was amazing to have her by my side. This was probably the hardest that she had to work to keep me motivated as I endured through some low points.

The final results. Design: Crowd.

We could see the lights of Hanga Roa and the crew were amped. I tried not to look too closely as the lights are deceptive and I actually missed the natural moonlight and darkness.

About 4km from the end, my throat was closing, and I was struggling to breathe. Sarah tried to call from the kayak to the yacht but we only got the message through on the next feed. We asked for a broncho dilator and glycerine. Alarm bells were ringing in the crew’s heads and we were so close to finishing. I was being cautious as I knew the previous swimmer had failed the swim due to salt inhalation and had to be airlifted out.

The bronchodilator arrived and I took two puffs. There was no change and I knew then that it was ok, I could finish, as tough and as uncomfortable as it was. I told myself this was just like any other training swim.

Rentia came with her stethoscope on the next feed which I refused. I just wanted to finish now. I tried to enjoy the process but the salt was too distracting for that.

With 1 mile to go I was chomping at the bit to head inland. I was shown the 3 bright lights we were aiming for and made a beeline towards them only to be whistled back to the kayak. We had to keep straight due to rocks. I was not convinced but Sarah urged me to trust the kayakers. I reluctantly followed.

During the final stretch John swapped out with the local paddlers who are experts with the shores so that they could safely navigate me over the shallow reefs and rocky sections. The next thing a fishing boat appeared out of nowhere and kept shining their light on me and having a fat chat with Konui and Tavu in Rapa Nuin. We didn’t understand a word and I just wanted to swim. It was very disorientating with the lights in the water. John was now in the water with Sarah and I for the home stretch and was also trying to keep me focused and calmly guide me into safety. I learnt later that the navy wanted to abort the swim and take me to shore in the boat as the harbour was still closed, but thankfully John persuaded them otherwise.

Eventually we realised that Tavu, Konui and the fishing boat were waiting for the set to pass before shouting ‘go go go!’ We sprinted in through the break safely to the calm harbour and I finished my last few strokes butterfly a promise I’d made to do for Josie, Sarah’s daughter but I also did it for all the children.

I could hear cheering and shouting as I got to the end. John and Sarah embraced me and Tavu jumped in to celebrate. It was an incredible moment which lasted too briefly. The swim was not over until I got out the water.

Konui’s dad was the first to embrace me and I was overwhelmed with leis and lanyards from people showering me with congratulations; it was a beautiful moment. There were people everywhere! I hugged Tod and Julie from Plastic Oceans and briefly spotted Mark from Plastic Oceans Chile before being whisked away by the doctor for routine check ups

Unfortunately, the moment felt too brief as I was whisked away in an ambulance to get examined. I would have loved to have experienced that time on the shore for a little while longer, to truly relish in its goodness, but I respect the doctor’s decision to ensure safety first. They put a space blanket around me even though I was hot and into the ambulance I went. All alone. I was taken to emergency and unceremoniously undressed into a gown before bloods were taken, a drip given and vitals monitored. Everything was perfect and the doctor was happy. I nodded in and out of sleep waiting for my team to arrive with fresh clothes and celebrations. It was surreal.


Photos

Photos courtesy of Wofty Wild.

Click to enlarge.


Video

Footage courtesy of Wofty Wild.

Sarah Ferguson - Around Easter Island (Rapa Nui) from MSF on Vimeo.


Weather Data

Mataveri International Airport Station (via wunderground.com)

Media