John Procope makes third attempt at swim from Tobago to Trinidad

John Procope will make a third attempt to swim from Tobago to Trinidad on July 14. - Photo courtesy Harandé Elie
John Procope will make a third attempt to swim from Tobago to Trinidad on July 14. - Photo courtesy Harandé Elie

TWO years after the tail end of Hurricane Fiona stopped John Procope and his team from pulling off a historic swim from Tobago to Trinidad, the Crown Point-based scuba-diving instructor is set to embark on his third attempt to swim the channel between the two-island republic on July 14, and he hopes the third time will be a charm.

The 48-year-old Procope moved from Trinidad to Tobago in 1996, and he said his entire life has revolved around the sea – ever since he learnt to swim as a toddler. Now, in addition to scuba diving, he assists with lionfish eradication projects and longs to fulfill a 20-year dream of swimming from Tobago to Trinidad without the aid of flotation devices or stoppages for rest on accompanying vessels.

During an interview with Newsday on July 5, Procope said he draws his inspiration for the ambitious swim from an 18th-century legend of a slave, known only as Sandy, who escaped capture by swimming from Tobago to Trinidad, as well as the numerous attempts of those before him – namely Raymond La Croix, who attempted the feat at least 17 times according to Procope.

At approximately 4 am on September 17, 2022, the quartet of William Carr, Patrick Lee Loy, Roger Watts and Procope departed from Rocky Bay, Tobago and aimed for the landmark of Grande Riviere, Trinidad in their marathon swim. The team covered a distance of 60km in their 10-hour swim, but strong currents intervened and nature ultimately had the last say.

"We got swept around the corner of Tobago and we ended up on the Caribbean side of the island, headed towards Grenada," Procope said. "You can't fight nature on things like this. You have to work with nature."

In 2023, Procope braved the waters again in his first solo attempt. This time, he started from Fort Granby in Tobago, with Carr, a swim coach with TT's Special Olympics team, among a dedicated 16-member support team. Carr powered his way through an 11-hour swim, and he said he came within seven nautical miles of Toco. However, he said "there was no way he could continue" after being caught in the current flow of the Orinoco River – one of the largest rivers in the South American region.

"When you're coming up close to Toco point, you have the outer shallows. It's a very shallow area of water. You have a large area of water which is the Atlantic forcing itself through a very narrow channel which is between Trinidad and Tobago," he said.

"It's also very shallow at the mouth of the channel so the current speeds up exponentially and that's where I got stuck last time."

Last year, Procope left Fort Granby around 3.30 am. In an attempt to get a head start this year, Procope will leave Fort Granby from midnight on a high tide and he reckons he has a ten out of ten chance if the sea conditions are favourable.

"This will give me about six hours of swimming before the wind picks up and starts to increase the strength of the currents.

"The current is pushing northwest, so I need to make as much headway on a south/southeast compass heading in order to counteract the natural drift towards the assure myself of not being swept in the funnel in the channel between the two islands."

He said he should be in the "sweet spot" by the time the current strengthens, and it should push him to Trinidad, rather than pull him away, which was the case in his second attempt.

Procope said his desired landing point will be Rampanalgas, Sangre Grande, and this year's swim can last anywhere between 15-24 hours.

Procope will pause his swim every 45 minutes to stay hydrated, with his team providing him with a variety of beverages.

He will be accompanied by three vessels: On the Marc, Survival and Predator, the navigating boat. The vessels will be outfitted with air guns, flairs, cooler boxes, air horns, binoculars, compasses, and first-aid kits, and Procope said it will cost approximately $30,000 to cover the crews for their time, expertise, fuel and commitment to create history with him.

"If we have a chance, we're going to keep going. The only reason we stopped last time is because we didn't have a chance."

"We think we have it and theoretically we have it, but it hasn't been done in practice, which is why nobody else has accomplished this feat without the use of propulsion or flotation aids," he said.

Procope isn't getting carried away, though, and he and his team are wary of the threat posed by the Atlantic hurricane season. Last week, Hurricane Beryl ravaged through the Caribbean as a Category 4 and 5 hurricane, before making its way further north to wreak havoc in Texas this week.

"If the weather doesn't cooperate, then we don't have a snowball's hope in hell. It's a very simple equation. If the weather isn't right, and the currents aren't right, it's basically going to be an exercise in futility."

The difficulty of the task ahead for Procope and his crew is perhaps heightened by a pending deadline, as he's set to represent TT at the Pan Am Aquatics Masters Championships from July 18-29 at the National Aquatics Centre in Couva. Additionally, Procope said a team of European swimmers are also hell-bent on making the swim after learning about his prior attempts.

"There's a team from Denmark who got interested in swimming the channel between Tobago and Trinidad...they're coming down on the (July) 16 and it's their intention to be the first human beings to swim the channel. I have a score to settle in swimming that channel."

He feels it's his duty to complete this mission. After meeting Carr while swimming in Store Bay roughly 15 years ago, the pair have undertaken several open water swims to Store Bay, with Arnos Vale, Black Rock and Pigeon Point among their starting points.

More than a decade after their first meeting, Carr will join Procope as a support swimmer as the pair and their accompanying crew embark on what could be their biggest swim yet.


"John Procope makes third attempt at swim from Tobago to Trinidad"

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