Bárbara Hernández Huerta's Journey to the Oceans Seven

Bárbara Hernández Huerta’s Journey to the Oceans Seven

Bárbara Hernández Huerta — affectionately known as the “Ice Mermaid,” — is an extraordinary Chilean swimmer. With her recent Tsugaru Strait crossing, she has carved her name in the annals of open water swimming history by becoming the 28th person in history to achieve the Oceans Seven and the first person from South America.

Bárbara’s reflections on her seven channel swims are imbued with many emotional and psychological insights and offer a glimpse into the mental fortitude required for these intense challenges.

As we take a look back at each of her seven swims, we uncover the depths of her psyche, the fears she conquered, the love and support that buoyed her, and the sheer determination that drove her. Through her words and experiences — Bárbara Hernández Huerta truly exemplifies the spirit of open water swimming — and inspires swimmers to dream big and believe in the impossible.

Strait of Gibraltar (August 10, 2018)

At 32, Bárbara swam the Strait of Gibraltar in 3 hours and 5 minutes, setting a Pan-American female record without a wetsuit. Launching from Tarifa Island at 9:41 AM, she reached Punta Cires after 15.1 kilometers.

“Fifteen years ago, I dreamed of this challenge. Impossibilities do not exist for determination and effort,” Bárbara shared. She expressed deep gratitude to her support network, saying, “Thanks so much @gibraltarswimming and family. It has been 15 km 100 meters in 3.05 hours swam with heart and head!”

Catalina Channel (June 5, 2019)

Bárbara completed the Catalina Channel swim, covering 33.7 kilometers in 10 hours 11 minutes and 41 seconds. She swam at night to benefit from calmer conditions.

“Infinite thanks, Catalina Channel Swim, for proving me once again that there is not a coast far enough to reach and that the topic is not whether we feel or not fear or pain in front of our goals, but what we decide to do with those emotions and sensations so valid just like any other.

Well, it seems that when you face, and also adapt, and flow and persist, nature is ready to give you the most precious gifts you can imagine!”

English Channel (August 2, 2019)

Bárbara became the first Chilean woman to swim the English Channel, completing it in 12 hours and 13 minutes. Departing at 11:50 PM, she endured relentless waves, cold waters, and jellyfish stings.

“To project is to throw imaginatively, forward in time, an empty scheme, an intention, that decision and situations impregnated with initiative will fill up. The kind of intention that drives the project – says Ricoeur – is ‘a future action that depends on me and that is within my power.’ That future action is ‘to be done’ by me.”

“I learned this phrase by heart from my constructivism classes at the School of Psychology at my U of Chile and from the professors I admired most. And when in doubt, I repeat. Today I share them with you with love, they took me to the English Channel after 15 years, may it take you where you decide and be happy.”

Molokai Channel (May 23, 2021)

Crossing the Molokai Channel, Bárbara became the first South American to achieve this feat, swimming 42 kilometers in 15 hours and 41 minutes. She encountered bioluminescent creatures, fish, and Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish.

“I fought from start to finish. The sea is my home, and I was never afraid of loneliness or the eternal night,” Bárbara expressed. “Accompanying me, the nactinoctylucas that shine in the sea made me swim in the sky. I touched a thousand fish and weird things. I chased my food every 30 minutes and two dolphins came to say, ‘Hold on.’ When more pain I felt, I fought with my arms and purpose. Every time I lost focus, the sea sent me jellyfish to remind me to stay present.”

“A total effort is a complete victory! Molokai Channel and his 15hrs 41 min swimming taught me that changes are also intense, that adaptation and persistence should never be empty words, that pain is part of the processes and that love is found in the simplest of details.”.

“The sea is my home and I was never afraid of loneliness, animals or the eternal night, I felt accompanied, cared for, loved by those who represented everything good that life has and I want with me.”

“I told myself a thousand times that “I am my perseverance, my concrete actions, the decisions I make, my attempts, the thoughts I choose to accompany me, the love for what I do and the price I am willing to pay for it. In that I assert myself and to my family I hold on and so we arrived to the other shore fighting arms.”

North Channel (July 22, 2022)

Bárbara’s North Channel swim was her toughest challenge yet, completing it in 12 hours and 19 minutes. She faced hypothermic conditions, jellyfish stings, and a change in current but persisted to become the first South American to complete this crossing.

“I was nervous but confident in my training,” she said. “The mental preparation is crucial, focusing on the goal above all.” Bárbara’s ability to endure physical pain and extreme cold highlighted her mental strength and determination. “The cramps were intense, but I kept thinking about the goal and the people who believed in me.” Her gratitude extended to her crew and friends, such as Ruth Marín and Ailén Lascanomicaz.”

Cook Strait (March 1, 2023)

Bárbara’s sixth ocean swim, the Cook Strait, saw her joining both islands of New Zealand in 8 hours and 16 minutes. She was accompanied by dolphins and supported by a dedicated team.

“Getting in the water is a privilege. This was the only day possible, and I had to go strong and steady,” she reflected. “The sea is my home and I belong to it. I convert it when I swim.” Bárbara’s connection to the sea and gratitude for her team’s support were central to her success. “The dolphins came to greet me, reminding me that the sea is always home.”

Tsugaru Strait (June 14, 2024)

The unofficial time is 11 hours 37 min.

“I was so afraid of not finishing, of being pulled out of the water. A favorable current that never aligned with the wind had me fighting that arrival for almost 12 hours in waters that changed temperature, ending at 15°C. With the cold from swallowing so much seawater, I was breathing every 5-7 up to 9 strokes! Up and down, taking hits for hours but always very careful not to crash into the boat.”

Thank you my Jorge Villalobos for taking care of me once again and not letting go in my fear of not making it, to my idol Nora Toledano, the first Latin American to complete this challenge and my great inspiration, to Luiggi who literally gave everything in this extreme adventure, to my admired Haruyuki Ishii and his team for making this swim possible and believing in this Chilean heart

“8 years of my life it took us these 7 seas, my family, who in these years lost 3 people, my team, sponsors, and you made them possible. I hope you feel this achievement as your own because you are the heart of the purpose, all those who still believe and take risks, who start anew from scratch, dream big because you have learned, like me, that the impossible just takes a little longer.”

Photo credits: THD.Lateral, Bárbara Hernández Instagram, ACNEG