You may have seen recent headlines declaring American Jennifer Figge to be the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean—an astounding feat, provided you don't actually do the math.
Figge left the Cape Verde Islands off the cost of Africa on January 12 and arrived in Trinidad last Thursday. That's about 2,500 miles in 24 days. It didn't take long for some of the hundreds of people using the internet to realize that depending on where you measure from, that's about 90 miles a day, at a pace of about 10 miles an hour. According to one tipster, the world record in the 1500m is about 3.5 m.p.h. Plus, Cape Verde is like 500 miles off the coast of Africa, so that's like a two-lengths of the pool head start.
And that's before you even hear Figge's side of the story. She only swam on 19 of the 24 days and on one of those days she only spent 21 minutes in the water. So it seems completely obvious to anyone paying attention that currents—and her accompanying sail boat—carried Figge a rather substantial portion of the route. But you wouldn't know that from reading the stories that appeared in many newspapers and websites, most of which did not include this choice quote:
""Nobody could swim across the Atlantic. It's physically impossible. It would take literally years."
That's her friend, who was steering the boat that accompanied her along the way. She never planned on swimming the full length and didn't come close to doing so. In other words, she didn't actually swim across Atlantic Ocean; she swam a long way while being in the Atlantic Ocean. But it sounds better the first way, so the AP (and others) just went with that. Nice work, boys.
56-year-old becomes first woman to swim Atlantic [AP]
Did she or didn't she? Questions over woman hailed as first to swim Atlantic [Guardian]
Aspen woman swims Atlantic - well, not quite [Rocky Mountain News]