Ryan Stramrood, Ned Denison Talk About Swimming False Bay With Great White Sharks On WOWSA Live
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
Nothing in the open waters in and around South Africa is easy. From Robben Island to the Agulhas Current, from the Cape of Good Hope to False Bay, the challenges include cold water, rough conditions, sharks, and occasionally, orcas.
In March, Kerry Kopke of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association described Ryan Stramrood‘s 8 hour 39 minute swim across False Bay from Miller’s Point to Rooi Els, “We are exceptionally proud of this new record that is well deserved by Ryan. Well done to Ryan’s brilliant support team including world-class piloting by Derrick, Debbie and Dylan Fraser of Big Bay Events.”
Ned Denison did a similar crossing – in the opposite direction but similar water temperatures (18-19ºC) – in December 2012. The towering International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer recalled that he stroked quickly over the first half of False Bay in South Africa and was enjoying a wonderful swim…for a while.
The friendly pair recalled their experiences on WOWSA Live including the time when Stramrood swam over an ominous and impossibly large Great White Shark:
Initially, like Stramrood on his record-setting crossing, Denison and his local support team counted themselves lucky. But then reality hit. Mother Nature haughtily withdrew her welcome mat for its Irish guest during the last third of Denison’s swim. Warm waters changed to cool as Denison faced pockets of 14ºC water. The water surface also shifted from a gentle tranquility to haphazard turbulence while the currents hit Denison head-on, significantly slowing his progress.
But Denison did not face the inhospitable conditions by himself. Safely sandwiched between two protective boats with a third escort boat scouting the perimeter for sharks, Denison was also joined by pods of seals. The Irish waterman took to communicating with his mammalian hosts during his feeding stops. In return, he was entertained while his newly found swim buddies excitedly leaped over his legs as he returned to the horizontal position.
Fear was a factor, but Denison made the best of his summer vacation to South Africa. But as with many successful marathon swims, preparation, an intelligent pacing strategy, and a mindset in the right place were keys. “I managed my pre-food/liquid perfectly. And just as well during the swim. It was my first long swim without puking. Years ago, I would start like a rocket and whimper home. In False Bay, I seriously picked up the last 3 kilometers [when the going was rough) and sprinted the last 400 meters which was a first in one of my long swims.”
The False Bay Swimming Association support, escort, crew and ratify solo and relay the 34 km crossings across False Bay which compares in length to the English Channel (33.5 km) California’s 32.3 km Catalina Channel, Northern Ireland and Scotland’s 35 km North Channel, Japan’s 19.5 km Tsugaru Channel, Hawaii’s 42 km Molokai Channel, New Zealand’s 26 km Cook Strait, and Spain and Morocco’s 14.4 km Strait of Gibraltar in terms of distance and conditions.
Information is posted on its website – www.falsebayswim.co.za.
The vision of the Association is to bring the international marathon swimming world to Cape Town. “We believe the swim has all the required ingredients to be an epic international challenge,” said board member Ram Barkai. “The FBSA is a non-profit association which will only focus on swims across the bay. This requires a focused effort to promote the swim locally and internationally as well as to regulate and record swims.”
To date, six swimmers have successfully swum solo and unassisted across False Bay with more than 24 other crossing attempts by different swimmers over the years. The Association allows for various categories:
- Solo skins category: swimmers wear 1 swimming cap, a pair of goggles and a standard swimming costume
- Wetsuit category: swimmers may wear an Ironman neoprene wetsuit.
- Solo category: single swimmers swim non-stop.
- Relay category: Teams of a maximum of 6 swimmers who alternate legs in order every hour.
Barkai explains, “The solo skins are regarded as the elite category as the swimmer has no protection against the cold water and has to complete the swim unassisted from one side of the bay to the other. The Association also accredits certified pilots and observes to ensure safety of swimmers and uphold the integrity of the swim.”
The Association offers two swim routes that are located in deeper waters where sharks are less frequently sighted and the swimmers are required to have shark shields on the boats:
- Rooi Els on the South East side of the bay to Miller’s Point, a distance of 34 km or 21.1 miles.
- Pringle Bay to Buffels Bay, a distance of 34 km or 21.1 miles.
The crossing season can be any time during the year; however, the swim windows are affected by weather conditions, most notably the persistent South Easter. The best windows are spring and autumn, when the prevailing wind is less frequent. Water temperature can vary from 11°C to 22°C, while unpredictable tides and currents can also pose a challenge to swimmers. Sharks are always a factor in the Cape waters, however, shark sightings have dropped significantly in recent years.
The board of directors includes a team of experienced long distance and cold water swimmers: Ram Barkai, Sam Whelpton, Carina Bruwer, Kieron Palframan, Eddie Cassar, and Derrick Frazer. Derrick Fraser is the first accredited pilot and the accredited FBSA observers include Ram Barkai, Sam Whelpton, Jean Craven, Patrick Wilke, Clint Le Suere, Derrick Frazer and Carina Bruwer. For more information, email [email protected] or call Sam Whelpton on +27 (0) 72 171 8400 or Carina Bruwer on +27 (0) 82 486 1320.
For a swim application form, click here.
For more information on Ryan Stramrood, visit here.
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