Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day of Reckoning - Jon's Big Day - Individual Accounts of The Swim

Jack Stening:
We were all anxious after 4 "no-swim days" because of too much wind, waves, rain or fog
The clock was ticking; only 3 days left.  Would conditions ever be right for us to attempt the swim ?
On Friday night the straits swim official, Rafael, confirmed for Satuday morning.... We'd already had some false starts so it was high anxiety....The thought of coming home to Sydney without having attempted the swim was very ugly
Saturday:  daylight at 7.30 and conditions look good
On the dock at 8.00, support boats and crew arrive
A rubber duckie wih 60hp outboard to escort the swimmers; a 25 foot pilot boat with 2 crew to travel 50 metres in front of the swimmers and guide them, and a 40 foot flybridge cruiser, 4 crew and a very barky dog, Pluto, to transport the swimmers and support crew of Rowan on camera and Ros on timing flags. 
8.45... We're off !  We motor out of the harbour around to the Tarifa lighthouse and in go the first 2 swimmers Peter Mac and Jimmy A.  They have to swim to the rocks and touch them, the whistle blows and they're off; the water is very choppy and little swell.  
The powerboat has GPS, AIS and communications with the Straits Maritime Authority.  After 10 minutes a large ferry travelling at 45 kph is on a collision course with us, suddenly it slows and steers a wide course around us;  the authorities are looking after us.
After 30 minutes Denise E and Jenny H take over from Jimmy and Peter,  the relay changeover touch is witnessed, photographed and GPS logged; the swim association is nothing if not thorough.  30 minutes later Jan D and Tony B take over, conditions are still very choppy, everyone is swimming well, no problems.

Ships are all around us and all are travelling at 20+ knots (30kph approx), then the bows of a 'Big' ship loom, heading for us, they rapidly get larger and larger, we think it must be an aircraft carrier as we look up at these massive bows; we wait anxiously to see if our swimmers will get pulled out of the water.....then the ship changes course and passes safely in front of us.  Actually its a huge container ship travelling at 35knots.  Thanks again to the Maritime Authorities, they don't just warn the ships of our presence, they instruct them on what course to steer.
30 minutes later John A (Swampy) and Jack take over .  After 2 hours the GPS indicates that we're halfway there, but thats not how it turned out.

We all have a second swim of 30 minutes each and when thats done we've been swimming for 4 hours (we are 2 teams of 4 swimmers each and we're doing 2 crossings simultaneously)
Morocco is tantalisingly close... but we find we still need Pete and Jimmy to swim another 30 minutes and the Denise and Jenny swimm for another 21 minutes to reach Morocco.  We all jumped in, including support crew to swim the last 100 metres...... Phew   4 hours and 51 minutes.
The coast of Morocco is a series of headlands so each one that we miss, as we're swept into the Med by the current, adds an extra 3 or 4 k to the swim

There is a constant current of 2 to 4 knots (3 to 5 kph) in the Strait from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean.  The tide determines the current speed so it is critical that the time of the swim is when the current is  slowest or swimmers can miss the land and get swept into the Mediterranean.  
We had a total of 9 boat crew on 3 support boats assisting us, they are all very experienced and competent, one, our deckhand Fernando, has swum the straits 5 times.  We all consider that this was the best organised and managed water event that we have experienced.
All swimmers swam well, the crossing was achieved in choppy water and it was never in doubt, there were no incidents or problems, it was a 'swiss watch' operation.  Our greatest concerns were that we might not get a day to swim or that the conditions could have been too severe for us to complete
This is a good way to bond a team, some may think there are other ways
Our special thanks to team leader and event organiser extra-ordinaire John Swampy Attwater
James Arnold:
The sun rose over the hills of Tarifa and the wind had dissipated. Today was to be the day the team became a part of Australian History, the first teams to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
As we travelled out of the port to the most southern part of Spain we looked across the vast Mediterranean Sea to the coastal cliffs of Morocco.

