Bill Scanlon
Rocky Mountain News

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February 9, 2009
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Aspen woman swims Atlantic " well, not quite

ASPEN, Colorado " Jennifer Figge is a hero to multitudes of wannabe athletes, but she didn't even come close to swimming across the Atlantic Ocean.

If she had, she would have swum faster than Michael Phelps " pre-bong " hour after hour, day after day.

The 56-year-old Aspen resident started in Cape Verde off the coast of Africa and arrived at Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela 24 days later, on Thursday, a distance of some 2,700 miles.

At that rate, she would have had to swim about 112 miles a day.

She admitted that she didn't swim at all five of those days, and that on several of the other days she swam for far less than eight hours.

So, if she averaged six hours a day for the 19 days that she did swim, she would have been swimming for 114 hours, or at a rate of 24 miles per hour.

Someone who runs a four-minute mile goes at a pace of 15 mph.

To her credit, Figge never said she was going to swim the whole way. Her manager, David Higden, told the Guardian Newspaper in London that that would be physically impossible or would take years. He said Figge didn't get in the water as much aw she wanted because the waves were so high.

But most of the other news articles about her swim imply that she swam across the ocean.

Figge swam behind a catamaran, protected from sharks by a 20-foot by 13-foot cage that rested partly below the water.

She and her crew say they haven't yet calculated how many miles she swam.

Good swimmers can swim a mile in about 20 minutes. If she could have kept up that pace hour after hour, day after day, she may have swum about 350 miles.

"Some of the more sensational stories made it sound like she got in the water at point A and never stopped swimming, like Nemo, until she got to Trinidad," Higden told the Rocky today.

"That wasn't the case, and it never was supposed to be the case.

"The plan all along was for her to swim a little bit every day and then get in the boat."

In the middle of the ocean, a boat can't drop anchor, so the boat continued westward during the hours she was on it, he said.

The captain decided when it was too dangerous for Figge to swim. That was any time the crew couldn't see her because of the waves.

The most she swam in one day was 25 miles, and that was because there was a fast current moving with her, Higden said.

"Jennifer once told me, 'This is about the romance, not the science,'" he said. "She loves to be in the water.

"She had an amazing will and drive and passion for doing this," he said.

It would be a shame if the sensational inaccurate reports of her feat detracted from the great adventure, he said.

"Whales literally came up to her," he said. "She swam with dolphins some days.

"There were also Portugese men-o-war" that chased her back into the boat.

"She did the swim that the sea gave her," he said. "That's all she could ask for."

She finished not exhausted, but exhilarated, he said.

On Trinidad, she attended a steel-drum festival, where she experienced sensory overload, after all those days of seeing nothing but water and blue sky.

The plan is for her to sail to Tobabo on Wednesday, and then swim back to Trinidad.

But it depends on what the sea gives her.


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The Summit Daily Updated Feb 9, 2009 12:26PM Published Feb 9, 2009 12:26PM Copyright 2009 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.