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Don’t be lured into thinking that a Robben Island crossing is an easy feat. Theodore Yach’s hundred-odd swims can easily lead one to believe the swim is a “walk in the park”. It is exactly the opposite!
It is internationally rated as a difficult open water sea swim, short maybe, but with icy seas of an average of 12 degrees centigrade treacherous currents and fast changing conditions, it is rated as one of the finest training grounds for English Channel swim hopefuls.
From the early days in the late 1870s, when the first Robben Island crossing was attempted, the swim has always attracted attention and curiosity. In 1909, when Henry Hooper became the first person to successfully swim from the Island to Roggebaai, Capetonians could not believe what he had achieved. Before then it was thought impossible. When the first woman, Peggy Duncan, swam the crossing, 30 000 Capetonians lined the Old Pier and Roggebaai Beach to welcome her. She completed the distance in nine hours and thirty minutes!
Peter Bales has officiated hundreds of swims since the late 1960s, as has Tony Scalabrino and Barry Cutler and latterly, Alon Kowen have piloted many swimmers across Table Bay, navigating the shortest and safest passage to land. Bales and two friends formed the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association in the late 1960’s to officiate and record Robben Island swims.
Robben Island crossings are run by the same rules which govern English Channel attempts. Just a simple costume, a pair of goggles and a single swimming cap are allowed. No wet suits, no thermal caps, no double costumes are permitted. Just bare skin immersed in ice cold water. It’s the swimmer against the elements and that’s why it is held in such high regard.
The Robben Island swim remains an ideal goal for many swimmers worldwide because of the physical challenge, as well as the historical significance of the Island.
Eddy Cassar is a local publicist who has numerous Robben Island swims to his name.
CLDSA Open Water swimming Rules