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cldsa hero: Open water legend

Barry Culter

Barry Cutler was a special man. He was humble man who loved humanity and adored his family.

Barry’s name has been written into Cape Town sea swimming history as the man responsible for smashing the perception that the Robben Island swim was the sole territory of former hard-core swimming champions!

Barry’s true legacy in the sport though, is something much more important.  The Robben Island swim had introduced Barry to three important characters, who between them, made sure that the Cape Long Distance Swimming   Association, functioned well and each swim was officiated and recorded. Peter and Kay Bales and Hugh Tucker had the onerous task of making sure each attempt was done to the rules.

Barry Cutler’s true legacy was the Ubuntu sentiment that he introduced to the Robben Island swimming fraternity. He became the go-to-man for novices who wanted to swim the famous crossing. He schooled scores of swimmers and officiated their swims. Most of them he did not know, but being a selfless man, Barry gave of his time for others to achieve their dreams. The sentiment of helping others achieve their goals was born. This resonated strongly with Barry.

Distance sea swimming is a discipline which requires hours and hours of solitary training, real tough mental resilience and a basic appreciation of one’s own company. It is a selfish sport which focuses on the individual. It is ironic however, that to achieve a Robben Island swim, you need selfless characters like Barry to realise the dream.

In a country which is in dire need of role models, Barry was the humble face of a sport that was responsible for making people’s dreams come true.

Cape Town has lost one of its sons far too early. He will be remembered in swimming circles as a gentleman, who loved his fellow man and gave back much more than he ever took. May his dear soul rest in peace.

Thank you


cldsa hero: Open Water Legend

Hugh Tucker

Swimmer in Hall of Fame - Hugh Tucker

The Class of 2018 includes one of the world's most unsung swimmers, coaches, administrators and pilots Hugh Tucker of South Africa. Not only did Tucker attempt to cross the English Channel four times before he ultimately succeeded, but he also made shark cages for False Bay attempts and helped the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association establish its stature and organization due to his efforts and dedication together with Peter Bales.

He has served as an observer and pilot for the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association from mid 1970's to the present.

At the age of 21, he established the 14 km record between Robben Island and Woodstock Beach of 4 hours 9 minutes. He also held the record from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 2 hours 45 minutes and the 9 km course from Simonstown to Muizenberg in 2 hours 41 minutes at a time he was touted as South Africa's top distance swimmer.

"You have to train your mind more than your body, because no matter how fit you are, four or five hours in the water is tough. You just have to keep on telling yourself to keep going. Besides there is always the worry of what is down there underneath you. I have had shark scares and seal scares while swimming in False Bay.

Corrie Ebbelaar and I were in False Bay training when we hit a shoal of blue bottles. They were not too thick, and we decided to carry on through them. Corrie got stung on the mouth and she drew in her breath in pain. The blue bottle went into her mouth and lodged in her throat. She couldn't breathe.

I helped her out of the water into the boat and we rushed her to the hospital where injections soon fixed her up.

cldsa hero: Open water legend

Peter Bales

Peter Bales, one of the founding members of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA), is one of those legends of the sport whose personality, energy and dedication have been greatly appreciated by generations of swimmers.

Bales is now 73 years old and is still swimming and piloting with gusto. Piloting since 1969, Bales and Tucker have escorted approximately 250 swimmers between Robben Island and Cape Town over the past 45 years.

Bales is the chairman CLDSA, the official body to officiate over solo swims in Cape Town waters in South Africa and elsewhere in the country on request. Bales helped co-found the governing body together with Dennis Pearson, Coenie van Eyssen, Frank Nielsen, John Pagden and John Whitmore.

Virtually every record swim documented by the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association was piloted by either himself or Hugh Tucker. But along with the fast records swims have come others on the opposite end of the spectrum. He has piloted for people like Tony Scalabrino, another pilot who swam from Robben Island to Blouberg in 7 hours 15 minutes and Lydia Goldswain who suffers from spastic diplegia and swam in just over 5 hours for the 7.4 km Robben Island to Bloubergstrand swim.

Bales has been a steady eye throughout all his swim. Fortunately, rescues have been few and far between, but his skills and quick actions have helped prevent tragedies from happening. "Dr Derek Yach was attempting a double 22 km Robben Island-to-Three Anchor Bay swim," recalls Theodore Yach. "A Great White emerged next to him on the return trip approximately 400 meters from the end of his second leg. He attempted again on the next weekend, but was again stopped by a Great White approximately 500 meters from the start of the first leg. The second time, the shark hit the boat in an attempt to get at Derek. Not one to give up easily, Derek succeeded some years later in horrendous conditions with Peter."

