Every year there are close calls, emergencies, contingencies, accidents, heart-stopping escapes, near misses, unintended consequences, and deaths that occur in the open water community. These are illustrative opportunities for the ...
Every year there are close calls, emergencies, contingencies, accidents, heart-stopping escapes, near misses, unintended consequences, and deaths that occur in the open water community. These are illustrative opportunities for the open water swimming community to learn about and try to prevent at their own level and locale.
Roger Finch tells of a scary happening that occurred to him.
He was doing some cold-water training in Port Elizabeth for his Catalina Channel crossing together with his kayaker Ian. Ian had helped him on the annual Nelson Mandela Bell Buoy Challenge. Finch had planned to do a training swim from Hobie Beach to the Bell Buoy, a large buoy anchored at Roman reef over 4 km out to warn ships.
Finch recalls, "The ocean was picture perfect that day. The water was a nice 16°C, deep blue in colour with the sun shinning. I felt great on the swim out."
But soon conditions would change. And change for the worse. The swell and waves picked up and pushed Finch in the opposite direction from shore. Instead, he flew out to Bell Buoy within 56 minutes. "[At the buoy], I asked Ian if he would take a few photos. But with the ocean being so rough, he needed everything he had just to stay upright in the kayak. You are going to have to work hard to get back, I laughed and [welcomed] the good training."
That good cheer and positive mindset among the elements was short-lived given Finch's long push back against the massive outgoing swells. "As we left Bell Buoy, I saw Ian paddling to the left of me. After 10 minutes, he wasn't there anymore. I stopped and started looking for him, but I couldn't see him anywhere...but nothing. I looked everywhere. All I saw were big swells and ocean. I was very aware that I was being blown back out to sea so decided to get swimming and maybe he would find me."
The initial sense of beauty during a picture-perfect training swim quickly evaporated. The vacuum was immediately filled with a profound feeling of loneliness and deep-seated fear.
"I looked around in amazement that we could not see each other. I could see enough to know that shouting was not an option. It was very scary to see nothing but ocean and no where was Ian." Similar to other swimmers in this situation, Finch had very troubled thoughts about his kayaker Ian all the way back while at the same time swimming, literally, for his life.
"15 minutes later, I stopped again to look for Ian. Still nothing but ocean. I started to feel very lonely and nervous. Ian is a very experienced paddler so [I figured that] something has happened out here to him. I started to look into the depths and wondered what was around me. I thought that a Great White Shark might have taken him. This is not a nice thought when I was 3 km out to sea - by myself - and lost."
But Finch was constantly thinking of his friend. "My car keys and everything are locked in his boot, so when I do get in I can't phone the National sea rescue." Yet self-preservation started to become his top priority. "I was being taken back out to sea by the swells and was a very worried swimmer. I heard a loud drone underwater; it was a Chinese fishing trawler heading straight for me. But it had seen me over 3 km out sea on my own and assumed that I had been blown out to sea from the beach. The trawler stopped next to me. But I couldn't understand what they were shouting. I shouted back, 'Have you seen a kayaker out here?'"
But communications were too difficult and there was no mutual understanding. The trawler then they threw a rope ladder down so that Finch could climb on board. Finch was battling with his better judgment and convinced himself to stay in the water and continue his training for his Catalina swim. "I was close(r) to the finish, so I turned and started swimming in the direction of Hobie Beach. [Soon] the trawler left me."
Alone again. This time, it was a definitive, deliberate decision by Finch to battle the ele