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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Roger That! When The Ocean Turns Very Very Scary

> Every year there are close calls, emergencies, contingencies, accidents, heart-stopping escapes, near misses, unintended consequences, and deaths that occur in the open water community. These are illustrative opportunities for the open water swimming community to learn about and try to prevent at their own level and locale.

Roger Finch tells of a scary happening that occurred to him.

He was doing some cold-water training in Port Elizabeth for his Catalina Channel crossing together with his kayaker Ian. Ian had helped him on the annual Nelson Mandela Bell Buoy Challenge. Finch had planned to do a training swim from Hobie Beach to the Bell Buoy, a large buoy anchored at Roman reef over 4 km out to warn ships.

Finch recalls, "The ocean was picture perfect that day. The water was a nice 16°C, deep blue in colour with the sun shinning. I felt great on the swim out."

But soon conditions would change. And change for the worse. The swell and waves picked up and pushed Finch in the opposite direction from shore. Instead, he flew out to Bell Buoy within 56 minutes. "[At the buoy], I asked Ian if he would take a few photos. But with the ocean being so rough, he needed everything he had just to stay upright in the kayak. You are going to have to work hard to get back, I laughed and [welcomed] the good training."

That good cheer and positive mindset among the elements was short-lived given Finch's long push back against the massive outgoing swells. "As we left Bell Buoy, I saw Ian paddling to the left of me. After 10 minutes, he wasn't there anymore. I stopped and started looking for him, but I couldn't see him anywhere...but nothing. I looked everywhere. All I saw were big swells and ocean. I was very aware that I was being blown back out to sea so decided to get swimming and maybe he would find me."

The initial sense of beauty during a picture-perfect training swim quickly evaporated. The vacuum was immediately filled with a profound feeling of loneliness and deep-seated fear.

"I looked around in amazement that we could not see each other. I could see enough to know that shouting was not an option. It was very scary to see nothing but ocean and no where was Ian." Similar to other swimmers in this situation, Finch had very troubled thoughts about his kayaker Ian all the way back while at the same time swimming, literally, for his life.

"15 minutes later, I stopped again to look for Ian. Still nothing but ocean. I started to feel very lonely and nervous. Ian is a very experienced paddler so [I figured that] something has happened out here to him. I started to look into the depths and wondered what was around me. I thought that a Great White Shark might have taken him. This is not a nice thought when I was 3 km out to sea - by myself - and lost."

But Finch was constantly thinking of his friend. "My car keys and everything are locked in his boot, so when I do get in I can't phone the National sea rescue." Yet self-preservation started to become his top priority. "I was being taken back out to sea by the swells and was a very worried swimmer. I heard a loud drone underwater; it was a Chinese fishing trawler heading straight for me. But it had seen me over 3 km out sea on my own and assumed that I had been blown out to sea from the beach. The trawler stopped next to me. But I couldn't understand what they were shouting. I shouted back, 'Have you seen a kayaker out here?'"

But communications were too difficult and there was no mutual understanding. The trawler then they threw a rope ladder down so that Finch could climb on board. Finch was battling with his better judgment and convinced himself to stay in the water and continue his training for his Catalina swim. "I was close(r) to the finish, so I turned and started swimming in the direction of Hobie Beach. [Soon] the trawler left me."

Alone again. This time, it was a definitive, deliberate decision by Finch to battle the elements himself.

"Now I was back to wondering what was lurking around me out there and what has happened to Ian."

After an hour and 20 minutes, Finch made it back to Hobie Beach and expected to see Ian.

But there was no one. There was nothing. Two men went out, and only one returned.

"I stood and looked out to sea for him...but nothing, I was cold with no towel or phone, so decided I would run across the road and into the casino complex in my Speedos to phone for help," recalled the first South African to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming. "But just before I did, I got a glimpse of a paddler and waited. It was Ian. You have never seen two more happy people!"

Both men were just about to phone the sea rescue. "I had lost Roger in the swells and spent all the time out at Bell Buoy looking for him," remembers Ian who left things unsaid. "I didn't think that he would have made much progress against the big swell..."

The next day back in Johannesburg, Finch decided to go to Ocearch's shark tracking website to see where the Great Whites were. "There was some activity in the Port Elizabeth area so I zoomed in. It turns out that I had no reason to feel lonely out there. From the tracking, there was a Great White male nick named Albert whose swim track mirrored mine."

Albert is a 550 lb. Great White Shark that was tagged earlier at Gans Bay, close to Cape Town. Albert's track shows that he had been following the Chinese trawler into Nelson Mandela Bay right about where Finch was swimming. "Around the point that the trawler intersected me, Albert changed his course [from the trawler to] swimming with me all the way to Hobie Beach. He stayed there for the rest of the day and then went back out to see that night."

Looking back on that experience, Finch was overjoyed for his luck and learned a little bit more about the inherent risks of the ocean and why pre-planning and a ubiquitous, overriding concern for safety is essential. "Never take the ocean at face value. It changes all the time. This swim could have been my last swim in more ways that one. Thankfully I was spared. We always need to have a back-up plan with your support team."

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

2 comments:

  1. Yowza. Good lessons and a happy outcome! Glad for the safety and toughness of those involved.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you very much for your interest in the world of open water swimming.

The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE

The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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