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A Robben Island Swim Report by David Jones

21 November 2017

A Robben Island Swim Report

by David Jones

After around two years of building up the courage and a great deal of convincing from my Guide the time was finally near. Is this a small task? Yes, for those individuals who dare to brave it again and again. For me, too many questions are running through my head and are screaming for answers! I have to believe in myself, I have prepared for this, mentally and physically. 

A quick call to my buddy, Mark Lemmon, "I'm not going to make training on Saturday, I need to go and do some shopping". It is getting close now and I need to be prepared. Christmas day 2016 and I eagerly await the text. Is it going to be the 26th or 27th December 2016? Which one of the dates is going to be the perfect day, the perfect conditions? Finally the text arrives and the 27th it is. I feel the butterflies in my stomach and am filled with excitement. One and a half days to go! The eve before and I lie restless trying to sleep but am too excited.

The 27th December 2016 eventually arrives and my brother drops me off at the Big Bay lifesaving Club. "How does it look" I nervously ask him. "The sea is calm, the skies are blue and it is a very clear day" he replies - "You'll be fine" he re-assures me. It is one of those moments where I briefly wish that I could see again so that I know what I am getting myself into!  "Marc, is there anyone around?" I ask him. "No, not yet" he replies. It wasn't long and then a familiar face, Derreck Fraser arrives. He is going to be the observer for the day. "The boat is down at the beach" he says. "Have you heard anything from Anthony", I ask. "No, not yet" he replies. The wait is finally over as I hear a familiar voice approaching. It is Anthony Pearse, an accomplished open water swimmer who is going to Guide me through my swim today. Today I am trading in my tri-suit for a Speedo. "What have you got to eat along the way?" asks Jennine Pearse who is going to assist on the boat. I hand her the bag of treats and we head off down to the beach.

We launch the boat and start our trip towards Robben Island. It is my first visit to the Island and about five minutes into the trip I begin wondering how far it actually is, how long is it going to take us to get there! Are we nearly there, I wonder. I have always asked how far Robben Island looks from the main land and have always received a reply to the effect that it is pretty far. We're getting close now and cross paths with another swimmer who is swimming around Robben Island, I think his swim is a distance of around 12 km. We cheer him on and continue on to the spot where we are going to begin our swim .  

Final checks are done, sun screen has been applied and we have our swim caps and goggles. The plan is to swim for 40 minutes at a time and then break for some nutrition. Good Lucks all around and we jump into the water. This isn't too bad I think to myself, maybe the cold showers over the last few months are actually going to get me through this. This is my first long distance non wet suit swim and I am still trying to figure out what to expect. Start the clock and off we go. Slowly at first to get into our stroke and then easy does it, we still have a way to go! About a kilometer in and Anthony is doing a great job of keeping me on track. I am building a bit of confidence and my biggest fear of being separated from the team is slowly disappearing. We have all seen the movie, "Open Water". There are no land marks out in the open water that will get me home if I get separated from the team. The sound of the boats motor and the smell of exhaust fumes are somewhat comforting knowing that the safety of the boat is near. We've made it to our first break, treading water we have a bite of chocolate and some juice to keep us hydrated. We're feeling good and ready for the next session. Off we go one stroke at a time taking in the sound and smell of the ocean. Surely, this is what open water swimming is all about!

Time for another break and we stop to chat to the guys on the boat, we're almost half way now. My body temperature is starting to drop and I am beginning to feel the cold. A little while into the next session and I begin to shiver. It is alright for now, I think to myself. just keep on moving and the body will warm up! We continue swimming and I begin shivering more and more. I stop and chat to Anthony trying to get my mind off the cold but all I can say is "It is cold man". He assures me that we will be fine. This is where it became a mental battle. The shivering is using up my valuable energy. I look towards Anthony and think to myself, "Why is he not feeling the cold" but quickly realise that he is not such an accomplished open water swimmer for nothing. My body starts aching from the cold and it becomes difficult to close my fingers. We continue swimming. "One hand in front of the other will get us there", Anthony tells me and we continue swimming. I look up to take a breath and hear, "You are swimming to the left". We stop for a moment and I regain my direction and off we go again. "One hand in front of the other" I keep on repeating to myself. I lift my head to breath and hear Anthony calling out that I am swimming to the left again. We stop and I need to re-gain my composure again. "You were doing so well! Focus, David Focus" I scold myself.

Finally time for another break. Word from the boat tells us that we only have two and a half kilometres to go. We're almost there now, the last stretch. I begin to feel more motivated and excited again Still shivering from the cold but ready for the next session. We agree that this is the last push and that we are going to go for it. It seems better now, I think that I have got my direction and am following Anthony's move. I lift my head and hear one Kilometer to go. The goose bumps must be from excitement now. For a brief moment I feel the warmth from the sun on my back. I lift my head again and hear Anthony saying that there are 300 metres left. I can hear voices coming from the beach and know that we have almost made it. "One hundred metres left" I hear Anthony say and the noises from the beach become louder. Almost there now and I wait to feel my fingers stroke the sand. Swimming with my head slightly above the water I listen to the noises coming from the beach, they're close now, very close. And then my fingers touch the sand. I swim a bit further, look to Anthony and ask if we made it, if this was as far as we needed to go.

We had made it. 7.4 kilometers later, a few direction changes and a fair amount of shivering. It was all worth it. We had made it, Robben Island to Big Bay!

What a day! The team kept me feeling safe, Anthony kept me on track and I was able to make it through the cold.