My first DNF….. it had to happen sometime. It’s strange. I thought I would have fought the team, but on this occasion, when I was still feeling so strong and having only swum for about 8hrs, it was the only choice. A kayaker in my position had been swept back across the cook strait and landed at Kaikoura…. some 30 miles away.
It was a strange swim- the neap tide was blown out- the worst summer in over 30 years apparently. We were buffeted by 30-40mph winds day after day- sometimes with clear skies so we could explore more sheltered walks and other days awash with blustery showers. Then this utopian window of calm opened up- the down side….. right on the full moon. More water moving would mean timing was more important.
Hindsight is a miraculous pair of 20/20 glasses, if only there was a version with foresight. Would we have played it differently? I elected to try and catch slack water right around the tide, to get as far out into the channel as possible then allow the deep sweep south on one tide and back north on the other. Would it have made the difference if we had left at 10 when the tide was running hard but starting to slacken off after an hour or 2? Hold that thought.
So we set off as close to high tide as possible, I would have preferred an hour before but that would have meant plying the Cook Strait in the dark to get there and that wasn’t an option. So off I set. The 10 days of high winds had taken the temperature down from 18’C to barely 15’C and I really noticed the difference. Warm feeds were a godsend! But I felt the water pushing me from behind. I figured we were being shunted south early, settled in for a long haul….
But no! There was no tide….. minutes stretched to hours where this almighty tide should have been, I had wind and wave assistance urging me on towards my goal! Nearly 4kmph, flying along. The water wasn’t doing what it was supposed to. Word from the boat was that the low pressure to the south was holding back the tide. That should have rung alarm bells, but I didn’t heed. I was gonna charge across and be done! Would it have made the difference if I had suggested we continue on a northerly trajectory as the impending tide would have been adding strength the longer it was held off? Hold that thought.
5 or 6 hours into the swim, when the tide ‘should’ have been starting to slacken, I was within sight of the landing spot. No longer an area- I was told which wind turbine I would be landing at the foot of. I knew the drill- there is always current as you get close to shore. So I put my head down and started to add power. The water felt different- no longer coming from behind- I could often surf down the front of those cheeky little swells- now I felt it like someone leaning on my left shoulder. But my head was down, I was landing this thing! Hold that thought (it’s not over til you stand on land)
After half an hour, at my next feed, the topography around the turbine had changed… I was confused but knew I needed to keep ploughing on. The water had gone from friendly choppy to washing machine, never knowing when to breathe, missing the water half the time. All work on stabilising. Little did I know that at that point, I had been swept down the coast at 10knots- 10mph- so I was around Ohau point and was looking at another wind farm.
Then the current really hit.
Battling on, I felt like I had gone from a duck pond into the rapids. I felt my left arm caught a couple of times, elbow snapping into hyper extension- a sure sign that there was a huge amount of force coming from the left. It was like swimming across a river in spate.
I noticed the boat come alongside Ella in the kayak- who was to be there for only an hour of slack water then Martin was getting back in for the landing. I chanced a glance up. The turbine towers looked thinner, less distinct. The boat barely rested besides Ella before moving forwards again… so I thought. But no, that was the last straw. The boat had pulled alongside and idled to stay still, watching how fast I was going backwards! And it was fast.
After barely 8hrs, the swim was ended. It was a confusing moment as I felt so strong and had so much swimming in me, but the tide that never came, came with a vengeance and no intention of slowing. Instead of slacking off, it merely threw even more force at me. I was spiralling away from the coast, losing a mile in 15mins. I had been swept 10miles around the coast in an hour. There was no let up. My mind was in a flurry. I was scrabbling to figure out how to get round this, but it didn’t take me long to realise this swim was futile. Just trying to stay in ear shot of the boat was hard…….
So I thought. Fast. Options… how do I feel about not landing it? It’s not failure if you have done everything and external circumstances make the goal impossible. So, 1. I rest up and attempt a swim in 10days, knowing that I will have less stamina in the tank, but will have less tide to contend with…. in theory.
2. Don’t swim the cook strait, see where my ego lands with attempting to swim all 7 channels in a year, rather than swimming all channels in a year. Is it my ego driving me forwards or is there a bigger reason that I am doing this in the first place?
3. Let myself recover and stay on in New Zealand. There are far worse places to hole up. My crew can’t stay, so I will have to throw myself onto the universe to find people willing and able…..March has neap tides in 3 and 5 weeks. Lose work in England, spend money in NZ, but stay til I complete it…..
It’s only Sunday. I swam on Friday. Too soon to call it, but option 2 is really not looking likely. Not because I won’t be beat- I do not see it as failure at all- as I don’t spend effort on the what ifs I wrote. Speculation, conjecture. Shoulda woulda coulda doesn’t cut it. I learned much. As did the rookie pilot. I need to rest, and what better way than hot pools today followed by a hostel with a hot tub?
I will let you know what I decide…..