Rian Herlihy, 16, from Glounthane, completed the gruelling Straits of Gibraltar swim from Spain to Africa in a remarkable three hours and 41 minutes last Friday — shaving almost 25 minutes off fellow Cork woman Sarah Clifford’s old record of four hours and four minutes.
Rian is now part of an elite club of fewer than 450 people who have, since 1928, completed the swim in togs only — without a wetsuit.
The Sunday’s Well Swimming Club member was relaxing in Marbella yesterday with her proud mum Colette, and her coach and uncle, Diarmuid, who set the Irish men’s record for the swim in 2007, a record he held for seven years.
“The last hour was so tough because I was tired and the current was against me. But I managed to up my average stroke per minute from 48 from the first three hours to about 52 or 54. “I was exhausted when I finished. I had to be dragged onto the boat. But I’m delighted.”
Colette, a non-swimmer, said the entire family was thrilled.
“When I was on the boat starting out and saw the distance she had to go, I thought ‘Oh my God’, but I knew she was a fantastic swimmer,” she said.
Rian’s achievement is all the more remarkable given that she had to mix her training with studying for her Junior Cert at Ashton, and she also had her appendix removed earlier this year.
Rian set off from Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain, in darkness just before 7am last Friday.
The straight-line distance is 17km, but due to the unpredictable weather, which can include extremely strong winds, strong currents, and fast-changing tides, swimmers can clock up to 22km as they battle the conditions.
The strait is included in the world’s Seven Oceans challenge series.
Rian was accompanied by two boats — a lead boat which she followed, and a support boat from where Colette and Diarmuid cheered her on.
Rian stopped every 30 minutes for just 30 seconds to feed and to take on fluids, and had to tread water while her feed, attached to a fishing line, was thrown to her.
During the swim across one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, she encountered ocean tankers and a tuna fishing-boat with fishing lines behind it, which she had to avoid. Dolphins circled close to her and she saw whales in the distance.
But as she approached Africa a very strong current threatened to derail her swim but she dug deep and reached landfall at Punta Cires, Morocco. She is due to return home next Monday. Rian took on the challenge to fundraise for children’s charity, Barnardos, and has raised almost €1,500. Donations can be made on the Barnardos website.