DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – Former British police officer Ben Hooper hopes to make history by swimming every mile of the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to South America. After more than three years of preparation, he set off on Sunday.
The 38-year-old walked down a beach in Dakar and into the Atlantic Ocean, launching a swim for 1,635 nautical miles, or nearly 2,000 land miles (3,200 kilometers), from Senegal to Brazil.
"This is for my daughter," said Hooper, who filled a water bottle with sand to keep for the 8-year-old who he said inspired the swim. "It's been a long time coming."
Flanked by two boats and a crew of less than a dozen, Hooper aims to be the first person to swim every mile of the Atlantic Ocean from continent to continent, stepping on land again in March.
He says he trained three years as he gathered a crew for the Big Blue, the main boat on which he will eat and sleep when he is not swimming for about eight hours each day through waters infested with sharks and jellyfish.
Water has loomed large in his life.
"I nearly drowned when I was 5 in a swimming pool in Belgium," Hooper told The Associated Press. "Ever since ... I've had this affinity with water. It was the calmest I've ever felt."
Hooper said he had a bout of depression about 3 1/2 years ago and decided to turn his life around for his daughter. So he looked to water.
"Nobody had swum a full ocean. More people have landed on the moon than have tried this, so at that point I thought maybe this is my calling," said Hooper. "If I can inspire myself, other people and raise money for charity, why not do it?"
Inspired by British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Hooper said he hopes to motivate others, especially children, to swim.
Funding for the expedition has taken time, and the launch was set back several times as various crew members dropped out and the boats faced mechanical issues.
"This will be a major achievement overall," said Nigel Taylor-Schofield, the captain of Big Blue. "If anybody can accomplish this, it would be Ben. He is very determined."
The crew, including a paramedic, will track the miles, and Hooper has said if he gets to Brazil with the help of currents, he will swim until he fulfills the full Atlantic mileage.
The challenges, be it marine life, dehydration, and more, will be vast, but Hooper says his biggest fear is letting the team and his daughter down. He'll listen to a playlist on customized earphones that he said will include eurotrash music, Eminem and The Script's "Hall of Fame." Hooper will also wear various gear that helps camouflage him from sharks, and a tracking device so supporters can follow his nearly five-month swim online.
Around 10:30 a.m. on the beach outside the Monaco Plage hotel in Dakar, Hooper and the crew were ready.
"See you in Brazil," he said, before eventually swimming off into the sunlit waters toward his goal.