Reflecting on my first Rottnest Channel Crossing in 2018, it was a pretty big day but in reality, event day itself is a time to celebrate months and months of hard work. Unfortunately, due to the sighting of a great white shark, many were unable to complete their goal and celebrate fully. I hope those that were pulled from the water will have the energy to give it another go.
Although there was a favourable, Easterly wind over to Rottnest, the sea conditions were challenging with a choppy 1-2m swell running – three support vessels sank after being hit by big waves side on at low speeds.
Swimming with John Sullivan who had completed a previous crossing, I felt prepared and was pretty comfortable at the start line. John and I had discussed a range of scenarios and we had a simple but clear race plan, including feeding ready.
After the signal to go, the first challenge was to find our kayakers, this was a relatively easy task and was planned well. Once swimmers had paired up with their kayakers, we were lead to the zone approximately 1.5km from shore where we were to meet our guide boat and skipper. I found this a little frustrating as we couldn’t locate our boat and needed to tread water for 15 mins or so – the mind plays tricks and you just need to keep moving at this early stage. However, we couldn’t as the next wave of swimmers swam through us.
Once we had located our boat things settled quickly into the main body of the swim. We were half way across without further incident and enjoying the open water serenity, albeit surrounded by 960 pleasure-craft, thousands of Kayaks and other swimmers. It really is pretty special being so far off shore and at the mercy of the elements and relying completely on your crew.
Swimming past one of the sinking craft was a little daunting and I felt quite selfish just letting it all happen as I focussed on my goal. I was aware of helicopters and a number of flares being released some distance back from us but it wasn’t until we had arrived at the island that we were informed that further boats had sunk and a 3.5m great white shark had caused evacuations from the water.
My kayaker was also hit by a rogue wave and capsized. It was an easy recovery in the bay but a little more challenging in real open ocean. We worked together to recover lost bags, gear and drink bottles and return her world to the right way up. My kayaker, Peggy was an absolute superstar and she offered incredible support leading into the event and needless to say, for over 6 hours in the water. Our Kayakers were vital to our success.
Somewhere around the 12-14km mark, I was sensing a bit of a niggle in my left shoulder. I put this down to the fact that the wind had changed and was now pushing from the South and the big running sea was putting extra pressure on that area. I was able to change my stroke a little and up my kick rate to compensate but I was in a bit of a dark place for an hour or so. Once again, John was very supportive and he pulled back as my speed had slowed a little.
Everything is highlighted and exaggerated when you’re fatigued, and if your crew and co-swimmers know what to say this is a huge help. Once around the 15km and quickly on to the 17km buoy, the sense of wanting to finish is overwhelming and my shoulder niggle disappeared. It was just a case of swimming through the fatigue.
We arrived at the 700m finish chute, said farewell to our Kayakers and threw a couple of arms of butterfly (as you do) before swimming a joyous final section surrounded by many other solo and team swimmers.
The finish beach is steep and it is not practical to stand up until literally two metres from shore but what a “stand up” it is when it finally comes!
– Charlie Evans