Conquering North Channel: Young Turkish swimmer takes on one of world’s toughest crossings

22-year-old Aysu Turkoglu is aiming to become the first Turkish woman to swim across the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland
Aysu Bicer |
31.07.2023 – Update : 01.08.2023

Already the youngest Turkish swimmer to cross the English Channel between Britain and France, Aysu Turkoglu is now embarking on a new journey to traverse the waterway between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For what is widely seen as an even greater feat than crossing the English Channel, the 22-year-old will plunge into frigid waters that can get as cold as 12 degrees Celsius (about 54 degrees Fahrenheit) off Northern Ireland on a day between Aug. 9 and Aug. 14, hoping to power through the choppy waves to reach the Scottish coast.

If she succeeds, she will be the first Turkish woman to conquer the North Channel.

“At first, I was just thinking of crossing the English Channel and continuing my other swims in Türkiye, as the process of finding sponsors had left me mentally drained,” she told Anadolu.

“However, after the crossing, I realized that I had just begun my journey. I told myself, ‘You’re going strong, girl, keep going.’”

Turkoglu is now in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, preparing for what ranks among the world’s seven most challenging swimming routes.

“Since I had trained extensively for cold-water swims for the English Channel, I thought going to a cold location would be an advantage for me,” she explained.

“I also wanted a long distance, so the idea of the North Channel came to mind.”

Normally, people save the North Channel, Tsugaru in Japan and Kaiwi in Hawaii for last, as these are the three most challenging swims in the Oceans Seven challenge, she added.

Oceans Seven is a marathon swimming challenge consisting of seven channel swims around the world.

Turkoglu has already completed English Channel’s 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) and is now laser-focused on her new mission in the North Channel.

Kamil Alsaran, who previously held the title of the oldest Turkish man to swim the North Channel, will accompany her during the crossing.

This passage will be approximately 36-40 kilometers (22-24 miles), the water temperature around 12-14C (54-57) – much colder than the English Channel.

With just over a week to the landmark swim, Turkoglu was upbeat about her progress in training, having made the round trip from Kucukyali beach in Istanbul to Heybeliada island and back, a trip that took about six hours in water temperatures in the 12.7-13.4C (54.8-56.1F) range.

“It took about six hours. I started with the water temperature at 12.7 and finished at 13.4. We are in a very hot period right now, so no water is as cold as the water there,” she explained.

Turkoglu has been improvising for other ways to adapt her body to the chill.

“I found a bathtub with my father, as we did for the English Channel crossing. We filled it with water from a well and poured in a bag of ice. I stayed in it for an hour to an hour-and-a-half,” she said.

The North Channel’s reputation as one of the most challenging of the Ocean Seven swims comes from its bitter temperatures, infestations of the notorious lion’s mane jellyfish, and the constant battle against strong tides and currents throughout the entire crossing, even up to the last few meters.

Despite the daunting risks and tests ahead, Turkoglu has her eyes firmly set on her goal, which is to complete all Oceans Seven swims within five years for a Guinness World Record.

Sunday was the first anniversary of her English Channel crossing in July last year, when she pressed on for 16 hours and 28 minutes. A year on, she is determined to make her mark in the world with even greater accomplishments.