rooben island swim certificate
  • Route

    Robben Island to Blouberg Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

  • Distance

    7.5 kilometres (4.7 miles)

  • Date

    13 February 2016

  • Time

    2 hours 29 minutes

Robben Island Swim Journal

Having spent ALL of my open water training in the North Sea, the thought of swimming in foreign waters with ‘bigger’ marine life really pushes me out of my comfort zone!

When my South African friend Roger Finch asked me to come down to South Africa and swim from Robben Island (prison to Nelson Mandela for 27 years) to Blouberg Beach in Cape Town. I leapt at the chance. The plan was we would do a two way (approximately 15km) in preparation for an upcoming 24km + swim.

Leading up to the swim, our numbers grew to 3 South African swimmers – Roger Finch, Mark de Klerk and Ryan Stamrood (each of them English Channel swimmers) and myself, to swim side by side. On the morning of the swim, we met up with Roger’s own boat pilot and friend Arend.

We boarded the boat and started making our way towards Robben Island. I was trying to look relaxed amongst these tough South Africans. Along the way, we saw a large dark fin in the water! I visibly started shaking! Roger’s wife Lindsay and Arend the boat pilot were laughing at me. Arend said to Roger “I thought you said she was a tough Kiwi chick”. Mark’s wife Jo agreed with me it must be a Great White! My absolute worst nightmare! Arend turn the boat around to investigate. I’m sure just to settle my nerves. As we got closer, the fin looked massive! However, to my relief it was a big old sun fish! He was beautiful and just happily lolling through the water. After about a minute of us watching him, he swam down into the depths. I started telling myself to calm down! It took a while for this message to reach my shaking hands though!!!

Once near the Island, the four of us made our final preparations. Sunblock, Vaseline to avoid chafing – we don’t want any blood in the water. I also only use Vaseline not an animal product as I don’t want to smell good in the water! Goggles defogged and caps on. Well, did I get a surprise! As I’m originally from New Zealand, the others decided to wear New Zealand swim caps I had given them. Such a lovely show of camaraderie, especially from South Africans!!

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We jumped in and swam through loads of kelp to the rocks to start the swim. Swimming back through the kelp was quite hard work as the tide was low. Once through it, we could really get going though. The water was beautifully clear with uneven chop – I found it difficult to find rhythm, one of the challenges of swimming in open water. One of the first things I will tell a new to open water swimmer is, get your breathing under control first, then everything else will follow. This took me at least 30 minutes. I was also quite nervous of the marine life. Roger has a shark shield which he attached to the boat before we jumped in. It’s an electronic device which sends out a sonar to specifically upset the receptors in a shark’s nose. This did bring some reassurance!

Training in the North Sea, mainly at Sea Palling with a great group of Norfolk open water swimmers, right throughout the winter in only my swim costume, definitely made the 13.8 degrees Celsius water feel very comfortable. In fact, quite warm! I was not cold at all.

The rest of the swim went along really well. I swam quite close to the boat (and the shark shield). Got myself into a rhythm and started to enjoy the swim.

After 2 hours 29 minutes (and another sun fish on the other side of the boat, a dead whale, a live whale and some dolphins – all of which we did not see) we made it to Blouberg Beach. Mark and Ryan made it in before us. Roger and I arrived and of course he was videoing the ‘landing’. Even though this was a much shorter distance to what we normally swim, you still have the same feeling when you see sand underneath you. Eventually you can actually stand up. It was very nice to arrive on a beautiful sandy beach too! That was a first!

There was not going to be a two way swim back to Robben Island that day, as there had just been killer whales in Table Bay and they had killed a sperm whale. Within a couple of hours, every shark in the area would be en route to finish off the remains. I did not need to be told twice and very gladly swam back to the boat and called it a successful one way. This is something to always be aware of – in December Roger took a new swimmer Rikus on his first Robben Island swim and just as they swam into Blouberg Beach, everyone was pulled out of the water as there were three shark sightings in the bay!

Although this is the shortest open water swim I’ve completed, I really enjoyed sharing this with my swim mates. The support in this sport is like no other. Thanks guys for looking after this Kiwi girl and honouring me by wearing my New Zealand cap!!

Robben Island Swim Photo Journal
about robben island

About Robben Island.

robben island swim sa boys

With the South African boys.

robben island swim sun fish

Sun Fish.

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Sun Fish.

robben island swim sun fish

Swim start.

robben island swim start

Swimming from Robben Island to Mainland.

swimming robben island to cape town

Finishing the Robben Island swim.

robben island swim finish

Swim finish with Roger Finch.

robben island swim finish

End of Swim Celebrations with Mark, Roger and Ryan.

tracy clark robben island swim celebration

Robben Island Swim Medal.

robben island swim blouberg medal

Cape Long Distance Swimming Association medal.

robben island swim medal

Robben Island Blouberg Swim Certificate.

rooben island swim certificate