Monday, May 21, 2018

Complete solo circumnavigation swim around the island of Pulau Redang (25+ km) on 7 May 2018

My longest swim ever
This swim around the really beautiful island of Pulau Redang took me 9 hours 56 mins and the distance covered was 25.4 km according to my Garmin (the actual distance might be more as my Garmin "stopped" for a while and recorded my swim during the stoppage as a straight line across the island).
The longest swim I have ever done in terms of time and distance.
25+km on the Garmin but it went across land at one corner
My previous longest swim was the circumnavigation of Koh Tao (21 km taking about the same duration, 9 hours 42 mins).
Does anyone know if anyone else has done this swim (solo, complete circumnavigation swim of Pulau Redang)? Thank you
My most scenic swim ever too
Its disrespectful to the other beautiful locations when we start saying they were not as beautiful as Pulau Redang, but its true.
The sea anywhere, is always beautiful. I have done more than one hundred swims (including triathlons)  in open water (Hawaii, Lake Zurich, Spain, Busselton, Koh Tao, Pulau Perhentian, Langkawi, Japan, Middle East, Kapas etc), but this swim (circumnavigation of Pulau Redang) takes the cake. It is easily the most beautiful swim I have ever done (the second most beautiful underwater scenery I have seen by the way, was at neighbouring Pulau Perhentian).
I counted seeing about twenty turtles (and we didn't even go to the Bay that was famous for turtles). The last 8 km (Marine Park to Laguna's Long Beach), I could see the soft white powdery sand at the sea's bottom, the whole way. Colourful schools of fishes, corals, rock formations were clearly visible most of the way. Some fishes were actually knocking into me for a few minutes near the Marine Park.
There was no jelly fish whatsoever. Only one or two spots (out of 25 km) where I felt a bit of sea lice and some pollution. This was the most pollution free swim I have ever done.

It was essentially just beautiful the whole way, in a super calm sea. What a great way to see an island. I've got a new hobby!
To think that during my Triathlon days, I'd never even considered going to Malaysia's Diving Islands.
So inshallah, I will keep on doing this swim again and again. I have found my calling.
Organise the dream swim yourself
I used to think that one needed to go far away (eg the English Channel, Spain, Rottnest etc.) or that one had to enter an established event or race, in order to do safe long distance swims. I also used to think that you needed your own competent support crew.
But actually, you only need to go to a popular diving island (and Malaysia has many!!) and you should be able to easily hire a local support boat and crew to escort your swim.

Do it in Malaysia
The preferred location for your long distance swim (if you live in the tropics), would definitely be to do it in your own country. Costs would be very much less. You would be familiar with the sea conditions and water temperature vs say 15 degrees overseas, no jet lag and minimize travelling time etc.

I remember going to Spain (even with a very hospitable Race Director), I had to pay for flights, hotels, food etc, miss many days of training and ended up not even finishing the Race.

So why go overseas? Just do it in Malaysia.
It should be possible to get a support boat at any of the popular diving destinations in Malaysia. Malaysia has many outstanding diving spots (Sabah, Perhentian, Redang, Kapas, Tioman, Tenggol etc) which are  quite well known amongst the world's divers. But, think about it, if it's popular with divers, that would mean the same location would be safe to swim in, the underwater scenery would be brilliant and it would be very possible to hire an escort (snorkeling) boat and a crew that is very knowledgeable with local conditions.
This was what I did with my Redang swim. I blindly called a large hotel and enquired about an escort boat. The rest is history, it was that simple.
The Recreation Centre at Laguna Redang
The Recreation Centre sourced the boat and crew. The crew are locals that live in a permanent settlement on the island.  The Recreation Centre has been in operation for many years on Pulau Redang and handles hundreds of holiday makers daily, so what's a solo swimmer.
The Recreation Centre's staff (specifically Pak Hitam), takes great pride in the Hotel's reputation. They aim to please. "We are award winning", he says. "I have been here since day one". Apart from being such a pleasant person to deal with, he goes out of his way to please customers.
Pak Hitam and / or the crew:
  • Delivered two large foam box containers to the boat first thing in the morning.
  • Placed lots of ice in them, so I had cold drinks throughout the swim, what a treat.
  • Were punctual.
  • Were there at the start and finish.
  • Maintained  telephone contact with my wife throughout the day.
  • Fed me without fail every 30 minutes.
  • Were  very vigilant throughout the swim. One person stood on the edge of the boat looking out for strong currents and advised me where to swim.
  • Protected me from other boats.
  • Picked us up and sent us back to our Delima jetty.
I was very happy with the service I received. They are very used to providing a high standard of service. I hired the boat and crew for 12 hours at a cost of RM 1,800.
Pulau Redang (Redang Island)
Pulau Redang is I think the largest island off the east coast of Terengganu (Pulau Tioman off Pahang is much larger). There are many other little islands close to Redang. Pulau Perhentian is also not that far away from Redang. All these islands are famous for diving, snorkeling and turtle conservation. I have been to Perhentian Besar, Kapas and I would say that Redang is easily the most beautiful.
The sand at Redang is soft, white and powdery, unlike the usual yellow coarse sand elsewhere. I didn't see / encounter any jelly fish or sea lice. Almost throughout the circumnavigation swim, I was able to see corals, fishes, turtles etc. I also didn't see / step on any dead white corals which were all along the main beaches at the other islands.
At the other islands we see a lot of mom and pop hotels, small restaurants etc. The taxi boats seem to be operated by just about anyone.
But at Redang its only large resorts. The buildings and facilities are as good as anything at Kuala Lumpur. At Perhentian, the electricity tripped a hundred times during one unfortunate night for me. But not at Redang.

