Well done James what a fantastic achievement!! Blog below!
I completed it! Here’s a debrief/blog:
At 6:05am on a blustery morning I lined up with the other swimmers and looked across to the flickering light of Rottnest just on the horizon. Nicky and Shaz (my training partners) were standing alongside me. We posed for a few photos, shared some hugs and when the whistle finally blew we all walked into the water. We all swam gently down between the partitions before the paddlers could greet us 500 metres out. Gareth (my paddler) and I met up so swiftly that my worry over whether or not we’d find each other seems foolish now looking back. We cruised along to the 1.5km mark nice and fast, and very soon after that I saw Sarah’s beaming face on Steve’s boat right in front of me. The UK flag was flying beautifully in the wind and it was time to get stuck in! I still couldn’t quite believe that I was taking part in the Rottnest Channel Swim – the blue ribbon swimming event in Perth.
With the team united, it was full steam ahead and we ate up the kilometres faster than I could believe it. The water was quite choppy, but with an easterly wind on my back I put in the countless childhood hours of bodysurfing with cousins to good use. Wave after wave went through me, and I surged forward riding their crests. Gareth endured the conditions on his kayak, weathering the swell and making sure I was drinking and eating according to the plan. He did a fantastic job.
Before I knew it, we were past the 10km mark and I’d been swimming for 3 hours. I had taken it nice and easy up to this point and I was in slight disbelief that the kilometres were ticking by so uneventfully. In terms of marine life, a few jellyfish had slapped me in the face (waking me up a little) and I’d seen quite a few squid relaxing dozily in the water below me. A 3.5m Great White shark had been sniffing around among the swim pack at roughly 13km, which thankfully I heard about after the event. A prompt decision made by the Rottnest Channel Swim committee ended the event for people within a 1km radius of the sighting. 150 people were pulled out of the water and their race was over. I was only marginally ahead, so I was incredibly lucky to not have my event prematurely ended.
14km arrived and went. My mental state had changed at his point, I was becoming agitated by small things and this was a warning sign to me that I was getting cold. I shouted for food immediately to get some more fuel on board and kicked my legs hard in the hope that I’d generate some heat to move around around my body. I found out this technique works well, but only if your mind is on the task. Inevitably, a momentary lapse in concentration at around 15km meant my attentiveness receded and slowly I got colder. Sarah and others on the support boat noticed nothing different about my swimming form. I was becoming more argumentative (a common sign of hypothermia) but nothing exceptional was presenting itself to the team on the boat. I just plugged away.
We rounded into view of Thomson Bay and suddenly I hit some currents head on. I was being pushed north fast and had to face diagonally just to move inches forward. I hadn’t really prepared for the mental test of seeing the same piece of sea grass for minutes at a time. The realization came to me that if I didn’t dig in and swim faster, I wouldn’t finish it. For at least an hour, I swam at close to sprinting pace moving centimetre by centrimetre closer to Rottnest. Eventually I went past Philip Rock, the sentry that stands on the edge of the bay. The currents subsided and I was at the 17km mark.
The cold for me was well and truly entrenched deep into my core. I honestly don’t remember very much of what happened past this point. I have fleeting glimpses of recollection. I vaguely remember being too close to the ferry channel, which caused the patrol boats to loudly blast their sirens at me to move away. Having done a rehearsal of the final 2km into the bay, I knew what to aim for in terms of visual cues. Through the haze of hypothermia, I remembered where to swim to and eventually I saw the finishing chute. I reasoned that if I could get close enough, the ropes would lead me straight in. I swam close to the right hand lane rope, swinging one arm round one by one. My memory goes blank here. I remember walking up the grass finishing line and then being placed onto a chair amongst other swimmers in similar positions.
A nurse came over and measured my temperature since she was quite concerned. My core body temperature was at least below 30 degrees celsius, since this was the lower limit of the thermometer. At this point I was ushered into the medical tent and made a quick recovery with the very attentive ‘Deb’ looking after me. My temperature got back up to 32 and then to 36. Sarah arrived and so did my mental capacity as I got warmed up. I’d done it! I swam all the way from Cottesloe to Rottnest! Solo!
Of course, none of this would have been possible without Shelley Taylor-Smith and Claire Evans (my 2 swim coaches) who were very patient over 6 months teaching me how to swim more efficiently. Sarah, Will, Gareth and Steve were also absolutely stellar too both on the day and in preparation. It is a team event and without my team on the boat, I simply wouldn’t have got across.
What shocked me was how easily I’d slipped away into hypothermia. It gave me quite an insight into how you can become totally unaware of the cold once you get beyond shivering. I suppose I learnt that if I were ever to try something like this again, I’d put even more effort into eating and getting fat. Still, what a great adventure!