More than 1,200 miles (1,930km) from the coast of Japan, a 51-year-old Frenchman is swimming in the Pacific Ocean right now.
Or he’s eating.
Those are pretty much the only two activities Benoît Lecomte does these days, as he attempts to become the first person to successfully swim across the Pacific Ocean.
“I wake up throughout the night because I’m hungry,” Lecomte told Business Insider by phone from the 20-meter sailboat, called Seeker, that’s travelling with him.
Lecomte set out from Japan in June, and is making his way toward California. An eight-person crew is sailing along with him, collecting data about the health of both the ocean and Lecomte along the way.
Their mission is far less concerned about crushing records than it is with breaking bad habits.
“We’re addicted to plastic,” Lecomte said. “That’s something we need to change.”
The original plan was to finish this awareness-raising swim in December, but the quest has faced some hiccups. The crew had to turn back in July and take a 20-day break when a series of strong typhoons hit the area.
Undeterred, Lecomte is back in the water now, and logging some of his longest daily swims thus far.
He said the journey hasn’t gotten easier over time, but he and the crew have developed a routine that guides their daily activity. Here’s what it’s like.
Every day, Lecomte wakes up around 6 a.m. and prepares for another eight-hour day of swimming. He starts off with a hot bowl of oatmeal that’s “loaded with nuts and dried fruit,” he said.
Oatmeal has a high fat content, which helps keep Lecomte full while he swims in the 78-degree waters of the Pacific.
Before he gets in the water, he answers a few emails, does a bit of writing, rubs Vaseline on his skin to prevent chafing, and may work on some necessary repairs of his gear.
Then he and a crew of two others get in a rubber dinghy and head back to the precise spot where he stopped swimming the day before. (They monitor Lecomte’s progress using a GPS tracker.) The crew members point him in the correct direction, and he plops into the water.
Lecomte is a little over a fifth of the way through his journey.
Swimming eight or nine hours per day makes Lecomte so hungry that he usually wakes up three or four times each night to nosh.
“Sometimes it’s just water,” he said. But he also drinks protein shakes and eats pasta leftovers as midnight snacks.
He takes a break about every two or three hours to drink water and eat soup and bread.
He prefers to keep these meal breaks light because “I like to swim for a longer period of time without having to stop,” he said.
He doesn’t take off his gear on those breaks, which leads him to reveal an unsavoury truth: “I know it’s kind of gross, but I stay eight hours in the wetsuit,” he said. “I have to pee, so I pee in my wetsuit.”
At the end of a day’s swim, once he reaches the sailboat, “the first thing that I do is take a shower,” Lecomte said.
Then it’s time to eat lunch, dinner, and all the other protein shakes and snacks that fuel his 8,000-calorie days.
“As many things as I can eat, I will,” he said.
Lecomte has partnered with 27 scientific organisations as part of his effort, and the crew is gathering water samples as they travel.
Researchers on the boat are gathering data about the plastic, plankton, and sounds of the ocean. But Lecomte himself is becoming something of a lab rat – the team is collecting regular data on his gut microbiome, his heart, and his mental health.
The biological, oceanographic, and medical research will be used by organisations including NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
What’s most striking to Lecomte is all the plastic the crew sees. “We see two pieces of plastic on the surface every five minutes,” he said.
The team travelling with him estimates that they’re grabbing up to four microplastics every minute on the journey in their special nets.
Those bits of garbage are truly a drop in the ocean compared to the 79,000-ton Pacific Garbage Patch: a vast collection of plastic waste wider than two Texases that floats somewhere between Hawaii and California.
Of course, there is also marine life at sea. Lecomte said jellyfish sometimes sting his nose, and under the water he’s spotted plankton, swordfish, sharks, and a pilot whale.
Lecomte said that in recent days, he’s spotted less sea life around him. That may be because he’s swimming in an area outside of the warm nutrient-rich current, he added.
But that’s not the case with the plastic debris.
“What is very surprising to me and everyone on the boat is the amount of plastic that we found, and the fact that we found it everywhere” he said.
Lecomte said he uses some mental tricks to stay motivated while he’s in the water. “You have to play with your mind,” he said.
When the seas are rough, that can be especially tough, since waves crash into Lecomte’s face.
“It gets me out of the zone, a certain autopilot,” he said. “I have to adjust my stroke every time – it takes me out of my daydreaming zone.”
This is not the first time that Lecomte has swum across an ocean. He swam across the Atlantic in 1998.
That route took him from Massachusetts to France — a 3,716-mile journey across the Atlantic which raised money for cancer research. He completed the journey in 73 days, which led some people to question how he did it so fast, since that would require swimming an average of more than 50 miles per day.
Lecomte was the first person to attempt the journey without a kickboard. He didn’t gain a Guinness World Record claim for the trip, since that would have required an official Guinness adjudicator to be present.
After the Atlantic trip, Lecomte also swam 500 miles from Washington DC to New York. He started that trip on September 11, 2002 to commemorate the terror attacks that happened a year earlier.
Lecomte said he isn’t sure whether he’ll complete the full 5,500-mile swim to California. But the crew has enough supplies to last four more months.
“Entering the fall, you have more bad weather, low pressure systems, and the water temperature is dropping,” he said.
But he said reaching the shore of San Francisco isn’t the most important part of the journey.
“For me what is important is to be in the water, to be swimming,” he said. “Every time that I am in the water, it’s another opportunity for me to get the attention of or inspire people to maybe limit their use of single-use plastic.”
On October 18, Lecomte said he swam for 9 hours and 20 minutes, his longest day so far.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.