I would say the Resorts have got some sort of a pack going. Beaches are shared and cleaned very regularly. New holiday makers probably turn up by the thousands daily, but everything moves along in an orderly manner. The beaches and everything else always looks new and clean.
So, I actually like Redang quite a lot.
Getting there
In July there will be direct flights to the island from Subang airport (Berjaya Air). Otherwise one has to get to Merang Jetty or Shahbandar Jetty at Kuala Terengganu. Its slightly more than 5 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. There are many flights to Kuala Terengganu Airport. The ferries from Shahbandar Jetty starts from around 9.30 a.m. The ferry takes about 1.5 hours.
So you can get there in time for lunch. Its probably best to stay at one of the many Resorts at Pasir Panjang as there will be more options for renting boats or kayaks even.

The boat picked us up from Delima
We all met at the jetty in front of our Delima Resort (the cheapest accommodation) at about 6.45 a.m. Tip and I boarded the boat and they took us to the nearby Laguna Hotel at Long Beach (Pasir Panjang).
I had already briefed Pak Hitam from the Recreation Centre my swim strategy and he in turn explained it to the boat crew.
We started the swim at 7.14 a.m. from Pasir Panjang in front of the Laguna Hotel.

The first few steps just before commencing the swim
I swim anti-clockwise as is now customary for me, as I only breathe on my left (I've never been coached). The boat would be on my right this time.
Initially I swam the shortest route between two points, but I then modified it to swimming close to land as I wanted to look at the underwater scenery.
Whatever it was, I followed the advice of my crew men completely, as I noticed they were very competent.
Feeding was every 30 minutes. The crew men would blow a whistle and they did this on the dot every 30 minutes.
I ate one Rastali banana ( that we brought from Kuala Lumpur) every 30 minutes. That would mean I must have eaten about 19 bananas.
I had 6 bicycle bottles of Carbo Pro and 3 bottles of mineral water (1.5 L). The drinks were always cold, which was brilliant and all of it finished. 
First 5km
Smooth as silk.

There were no waves, no ripples, no current. The sea was completely calm. The water surface was a shiny blue. the crew were on cue, blowing the whistle I gave them on the dot every 30 minutes. I was swimming at faster than 2 mins per 100 m. I knew it wouldn't last but I rode my luck whilst I had it.
Strong currents at 6km
I suddenly realized I had slowed down at around 6 km. The vigilant crew advised me currents were very strong and I should swim closer to the shore. The crew was very good at this. They were able to spot whether there were strong currents ahead.

The posh Taaras Resort and Turtle Sanctuary
They had pre advised me to be mindful of strong currents near a cave
Garmin stopped at 9,528m
My Garmin 735XT has a mind of its own and stopped at 9,528 m for ages. The timer (clock) was still going though. The distance swam resumed at about 12 km. I noticed later that Garmin had me going across land in a straight line for this period. So maybe the actual distance swam was more than 25 km, I don't know for sure.

My Garmin 735 was giving a "low battery" message for ages. The 735 didn't last the distance at Ko Tao but this time it had 1 % battery power left at the finish (phew). I think I will turn off the Heart Rate from my 735 from now on so that the battery lasts longer.

I have a back up watch, 920XT which is more battery friendly, which I used from 18 km onwards.
My buddies, Philip Tan and Thong Kok Leong had recently introduced me to a site called
Do you know its the moon that dictates whether the sea will be choppy or calm on any particular day. This site gives a very accurate forecast of the "Tidal Coefficient" for  future dates based on historical data.

The rain, storms and the wind also plays a part, but its quite difficult to predict these very accurately. What we can only do is to avoid the monsoon season.
I specifically chose 7 May for my swim because it had the lowest tidal coefficient (36) for the month of May. Just a one week's difference could change the tidal coefficient to 100 (the maximum value).
I looked up the Tidal Coefficient for various days that I had swam previously and also for races that were about to happen (eg Labuan Channel Swim).  I realized this "Tidal Coefficient" thing was very accurate and I was very confident that 7 May would be a very good day for swimming. Even the Recreation Centre or the local boat crew could not predict the sea conditions for the following day, but I was very confident that 7 May would be a perfect day.
For example, for my swim around Koh Tao, the Tidal  Coefficient was 71 (high) and it was, a very choppy day. The Labuan Swim on 28 April had a very high Tidal Coefficient (93) and there were many DNFs that day. The toughest swim day I ever had was at Hong Kong on 7 Oct 2017 and the Tidal Coefficient was an astounding 103.
So we can predict current, waves, swell etc very accurately, but not the rain or wind though.
Many of my previous swims were in choppy conditions, which I suppose was "good training". But this time I specifically identified a day with excellent sea conditions for swimming, a day with a low Tidal Coefficient.

