“It clicked, the sea called me.
Everything came together for a great time: clear water, for once, a seal, already… And then everything happened.
»Stève Stievenart, 44, remembers that day in 2017, the start of a new life.
The 63 kg man, marathon runner, will metamorphose into a 110 kg seal, an open water swimmer who will dive in mid-July in Lake Baikal, in Siberia, for a 120 km crossing in relay.
That evening, in a shed about twenty kilometers from Wimereux (Pas-de-Calais), he was crushing, devastated by the departure of his wife and three children and by the bankruptcy of his car renovation company. old linked to a scam.
As others go for a jog, he reconnects with living water, discovered ten years earlier during an Ironman
(a long distance triathlon) in Malaysia.
Since then, thanks to this new birth, he has gone up the slope, made two single crossings of the Channel, the tour of the islands of Manhattan (46 km) and Jersey (67 km), and above all a double crossing always between France and England, a first for a Frenchman, last summer.
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The term “rebirth” borrows the analogy used by Stève himself: “The sea is the place where I feel really good.
I compare it to an astronaut in zero gravity, you don't feel the weight of the body.
It's different from the swimming pool, it's living water, it brings you lots of things.
In chlorine, I don't feel well, locked up.
We need the cosmic radiations of the sun, the link with nature, it is a connection, a whole, that we have in the sea. In my case, I compare this element to the amniotic fluid of the mother.
It's a homecoming, with a reassuring side.
"With my grandfather, we went to see the swimmers"
The serenity that emanates from the swimmer when he evokes this element contrasts with the violence of the 34h45 it took him to cover the 105 km of the Two Way (round trip from the English Channel), the currents, the salt which eats away at the mucous membranes. , or night training in water sometimes below 6 ° C that he inflicts on himself to prepare his expeditions. It must be said that the native of Abbeville (Somme) has always fantasized about this universe: “Crossing the Channel, swimming from one country to another, I've always had it in my head, but this was not my sport. With my grandfather, when I was 7 years old, we went to see the swimmers who left France to join England, that marked me. They covered themselves with grease in a restaurant and left. "
The discipline, which is practiced only in swimsuits, reigns supreme on the British coast which can be seen between two container ships in the four "rails" where the giants of the seas meet.
It is in this community that Stève, led by a 73-year-old trainer and 34 crossings, acquired his nickname.
"To endure the cold, you have to put on weight," sums up the bearded man with long hair and a white enamel smile.
The English eat extremely sweet, supplies had become a worry for me.
I couldn't take any more of their Haribo, so I got into oily fish.
That's why they nicknamed me The Seal, (
Editor's note: the seal in English).
And it's crazy because all my life, the seal has always been present.
One kilo of fatty fish per day in winter
To endure the cold at sea, Stève had no choice but to take in fat.
And he adopts a diet of ... seals.
"Without cutlery," he warns.
LP / Philippe de Poulpiquet
Today, the similarities are disturbing.
The former runner, who swallowed the marathon in 2:47, ex-champion of ice racing or jet-ski, now weighs 110 kg for 1.80 m.
"The size of a sea calf you see around here," he smiles, weighing 63kg before his metamorphosis.
Since then, he has eaten a kilogram of fatty fish every day in winter, a little over 600 g as summer approaches, at the rate of five meals, on days when he often swims six to ten hours.
"The seals have no cutlery," he warns, feasting with the fingers of a "kipper", a herring split in two and smoked in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and haddock, in a lounge where the sea is everywhere: timetables and tidal coefficients, art, front pages of the great exploits of Stève and his predecessors ...
The blue expanse thrones majestically, below a garden deliberately left in the wild, where its two dogs, salamanders and newts flourish. Stève washes there, in cold water, thanks to the jet of a garden hose roughly scattered by a metal pasta strainer. "You won't make me take a hot shower again," he promises. Two meters further, he reveals a giant sculpture that represents Manhattan in recovered computer printed circuits. “I mental a lot. In the water, I think about my different projects. I work one hour on one thing, one hour on another… When I get out of the water, I know exactly what I'm going to do. "
His art, which he likes to exhibit in natural history museums, is made up of recycled objects, often washed up on the beach by the tides. The protection of the oceans is one of its great fights, first carried out through an association (Swimming Expedition) and, more recently, by its own foundation, Stop Plastic Pollution. A name in the form of a call that adorns his cap, along with that of the sponsor thanks to which he can now make a living from his sport.
