Swimmers set for Seli to Big Bay

Peet Crowther outside the Big Bay Surf Lifesaving Club after his swim.

Next week, 110 swimmers and lifesavers will take to the waters for a swim from the site of the Seli 1 wreck near Marine Circle to Big Bay.

It’s a 5km challenge that will take the swimmers about 1km offshore where they’ll swim around the Turkish boat that was shipwrecked in 2009, skirt the coast in relatively cool waters, ending up at the Big Bay Surf Lifesaving Club.

On the day Tabletalk visited the club to chat to the swim’s organiser, Derrick Frazer, a swimmer had just crossed over from Robben Island.

Peet Crowther from Pretoria has done the 7.5km crossing between the island and the coast three times now and he accomplished his latest feat in an easy two hours and 15 minutes.

The water was a brisk 13ºC on Friday February 24, after a two-day heatwave. Swimming freestyle, Peet, 28, said he prepared for the swim by taking a few ice baths and “the rest was just a mental game”.

The swim, he said, was in preparation for a more daunting task: swimming across the Katse Dam in the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho in the next few months. At 2100m above sea level, Katse is one of the highest dams in Africa.

Mr Frazer, piloting a rescue boat, had accompanied Peet on his crossing from Robben Island.

He said one of the first questions anybody asked about swimming in our seas was about the threat of sharks, and, yes, he said, it was an ever-present concern. Every rescue boat has a shark pod to repel sharks.

Referring to this Sunday’s swim, Mr Frazer said March was one of the most beautiful times to swim,with more temperate weather and less chance of a south-easter.

For every pair of swimmers there will be one dedicated support lifeguard and, weather permitting, the swim should be relatively easy as the prevailing current is south to north so the swimmers will be buoyed along.

Starting at 9am, for experienced swimmers it should take about one hour and 10 minutes and the winners will be announced at the end amid considerable fanfare around 10.30 to 11am.

A qualified lifeguard with 12 years under his belt at the Big Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, Mr Frazer started Big Bay Events eight years ago to organise group and individual swims.

“There is a huge need for swimmers to be accompanied and supported,” he said.

Among others, he will also be organising the Freedom Swim, on Saturday April 8, from Robben Island back to Big Bay, and a 10km swim from the Milnerton Lighthouse to Big Bay in May.

In August he’ll be taking swimmers to cross the English Channel, a 32 km swim that follows the same route as the ferry from Britain to France: from Dover to Calais. But the channel waters, he said, were much warmer than our icy Atlantic.

The club’s lifesavers are paid for peak season and holiday periods but the rest of the work they do is all voluntary.

Children can start training from the age of 14 – when they are referred to as junior lifeguards or nippers.

They become full lifeguards at 16, after doing a two-month course.

“The rescue boats can only be manned by regular lifeguards and anybody who wants to be a lifeguard must have a passion for swimming,” said Mr Frazer.

His own passion for swimming has translated into a passion for helping others.

“It just grew and I train people now all over the Cape. I do water safety courses for triathlons and have a waiting list for people who want to do the Robben Island Swim.”

* While the Shipwrecked Swim is closed for registration, Mr Frazer said all were welcome to come to the lifesaving club to see the swimmers come in. There will be male and female winners in wetsuit and non-wetsuit categories and a R1 000 cash prize for each of the category winners.

* The club is encouraging youngsters to enrol as junior lifeguards. Call Derrick Frazer at 082 770 5798 for details.