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The Cape Long Distance Swimming Association is dedicated to offering information and news on open water swimming around Cape Town, with particular focus on solo swims in the sea.
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CLDSA Newsletter 29

ROBBEN ISLAND CROSSING – 17 JULY 2016
Perched on the side of a 4m rubber duck making our way out of the Big Bay surf towards Robben Island, I felt the excitement mounting in me like a wild baboon who had just been let loose in a jam factory! There were 4 of us on the boat, my wife Ruth, Derrick Frazer – skipper extraordinaire and my swimming wingman JP who had completed 2 successful crossings prior. We all had one goal in mind and that was to get 2 swimmers from the iconic island to the sand of Big Bay in Bloubergstrand.


JP and Jay

I remember the ethereal beauty of the situation as I thought about what had got me to this point in time. The Robben Island crossing had always been a pipe dream but living and managing a game reserve in Swaziland where daytime temperatures regularly exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in the summer made training for a summer crossing in Cape Town almost impossible. The biggest hurdle was not the distance but acclimatising to the cold water of the Atlantic which had chewed up and spat out more than her fair share of detractors. So had come the decision of training in Swaziland in the winter where temperatures dropped down to low digits and some of the Highveld dams hit a chilly 14 degrees (cold for me but not for the Cape fellas!) What this also meant was a winter crossing and as it turned out, I had chosen a particularly cold week for it. So after months of training and a further 6 days of scanning wind guru for the ‘’white patch’’, on the final day of my holiday Neptune smiled upon us and produced the goods……. here we were about to take the plunge into achievement or failure!
 
The water was 13.8 degrees and ambient temperature was 11. The skies were blue, the sun was shining on our backs and the Atlantic was silky smooth. We jumped off the boat and swam to the rocks on the island, all the time being very aware of not cutting my feet on the rocks whilst we waltzed through the kelp. A little after 9am we set off and after spearing my forehead on the sharp end of some kelp – things settled down. JP and I had agreed to take the first feed after 1hr so we could try break the back of the swim before then. During this first hour we both seemed to be handling the water temperature, the visibility was good and as we floated over the reef towards our destination it was something special. The vision of Table Mountain in the background with flocks of sacred ibis flying above me will remain etched into the memory books for eternity. Life was good, the mind was in a good place – surely we had this in the bag.


Jay in the foreground

After 1 hr we stopped, and suddenly the cold hit me like a freight train. This was the first time doubt started creeping into my mind and it was at this point in time, I resigned myself to donating my manhood to the resident mermaid clan. I believe JP had done it sometime back. I wolfed down my goo and Game and sped off hoping to leave the icy chill behind. But it kept with me for another 15 – 20 minutes and I realised that I couldn’t close my left hand in the water for an effective pull stroke. Whilst I endured this mental battle with the cold, the support crew were literally 3m away looking very cosy – when I turned to breath, I remember seeing them pour cups of tea and imagined they were probably chatting about last night’s episode of ‘’The Voice’’ or whether Earl Grey was better than Rooibos. All the while, the cold still played havoc with my mind. B____rds!


Derrick Fraser (shipper) chatting to chaps at a feed

After a while I started winning the cold battle again and focused on this guy next to me in his skint red speedo. JP seemed to be taking the 4m operating radius of the shark shield seriously and wasn’t letting me push him into the ‘’red zone’’ by one inch. I hoped for his sake Great whites were colour blind.

 
JP and Jay with Table Mountain in the background

At 1hr 30 we stopped again, this time we were close to the 5km mark and in my mind 2/3 rds. of the way. I was more prepared for the cold and we managed this feed quicker. I swopped places with JP and swam a wider line from the boat in the deep blue sea – to be honest sharks were the last thing on my mind and the openness of this new line actually seemed to calm me. The pace had slowed the last 30 minutes but with the end in sight, I felt the confidence and warmth creep back into my body and the engine started working properly again. Left right, one arm in front of the other. I was now in unchartered territory since my longest swim to date had been a 5km swim in 19-degree water. But mentally I had this now. All that talk, all those dreams, all the time and effort put into training was about to come to a head and nothing was going to get in the way. Visions of people I had loved and lost shot through my mind and the resolve deepened further. This was for them. This was for the family. This was for me. Left right, one arm in front of the other. Soldier on.

We surged on through until the 2hr mark, I didn’t want to feed but thankfully Derrick forced us to. During this feed we saw the rocks past backline at Big Bay in the distance and Derrick said 800m to go from those rocks. We were almost there – dig deep boys. JP and I did a couple of hoots which would have shocked howler monkeys into submission and off we set again with a block of chocolate stuck in my mouth.


Big Bay, Blouberg not far away!

Leading up to those elusive rocks, I felt like I was swimming uphill – the arms were working overtime but they didn’t seem to come closer and then over the crest of a wave a woman suddenly appeared on a Malibu board. She was smiling and then the rocks were next to me. The swell started to pick me up – I could smell the sand. Left, right, one arm in front of the other. The support boat left us at this point so Derrick could beach the boat and my wife could meet me at the end. We didn’t notice – all we wanted was that sand.
 
Prior to the attempt, JP and I had talked about trying to finish in emphatic style and bodysurf a wave in from backline. I tried but it was probably the worst ever bodysurfing attempt this decade south of the Equator and as I tumbled down the face into the foam I couldn’t care, the sand was getting closer. JP was close behind me, looking proud in his red speedo. Then my feet touched the sand – I had done it. We had done it. Our time 2hr 23.

JP and I walked up the beach and my daughter bounded into my arms with such exuberance that it brings a tear to my eyes as I write this. Moments later Ruth my wife comes rushing up to me with a grin that was priceless.  We leave the beach and head to the shed for a warm shower and sun! The crossing done but the memory never forgotten.


Jay and his daughter

A big thank you to Debbie Frazer for lending my wife that splash jacket on the day, to Derrick Frazer for his professional attitude, experience and insight which helped to make this crossing a reality, to my swimming partner JP Tostee who managed to pull this last minute crossing out the bag in emphatic style and to my beautiful wife whose support and commitment during the hunt for this goal was invaluable.

 
Jay and his family

What next?

 

Dear readers,
If you have a Robben Island story to tell, please send it to me together with images!
Happy swimming.

click here for my email address
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