When it became clear that without serious backing, it would be impossible to hold the annual Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay, event organiser Ram Barkai came up with another intriguing possibility in 2013 – Llundudno to Camps Bay.
This 9 K stretch of Western Cape coastline must be rated among the best in the world, with water almost guaranteed to be sub 15 degrees, the measure of what cold water is in South Africa.
Throw in a view of the 12 Apostles and the opportunity to do a swim I had never done before,saw me arrive with lots of excitement in Cape Town on the Thursday 25 April to attend the race briefing for the new look Freedom Swim.
The wind direction was looking good for the swim but a big ground swell was approaching the coast. Martin Vleggaar, a respected swimmer and surfer from Cape Town bailed on Friday to go surfing further up the West Coast as he believed the waves would be epic.
The swell did kick in with a 6-8 foot beach break pounding at Llundudno and Camps Bay was big and washy on the Saturday morning of the swim.
There was big swell at Camps Bay.
Derrick Frazer, the best open water safety man in South Africa, and Ram had to make the call to cancel the Freedom swim as there were very serious safety issues.
Some of the experienced sea swimmers would probably have got through the beach break at Llundudno, while some of the safety paddlers on Malibu boards would also have battled to make it to the back line.
Having big paddle boards flying around in the white water and swimmers being hammered by a huge shore break, would simply have been too risky and the right call was made to cancel the swim.
There were big waves breaking over the rocks at the back of Camps Bay which was a good indication of just how much swell was around.
The bay itself proved to be non-swimmable when the organisers tried to hold the 800m swim in a revised Freedom swim format. Most of the swimmers had to pulled out of the water by the safety crew so the longer swim was cancelled as well.
All was not lost however, when Ryan Stramrood invited me to join him and Kieron Palframen on a Round Cape Point swim on the upcoming Wednesday.
The long range conditions looked perfect for a seldom attempted swim which starts at Dias Beach, goes around Cape Point into False Bay and then ends at Buffels Bay, a distance of 8.5 K.
Only 18 swimmers had ever swum around Cape Point, with American swimmer Lynne Cox being the first to complete the swim in 1977.
Ryan and Kieron are both highly competent swimmers and I knew that I would have to switch to freestyle to be able to keep up with them going around Cape Point which caused the nerves to kick in even more. The last time I had swim freestyle was about 3 months before, with all my training being butterfly.
ROBBEN ISLAND SWIM
Facebook proved its worth when Angela Lurssen suddenly asked me on Monday morning to join her on a Robben Island to Blouberg crossing that very morning.
Half an hour later I was at Big Bay to meet Angela and Derrick Frazer who was the boat man and officiator from the Cape Long Distance Swim Association (CLDSA).
Conditions were not ideal for the swim. There was quite a bit of side chop on the surface and there was still some swell around from the weekend. However, the water was 14 – 14.5 degrees so at least the water was “warm”.
Angela Lurssen and Brenton Williams with Table Mountain in the background.
Angela had the unfortunate experience of being pulled out of the water less than 2 k from Blouberg a year prior, due to a 3m Great White becoming too inquisitive.
Angela needed to do the Robben Island crossing and as she had to fly back to the UK, time was not on her side.
She made the call to swim and we left Robben Island little knowing what was in store for us.
The early stages went well and we settled down nicely and even had seals swimming next to us for a while. A video clip of the seals can be viewed here
However, as the swim progressed it became clear we were in quite a strong current that was pushing us towards Melkbos Strand.
It got to the stage where we would were being pushed 300m sideways for every 700m we were swimming forward.
Eventually we decided to just go with the current and deal with the beach break when we got to it, wherever it was that we got back to land.
3 hours 37 minutes after we left Robben Island, Angela and I staggered onto the beach, both very happy to see Debbie Frazer had found us and was bringing blankets.
Angela showed the courage that had seen her cross the English Channel and complete the Port Elizabeth Iron Man by swimming the RI Crossing in very testing conditions and overcoming all the shark thoughts in her mind.
CAPE POINT SWIM
On Tuesday, the Cape Point swim got wobbly as we couldn’t find an observer from CLDSA to officiate the swim.
Ram, Toks Viviers and Monika Hayes were also booked to swim Cape Point on Wednesday and I got hold of them to see if I could join in.
However, the CLDSA has a rule that only 3 swimmer per boat were allowed so that counted me out.
My Cape Point Swim was off but then Monika Hayes contacted me on Tuesday evening and graciously gave her swim to me.
Ram, Toks and I met just before 7 am at the Cape Point Nature Reserve and drove down to Buffels Bay.
Conditions were looking good as the sun rose over the ocean at the edge of False Bay.
After launching at Buffels Bay, we rode in the boat towards Cape Point. The water in False Bay was 13 degrees and after we rounded the majestic Cape Point, the water dropped below 13 so we knew we were going to be swimming into warmer water as we swam back around the Point.
It’s a special section of coastline between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.
Historically sailors had searched for it for centuries and here we were, 3 guys in speedos, goggles and swim caps and we attempting to swim around Cape Point and into False Bay.
The small waves at Dias Beach were powerful and even though they weren’t more than waist high, they had the power to tumble us if caught unawares.
The first part of the swim from Dias Beach to Cape Point was almost surreal for me. The cliffs around Cape Point are majestic and we stopped at the Point to have a good look when we got there.
Once we rounded Cape Point, we were in warmer water and conditions remained good for the first while.
Then we got stuck in a current that came directly at us. It became really tough for a while but luckily all 3 of us are experienced ocean swimmers and we put our heads down and did what was required.
Eventually Buffels Bay got closer and we swam into the kelp bed with a sense of relief that the swim was in the bag. It took 3 hours 13 minutes to complete the swim.
It was Ram’s second Round Cape Point swim and the first for Toks and me. It is definitely a swim I would love to swim again.
By: Brenton Williams