So if you reading this, its all about TIDAL COEFFICIENT, priceless information folks.

"Not moving"
The conditions were "super perfect" and I think there was only one or two spots where I felt that I was swimming on the spot. I seemed to be looking at one particular point on the shore for such a long time. Its demoralizing when this happens. The crew then blew the whistle to indicate it was feeding time. I realized after feeding,  I had even went backwards even though it was a very quick feeding stop.
So if possible I prefer to look at corals or rocks beneath me to gauge whether I am moving forward. At Ko Tao, it wasn't safe to swim close to land as the waves were crashing against the rocks almost throughout the whole swim. The sea there was also not as clear. Not much underwater scenery there.
This time though, there was hardly a ripple so I chose to swim close to land to enjoy the underwater scenery. Yes, I like beautiful underwater scenery and I see myself coming back here, again and again.
Fishes knocking into me at 17.5km
Fishes started to knock into me at about 17.5 km. Initially  I was worried as I wondered whether they were going to bite me. But they were not biting, just knocking into me. The crew men told me they were just little fishes.

First 18 km - smooth going
Overall, the first 18 km went very well. No waves as the low Tidal Coefficient predicted.

I'd seen pictures of the beautiful Marine Park and decided to do a very quick stop at the Jetty to call my wife. I very excitedly told my wife I was finishing in 1.5 hours, which was wrong, sorry (more like another 2.5 hours).

I also tried to do a Live Facebook update which didn't come off.

Anyway I resumed my swim.

From the Marine Park to the Finish
The Marine Park is located on a tiny island called Pulau Pinang. Swimming between Pulau Pinang and Pulau Redang   was quite interesting.

Underneath the waves were rocks and there was only a very narrow part where the swimmer could swim through. Like an underwater gully. I suppose the boat also took this path.

It was a different type of swim from hereon. It was choppy all the way to the finish, but not crazy choppy. But what about the currents? I still wasn't sure.

Lo and behold, I could see the bottom all the way to the finish. It was the soft powdery sand. Just beautiful and the best bit, I could see that I was still moving forward in the choppy sea.

This part was also the busy part. For the first 18 km, it was loneliness. But now it was civilization. Other boats were taking snorkelers to the Marine Park and nearby islands.

But as long as I knew I was moving steadily forward, I knew the finish was a matter of time.

I swam by the Delima Jetty and the Laguna's Diving Jetty. The Laguna Beach was just around the corner (everything seems to be just around the corner when you are swimming around an island).

Tip was waiting, Pak Hitam from the Recreation Centre was there too and he brought about five very fit looking Laguna Lifeguards to welcome me.

The Finish is always a special moment. Pak Hitam and everyone were sincerely happy I had finished as no one had done it before, to their knowledge.

Tip and I actually went back into my escort boat to save us the trouble of walking back to our Delima Resort.

5.15 p.m. slightly under 10 ten hours. Two hours faster than the budgeted 12 hours. I felt quite fine. There wasn't a single cut on my body from the attire or anything else. So definitely, this was good going.

Woozy at Dinner, 7 p.m.
It was only when waiting for the food to arrive did I feel faint.
But after a heavy dinner, everything felt fine. 
If anyone wishes to start doing their own long swim, bear in mind there are many risks swimming in the sea.
Here are some safety tips:
  • Use a good quality safety float. The float shouldn't leak, break etc. The Sports Commissioner has directed that the safety float will now be compulsory for all swim events. The safety float helped me stay afloat when I became semi conscious from my heart attack not that long ago.
  • Don't swim alone unless you are a super competent open water swimmer.
  • Preferably have a boat support vs a kayak support.
  • Keep vinegar, medicines (heart attack, sea sickness, pain killers etc) on the boat.
  • The boat crew should keep in phone contact with your loved one and their own supervisor on land.
  • Have ample nutrition for you and your crew on the boat.
  • Wear something that covers your arms as protection from jelly fish and sunburn.
  • Don't miss your feeding, even if you feel good. Ten hours swimming is a long time.

The very competent boat skipper
Thank You. Have a good day.
May 2018


Bon said...

Well done, very informative, thanks for the tips. Would love to see the underwater scenery.

sofiantriathlete said...

Hi Bon

Yes I was thinking the same thing.
I have a GoPro.
I'm not good at using it.
Lets see what happens next time (it will be soon)

Thank you