Caitlin O’Reilly swims the Tsugaru Straight

After three years of Covid disruptions, I finally had the opportunity to travel again. I had originally planned to swim in Tsugaru Strait in early 2020 and it was touch and go whether we would even be able to travel in 2022 with heavy Japan border restrictions. Thank goodness for last-minute visa approvals and negative Covid tests we were able to get away.

Tsugaru Strait is a stretch of water between two islands of Japan, Honshu and Hokkaido. From point to point the swim is about 19.5km but due to the tides and currents swimmers start further back and end up swimming anywhere from 30 to 40 kilometres. Summer in Japan is typically known to be warm and wet but it can also get pretty windy and foggy in northern Honshu. This weather makes it hard to find a swim day especially when swimmers are only given a window of up to 4 days. My team and I were very lucky that we were given the opportunity to attempt a swim. On the 2nd of July, we drove over to the boat at 2:00am only to find out it was too foggy and we were not going to be swimming today. The weather was not looking that flash for the next couple of days so we were unsure if I was going to get a swim in or not. Cape Tappi, which is where we are staying, is an isolated place with only a hotel and a small campground. There was not much to do up there which made the waiting difficult because there was nothing to distract myself.

Fortunately, the weather Gods were on our side and we were given the go-ahead to swim on the 5th of July. We once again drove back over the hill at 3.00 am, in intense fog, to meet our boat captain, observer and the rest of the crew. The weather look perfect, according to our Japanese Captain and start time was 4.00 am, just as the sun rises.

I was quite nervous to start with, the Japan swim organization uses a ribbon that hangs over the side of the fishing boat, which is used as a guide for the swimmer so they don’t have to sight. I found it worked really well as it became a distraction from what else my mind thinks is underneath me. The conditions were a bit rough to start out with but as the day carried on it got better and better.  I soon got into my rhythm and felt pretty strong throughout the swim.

In my head I thought it would be about a 30km swim but we encountered some strong currents closer to Hokkaido. Even though it felt like I was pushing a pretty good pace I could definitely feel the resistance against me. After swimming 11 hrs 37 mins and over 41kms I made landfall in Hakkaido.

I was so grateful to have my Mum, Nanny and Poppy and my coach Philip Rush supporting me all the way.

Overall I felt extremely luck to have the opportunity to swim in such a remote and special place.  I am looking forward to being in LA in a few weeks to attempt Catalina Channel.

Caitlin O’Reilly