Tulasi Chaitanya, Head Constable, City Special Branch, Vijayawada, has just added another feather to his already well-adorned cap! He has set a world record — becoming the first cop to swim the 34.5 kms across the North Channel (Northern Ireland to Scotland) — one of the toughest open water stretches in the world to navigate. He is also the fourth Indian to accomplish the feat.
"I feel so proud, given what it took me to achieve the feat. It feels very satisfying because of the endurance I had to display," he says, adding that he had applied for a chance to swim the North Channel in 2020.
The 34-year-old took around 13 hours to swim across the channel. He started at around 5:30 a.m. on August 9 and achieved his goal by around 6:30 p.m. With this, Chaitanya has swum in four oceans (Catalina Channel, Strait of Gibraltar, English Channel and North Channel) as a part of the Ocean Seven series — a rare accomplishment for a cop.
"I wanted to tick this off as a part of my ultimate vision of completing all the seven oceans," says Chaitanya.
A total of 1084 swimmers from all over the world have attempted to cross the North Channel, but so far only 124 have been successful. "I was over the moon when I heard these intimidating facts," says Chaithanya. "My confidence went up too," he adds.
The Northern Channel is known for chilly waters, fickle weather, rough seas, tough currents and an abundance of jellyfish, apart from sea lions and other aquatic animals.
To get used to the climate and water temperature, Chaitanya reached Ireland three weeks before the expedition. Even so, he found the experience very taxing both physically and mentally. One of the challenges is Hypothermia (caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures), as the waters of the Channel are only around 12 degrees.
"I applied ocean grease (petroleum jelly) before I got into the water to protect my skin. Initially, things went smoothly. But mid-way through, my body started to freeze and get numb. I started to experience cramps and pulled my hamstring. I think that was the toughest part of the crossing," he says. But Chaitanya kept swimming without losing focus. Also, he was caught in strong undercurrents and high waves during the crossing. But his experience came in handy. He made sure he remained positive, and determined not to give up.
Poisonous jellyfish, which can even prove fatal, complicated matters further. "Contact with jellyfish produces an itching and burning sensation and sometimes the lungs are affected. It could result in instant death," reveals Chaitanya.
"You have to be mentally very strong to complete such crossings," he smiles.
Being well aware of the potential challenges, Chaitanya’s strategy was to start slowly and proceed steadily, so as not to get exhausted. He covered 50 per cent of the distance within 5 hours, but then the wind speeds changed and falling temperatures kept him under check.
"I was given food every 30 minutes. I drank warm water and energy drinks (high on carbs and sugar), and ate protein powder, cakes, wafers and cookies, so that I didn’t suffer from nausea," he shares.
Dimple Krishna, who, with her husband Raghu, helped Chaitanya fund this expedition observed him from a boat which travelled alongside, and whenever she felt his energy levels were dropping, she supplied him with food and drink. "At one point, the wind speed was high, the water was extremely chilly and it started raining. My body was freezing," he recalls. But despite all the difficulties, Chaitanya managed to pull off the crossing.
Earlier, he completed the 45.9-km 20 Bridges Circumnavigation Swim around Manhattan Island in New York City in 7 hours 45 minutes. He also completed the 26.4-km Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim Rapperswil-Zurich in Lake Zürich, Switzerland and swam 12 kms across Lake Bodensee, swimming from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to Romanshorn. "I want to thank Commissioner of Police, Vijayawada City, Kanthi Rana Sir, and Rajeev Trivedi (IPS, Retd.). Without their encouragement I would not have come this far," says Chaitanya.
He now aims to complete the remaining three oceans in the series by swimming across the Cook Strait in New Zealand, Molokai Channel Hawaii and The Tsugaru Strait in Japan.