5:30am. I am on my balcony sipping my coffee and staring hopefully out as the dark fog slowly envelopes the buildings towards the bottom end of Vredehoek. It looks menacing and a part of me hopes that today’s Robben Island crossing (swimming 7.4 km open water from Robben Island-to-Big Bay, Blouberg) is called off. Self-doubt about my strength and fitness creeps in as well as questions about my level of sanity at attempting this gruelling physical challenge again. I have already “done it before” (as everyone pointed out to me) and therefore should be able to do it again but I am not feeling very sure of myself.
6:30am.I arrive at the Oceana Yacht Club at the Waterfront to meet my crew. My formidable swimming buddy, Felicity (known as Lippy to her friends), and her devoted husband, Gary, soon pull up. Gary is usually loud, smiling and full of jokes but now he is quiet and very serious. But his nervous energy somehow calms me down because at least there is some-one in a worse state than me. Soon our skipper, Craig, and his glamourous wife, Sue, arrive with their boat and there is no talk about postponement. This is really happening. The Torrs launch the boat effortlessly and we are all in.
7:30am. We arrive at Robben Island and the familiar rusted jetty from my first crossing greets me. There are a number of boats nearby fishing apparently for yellow tail and my heart sinks. Fish = food = seals = sharks. Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon, for me everything is less than six degrees of sharks. It’s not my fault that my mind goes immediately to sharks because the first question from every person that I talk to about open water sea swimming is “what about sharks”. As if I have never contemplated them every single time I see a huge, black piece of kelp innocently floating below me or touch a piece of seaweed. Lippy and I slip off the boat into the balmy 16 degree water and crawl over mushy kelp onto Robben Island waiving at the crew before we start.
8:30am. Lippy and I are setting a good, solid pace together and I am feeling strong. In fact, I am rather enjoying myself swimming in such good conditions. I love swimming. It has been a completely new experience for me having a “swimming buddy” to train with and to complete this Robben Island crossing with stroke-for-stroke. In those weak moments when my motivation was slipping there was some-one to push and encourage me. Poor Lippy also had to endure listening to me about my juvenile summer romance dramas. That was probably harder for her than the training.
9:30am. I am less in love with swimming and particularly my shoulders are not big fans. My throat is burning from all the salt water that I have swallowed and my sinuses are on fire. But I keep on swimming. Less than an hour to go and Lippy and I are definitely slowing down. I watch the people on the boat check their cell phones, take pictures of us and throw food into the water (maybe chum)… But I also think about what champions Craig, Sue and Gary are to give up their free time to help us achieve a major goal. Cheering us all the way with their positive energy. They are beyond generous and I’m lucky to be along for the ride with Lippy’s fabulous husband and friends.
10:30am We have just crawled out onto the rocks at Big Bay, Blouberg. At our last feed, the boat crew told us to dig deep to push for the goal of a sub-three hour crossing. Lippy sped off and I swam hard to keep up with her digging deep with everything I had. The land fortunately arrived much sooner than I expected and suddenly we were done. Finished and klaar in a spectacular time of 2h54min. This was my second Robben Island crossing and Lippy’s first. It was obviously much more low key for me than my first one but no less meaningful. I had the ridiculously corny thought as I was on the boat back that this second Robben Island crossing could also serve as a metaphor for life. I could do the swim alone well enough (as I had done in my first crossing) but it was even better to have some-one with me to share in the unique experience, supporting me in the hard times, challenging me, sharing in the good times and helping me to achieve my goals.