Swims

INDIAN OCEAN

Balmy, benevolent and abundant – the Indian Ocean has buoyed me up, and taught me some hard lessons.

Maldive Islands

2007 | 4°S 73°E
140km: 10 days

One kilometre from the Maldives, you can’t see them. That’s because most of the islands are less than half a metre high. It wouldn’t take long for the entire archipelago to drown in rising seas. What would become of the people who live here then?

I asked myself this question while treading water somewhere off Velassaru Island. I wasn’t just enjoying the wonderfully warm sea: our mission was to swim the 140km breadth of the archipelago to draw attention to its fragility. But our support boat’s engine was broken; we were stranded. And the wind was picking up.

I could see a rather large yacht on the horizon. I’d heard that Roman Abramovich kept a boat in these waters. What chance that the boat was his? And would the owner of the Chelsea Football Club care enough to come to our rescue? Expedition leader Tim Toyne Sewell made a phone call. Minutes later, the yacht began steaming towards us.

Limiting beliefs are dangerous because we don’t know we have them. They stop us asking for what we need. We worry that people will say no. But more often than not, they say yes.

Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa

2006 | 33°S 25° E
16km: 4 hrs 57 mins

My challenge was to complete an ocean swim in all five oceans of the world, and we needed an Indian Ocean swim. I chose to do this leg at Nelson Mandela Bay, off Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s East Coast, for a number of sentimental reasons.

My father’s mother was a descendent of the 1820 Settlers who landed here by boat, in what was then called Algoa Bay. (And even though these days it is not always seen as politically correct to celebrate these links, there were some extraordinarily courageous people on those ships.) The other reason was that the bay had been renamed to honour Nelson Mandela, and I wanted to acknowledge the great man. Swimming there felt like I was completing a circle of history; my first swim had been from Robben Island in 1987, where Mandela had been incarcerated.

The swim itself was uneventful, if incredibly windy. There was a shark in the water but somehow I couldn’t have cared less. We completed the swim and ticked box four out of five. Next, we would be off to Sydney…

Cape Agulhas, South Africa

1994 | 34° S 20° E
10km: 4 hrs 15 mins

I couldn’t stop thinking about sharks. Agulhas is the most southern point of the African continent. It’s where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, and I wanted to be the first to swim around it. It was shortly after my father died, and well before electronic anti-shark devices had been developed. I had a very different mind-set back then; today I wouldn’t dream of doing that swim without a shark shield.

My skipper Trail Whittun was a shark hunter turned conservationist – his son had been taken by a Great White in these waters, and survived. I reckoned he’d be a good person to have on the boat – there would be no messing around with him!

Still, it’s very easy to let your mind get carried away. When a negative or a frightening thought comes in you have to get it out immediately. I focused by counting strokes – I counted the hundreds until they got to thousands, and the thousands until they got to the tens of thousands. And then I started again. The 10km went off without incident.

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