(MENAFN- Abtodom) On January 30, 2024, a uniquely complex international kite crossing of Russian kitesurfers through the Old Bahama Channel took place. The team started from Matthew Town, the only harbor on Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, and finished in Baracoa, where Christopher Columbus landed to discover Cuba more than 500 years ago.
The athletes set a record by being the first in the world to complete a 108 km route from the Bahamas to Cuba in 6 hours 37 minutes with an average speed of 16.4 km/h.
In the morning, Vladimir Popov was the first to enter the distance from the sandy shore of Matthew Town, leading the group towards Cuba for the first one and a half hours, followed by Artyom Senik and Ivan Moldavanov. Konstantin Aksenov brought up the rear of the group, controlling the entering the distance by all of the participants. In the final one and a half hours, Anton Yakovlev entered the relay in a weak wind. All the kiters successfully reached Cuba.
The safety of the crossing was ensured by a professional support team on an escort boat under the leadership of Sergei Shidlovsky, as well as innovative technical fit-out. Each athlete had a personal GPS tracker, which could be used to determine the exact location of the participants during the entire route. Each kitesurfer was additionally provided with a walkie-talkie for continuous communication with the team and an aquapack with the necessary equipment for an emergency call to rescue services.
The last third of the route became a serious challenge, as gusts of wind given way to complete calm. The kites were falling into the water, so the athletes had to wait for the wind to pick them up to move on. Unstable weather conditions required a lot of physical exertion from the kitesurfers and further complicated the race.
Konstantin Aksenov, who completed the entire distance and finished first, required special evacuation conditions. He managed to reach the rocky Dogtooth Reef in an uninhabited, inaccessible place only three hours after arriving in Cuba. He failed to communicate the escort boat and other kitesurfers from his radio. Konstantin had to spend the night on the rocky reef. Search teams on the ground and coast guard boats carried out the rescue operation for 26 hours. The next day, a local underwater fisherman found Konstantin Aksenov and reported this to rescuers at a time when the decision had already been made to raise the helicopter. The athlete was brought to the rest of the team safe and sound.
“At the shore, the wind weakened and I had to keep to the wind with downloops (Note: kite swings performed 360 degrees). When the wind died down completely, I was thrown onto the rocks. Having unfastened the kite, I swam towards the boat, which was within sight, about 3-5 km from me. But the GPS did not work, and the boat went in the other direction. I had to land on the rocks; while I was getting out, the board broke. I started looking for a way out through the mountains, but soon it got dark and I was forced to spend the night in the mountains. In the morning I went down to the same point where I was thrown out and met a Cuban fisherman, an underwater hunter. He told me that there is no way out along the shore, only a path that leads up and back to the ocean. A local fisherman said he would call the rescue services. I waited for about 5 hours before a boat appeared on the horizon.
By this time, I had prepared a flag from my T-shirt and found a rock from which I could safely jump. The guys threw a buoy ring and dragged me on board, where they gave me cold juice and water – the first water after the start in the Bahamas”, said Konstantin Aksenov, a unique athlete who in 2011 set a world record by kite crossing the Bering Strait from Chukotka to Alaska.
“Up to half the distance the wind was strong enough to move normally, but later it began to subside. I managed to keep moving either with gusts of wind, or to use the “swings and kite loop” technique. We had to change the trajectory, which entailed, on the one hand, a slight reduction in the distance, but on the other, unpredictable conditions for reaching the shore. It turned out that three athletes ended up at the end of the route near a rocky shore with a strong surf. This made it difficult for Konstantin Aksenov to get ashore. But we are satisfied and happy that everyone is alive and well, and everything worked out for us, thanks to the well-coordinated work of the team and the professionalism of the rescue service. Each such crossing is a uniquely complex puzzle that must be completed. We gained knowledge and skills to overcome difficulties on previous distances, but each subsequent one adds unexpectedly many new huge, difficult tasks”, noted Vladimir Popov, organizer of the kite crossing and director of the Sodis travel company, which turned 60 last year.
For Konstantin Aksenov and Vladimir Popov, this is already the eighth – and most difficult – kite crossing. Five of them are international, and three are world records. In 2022 and 2023, they kited across the Gulf Stream, the Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Strait.
“Our preparations for the crossing began in the summer of 2023; it was a long and challenging path to implement our plans. On January 30th we woke up around 5am on the boat in Matthew Town and started getting ready to go! Along the entire route, we faced new difficulties: at the beginning, at the starting point, the wind “died” and at the moment everyone became depressed, thinking that we would not even be able to start. When the wind stabilized a little, we were faced with the task of passing the surf zone and going out into the open ocean; all team members successfully completed this task! During the crossing itself, which lasted 6 hours and 37 minutes, all participants overcame physical and emotional stress and walked towards the goal. It is worth noting that after completing half the journey, we saw the Cuban coast in the distance – this gave us strength and helped us move on – we saw our goal on the horizon! Unfortunately, the second half of the route gave us a surprise – the wind was not strong enough, and we could not move as fast as at the beginning. And at times, movement was basically impossible; we had to wait for the wind, being in the water for several minutes! As a result, we reached the coast of Cuba! The emotions we had to go through still overwhelm us! We are happy and satisfied with our result! Ready for new achievements and victories! We are proud that we managed to set a new record under the Russian flag”, kitesurfer Artem Senik shared his emotions.
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