52-year-old Simon Olliver became the first New Zealand man to complete a successful crossing of the North Channel. The Christchurch swimmer enjoyed an hour-long encounter with a minke whale en route from Northern Ireland to Scotland.
Olliver talked about his 11 hour 56 minute crossing and his many other channel swims:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You have done Rottnest, Cook Strait, Lake Taupo, English Channel, Catalina Channel, Foveaux Strait, North Channel and 20 Bridges Manhattan Swim. That is a wide variety of crossings. What have been your difficult where you reached your lowest points both physically and mentally in the different channels? What have been your happiest moments?
Simon Olliver: Happiest – the happiest mentally was the completion of the English Channel. This was a life-long goal that had been thwarted by a big accident and the subsequent shoulder surgery – three years of before marathon training could recommence.
There is always a moment in a swim where you pass the physical pain wall and you know that all else being equal that your mind and body will take you through to completion. Each swim I look for that movement, it always comes at a different time, but it gives you that feeling that physically you can do it. My last swim, 20 Bridges Manhattan Swim, provided that fulfillment after a disrupted preparation schedule.
Difficult – physically, Lake Taupo was the longest swim I had attempted and a change from the ocean. The nearly 15 hours that it took was a strain mentally and physically. The last hours were into a head wind and my pace slowed and shoulders were tired and ached. With my speed dropping off each landmark took longer to pass and it became mentally challenging, ‘Will this swim ever be finished?’
Foveaux Strait where I had to overcome my concerns over the abundance of Great White Sharks. This area is a known breeding ground for them. I kept telling myself that with each stroke I was moving away from them.
Cook Strait – after swimming against the current for 6 hours, Phil Rush held up four fingers and I said, ‘Four more km?’ and he yelled back “No, 400 meters’ – what a relief.
Foveaux Strait – safely swam across, but the surf was so bad on the finishing beach that the IRB taking me back was flipped and I landed spread-eagled face down on the beach that hurt more that the swim.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What kind of marine life have you seen each of the channels?
Simon Olliver: I have not been as fortunate as many other swimmers on wildlife encounters.
On my North Channel swim, a minke whale accompanied me for an hour or so swimming around and underneath me and the boat. It was displaying its belly, apparently that is a mating signal – according to escort pilot Brian Meharg.
On my Cook Strait swim, I had to fend off an albatross twice as it seemed to think that my toes looked like a tasty morsel. Thankfully Phil had my toes. He did later tell me that my crossings was the only one that season not to have sighted dolphins.
Jellyfish everywhere: hundreds of small stingers at Rottnest and Lion’s Mane just before landing at the finish of the North Channel and a few mild stingy ones crossing the Foveaux Strait. Crossing the English Channel I saw hundreds drifting 2-3 meters below me, swimming over several swarms, and managing to dodge any that had risen to the surface.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you eat or drink anything different in the channels?
Simon Olliver: On my first swim, Rottnest, I was feeding on a carbohydrate drink only, but felt hungry. Following that I switched to a carbohydrate drink with protein. I tried treats for Lake Taupo, but have found that too distracting. After trying to cross Molokai Channel earlier this year, I changed my feeding plan for warmer water and switched to alternating carbohydrate drink with a protein and hydration drink – that was successful for the 20 Bridges Manhattan Swim.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are your future plans in the open water?
Simon Olliver: Immediate plans are to complete the Oceans Seven and to include some iconic swims along the way. Looking at SCAR Swim Challenge and Around Jersey. Next swim is likely to be Tsugaru Channel.
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