Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sink, swim or float?

Not my best look. Note: lifeguards to the rear, ready and waiting
 to effect assorted rescues
Well the good news is I did The Big Swim and didn't need rescuing, the bad news is ... wait for it ... completing the race in 53 minutes. I came last!!! Local fisherman and member of the internationally famous shanty singers Fisherman's Friends, John Brown said I had inspired him to think about doing the race next year in that the way I drifted into port demonstrated for him a technique he felt he could emulate. Thanks John.

I wasn't sure I could do it at all as, for the first time in my adult life, I have been suffering from acute hay fever. The medication for my endless snivelling has knocked me for six and training was not possible, so when I got in the water I'm afraid it all came as a bit of a shock. But that's just an excuse. The bottom line is I am not as fit as I should be and unless you are Usain Bolt you really do need to train or at least be our friend Andy, who owns the local surf school, Wavehunters and is the fittest man I know in a general everyday, without trying sort of way. He did the race in 23 minutes no less! Ouch.

As 300 of us ploughed into the water I only got 100 meters in before I realised my breathing was not going to let me progress at more than a snail's pace, so I gave up trying to compete and concentrated on finishing. Sam my 14 year old had long since disappeared from view and judging by his pace I knew he was going to be alright, even though it was his first race (he did it in 35 minutes!).

As I left the bay I saw a number of much fitter, stronger swimmers put their hands up giving the signal to be pulled from the water. The conditions were far from ideal with a heavy swell in the sea, which can come as quite a shock to those who swim well in pools but have never had to work their way through currents and waves.

Joe gives Sam a brotherly send off
I made a few critical errors while I was trying to stabilise my breathing, namely cutting across the bay in the wrong direction! When I bobbed up, imagine my surprise to find myself surrounded by RNLI bloats and earnest looking chaps ready to pull me out. I apologised for giving them a scare and headed back the other way feeling a right tit.

The race has to be surmounted in roughly three parts: first getting out the bay of Port Gaverne, which seems to take longer than you would think, then just as you round the corner, the hard swim is open sea which hits you, literally. After a good distance in open water, elongated by the race buoys set out to make you go out to sea before the last part, which is when you can swim passed the fishing boats into Port Isaac, this last bit is usually done against the tide which is tricky as by this stage you are quite tired. Or at least I am.

As I was making funereal progress, I fell into conversation with a woman who had accidentally gone into me (there is a lot of bashing about Sam couldn't believe how aggressive some swimmers are), she made some comment about the conditions which I agreed with, adding that I wished the sea would stop hitting me in the face, I was starting to take it personally. She asked me not to make her laugh which was a good idea as we were both struggling to find the next race buoy given that the horizon kept dipping in and out of view.

This year we all had fancy timing devises on our ankles and once we had done the swim there was the business of running up the beach and on to the timing mat which logged our times and confirmed what everyone on the slipway already knew as they gave me an alcohol-fuelled welcoming cheer, that I had come last! I did it in a miserable 53 minutes which is better than a few people last year and a lot better than the dozen or so who had to be rescued, but really, I ask you?

I shall train next year, if they let me do it at all. It appears to be getting more and more serious with this year's race fully booked out months before, competitors looking leaner and meaner than ever and the day itself augmented by the local radio station broadcasting from the beach, a fantastic rock concert from the afternoon late into the night and a great party atmosphere, presumably for those who had not done the swim and still had the energy.

Richard Cook, coastguard at Port Gaverne and the man responsible for everyone's safety on the day, told me that evening that 324 swimmers went into the water and one way or another 324 came out and were duly accounted for. In the chaos of a choppy sea that is no mean feat, with people looking out for us every step of the way, fun was had by all. He went on to tell me that when I slowed down there was a discussion amongst the lifeboats about whether to pull me out and he had said that he knew me and that I was a strong swimmer, just slow. Which accounts for the offers of rescue waining after the first leg. Thanks Richard.

I suppose next year it will all be more competitive as sea swimming and triathalons become more popular but no matter how many perfectly proprotioned triathletes join the ranks, I shall continue to enjoy the race for its unmatched stunning views of the Cornish coastland and the simple fun of doing something I love until it makes me really, really tired.

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