We’ve all flown from one continent to another at some point in our lives, and there are probably plenty of readers who have made such a journey by ship. When British expat GARETH PEARSON travelled from Europe to Africa recently, he opted for a less convenient mode of transport.
You’ve just swum from Spain to Morocco. Why?!
The idea of a long distance sea swim has always appealed to me and the Straits of Gibraltar presented a good challenge. It’s a fascinating area both historically and geopolitically, on top of which the idea of swimming from Europe to Africa is pretty cool.
The swim was to raise money for Special Olympics Singapore. I have a special needs sister, Vicky, and my family back in the UK has been heavily involved with Special Olympics for many years. It’s a cause that’s very dear to me and was the obvious choice.
How did you train for the swim?
I started training a year or so ago – mainly pool swimming, but also in the sea off the East Coast on Saturday afternoons with Alex Tung who runs open water swimming programmes (www.seamonsta.com); these sessions gave me a good grounding in the different swimming techniques associated with open water swimming: the problems with waves, currents, bilateral breathing and sighting.
What are some of the potential dangers involved in the Gibraltar swim?
The shortest distance across the strait is 14.4km, but the influence of the Atlantic along with other factors always means a longer swim which takes the swimmer a little eastward. My swim was 19.5km. Dangers include the sea temperature (between 15 and 16 degrees when I crossed), the currents, shipping traffic, fog and the risk of cramps and nausea, both of which I was fortunate to avoid. Some people say the waters are shark-infested, but I don’t think that’s true!
How did the day unfold?
As much as I’d like to invent some macho heroics, everything went quite smoothly. The only issue for me was the cold. I’m used to swimming in tropical Singapore, so 15 degrees, even in a wetsuit, felt incredibly cold for the entire five and half hours.
Who accompanied you on the swim?
You book your slot way in advance and it’s just you. I reserved my place almost a year ago (it fills up very quickly) and was hoping for a nice warm July swim, but May was all they had left. It’s very well organised; the pilot boat in front made adjustments according to the tides and currents and radioed any tankers that threatened to drown me. Beside me was a support boat with a very noble friend throwing me water and gels as and when I needed them. (Touching the boat means instant disqualification.)
Is there much red tape involved in planning the swim or can someone just lob up in Spain and jump in the water?
ACNEG is the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association through which bookings are made. They are the official organisation for the swim, and though there’s no one stopping you from just jumping in and swimming off, it’s probably not the best idea!
Favourite moment of the experience? Least favourite?
Throughout the swim, looking down all you see is a blue-grey gloom, so the best moment was when I began to make out the outline of the seabed; that meant I was almost home. My least favourite part was the other five hours and 25 minutes.
What are some of the things that Special Olympics Singapore does?
It’s part of an international organisation dedicated to empowering persons with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society, through sports training and athletic competition. Set up in Singapore in 1983, it maintains a busy calendar of sporting events including swimming, hockey and basketball. Special Olympics has its origins in the US in the early 1960s thanks to Eunice Kennedy Shriver; the first International Special Olympic Games were held in Chicago in 1968.
When did you come to Singapore and what do you do here?
I’ve been here ten years. I’m a dental surgeon in private practice.
Is swimming a hobby? What else do you do in your spare time or to keep fit?
I used to mainly run and I’ve done a few marathons. I think I’ll stick to sea swimming from now on though. It’s far more enjoyable and easier on my ageing limbs.
You’ve also rowed across the Atlantic Ocean (!). Planning any other adventures?
A lovely, crazy Italian guy called Alex Bellini rowed across the Pacific from Peru to Australia; it took him a year. I’d love to attempt that, but I have neither the time nor the money so I’ll have to think of a more modest adventure!
|Visit www.specialolympics.org.sg for more information. Cheque donations can be sent to Tan Chor Hoon, Special Olympics Singapore, Blk 2, St George’s Road, #01-65, Singapore 322002.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.