This year saw a group of 15 invited swimmers competing in the inaugral Atlantic Dash open water swimming event in Cape Town. It was a tester event in order for the organisers to establish the race route and develop a sense for how feasible a mass participation race could be handled. The race route was a 5.3km swim starting at Clifton 4th beach, heading out into the bay, turning right and swimming parallel to the coast past Clifton 3rd, 2nd, and 1st beaches into Sea Point and finishing at the very small beach at Three Anchor Bay.
Heading to Clifton for the race briefing this morning, we drove into the huge mist bank which was covering the entire West Coast of Cape Town. The visibility was very poor and the water was not very inviting for swimmers nor safety craft. Upon arrival at the beach we realised just how thick the mist was. We were unable to see the rocks just off Clifton, nor could we see down to Clifton 1st beach, normally very visible and an extremely scenic view with all the high rise buildings and big houses along this world famous beach.
The organisers, Derrick Fraser and his team from Big Bay Events, started with medical checks for each of the swimmers. They tested heart rates and body temperatures, for comparisons after the race. Due to the nature of the Atlantic Ocean and its currents, the temperature of the water is normally between 10 and 12 °C. We were told pre-race that it was between 12 and 15°C today, which is a warm day and was met with smiles from the swimmers. After the medical checks we were marked on our left arms, I was number 11 for the day. It was also mandatory for each swimmer to have a dedicated support for the swim for safety reasons. Derrick had organised a support paddler for me and it was at this point that I was introduced to JJ. Peter Bales from the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association had been kind enough to lend me his Shark Shield for the swim. Due to the nature of the Cape waters and increased shark activity, including a recent fatal attack, swimmers were very much on edge and majority of the field were using shields. We set JJ up with the shield on the back of his paddle board and were soon ready to go.
By the time all of this had been completed, the mist was starting to lift and visibility was improving slightly. We could now see slightly more and it was deemed that the safety boats and paddlers would be able to see the coastline to help the swimmers and keep them on track, out of rocky outcrops and kelp beds. It was decided to get the swimmers going and to start the race.
The mist was still thick enough to make sighting very difficult from the water, so swimmers were completely reliant on our paddlers for direction. We set off and were heading straight out to sea, but due to the mist I was a little disorientated. JJ was guiding me out towards a marker buoy at which point we would change direction slightly to the right and more parallel to the coast. Due to the size of the Shark Shield, JJ was finding it very difficult to keep up with me. Normally its the paddler who is a lot faster than the swimmer, but not today. I kept having to slow down and wait for JJ to catch up. Eventually I asked him to ditch the shield by giving it to the lead safety boat. JJ agreed and stopped to give it to the boatmen, he forgot to switch it off before picking it up out of the water and got ZAPPED by the shock given off by the tail. All I could hear was the boatmen laughing hysterically. I felt quite bad as it was me who got him using the thing in the first place. While they were helping JJ, I continued forward alongside Emma Alsop and her paddler. JJ at the same time, swopped his paddle board for a bigger faster board, with one of the other paddlers.
Emma was swimming well and we soon opened up a large gap on JJ. By the time he dropped off the shield and started to catch up we were probably 500m to 600m ahead of him. I was swimming slower than usual as I was waiting for JJ and was starting to get very cold. It took JJ about 10 minutes to bridge the gap to me. By the time he caught me we had probably swum about 2,3km of the race with roughly 3km to go.
Once he caught up, I was able to pick up the pace dramatically and was soon out front on my own. I was feeling the cold quite a bit and like I was really on the back foot. It took me a while to feel comfortable again as the combination of the cold water, thick mist and delays with the Shark Shield had given me time to feel uncomfortable in the water. At no point throughout the swim could we see how far we had gone, nor could we establish how far we had left to swim. The one positive was that the water was very clear. Throughout most of the swim you could see the bottom of the ocean, the kelp beds, the rocks and small sea creatures scurrying across them. If the sun had been out it would have been even clearer. Being out in the cold water and having no idea how far or where to go can leave your mind playing all sorts of games with you.
It was at this point that I stopped and asked JJ if he could judge where or how far to go, the lead boat had literally just come past and shouted to him that we had 1,2km to go. This helped me as I knew that it wasn’t too far at all. I continued to push the pace and soon I was rounding the last turn buoy and heading straight for shore at Three Anchor Bay. I was boisterously greeted by Max, one of the swimmers golden retriever, about 5m from the beach and then by my wife Nes and son James on the beach. I had won the inaugural Atlantic Dash in 1hr15m32s. Emma Alsop finished a few minutes after me and was also the first lady home in 1hr21m30s.
As always Nes had a towel ready for me and was snapping away pictures with her camera at the same time, all this while holding James. She has definitely taken notes from our friend Lauren Allot, who does this for her husband Bryan, all whilst looking after 4 children. My parents and Vanessa’s parents had also made it down to watch the finish, thanks very much for all your support.
We all made our way back to The Bungalow. A great restaurant situated just above Clifton 4th beach. All the swimmers had the chance to get cosy on the couches and enjoy refreshments whilst waiting for the prize-giving. Derrick and Theo had the prize-giving wrapped up shortly after our arrival and we were soon enjoying cheese and bacon burgers catching up on race stories and experiences. It was a fantastic event, one which I am sure will form part of the Cape Open Water Swimming calendar for many years to come.
Well done to all of those involved in a superb inaugural event and to all the swimmers for completing the cold 5.3km swim.