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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK

World: Europe

He's swum it

Double celebration for Lecomte as his girlfriend agrees to marry him

After becoming the first person to swim 3,716 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, long distance swimmer Ben Lecomte's first words were, "Never again".

The 31-year-old Frenchman arrived at Quiberon, in north west France at 3.30pm (1430 GMT) on Friday afternoon exhausted after the 73-day journey.

Jeremy Cooke: "The effort has taken a physical toll"
Shortly after he arrived he sunk to his knees - and proposed marriage to his girlfriend. This time she said, "Yes".

The adventurer, who lives in Austin, Texas, USA, undertook the feat to raise around £100,000 for a Scottish-based cancer charity.

He began his record-setting attempt from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on 16 July.

[ image: Good to be back on dry land]
Good to be back on dry land
Colleen Turner, who travelled with the swimmer on his support boat, was among a large group of friends who greeted him when he touched land at Quiberon, near St Nazaire in Brittany.

She told BBC News 24: "He's tired and he's getting a little cold. He needs to get into a nice hot shower and dry clothes."

Mr Lecomte made one stop in his journey at the Azores in mid-Atlantic after suffering from exhaustion. He stayed for a week to recover and then completed the mammoth swim.

Ms Turner defended him against criticism for not having swum all the way.

Swim coordinator Colleen Turner: "It's not about amazing physical feats"
"The human body could not withstand 24 hours a day for 73 days in the North Atlantic Ocean.

"What Ben has done is to set the bar. He swam without a kick board, with his own arms across the North Atlantic in six to eight hour chunks of time."

She said he was highly motivated by his father's death from colon cancer in 1991.

"This was something deep inside of Ben that he needed to do for his father's memory - to help if he can in some small way get rid of the dreaded disease of cancer."

The airline marketing representative caught a strong tide and so made the last 25 mile swim ahead of time.

"We weren't expecting him until a bit later, but he caught a strong tide coming into shore. It was so exciting watching him arrive," said Ms Turner.

On his knees

Shortly after he came ashore Mr Lecomte was down on his knees. Not from exhaustion, but because he asked his girlfriend to marry him.

[ image: Lecomte: Faced sharks, storms and 20ft waves]
Lecomte: Faced sharks, storms and 20ft waves
Ms Turner witnessed the proposal: "It was very sweet. Jenny made Ben get down on his knees and propose again - and this time she said yes in front of everyone."

In fact he had proposed as he entered the water off Massachusetts - but she told him to ask her again "on the other side".

Not content to wait, he asked her again on the phone from the Azores - but once more she coyly declined to answer.

Finally, when he came ashore in France, he asked a third time and she said, 'Yes'.

How he did it

Mr Lecomte achieved his remarkable feat by swimming for six hours a day beside his support boat and within a 25ft electromagnetic field called a 'protective ocean device' which protects him from sharks.

He trained for six years before undertaking the swim to raise money for the Association for International Cancer Research.

Mr Lecomte, who had to eat for four hours every day to replace more than 9,000 calories burned while swimming, battled through force eight storms, 45-60 knot winds and 10-20ft waves, in addition to tackling sea turtles, dolphins, jellyfish and incredibly cold water on the way to a place in the record books.

Other transatlantic records

  • In 1969, Briton John Fairfax became the first person to row across the Atlantic single-handed.
  • In 1952, Frenchman Alain Bombard made the first crossing in a rubber dingy
  • In 1988, another Frenchman, Remy Bricka, took 64 days to "ski" across the Atlantic on polyester floats.
  • Guy Delage also holds the record for the first transatlantic crossing in a microlight, in 1991.
  • In August, three North American "artists" accompanied by their three dogs successfully sailed across the Atlantic in a 50ft boat constructed entirely from junk.
  • On Tuesday, British windsurfer Jason Gilbert completed a 2,200-mile, three-man journey from Newfoundland to Dorset. "The first thing I want to do now is go for a pint," he said.

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