The Challenge of the Strait of Gibraltar

What challenges are inherent in swimming the Strait of Gibraltar?


Photo: Me swimming Lake Zurich in 2015

Compared to the English Channel, the Strait of Gibraltar is a much shorter swim. The average English Channel swim lasts 13 – 15 hours and the Strait of Gibraltar swim is probably closer to 4 – 6 hours.

However, there are a few challenges:

  • The Current: The current presents a significant challenge. Although the current is pushing the swimmer slightly towards Morocco, the predominate inward flow means that the slower swimmer can easily get pushed past the landing area. Swimmers who cannot keep up a pace of over 3 kilometres per hour are at risk of not making it to Morocco at all. Basically, swimmers need to be fast and should not muck around on the day
  • The Wind: Tarifa is a windsurfing and kitesurfing Mecca due to the strong thermal winds. Wind speeds of over 40 knots are not uncommon and it is also not uncommon for the ferries between Spain and Morocco to be cancelled due to high winds. As you can imagine, if the ferries are not willing to brave the wind then a swimmer has little chance. So waiting for mild weather is necessary
  • The Water: Salt water, especially the very salty water in the Mediterranean, presents challenges including chafing and sickness. There is nothing that cannot be overcome with some grease and a little persistence
  • The Boats: As the Strait of Gibraltar is a busy shipping lane, the swimmer might have to time their swim through the middle of the strait. There is enough water for everyone, so swimmers should be fine
  • Marine Life: There is a fair bit of marine life in the strait as evidenced by the number of whale and dolphin tours on offer in Tarifa. Some swimmers report spotting some sea life during their swims and dolphins are often seen from the ferries in the strait. The challenge with any marine life is mental – there is a natural fear of the unknown in such a vast stretch of water. If dolphins, whales, sharks and other marine life knew how many of them died as a result of human action they would not come within 100 miles of us

A few challenges are always welcomed!