Pete and I were feeling nervous as we were advised it was time to dive in and swim to the rocks.. One hand on the barnacles the other raised to indicate touchdown..a whistle signalled from the captain and we were off.. currents tossing us about.  We got into rhythm and before we knew Jenny and Den had taken over from us – with Olympic pace..the girls were loving it. Jan and Tony were next and of course the legends of the sea Jon and Jack were in sync and powering through the chop.
During each stage we all had various obstacles to deal with, Pete and I were followed by whales, Jenny and Den forced a super tanker to change direction, Jan and Tony played with dolphins and Jon and Jack swear they fought off a great white shark
So we swam and swam and swam some more, until finally reaching the end, a huge cliff face that was begging for us to touch it..and so that’s where the sprint began, and let’s just say it was fitting that the boys who started the to finish the race by touching first...though we all wish it had been Jon..this was his dream and we were just along for the adventure..thank you Jon for the thrill of a lifetime that you gave us all !!!!!!..
Denise Elder:
This blog continued from James..The swim had been delayed by 4 days due to poor weather conditions, strong winds and rain squalls.  The swim itself was a bit choppy, some of us finding it easier than others.  Fortunately I had Jenny to swim with, although wise lady left the sighting of our lead boat to me, which was about  50-100m ahead with a large zodiac motoring about 5m to our left. Very safe and secure.  The “mother” boat which held the other 6 swimmers, Rowan, our paparazzo, Rosslyn, our timekeeper (with count-down flags), 3 Spaniards navigating and smoking and last and most entertaining of all was Pluto the Pup. A wire haired terrier that insisted on barking its silly head off every time the zodiac ventured near.
James and Peter managed the first leg extremely well, quite often with James waving, smiling and pushing Peter back to the pilot ship..he really does need a GPS in his speedo’s.  We have decided to buy Peter either a GPS or a pair of blinkers for Christmas.
Jenny and I took over next leg, both us were pleasantly surprised at the water temp, about 20c. A bath compared to Balmoral. About 10 minutes into our swim, we looked up and saw the outline of our guide boat silhouetted against this enormous super tanker that was powering across our swim line.  Looking up and watching whilst we were swimming was an amazing feeling. It very quickly moved along and left a clear path.
Tony and Jan took over with both keeping a fairly even pace, a fairly uneventful leg, no dramas, no sharks, no tankers but with lots of cheering and shouting from us.  Next up were Jon and Jack, happy to finally hit the water.  Watching the “boys” together was a great sight, Charm Frend had obviously been giving them coaching in synchronised swimming without the makeup and hair nets.
The Spaniards on board the “mother” ship were keeping current, time, temperature and distance records. Peter was very disappointed to discover that of the 4 relay legs, Jenny and I had swum the furthest.  Probably due to the fact that James was continually herding him back on course.
Rotation of the 4 teams got us about 2/3 way across with James/Peter and Jenny/Denise finishing the last couple of kms. The time was 4 hours 51 minutes. About 100m out, the remainder of the group jumped in and swam to touch a rock jutting from the coast of Morocco.  A bit hairy with the swell pushing and pulling us onto the rock. The temperature had dropped to about 17c by this stage.
The biggest disappointment of the day was felt by Peter.  He was mortified when he discovered that over the entire swim 18.3kms Jenny and Denise had actually swum the furthest distance.  Amazing what swimming in a straight line can do.
Great swim, wonderful adventure, about $15,000.00 raised for Melanoma Institute of Australia.
Celebrations.....another story........ Great camaraderie and a great sport.
Peter Maccormick:
At last after a 5 day wait we have got the red light to start the relay swim across the Gibraltar Straits. The two teams arrived at the Tarifa Harbour at 7.30 am to welcome the sun raising behind the old fort  Denise Jack Tony  and myself in one team and Jan Jimmy Jenny and John in the the other team. On board we had the Team Flag controller Ros who was responsible for making sure the teams knew when their allotted time was up to exchange swimmers with a ten minute and then five minute warning flag overseen by the official time keeper from the Straits of Gibraltar swimming Associations. The Average age of the team was over 60 even though we managed to have a younger member Jimmy as our mascot who we used for all the official Photos !! 
The start was delayed as Jenny and Jimmy decided to return to the official Hotel for what ever reason and had to run to the boat as we started to move out of the harbour. We had three boats as our escort the lead boat who was in touch with the maritime authority who controls the shipping through the straits to warn them of our location and to avoid us. Generally in any one day there is usually about three hundred ships a day past through straits of various sizes from tankers Cargo and Containers ships. The other two escort ships were a rubber ducky with an out board as the safely boat to pick us up quickly if we needed to be and the other boat a large cabin cruiser which the swimmers travelled on. 
All swimmers where instructed to follow the lead boat at all time which was positioned about 100 yards in front followed by the rubber ducky which was positioned next to the swimmers followed by the cabin cruiser. 
Once we left the protected harbour we proceeded to the light house point and the first two swimmers entered the water jimmy and peter who swam over to the rocks and touched it and the official time watcher started the event. 
Jimmy lead the way with peter following the water was about 18 degrees and we had a chop but was very enjoyable with clean water and great view of Morocco in the distance.At this stage the ferry from Tarifa to Morocco decide to leave the harbour and was on a direct course to run into us but at the last minute changed course thanks to our lead boat radioing the Ferry. The first change over was after 30 minutes with Dennis and Jenny going strong with a drop in the wind and chop managed to out do the boys on their leg. The next change over the old men of the sea John and Jack took up the challenge and kept up the pace. We where all hoping we could do the swim under 5 hours so at this point things were looking good and we were not far from the half way point. The teams changed again and over the next two hours  the whole four teams continued to keep the pace up. 
Jimmy and myself went in for the third time and we were hopefully we would complete the landing on the rocks at Morocco but as we approached the current increased and it seemed that we would never get there. On exchange Denise and Jenny went in for the final leg and after 25 minutes were about 100 metres off the Morocco rocks and Jimmy and the rest of the team and Roz dived in to join them. What a race it was to touch the rocks and Jimmy managed to be the first to touch just beating Denise out for the honours but what a team effort it was in four hours and 51 minutes. 
At the completion of the crossing we motored back to Tarifa a very happy crew and what a wonderful team experience 
Peter Maccormick   “Official Stirrer”

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