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AP Florida

Tampa men plan to swim English Channel

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:00 PM
HARBOUR ISLAND -

Arnie Bellini and Bart Cobb have been training for about 20 months to swim across the English Channel, a 21-mile attempt to go from England to France.

On weekends they hop in the water for a leisurely 10-mile swim – around Davis Islands, Harbour Island, past the Academy of the Holy Names and back.

That's nothing compared to what they plan to attempt in the next few days. Depending on weather and tides, sometime between Thursday and July 25, they plan to make solo attempts to swim the English Channel, the 21-mile stretch separating England and France.

Bart Cobb of Harbour Island and Arnie Bellini of Avila have trained about 20 months for this adventure. They swim 20 to 25 miles a week in open water. And several weeks ago they prepared for the Channel's chilly water temperatures by flying to Provincetown, Mass., where they swam 18½ miles in 64-degree water.

The Channel's currents and low water temperatures take a toll on swimmers, as do 3- to 5-foot waves, Cobb said.

But Cobb, who was raised in Temple Terrace, attended Jesuit High School and works at Tampa Catholic, looks forward to the challenge of swimming the channel.

"It's a real test of fortitude – physical and mental," said Cobb, 57.

A few years ago Bellini, who works with Cobb's wife, pitched the idea to Cobb.

Cobb told him it was crazy, but when Bellini questioned Cobb's ability to complete the task, Cobb said he would do it.

"I think our odds are good," Cobb said. "I think Arnie and I are as prepared for this as two individuals could be."

Bellini, 53, said that when he turned 50 he began working his way down a "bucket list." The English Channel came up, he said.

Bellini says his mom started him on a swim team at about age 9. He read everything he could about swimming and learned about the Channel swim. He already has completed ironman races and doesn't feel the channel's distance is a problem.

The main concern, he said, is the channel's roughly 62-degree temperature.

After swimming the channel, Bellini plans to continue down his bucket list. Next up: climbing Mount Everest.

"I want to push to new limits," Bellini said.

Roughly 1,700 people successfully have navigated their way across the channel, and only about 50 were older than 50, Cobb said.

Cobb's wife, Kathy Smith, is excited but scared about her husband's upcoming swim. She is nervous about Cobb swimming in such chilly temperatures after spending much of his time preparing in Florida waters. But she is excited because she knows Cobb has spent tons of time and energy preparing for the challenge.

"He's an outstanding swimmer," Smith said. "I think his odds are very good."

Smith, who helped her husband and Bellini with training, figures it will take about 12 to 16 hours – depending on the channel's conditions – for the men to swim from England to France.

Cobb and Bellini will swim beside a boat escorting them through the busy shipping lane. According to the rules of the swim, they won't be allowed to wear wetsuits to get insulated from cold.

Their swim will be certified and observed by the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation.


Photographer Jason Behnken contributed to this report. jpoltilove@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7691

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