United by their passion and achievements in winter swimming and with fresh memories of a successful first visit to Argentina the previous year, 50 swimmers arrived in Buenos Aires. At the invitation of Matias Ola, his Unir El Mundo campaign, with support from the Argentina tourist board, Marca Pais and other significant sponsors, the Festival was launched immediately with eager anticipation, fond reunions, bright new friendships, logistics and plans for a monumental relay swim.
As a team of 45 swimmers stepped aboard the Sturla boat at Puerto Madero in the deep quiet of a night ready for adventure, the host and organiser Matias Ola (Argentina), Adriano Motta (Uruguay), Grigoriy Ermola (Russia), Brad McVetta (USA), and Cristian Vergara (Chile) began the first stage of the relay from the rocky beach of Colonia at 6am.
As the day was emerging from a grey tormented sky at 8.20am, the first rotation of 3 fresh swimmers, Aleksandr Jakovlev (Latvia), Nuala Moore (Ireland) and Jakub Valnicek (Czech Republic) were in the Prefectura support boat, and the relay was passed between their strong shoulders in sessions of 10-20 minutes each to swim back to Argentina.
The Rio de la Plata rolled and the dense brown water was littered with mangroves and leaping dorado to stir even the strongest of stomachs as it presented this huge challenge. Cargo ships passed the cruising Sturla and Prefectura Naval Argentina support boats which shadowed the swimmers’ every stroke with full concentration, bated breathe and the specialist rescue skills which could be required at any moment. By mid-day the rotations were making steady, yet winding progress across the river, and the sun appeared to cast a calm silver shimmer across the surface.
The Rio de la Plata was beginning to enjoy the event as much as the international swimmers as Estonia passed to Germany, Sweden to Belgium, Russia to Finland, USA to Denmark, and so on, until the sun faded and the dark night returned. The city lights of Buenos Aires shone like a string of diamonds across the skyline and suddenly appeared to be getting closer.
In water between 10-14ºC the team of 50 swimmers from 20 countries made history on 18th – 19th July 2015, as they completed a demanding journey of 60kms in 20 hours. At 2am, the harbour of Puerto Madero, which had seen their launch the previous morning, was full of jubilant swimmers sharing the final 100m and raising their national flags high out of the Rio de la Plata to complete their crossing from Uruguay.
As the memory of making history faded under a veil of Press Conferences and celebrations, the Argentina Winter Swimming Festival transferred to El Calafate in Patagonia. A unique opportunity to acclimatise to the icy glacier waters was presented at Bahia Redonda, where a group of brave Argentine’s also tried winter swimming for the first time. In the weeks preceding the Festival, winter in El Calafate had seen temperatures regularly fall well below zero. A fine film of ice on the milky blue lake was visible as the swimmers were treated to a photo opportunity from a host of visiting flamingoes. The ice soon melted in the morning sunshine, but immediately set the scene for special winter swimming in the middle of summer, to those from the Northern Hemisphere.
By Friday 24th July, sensing the magic of the event, 65 winter swimmers from 20 countries prepared to swim in 44 freestyle heats at distances of 25m, 50m, 100m and the 4x25m relay in a 4-lane purpose-made floating pool, then 500m in open water under the watchful eye of the Perito Moreno glacier, in water which had plummeted to 2.4ºC. Overnight, a 5cm layer of snow had fallen in the National Glacier Park, while the temperature outside hovered around +4ºC. The setting for winter swimming on the bank of Argentina’s biggest freshwater lake, Lago Argentino was in direct contrast to the relay swim across the Rio de la Plata, however there was no loss of occasion or enthusiasm. This was the day of events that every winter swimmer had come to Argentina for.
As each heat seamlessly glided onto the next, the international community of winter swimmers enjoyed the warmth of every moment of this spectacular location and their strong sense of team spirit. Competition was fierce, but kind; swimmers were brave but fearless; countries competed but no trophies were won; the glacier was still but powerful; united goals and friendship permeated the day.
The Perito Moreno glacier watched the event draw to a close, and never let us forget how grateful we were to be swimming at the 2nd Argentina Winter Swimming Festival 2015, and how we are looking forward to the 2016 Argentina Open Cup.