Two local swimmers braved icy conditions in Cape Town over the weekend to swim in the qualifying event for the daunting Freedom Swim, which takes place in May 2011.
The Robben Island Crossing starts at the Island and swimmers have to make their way across the channel to Bloubergstand on the northern shore of Cape Town.
Crossing a busy shipping lane that is known for its wild life, currents and cold water ensure that the Freedom Swim is one of the toughest ocean swims in the world.
John Day and local swim coach Brenton Williams had to swim for one hour in 11 degree water at Camps Bay to qualify for the Cadiz Freedom Swim. The qualifier is not a race but designed to test how a swimmer’s body and mind reacts to cold water. If the water temperature had been warmer, then the time spent in the water would have been longer.
The intrepid J’Bay swimmers decided to test the conditions with warm up swims and John decided on Glen Beach, while Brenton chose a beach next to the Cape of Good Hope point.
“You have to become focused and believe in yourself that you can handle the cold”, said Brenton. “What helped me is thinking of the 5 South Africans who are going to swim around Cape Horn in South America in the next few days in 3 – 4 degree water”.
Both swimmers managed to stay in the water for the required hour, swimming loops up and down in the cold ocean at Camps Bay and thereby earning the right to swim from Robben Island to the mainland.
The Freedom Swim takes place on 7 May which gives the local swimmers some time to prepare. “We need to spend more time training in cold water so it would be great if some big cold fronts come through in April and drop the water temperature at Marina Martinique”, said Brenton. ‘Otherwise some more time will have to be spent in Cape Town swimming in the Atlantic Ocean”.
The first Robben Island crossing took place in 1909 when Hendry Hooper took 7 hours to cross from the Island to the Cape Town harbour. Nowadays the most popular route is to Bloubergstand and the average time that it takes to swim the 7.5 km is 2 – 2 ½ hours. Tyron Venter and Natalie Du Toit are the current title holders of the Freedom Swim.
Wetsuits are not allowed for solo swimmers who may only wear an ordinary costume, goggles and a swim cap. This is an extreme undertaking in every possible sense.