The Swim
S1 E11

How Do You Stay Sane for Months at Sea?

In terms of mental health, sailing on a tiny boat for several months is one thing––keeping your mind occupied for eight hours of swimming per day is another. Can Ben Lecomte maintain his sanity during his swim, and a complex computer model track it?

As the crew of Seeker progresses on their expedition to raise awareness for ocean health, they must brave rough weather and long hours of strenuous duties in tight quarters. Members of the crew keep themselves sane with strict routines, secret snack stashes, books, movies, and games. But the games swimmer Ben Lecomte has designed for himself are much more than entertainment––they help keep his mind occupied through eight hours of swimming. When Ben swam the Atlantic in 1998, solitude and exertion took such a toll on him that he took a six-day hiatus in the Azores. Now, with a bigger support crew and a family waiting for him at home, he’s learned to lay out his thoughts for the day like an outfit.

Ben is also being watched closely by machine learning specialist Dr. Eduardo Marques, who uses statistical data to track Ben’s mental health carefully. Eduardo’s model will measure the relationships among variables such as Ben's daily diet, weather conditions at sea, social interactions among the crew, and even water quality data such as radiation and microplastic levels, to verify which combinations affect Ben’s mental health the most. Eduardo specializes in Human Activity Recognition, a form of extracting data on human behavior from photographs and video feeds. Using the daily photos taken of Ben after his swim, Eduardo will leverage computer vision techniques and facial recognition software to extract data on Ben's emotions. Working with psychological analysis expert Sébastien Montel will enable Eduardo  to check if the model’s predictions are correct, allowing the program to learn and improve over time.

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