The thought of visiting a new place in the world is very exciting and there can be few places as exciting and vibrant as the Caribbean. What was the Spanish Main, one point of the infamous trading triangle of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The adrenaline is flowing in anticipation.
After a final Sunday lido session where the Beasts from the East had left snow on the ground and a chilly pool, the change cannot be more obvious, 4 to 24 degrees or more! Gatwick to St Kitts and then Nevis: car/plane/taxi/boat/paradise!
Two days of sea swimming in preparation included wavelength stroke, perfecting my bilateral breathing and sighting practice.
Caribbean weather forecast:
If it’s clear, it’s hot!
If it rains, it’s hot!
The water has a wonderful clarity and in places the unreal colour of teal.
A pre-dinner rehearsal the evening before took place: How far to run down the beach before swimming? Do you try a dolphin start? Enter the melee or hold back? Of course no plan survives contact with the opposition.
The last supper (It was Easter after all) saw the anticipated pasta with ribs and fish as the protein offering. No booze of course and an early night.
Race Day – porridge and maple syrup and lots of water.
An 8am start is programmed, but this is island time, so at 8.35am, we’re off. The usual chaos – 200 swimmers from the Caribbean, USA and of course Europe. Argy bargy! Anything goes, but the start was surprisingly friendly.
Settling into a 4km sea race in choppy seas is surprisingly tough. Nerves and an hour standing in a pink rubber cap has pooled the blood and my legs are not responding. This passes and you settle into a nice long wave length based stroke. After about 500m it is hard to see anyone.
Choppy waves from cross wind and tide start to interfere with breathing and the left side becomes important. All open water swimmers are told to breathe on both sides and copious ingestion of sea water threatens my ballast, so its breathe to the left time.
Once into a nice long , wavelength based stroke (don’t fight the sea, it always wins) the swim becomes a pleasure. Occasional encounters with a local golden spiny sea weed provides a free exfoliation of face, shoulders and back.
The twin peaks used for sighting were very clear. A saddleback hill to the left and a stout pyramid to the right. The need to steer right and allow the current and wind to move you to the left. Clearly, current and wind and sighting regime, a real focus to maintain a smooth long stroke.
Halfway across a safety canoe plays polo with my head, clearly designed to knock some sense into me. An unexpected rock formation (The Cows) causes a serious detour – but it does offer the first turtle sighting of the swim.
Sighting is easy with obvious mountains and therefore direction is straightforward if you manage the waves and current.
A second larger turtle moves elegantly away from the human forms above. The bottom is reassuringly in sight, then fools you as it should be getting shallower now the beach is in sight. The water gradually shallows and then gives 2 bay options. One of them false. “Just look for the red buoys; where?”
Pink heads, conspicuous by their absence for the past hour, suddenly pop up like lonely corks. The third turtle scuttles past now that a human invasion of his island is stepped up.
The two red buoys of the finish appear. An unimpressive stagger out of the water and a short sandy run and it’s all over. The whoops and cheers of numerous friendly islanders is reassuring.
The overall winner, Ceri Edwards, an Englishwoman from Portsmouth in 58 mins, only 3 minutes behind the record – outstanding!
Brits finished in no fewer than 5 podium positions (including a third place in my age group for me). Being in the Caribbean, the competition was from a range of islands, Trinidad, Barbados, Nevis and St Kitts. There was also a strong contingent from SwimTrek, who organised a 3 day pre-race tour (other swim organisations are available!!). There were also scarily fit looking swimmers from the USA including the winner from Washington DC of the male 60-69 category and sixth overall in 68 minutes.
A nine year old Barbadian set a new junior record. A remarkable feat from the young man.
The final swimmer in just under 3 hours was a British woman breaststroker, in many ways the performance of the day.
Post swim drinks in the Caribbean include obligatory rum punch.
A following day swim down reminds you that this was harder than thought and tired muscles (and sunburn) complain even at a gentle strolling swim.
This is a highly recommended swim for all the right reasons. Good competition, excellent spirit and generous hosts.
Coach of Spencer Swim Team on his first trip to the Caribbean.