Some of his piloted swims have been quite memorable. Bales and Hugh teamed up to pilot American Lynne Cox on her swim around Cape Point in which she became the first person to complete the swim in the late 1980’s. "She describes in her book how a Great White crossed her path several times," explains Yach. "According to Peter, when he told her she only had 2 km out of the 8 km to go, she chose to stay in the water and complete the swim."

Bales tells of another swim that he and Tucker escorted Bill Currer. "Bill was an enormously powerful man who took nonsense from no one." The 11 km swim was from Simonstown to Muizenberg in 1987. The then-President of South Africa PW Botha was on a tour of new Navy corvettes at the naval base in Simonstown. "A gunboat arrives next to our skiff when we were approximately 4 km into the swim and orders Bill out of the water and to clear the area. Bill told them to go away in colorful language. However, when they cocked their submachine guns, he saw the point and exited the water in a hurry. We had to cease this swim in 2003 due to the resurgence of Great Whites in False Bay."

The swims he has participated in can fill a volume of tales and the real-life adventures he can tell can go on for days.


cldsa hero: Open water legend

Theodore Yach

Theodore Yach after his 100th crossing

Cape Town - Thirty-five years after completing his first crossing from Cape Town to Robben Island, the feat of finally finishing his 100th journey is a memory he will always treasure, swimmer Theodore Yach said on Tuesday.

After entering 13-degree waters, the 58-year-old took on the 10.4km route shortly before 08:00 from Three Anchor Bay. Faced with a strong current and icy surf, he completed the crossing in three hours and 10 minutes. "I felt relieved when I finished," he told News24 once he had warmed up with a shower, cup of tea and a sandwich. "It was a tough route, but seeing my wife and sons waiting for me made me very happy."

Yach, who trains five days a week - swimming 22km and doing a day of weight training - said he remembered his maiden voyage to the landmark very well.

Among his boat crew in 1981 was then-president of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, Peter Bales, who fulfilled the same duty on Tuesday. Yach said his latest swim was the culmination of a 35-year goal. "With every stroke, I told myself to keep my head under water." This was to keep him motivated by not focussing on how far it was to land, he explained.

"About 75% [of the feat] is focusing on the mental aspect. I don't wear a wetsuit. I do this in a Speedo, so beating the cold is critical." Yach's 100th crossing means he is now recognised in the international open-water swimming hall of fame. Six other swimmers - Toni Enderli, Kieron Palframan, Ryan Stramrood, Mark De Klerk, Buff van Westenbrugge and Dean Noik – also took part in Tuesday's swim.

Funds were raised through the swim for six charities: the Children's Hospital Trust, Paper Video, NSRI Waterwise Project, Wynberg Boys' School's Aquatic Centre, Highlands House and the Herzlia Foundation Trust.

cldsa hero: Open water legend

Otto Thaning

South African Otto Thaning, 73, is oldest channel swimmer
7 September 2014

The swim between England and France has attracted hundreds of endurance swimmers. A 73-year-old South African heart surgeon has become the oldest person to swim the English Channel.

Otto Thaning said he had wanted to show what older people are capable of if they look after themselves. He took the title from Australian Cyril Baldock, who only last month swam the channel three months shy of his 71st birthday.

Dr Thaning, who first swam the channel in 1994, said the temperature of the water was the biggest problem. He said he had suffered cramp in his feet early on in the swim.

"My wish was basically to promote the idea that people over the age of 70 can do things like this if they look after themselves and work hard," he said.

"The biggest problem is to maintain one's core temperature because the water is cold. We averaged 18C (64F), and that was particularly helpful to me because that's reasonably warm for the channel. The channel is usually a little bit colder at this time of year."

The English Channel route is 34km (21 miles) straight across but currents mean it is rare for a swimmer to cover it in less than 40km. Dr Thaning trained medically under Dr Christian Barnard, who performed the world's first successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967.

Open water legend
Barry Culter

Barry Cutler was a special man. He was humble man who loved humanity and ad...

Open Water Legend
Hugh Tucker

Swimmer in Hall of Fame - Hugh Tucker The Class of 2018 includes one of...

Open water legend
Peter Bales

Peter Bales, one of the founding members of the Cape Long Distance Swimming...

Open water legend
Theodore Yach

Theodore Yach after his 100th crossing Cape Town - Thirty-five years aft...

Open water legend
Otto Thaning

South African Otto Thaning, 73, is oldest channel swimmer 7 September 2014...