SA swimmers tackling Taiwan Strait - The Epic Adventure Ends
It is all over. An epic adventure to conquer the virgin Taiwan Strait ended after only 26 hours of gruelling swimming. A difficult, but inevitable call to turn the fleet around was made by the small remaining team of swimmers exactly 26hrs after departure and one very long night.
This trip has been 10 days so filled with experiences, that an email could never come close to doing it justice and money could never buy. A foreign country, a completely foreign language, very different food and ways to eat it, two teams of swimmers from countries in such political conflict with each other thrown together in a room with 4 noisy, excited and die-hard South Africans, all part of a challenge to swim from Taiwan to China. Then throw a major typhoon into the mix... But in the end, I am still not convinced that it really was us (SA team) who were more out of our comfort zones.
One thing is for sure, once we stepped onto a small boat with 33 people and headed out to sea for a 4 day swim never attempted before, not one of us could possibly have felt comfortable. The massive media frenzy at the harbour again brought it home just how tough this might be and it was only minutes into the swim after leaving the shelter of the habour walls, that we hit really rough waters and a strong current against us.
It soon became very clear to us that there were a number of fundamental problems. To name a few, 1) the Taiwan team consisted of a number of inexperienced swimmers, some who swam the slower breaststroke style; 2) the stronger Chinese team had never trained in the sea and within minutes were all dreadfully sea sick, as were some of the Taiwanese team; 3) both teams were understandibly petrified of sharks and other sea wildlife and chose to wear a rash vest and attach a sharkpod to their legs, both slowing themselves down enormously; and 4) no-one had ever swum at night which can be hugely daunting. The SA team were by far the strongest and most experienced, did not wear the rash vest or shark protection and were never overcome by sea sickness. Within hours, the coast guard had to make three trips to collect sick people and we lost approx 15 of our 33 strong team. This included both cooks, one boat captain and the entire Chinese team, incl management. Kieron, Andrew, Herda & I remained strong and positive, but knew we would have to step in and severely increase our work rate. Swim progress was very slow and an emergency meeting decided that the SA team would swim every 4th hour, while all others would rest 12 hours between swims. This was necessary to keep us moving forward with Kieron & I cautiously confident that we had it in us and happy that we would be put to the ultimate test. More so than ever before the all eyes were on the 4 of us to give direction and take control of the expedition. Andrew's vast relay experience was very useful and all 4 of our positive attitudes, solid pace, sense of humour and abilities in rough water stood out head and shoulders above all others.
It was not long before darkness came and I must admit that swimming in the South China Sea 20km off the coast alongside a small rubber duck in the pitch darkness of 3am, with the larger support boats running approx 2-300 meters away from the swimmer, is enough to test anyone's nerves. Andrew got badly stung by a jelly on his second swim and shortly after I got one in my =
mouth and face. Really painful thing but overall it was very good to get the night experience.
Kieron & I also acted as the 911 team to solve a number of close disasters. We did not get to rest at all. What seems a simple task, like transfering sick passangers from our boat to the coast gaurds' boat, is made extremely dangerous when the sea is so rough. The duck drivers were not experienced enough and K & I took the responsibility to conduct the transfers. We also had to take care of a young swimmer who drifted away when the duck engine stalled and would not restart. We both immediately dived in to accompany her while the support boat turned to fetch the duck, not realising that the swimmer was drifting away. In waters so rough, a swimmer can be lost for good within seconds. Herda was a real Florence Nightingale helping the sick and wounded in-between strong swims herself.
Although we did not want to admit it to ourselves, 24hrs into the swim a relentless current running 4knot/hour was still pushing us north of our destination. It was K & my turn to swim and we agreed to give it absolutely everything we had to try to push us through. We both had excellent swims with all press and crew immediately recognising the increased pace and they did well to keep our spirits up. Certain that we had achieved the goal we re-boarded the boat to find that despite this effort, we still moved further away from our destination (much to Herda's great amusement that we swam "backwards"!). This was a decisive point where the SA team knew it was an impossible task and it was time to call it quits. A meeting was called and a decision made.
Back on land, we were met by another large press contingent and a conference that lasted over a hour. We then had to unload a fully stocked boat functioning on 30 hours of no sleep.
Hugely disappointing to us all, but we know this is unfortunately the true nature of open water distance swimming. I am just so happy and priviledged to have been a part of it all and something tells me this will not be the last time we make the attempt.
Sharing this with Kieron, Andrew and Herda has been amazing too. I am really proud of us all and know we had a big positive impact in the lives of both foreign teams and the sport of open water swimming. We all certainly have new friends and stories to take to the grave.
Thanks for all the interest and support shown by so many.
ryan at stramrood dot co dot za
Related Posts :
- SA swimmers to tackle Taiwan Strait [16 August 2007]
- SA swimmers tackling Taiwan Strait - Update [17 August 2007]
- SA swimmers tackling Taiwan Strait - Update II [19 August 2007]
- SA swimmers tackling Taiwan Strait - Update III [20 August 2007]