Roger Finch, a member of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and the Half Century Club, lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
1,263 miles from Cape Town and a large platoon of the South African extreme swimmers, ice swimmers, marathon swimmers and channel swimmers, Finch found it a tough task logistically to prepare for his channel swims in the land-locked Jo’burg, known as the largest city in the world not situated on a river, lake, or coastline.
“I looked to Cape Town,” said the jovial Finch. “It’s one of the most successful cities in the world for completing the English Channel, so I flew down to Cape Town for cold water ocean training.”
He met up with his new swim pilot Arend Grondman who also guided Ned Denison on his recent False Bay crossing. “He was keen to help me achieve my dream of crossing the English Channel. Now Arend is an ex-smoker that has had a heart bypass and has never swum before so I did have a few doubts in my mind. But we did get on well.
Very soon, I was crossing from Robben Island to Cape Town regularly in all sorts of weather and ocean temperatures between 10-12ºC (50-53ºF). Due to the Cape’s weather, it is not easy to predict when you can swim. But when there was a chance, I would contact Arend, jump on a plane and go. I swam about 14 crossings in less than a year to prepare for my trip to Dover. Never once was Arend too busy for me. He would drop work and all that he was doing to go out to sea with me. On one of my crossings in 2011 to 3 Anchor Bay, he said to my support team if I take Roger on another crossing I’ll get in and swim it myself.”
Granted Arend had never swum in the sea and was 58 years old. But a promise was a promise.
Dial forward after Finch completed his English Channel swim in 2011 and became the 67th person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming in 2012 with a circumnavigation of Manhattan Island and a Catalina Channel crossing as well as a 19.7 km solo Rottnest Channel Swim to boot.
“Just after Christmas, I asked Arend to pilot me on a Robben Island crossing as conditions were good,” Finch explains. “When we got to Robben Island, he told me was going to do the crossing with me. I smiled and thought it was a joke. He didn’t have any feed, but he said I was too fat and would use mine.”
Soon, shock turned to pride. Surprise transformed to a profound understanding and mutual respect between two men who had been through 14 channel crossings. “I am so proud to say that Arend jumped in. He got down to swimming the channel. His first 3.5 km was good, but as the cold started to bite deep and the arms were tiring, his pace slowed. Along the way I showed him seals and dolphins and gave him encouragement. Close to the coast of Big Bay where the reef starts, the water temperature drops due to the turbulence and rough water welling up the deep cold water. This is the a place where most swimmers abandon their attempts. Arend’s arms were very sore and tired by this point 7 kilometers into his crossing. We could see the beach and all the holiday makers suntanning, but our goal wasn’t getting any closer.
He then looked at me and said, ‘Roger, please bear with me. I will make this.’
When we did get to the beach, there were many excited people asking if we had swum from Robben Island, congratulating us. My face was wet so no one could tell that they were tears in my eyes.
My pilot, who had never said no to any one of my swims, had told me to trust him and had just made 2012 the most unbelievable swimming year in my life. I may have swum the Rottnest Channel, Manhattan Island and the Catalina Channel to complete the Triple Crown this year, but our swim from Robben Island on December 26th now puts them all in a shadow.“
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association