Hypothermia, jellyfish stings, and sharks - Bárbara Hernández Huerta and the North Channel Swim
If you’ve ever looked up the copious open water swimming achievements of Bárbara Hernández Huerta, you will be familiar with the overwhelming feeling and pure admiration when realising that one woman has achieved so many insane swims in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet.
Her latest accomplishment was completing the North Channel Swim as part of the Oceans Seven - a marathon swimming challenge of seven open water channel swims. Her fifth ocean in the challenge, Bárbara finished the gruelling swim in an epic time of 12hrs 18min.
Swimming in hypothermia-inducing temperatures of 13°C, experiencing a jellyfish sting, and combatting a change in current, it was Bárbara’s most challenging swim of the challenge so far.
Nicknamed the Ice Mermaid for good reason, we were eager to talk to dryrobe® Ambassador Bárbara about her incredible achievement, the mental preparation required when taking on such extreme challenges, and coping with 12 hours of hypothermic cramps after the event!
How did you feel leading up to the event and was it what you thought it would be?
I was nervous, but at the same time, I was feeling confident about all the training done and the years of preparation prior to this swim. I thought (I knew) it would be cold, I was also aware of the jellyfish and the distance in the context of very low temperatures, leading to prolonged hypothermia.
Were you expecting to complete the swim in the time you did?
We were expecting to complete it in around 12 hours, and during the first bit, it was going according to plan, however, when I was at 14 km to finish, the current changed, which made the swim a bit longer.
How is it being in the UK and what was it like to experience the Northern Irish And Scottish coast?
The experience so far in the UK has been great, despite the big issue with the lost luggage, the great community came to the rescue and provided all the support we needed in such a difficult moment.
All the people have been very kind to us, and it is amazing to see how many people go to the sea and enjoy it. In fact, it would be great to replicate somehow this on our coasts in Chile.
Northern Ireland's coastal landscape is stunning, the clear waters and the cliffs and all the green around has made this experience something great. I truly loved it.
How did this swim compare to the other Ocean’s Seven challenges that you’ve completed?
From our experience, this swim has been the toughest, especially because of the hypothermia as a result of the very long exposure to low temperatures.
In one of your Instagram posts after the swim, you mentioned the wildlife you witnessed including being stung by a jellyfish, causing a painful and sleepless night, and seeing a harmless shark in the water! How far into the swim were you stung by the jellyfish and how did it affect the rest of the swim?
The wildlife is amazing. Regarding the shark, I was not aware of that during my swim and my team told me about this after I finished! It is amazing, in Chile we are not used to seeing sharks, but to be honest, I imagined for my crew that must have been a bit scary, considering their size. However, we are always conscious that the sea is their home, and we must respect this before all.
The story of the jellyfish is fun because actually, they stung me in the last 200-300 m of the swim when I was swimming to the Scottish coast and the boat (The Stormbreaker) was no longer able to go alongside me. During all the swim, the Infinity team and my crew, the Ice Team, were super supportive and they managed to keep me safe from stings, which I appreciate enormously.
You also mentioned the incredibly intense cold cramps you suffer as a result of the swim! How long do these last and how do you mentally prepare for this kind of pain?
Now a week after the swim, I am still under a huge allergic reaction from the jellyfish. The cramps are the result of hypothermia, and they lasted around 12 hours after the swim. They were very intense.
The mental preparation comprises psychological training with my therapist, and it is important to point out that I am a psychologist, which also helps. To endure this pain, it is important to focus on the goal above all, working on the purpose of this. In fact, this also helps me to front any adversity I may find.
How will you be recovering and what’s next for you?
For me, it is key to properly rest after the swim, and the vital support of Paulina (my great friend and physiotherapist) makes my recovery process easier and free of injuries.
The next challenge is the swim in Antarctica at the end of this year – the beginning of the next, where we are looking for a Guiness World Record.