Not your typical dip in the ocean; Canadian swims across Strait of Magellan

An Ontario software developer has become the first Canadian to successfully swim across the Strait of Magellan.

Madhu Nagaraja says he completed the swim across the treacherous open-water stretch on the tip of South America on Nov. 29.

The 47-year-old from Oakville, Ont., becomes the 23rd person to complete the 3.9-kilometre swim through the strait famed for its strong winds, high waves and frigid waters.

The conditions in the strait defeated Nagaraja once before when he attempted a crossing in 2015.

After two hours in the water, the Chilean Navy had to pull him ashore with severe hypothermia.

He says the previous failure made last month’s success, which he completed in one hour and 19 minutes, feel all the more triumphant.

“The experience of failure is a tricky thing, and it’s all so massive,” Nagaraja said in a telephone interview from his Oakville home. “How do you face that? How do you build a support system to make yourself believe in the things that you’ve done and get back and focus on getting across?”

Nagaraja, an experienced open-water swimmer who had previously crossed the English Channel and completed long-distance challenges in Lake Ontario, said several factors prompted him to make another attempt on the Strait, which serves as a route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In addition to a desire to honour Canada’s 150th birthday this year, he said he wanted to pay tribute to the 16th century explorer for whom the Strait is named after.

Ferdinand Magellan used the passage during what became the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe, a mission he launched but did not live long enough to complete.

Nagaraja said he’s awestruck by explorers like Magellan who ventured across literal uncharted waters with none of the conveniences so much a part of modern life.

“These early navigators … made it a point to get around the world with absolutely no data,” he said. “It’s their personalities, it’s the way they looked at solving a problem or looking at an adventure.”

The uniqueness of the geography offered still more incentive, he said, adding the conditions on the day of his crossing reinforced the Strait’s reputation as a treacherous route.

He said he completed the swim in waters as cold as 4 degrees C with minimum wind speeds of 50 kilometres per hour and waves roughly two metres high.

Nagaraja said he was gratified to complete the swim, which he described as the hardest of his life so far.

He said American swimmer Michelle Macy also completed the challenging route on the same day.

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