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Monday, March 3, 2014

Going Back To The Place He Loves - The Sea

The Canary Islands (Spanish: Islas Canarias) are a Spanish archipelago located 100 km off the northwest coast of mainland Africa from the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. In this outermost region of the European Union, one of the few people in the world to complete a full Ironman, an Ice Mile and Oceans Seven channels, Pádraig Mallon set out to complete a Travesia la Bocaina, a 15 km channel crossing between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Pádraig Mallon completed the Travesia la Bocaina with a delight that shone all the way from the Canary Islands to Ireland. "I was so delighted about doing this swim and enjoyed it so much. Lanzarote is a beautiful place and if you’re in this part of the world, it’s a great swim with lots going for it."

After a great summer of challenging swims, Mallon's right shoulder had been giving him pain. "A lot of hassle," summed up the tough Irishman. "I had to stop swimming to give it a rest and to get treatment that took a lot of time. My wife Clare and I decided to take a holiday to Lanzarote for some sun. Clare is learning how to swim and has been training in the pool all winter. She was looking forward to getting into the sea for a bit of practise in the open water. Since I finished the North Channel in August, I had not really been in the open water except for some winter swims."

So one thing led to another and Mallon found himself in the sea with Clare. "Almost immediately, I found what I had lost – my love for the open water - most of all, the sea. After a few swims along the coast of Lanzarote passing nice beaches and cliffs, I was enjoying the rhythm of the sea and the energy I got from the ocean." After one swim along the coast of Lanzarote, Mallon knew he was back in business.

And it did not take him long to set off on another adventure.

"That evening we were relaxing by the pool and looking out to the ocean, I saw a small island in the distance. I wondered where it was. It was Fuerteventura.

He was mesmerized.

"It was so close that it looked like a mirage from the poolside. The cogs in my mind started moving. One look at Clare and she knew what I was thinking. Usually our journeys to foreign tropics involve some sort of sport like triathlon, kite surfing or swimming."

There was no point changing something that works. "After some research, we learned of a race called B15K."

But he only had four days left of his vacation. "If I was to complete the swim, I had two days to work the magic. We set of to find a pilot at the port of Playa Blanca which is the same departure port for the two large ferries to and from Fuerteventura. We asked around the port and talked to some of the local fishermen. We got some weird looks when I asked, 'I’m looking for an escort boat from here to Fuerteventura.' Each man pointed at the ferry. When I explained, 'I’m looking to swim over,' I got looks of disbelief."

But disbelief ultimately turned to the direction of a man named Carlos. Carlos lived in a small dwelling near the harbour. "The sign on the door said ‘back in one hour’ Good things come to those who wait. And within the hour, as true to his word, Carlos returned. We chatted about the swim and he was willing. He was calm and relaxed in his nature. It felt reassuring and I knew this would be a great adventure."

After a discussion of tides, currents and sea conditions, the pair knew the deal was done. Two days later at 7:30 am, Mallon was at the harbour, ready to head over to Playa Blanca with his new collaborator. "I knew I have been out of real training for some time and just getting over my shoulder injury, but it all felt right. My gut was saying it’s ok and life’s for living. Besides, I might never be back here. The distance calculated was to be about 15 km or 14.7 km to be exact."

Husband and wife put their plan together and executed it as they envisioned. "We talked on the way to the start about how I visualised the swim and what was going to happen regarding siwm pace and feeding. Carlos was the right man for the job: no hassle and calm. Currents and ferry routes led us to Punta del Papagayo on Lanzarote as the start."

Close as the men had become, there was still a misunderstanding. "As I prepared, Carlos said 'neoprene' as he pointed to my bag. I said 'no neoprene' to which he replied 'maybe 16°C'." Mallon jumped in laughing. He swam to the rocks at Punta del Papagayo and stood up for the start. For the ice swimmer and North Channel stud, the water was not only crystal clear, but also just the right temperature for a good swim. The watch started at 8:13 am and almost immediately Mallon got into his usual rhythm. "I’m far from the fastest swimmer; slow and steady wins my race. The first hour came very fast and with that was my first feed. We had all the feeds made up into 125 ml bottles. Clare threw the feed out to me and down it went. After this, I would take a feed every ½-hour. We had it planned for 5 hours with some extra feeds just in case things didn’t go to plan."

On the Lanzarote side of the channel, the swim was calm and pleasant. The wind came from the southeast and peaked at 11:00. "As the morning went on, I felt strong [but had] to look after those shoulders and don’t go mad." By the halfway point, Mallon had been going at a good pace. "I looked back to Punta del Papagayo and could see the progress. It felt good. I could see Lobos island coming closer, but the closer we got, the rougher the sea became. As Lobos island came up on our left, the progress slowed and almost to a stop at one stage. I could see this quite clear the island was not going past too fast. The current was coming around the island and we had been fighting the head on current. It took 1 hour 30 minutes to get past Lobos Island and out of the grip of the current. For 2 km I played a great mental battle and this was great training for my mind. I could feel the grip of the current loosening as we started to make progress."

As the inter-island ferries continued plying between the islands throughout the day, the sea became choppy with a northwest swell hitting a northeast wind. "I knew it was harder for Clare as she can get seasick. but I checked every time she fed me. She had found her sea legs and she too was learning."

As Mallon approached Corralejo on Fuerteventura, Carlos steered him towards the light house. "I had to pick up my speed to get in before the ferry left the port or Carlos would have had to take me from the water until it passed. I made it to the harbour wall of Corralejo. The swim took 5 hours 1 minute. My two shoulders held up well and I felt great and got a great hug from Clare. The boat trip back to Playa Blanca was pretty rough but back at Playa Blanca, we went for a beer and had a great lunch.

It was so good to be back in the place I loved - The Sea

Mallon could not be more happy about the swim. "The Bocaina Strait Swim is great winter training swim for any long distance swimmer. It has the currents, changing sea conditions, a great pilot, a good swim plan, feeding regime, a good team and warm water. Carlos was the right man for the job and was delighted we had made it safe to Fuerteventura."

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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