The silicone headgear is surrounded by glasses that he slept in for several weeks to get used to before his feat last summer, "to find a solution, after crossings where [he] couldn't stand them anymore" . He plans to develop his own model, "with a light that allows his accompanying boat to spot it, a GPS beacon, a knife, because I got caught in a net one day, and a map to scrape jellyfish stings" . To prepare for these bites which left him scars on his arms, he trains by immersing himself for fifteen minutes in whole bans, off the English coast where a few sharks also spawn. "Your body is prepared, it's the surprise that can make you give up," he insists. It's 90% mind. "
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Invertebrates are not the only encounters at sea. “In training, I swim along the coast, to keep it safe,” he says, pointing to Cape Gris-Nez in the distance. In the race, I am a boat, the pilot of which must avoid the freighters which it takes 50 km to stop. They are tall as buildings and this creates an incredible tidal range. I have also already met migrants ready to embark on the beach. "And then seals, always:" They are curious. One day, during an eight-hour outing after confinement, I felt that the buoy to which I am docking, three meters behind me, was being held up. It was a little seal playing. While crossing the Channel, I saw a large mass arrive, two meters below me. My crew reassured me:
He stayed playing for twenty minutes.
Eight swimmers, from as many countries, in relay
On the shores of Lake Baikal, the Seal will study a specific local species… of seals, the only ones that live in fresh water.
He will reconnect with animal observation which has fascinated him since he was 13 years old.
That year, he left school in fifth grade, unable to "remain seated for seven hours" and joined forces with the Picardie Nature association, for which he produced photos and videos of species referencing, in the Bay of Somme. , already with a particular attraction for the marine mammal.
This time, he has to make a documentary, with a scientist and a journalist, in particular intended for the children whom he comes to sensitize in schools, in France, in England but sometimes also as far as the United Arab Emirates.
Stève will set off in the waters of Lake Baikal on July 12 for a 30-hour adventure.
LP / Philippe de Poulpiquet
On July 12, it will be time to take the plunge for a thirty hour adventure.
“It's an eight-man relay, with thirty minutes of swimming each in turn,” he explains.
We start from a blank sheet, no one has ever done it.
Fresh water has less lift and there is a lot of variation, between 8 and 12 ° C.
You also have to manage the temperature difference outside, which is hot during the day, and sometimes 0 ° C at night.
To train, all winter, I swam, I got out of the water for a quarter of an hour, wet, I exposed myself to the north wind, and I went back into the water.
For the future, the one who has done a thousand and one jobs (including publisher of pin magazine or classified ads) has no shortage of projects: an expedition to Chile, introductory long distance stays in Crete or Oman, a range of sports nutrition based on oily fish, in line with its own diet ... A video platform would even consider following this strange animal for several months. "A lot of people can identify with my story", assures Stève Stievenart, while assuming his side "crazy about the village". “I'm not a swimmer, I broke up, it's the evil of the century… You can tell yourself that if you get attached to a dream, it's possible to do it. "
Wimereux (Pas-de-Calais), June 9.
Stève Stievenart is the first Frenchman to have made a double crossing of the Channel (105 km in 34 h 45), last summer.
Philippe de Poulpiquet
His new companion, Fred, "still on the boat" will not be far for these projects, in the first place on the Baikal. This pharmacist from Boulogne-sur-Mer (North) shares the adventures of the Seal with passion: “It's a phenomenon, that's for sure! When I knew him, he was at the bottom of the hole. We met on the beach, walking our dogs. This is the first thing that connected us. At that time, he was living in very precarious conditions, without heating, it forged him in the cold. He had a small mattress and no fridge. His project was something that could save him, a life project after his separation, a nice escape, with a nice connection with the sea and nature. I threw myself into it with him. "
To the point of jumping into the water at three in the morning in the port of Dover for an hour of swimming: “It was downright romantic! Sharing your passion is a beautiful form of love. But I prefer to be on the boat to refuel it. The 35 hours of his Two Way and the arrival are one of the most beautiful moments of my life. When he slept with his glasses on at night to get used to it, there were mornings when I kind of wondered what it was! You also have to get used to sleeping with the window open in summer and winter, without heating. But hey, I'm not very cautious! "