On November 15th a group of international swimmers, coming from the region and even as far away as South Africa and New Zealand, will attempt something that has never been done before: swim across the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet. It is one of the environmental wonders of the world and a place with deep regional, historical, and even biblical significance. To give you an insight into the experience, we invited two of the swimmers to share their experience…
Udi Erell, Business Entrepreneur, Open Water Swimmer, Sailor
Udi Erell is an open water marathon swimmer, sailor and overall lover of the sea. He manages two private companies which he founded to develop satellite-based solutions for vessels at sea. He is a husband, father, grandfather, and founder of the Cyprus-Israel Swim; which established a world record open relay swim while promoting awareness for cleaning the oceans and seas from plastics. More about this effort can be found here.
Tell us about yourself and what this swim means to you?
For me personally the Dead Sea Swim is many things, so much so that I sometimes wonder if it was fair to propose this challenge to my fellow swimmers, who do not have my connection to the place. Even the name "Dead Sea" means completely the opposite for me: I was conceived there. My parents lived in a hut on its north shore during most of the 1940's and literally made their living from the sea - my dad was in charge of the transportation by towed barges of the potash that was extracted from the sea at the Sodom plant, in the south shore, to the north shore, where it was loaded on trucks and sent to Haifa port for export. When the 1948 War broke out, the place was cut off from the rest of the newborn state of Israel, and my mother, about to give birth to me, was flown out in a light aircraft that landed on a makeshift dirt runway.
All through my childhood I heard stories of that period, and my father, who is now 96, keeps saying that it was the happiest time of their lives. In the course of that war my father used the tugs and barges to land forces that secured Ein Gedi, same place where we are going to land at the end of our swim.
So, the Dead Sea is very close to me. The idea of swimming across came to me when my dad invited me to accompany him to a conference on the Dead Sea Works at Ein Gedi. This was not long after our epic swim from Cyprus to Israel and we were seeking a new challenge. The answer was right there before me: a first ever swim with a noble cause - to raise awareness to the plight of this amazing work of nature.
Better still - an opportunity to cooperate with swimmers from Jordan, which shares the Dead Sea with Israel. I was afraid the group would kill me when I put it to them, but I had underestimated the combined strength and dedication of the group. We immediately set about finding out how to make it feasible and after a short while had a plan of action which has since been implemented.
I am looking forward to adding the swim to my Dead Sea genes.
Oded Rahav, Entrepreneur, Open Water Swimmer
Oded Rahav is a serial entrepreneur and thus taking risk is part of his diet. Or as Oded sums it; walking on the edge has two advantages- you feel your heart beat and you take almost no space from others. In the past 15 years all his activities have been intertwined with sustainability projects. In the music industry he created a web based platform for music distribution and thus making a redundancy of plastic CD usage. And today, he is a leading business figure in Israel in precision agriculture, concerning water conservation and food security.
What is your motivation for participating in the Dead Sea swim challenge?
I saw this as a historic opportunity to speak out for the sake of this magnificent place, our "Himalaya", the lowest place on earth. A place of such importance for humanity. A place for relaxation of body and mind. And now it is vanishing in front of our eyes. We are probably the last generation to save this place from dying and we must shout this out through what we know best and love most - swimming.
As a swimmer who has completed challenging swims, how do you view this unique challenge, of swimming across the Dead Sea?
This swim, as opposed to all others, is risky in any sense- it is in harsh conditions, needs a specific support team including medical devices since the salinity here is almost 35 per cent and suffocation can be immediate. In addition the eyes cannot be exposed to such waters and so the whole configuration of the swim has to take this in consideration. We swim with a full mask and thus breathing is challenging (we swim free style). One more challenging issue is actually the crossing of the sea from side to side due to the fact that one side is Jordan and the other is Israel. This is not trivial in this region.
Given the uniqueness of the Dead Sea (lowest point on earth, roughly 35% salinity, roughly 10 times saltier than the ocean) how are you preparing and training for this swim as compared to other swims?
The swim will take six-seven constant hours. The Dead Sea, when windy, is close to impossible to swim due to the atomic weight fact of the waters. Preparations include swimming in any sea and in partially harsh conditions in order to simulate these situations. We've also conducted 3 swims in the Dead Sea and hopefully this will be sufficient. The biggest challenge will be the long time in these waters. The human skin might have its limits though from our research it seems doable and we fear not. We'll meet in 50 years and see if we were right.
Do you see the Dead Sea challenge primarily as another challenging and unique swim for you to take on, or do you also see the challenge as a way to be a part of saving the Dead Sea and pushing people and politicians to take measures to protect the Dead Sea?
One of our goals, like we did in the Cyprus Israel Swim in 2014, is to call for action. When it comes to raising awareness for the sake of our environment one must do the outmost in order to make a change for the better. It is our responsibility, it is on our watch that the Sea is shrinking, and there is no one else to take action. In other words- who are we not to take action? We hope that this mission and its outcomes will prevail for each and every one of us on planet earth.