The swim by seven open water
enthusiasts, from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman two weeks ago set some official
records for the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association.
Swimming five miles under any
conditions is certainly an athletic achievement. However, this swim was done
over deep water, with strong currents and under channel swimming rules which
limit the amount of support a swimmer may receive.
Brac residents Felix Ebanks, Matthew
McKinley and Joy Yeatman, and Grand Cayman residents Kate Alexander, Alex
Harling, Bill McFarland and Andrea Roach made a group crossing on 18 April.
The first known crossing of the
channel between the two Sister Islands was made in 1987 when divemaster Jeff
Miller, an avid triathlete, completed the distance.
He swam alone, but was supported by
Cayman Brac swim coach Michael Hundt on a boat. The crossing reportedly took
about 2 hours and 36 minutes.
Ebanks, 19, and McKinley, 20, both
Brac residents who completed the swim as part of a larger group, are the first
Caymanians known to make the crossing.
The generally accepted channel
swimming code, which allows one suit, one cap, goggles and ear plugs, ensures
that swimmers complete the distance under their own power.
Physical assistance from stationary
or floating objects is not allowed. When a swimmer stops to feed or drink, they
may not touch the support crew or any boat, nor any floating or fixed object
anywhere along the course.
These rules were first laid down by
the association that governs official crossings of the English Channel and are
used worldwide as a standard for channel swimming and other long-distance attempts.
Support boats and crew are
especially important for channel crossings to help guide the swimmer through
currents and other difficult water conditions.
At sea level, land as flat as the
Cayman Islands is not visible to the swimmer, so a guide boat is essential for
staying on course.
The Sol Mate, piloted by Jason
Belport, served as the guide boat, steering the swimmers to the northern tip of
Little Cayman so they could land at Point of Sand by cutting through the reef
at the boat channel. Hundt and Department of Environment Officer Robert Walton
crewed the feeding boat.
Feeding breaks vary according to
conditions and the individual fitness of the athlete, but typically include
sports drinks for shorter distances (in open water swimming, shorter distances
are considered to be 10k or less) and soft food such as bananas, apple sauce,
soup, or gel foods for longer distances.
Sunburn and chafing also present
challenges to long distance swimmers. Heavy applications of sunblock were used
by the group along with Vaseline to prevent chafing along suit lines.
Swim caps serve as an important warmth
layer in colder waters. Although they are not needed in the warm waters of
Cayman, they were worn by all the swimmers to make them more visible in the
water, both to each other and to the boat crews.
The swim was not conducted as a
race, but rather as an adventure for those who participated. They swam at a
relaxed pace that allowed everyone to stay together.
During several drink breaks the
swimmers checked on each other, chatted about what they were seeing and
feeling, and discussed their strategy for the swim.
When the current proved a tough
challenge at the end, it was difficult for the swimmers to stay in a group. The
escort boats monitored the swimmers in the final stretch and they all came
ashore within 20 minutes of each other.
McKinley and Ebanks are hoping to
make the channel crossing an annual event.
The next, more modest challenge for
open water swimmers, is the Flowers One Mile Swim on 19 June.
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