Tide and tested
An hour north of Cape Town is a world-class training destination for open water swimmers looking for a physical and psychological boost to their regimen
“It throws everything at you, Langebaan. The salt water, the cold, the range of different temperatures which you need to condition yourself, the wildlife, the currents, the wind, the chop, the range of directions.” That’s the verdict from century-plus Robben Island connoisseur, Ryan Stramrood, who bagged himself the Preekstoel-Pearly’s record of 1hr36 this month.
And, Langebaan has in turn had everything thrown at it, from violent land and water fluctuations 10-million years ago, marauding carnivorous dinosaurs, prehistoric man, Stone Age Khoi San trance parties, whaling parties, fishing parties, Naval Special Forces training parties, World War II Catalina flying boats and more recently, countless 21st birthday bashes. Langebaan was given the internationally accredited Ramsar status in 1988, recognising not just its ecological importance, but its significance to humanity, due to the discovery of the remains of the 800 000-year-old Saldanha Man nearby, as well as Eve’s Footprints in the soft rock near Preekstoel.
Big Bay Events director Derrick Fraser started his two-day swim camps in 2015 in Langebaan with two Joburg swimmers who had asked him to help them prepare for their English Channel swim. “Nowhere else in Cape Town do you get the tidal changes that you get in the English Channel, which are such a decisive factor in the successful completion of a Channel swim,” says Derrick.
Swimmers on these camps usually stay on a houseboat, allowing them easy access to the water, with four or five boats providing water safety. Derrick says Langebaan lagoon allows him as a skipper to “control” the water temperature. “There are sections of the lagoon where you can pretty much say it is going to be 18 degrees, for example at the back of the lagoon, dropping to 16 in the middle and 13 at the mouth. That gives the swimmer the temperature they need to train at for their particular swimming goal.”
The standard Robben Island training swim would be at least eight km, while a Channel training swim would be at least 24km, with part of that done at night. “It is a massive confidence booster. You simply can’t get swimmers to do those long swims when it’s 13 degrees at Blaauwberg.”
In turn, Derrick has had a huge learning curve as skipper and boat support, putting into practise what he has learnt in Langebaan on a Channel swim.
“I think Langebaan is one of the best training grounds you can get,” says Ryan. “The community at the swim camps is phenomenal. There’s a whole group of people just talking swimming and sharing experiences and learning from each other.”
Cape Town’s very own gentleman of the sea Tony Sellmeyer (54 island crossings) says he has been training in Langebaan lagoon for about 15 years. “It is one of the best training places, warmer, protected. Just remember your swimming buoys,” he says.
And at least one new CLDSA committee member knows that were it not for his Preekstoel-Pearly’s training swim, he still would be fobbing off swimming his first Robben Island!