Swimmer Benoit Lecomte to become first to cross Pacific to raise awareness of plastic pollution

YOKOHAMA, Japan, May 25 (Reuters) - When Ben Lecomte stepped onto land for the first time after swimming across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998, he told himself 'never again'.

Yet, 20 years on, Lecomte is attempting an even more daunting challenge as he looks to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean, covering 9,100 kilometers.

On Tuesday, Lecomte and his nine-person support team will set out from Tokyo on an epic expedition expected to last more than six months and see the Frenchman arrive in San Francisco.

13 PHOTOS
Benoit Lecomte's swim across the Atlantic
See Gallery
Benoit Lecomte's swim across the Atlantic
QUIBERON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: French swimmer Benoit 'Ben' Lecomte (R) is welcomed, on September 25, 1998 on the beach of Port-Maria in Quiberon by his girlfriend Tinny (C) and his mother Liliane (L), the arrival of his crossing the Atlantic from the United States to France. some 5,400 km, undertaken since mid-July. (Photo by Marcel MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
QUIBERON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: French Benoit Lecomte is swimming off the coast of Britanny, 10 sea miles from Port-Maria de Quiberon, 25 September, after crossing the Atlantic from the United States to France. Lecomte started his crossing by mid-July. (Photo by MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
QUIBERON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: French Benoit Lecomte is swimming off the coast of Britanny, 10 sea miles from Port-Maria de Quiberon, September 25, 1998, after crossing the Atlantic from the United States to France. Lecomte started his crossing by mid-July. (Photo by MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
QUIBERON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: French Benoit Lecomte is welcomed by his girlfriend on the beach of Port-Maria in Quiberon on September 25, 1998, after crossing the Atlantic from the United States to France. Lecomte started his crossing mid-July. (Photo by MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
QUIBERON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: French Benoit Lecomte swims on September 25, 1998 10 miles off Port-Maria de Quiberon, Brittany, after crossing the Atlantic from the United States to France. Next to him is the yacht 'Falbala' with an unidentied sailor who accompanied Lecomte during the 5,400 kilometer crossing of the Atlantic which started by mid-July. (Photo by MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Benoit Lecomte, originally from Enghien Les Bains, France and now an airline employee in Texas, rests at the dockside after swimming in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts in preparation for his transAtlantic swimming attempt July 15. Lecomte, who intends to swim the 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Hyannis to Brest, France in approximately three months of daily swimming, will depart the United States on July 16.
Benoit Lecomte, originally from Enghien Les Bains, France and now an airline employee in Texas, warms up for the start of his transatlantic swimming attempt July 15 in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts. Lecomte, who intends to swim the 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Hyannis to Brest, France in approximately three months of daily swimming, will depart the United States on July 16. JRB/SV/AA
Benoit Lecomte, originally from Enghien Les Bains, France and now an airline employee in Texas, dons his special wetsuit for practice in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts July 15 to warm up for his transatlantic swimming attempt. Lecomte, who intends to swim the 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Hyannis to Brest, France in approximately three months of daily swimming, will depart the United States on July 16.
Benoit Lecomte proposes marriage to his girlfriend Trinh Dang with the words "Marry Me?" written on his flippers as he heads into the water for the start of his transatlantic swimming attempt July 16 in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts. The 31-year old Frenchman waded into the waters off Massachusetts to began an attempt to swim 3,400 miles (5,440 km) across the Atlantic Ocean. JRB/VM/CLH/
Frenchman Benoit Lecomte gets a hug and kiss in the water from his girlfriend Trinh Dang immediately after proposing to her with the words "Trinh Will You Marry Me?" written on his flippers as he headed into the water for the start of his transatlantic swimming attempt July 16 off Hyannis, Massachusetts. Lecomte intends to swim the 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Hyannis to Brest, France in approximately three months of daily swimming. JRB/VM/CLH/
Frenchman Benoit Lecomte swims away from the shoreline of Cape Cod at the start of his transatlantic swimming attempt July 16 in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts. The 31-year old Frenchman waded into the waters off Massachusetts to began an attempt to swim 3,400 miles (5,440 km) across the Atlantic Ocean. JRB/VM/CLH/
Frenchman Benoit "Ben" Lecomte swims off the Brittany port of Quiberon at the end of his trans-Atlantic swim, Septermber 25. Lecomte left Cape Cod on July 16 to undertake the 5,400 kilometre swim aided by a yacht. JES/CLH/
French swimmer Benoit Lecomte (C) is congratulated by is girlfriend Tinny (L) and friends as he arrives at the Breton port of Quiberon at the end of his trans-Atlantic swim, September 25. Ben Lecomte left Cape Cod on July 16 to undertake the 5,400 kilometre swim aided by a yacht. ??�
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"I knew it was something that was part of me and my identity," Lecomte told Reuters as his team undertook the final preparations to the support yacht in Yokohama's Bayside Marina on Friday.

"The way I look at it is as a way to express myself.

"It didn't happen very soon after the Atlantic (swim) because I got married, I had children, so I put that aside. But I knew I was going to come back to that project eventually."

The 50-year-old's plan is to swim for eight hours a day, as well as consume over 8,000 calories, as he undertakes an extraordinary journey that is part-adventure and part-scientific experiment.

Much of Lecomte's backing comes from scientific publisher Seeker.com http://www.seeker.com, who will be providing daily updates on his progress as well as promoting research on the data collected by the support team.

More than 27 different scientific organizations, some medical and some oceanographic, will be benefiting from the data gathered during the expedition.

Much of the research will focus on plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean, specifically the build-up of 'plastic smog' containing billions of pieces of microplastic.

There is increasing concern among scientists about the effect of pervasive plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.

In particular, they are worried about microplastic particles, bits measuring no more than two-tenths of an inch (5 mm), which come from large plastic trash that has fragmented into smaller pieces or microbeads in products like facial soap, body wash and toothpaste.

For Lecomte, raising awareness of these issues is more important than setting any record.

"I remember my father and he was the one who taught me how to swim in the Atlantic. I remember times when we would go on the beach and walk and never see any plastic. Now, everywhere I go, on the beach I see plastic everywhere," said Lecomte.

"If we are all aware of it then after it is much easier to take action and to change our behavior because the solution is in our hands. We know what we have to do."

 

MENTAL BATTLE

The Frenchman, whose Atlantic crossing was never ratified by Guinness World Records because it cannot be fully verified that he resumed his swims in the exact point he stopped them the day before, believes the mental battle will be tougher than the physical endurance.

"It is mind over matter," said Lecomte, who is also an architectural consultant based in Austin, Texas when not in the water.

"To do the physical aspect of it, sure it is difficult and all that but what is much more difficult is to be in that very hostile environment, to do that days in and days out, to push you and to push your limits, then the mind has to be super strong."

To overcome this, Lecomte will make a strict plan for what he will think about for eight hours in the water each day.

"The worst thing that can happen is not knowing what you are going to do with your mind and going to the wrong place," he said.

As well as mental challenges, Lecomte will have to endure turbulent and unpredictable weather, potentially freezing cold water, as well as sharks and jellyfish.

However, right now, Lecomte just wants to get started.

"I am a little bit like a tiger in a cage, ready to go." (Reporting by Jack Tarrant Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Read Full Story