Big Bay Events director Derrick Frazer recently completed his 1000th Robben Island crossing
Everyone’s favourite skipper, weather guru and water safety organiser made the unofficial record books this month with his 1000th personal crossing as skipper.
And he took along a group of swimmers, including SA Olympian Michelle Weber who set a blistering new wetsuit record, 1.31.22 on her birthday, noghal. It is going to be a while before that record gets beat!
So what has Derrick learnt in the past few years? Three main things. Prepare well. Be patient – a good day will come. And there is no such thing as an easy island crossing!
But what goes through his mind out there on the blue? “Different swims, different thought patterns. I really enjoy the solitude out on the ocean and often just focus on watching the swimmer and thinking of nothing else. We are also constantly watching for warning signs of weather changing and/or signs of animals lurking.
“During group crossings I am still responsible for all the swimmers, so I am constantly chatting to the other skippers to monitor the progress of all the swimmers. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you are supporting swimmers.”
And the secret to Derrick’s uncanny ability to predict the weather? That’s a bit harder to explain and involves a whole range of technical, mathematical and instinctive processes!
First off, Derrick gets copied on a satellite image which is used by the navy to monitor False Bay. “When the sky is nice and clear the image extends to Table Bay. Unfortunately, it is only the surface of the water so you have to follow daily to be sure it is warm enough for swimming.”
He also gets readings from his subscription-only Buoy Weather App. “I basically rely on day-to-day temps and likely effects from wind forecast, ambient temps as well as the satellite images when they pull through.
No one forecast provides the answers, so he does his own daily calculations.
“For instance, I am looking at a day for my next crossing (10 first time swimmers). The water temp is 10 degrees, and it can’t possibly warm up without decent sun and north to north-westerly winds. We need to monitor forecasts, but the actual figures on a daily basis, until I’m happy that the water can warm. I am hoping for next Wednesday to be the day, but it’s going to be tight at this stage.”
So, to recap, only the sun can warm the water. The north to north-westerly moves warm water closer to shore, and the south-easter, if strong enough, churns the cold water from the bottom to the top.
The northerlies make the surface choppy, while light southerlies flatten the surface. “So all you have to do is wait for a few really hot days, have some strong north winds and then a day of light southerly winds and hope there’s small ocean swell!”
Ocean swell is created by far-off winds and takes up to two weeks to reach us, making this the most accurate section of the forecast. “Ocean swell direction and wave period strongly influence the size of the wave at the beach. Luckily, Windguru and Buoy Weather predict the size and direction of the swell for us.”