Friday, June 28, 2019

First Swim around Pulau Perhentian Kecil

Regular Perhentian participant, Claire Parsons and I swam together (escorted by a boat) around Pulau Perhentian Kecil on 25 June 2019. The start and finish was the Barat Jetty on Perhentian Besar.
We took 5 hours 32 minutes. 
Were we the first persons to swim around Perhentian Kecil?
Quite possibly.
To my knowledge, we are the first persons to swim around Perhentian Kecil. Open Water Swimming in Malaysia really picked up in 2016 and so far all swimming has been around Perhentian Besar. No swimmer to my knowledge has swam around Perhentian Kecil.
Who is Claire Parsons?
Claire Parsons is the first woman to swim around Perhentian Besar in 2017 and now she is the first person (male or female) to swim around Perhentian Kecil.
She won her wetsuit category at the 19.7 km Rottnest Hotel Port to Pub swim on 19 March 2019. 
Congratulations Claire, you totally deserve it.
What is the distance around Kecil?
Unfortunately, our three Garmin watches didn't record the distance correctly.
On Google Maps, the distance around the island is about 14 km (measuring perfectly straight lines corner to corner). Actual swimming distance was probably 15 km.
"Jackpot" Swim Conditions
It couldn't have been a better day.
Blue sunny skies, clear water, not much wind / waves or currents, incredible underwater scenery for much of the way, free flowing iced water to drink throughout the swim (that my wife had prepared), an excellent boatman and a compatible swim buddy. No jelly fish.
It really was a gorgeous swim. Jackpot!
Comparing Perhentian Besar vs Kecil
Perhentian Kecil is less than one km shorter than Perhentian Besar if we start / finish at the Barat Jetty. So it is still quite a decent long distance swim.
Perhentian Besar is a much more difficult swim as the eastern side of the island (from 4 km to 12 km) facing the South China Sea is exposed and always very choppy. Perhentian Kecil is "protected" by the mainland on its western side and Perhentian Besar on its eastern side.
When the water is clear, Perhentian Besar has probably better underwater scenery due to the larger schools of fishes, boulders and corals etc. But one is able to swim very close the shore for very long periods with Perhentian Kecil and enjoy the view of the sea bed for much longer periods. Also there are more beaches and hotels to look at.
Either way, both islands give incredible views.
Selecting the day for the swim
I always check the Tidal Coefficient. Choose the day with the lowest Tidal Coefficient for the month. This means that currents and tidal changes would be at its lowest. Absolutely avoid full / new  moon that happens twice a month.
Choose a dry month too for great underwater scenery.
The biggest variable is the wind and this actually can't be predicted. Its only when you get on site the day before, can you get a good estimation.
Mother Nature of course is all powerful, but we can look at historical data when planning months ahead and if you are lucky, you can get a calm day.
Choose a weekday as there is much less water traffic and easier to get a boat.
The Boatmen
In general, the boatmen are OK.
They are very simple village folk but they have been dealing with tourists for many years. Right from Besut Jetty you notice that they can communicate in good basic English.
Pok Mat, often the boat skipper from Besut Jetty. I gave him the "T shirt of my back".

At the islands, they don't even blink when you tell them you want to swim around the island. Round island swimmers have been coming here for a few years now and they know what we are about.
Their weakness is they are not punctual in the mornings.
I was surprised that only one boatman turned up instead of two but he turned out to be really good, helpful and kind, focusing on our safety throughout. Definitely I will choose him again.
Our most excellent support boatman for the swim
The boatmen community appreciates it when we wear safety buoys for casual swims as we become more visible to them.
I always give them generous tips as our lives depends on them. 
The actual swim
All ready to start
We started at 7.38 a.m. from the Barat Jetty. At that time there is no boat traffic, so it was not a problem swimming across to Perhentian Kecil. From then on it was just swimming corner to corner in a straight line.
I noticed that Claire was swimming more strongly than me. She stayed strong throughout the swim. When I could, I stayed on her feet, otherwise she would disappear over the horizon and we would regroup during feeding.  Claire has improved by leaps and bounds.
The swim was actually no problem. It was very pleasant. The sea was clear, sunny temperature just right, no jelly fish. It wasn't a problem at all.
The only difficult bit was swimming around the northern tip through some rocks. The gulley created a strong current against us and looking at the rocks below, I was not moving forward. So just increase the effort and in a short while we cleared the gulley.
From here on the island was basically straight. I stayed close to the shore and had great underwater scenery until the end of the swim, so nice.
Near the village, heavy traffic
Our last feeding was in front of the swank Alunan Hotel. This was where I stopped on 29 March 2019.  But this time, I didn't feel tired at all.
The local village was just around the corner. We decided to swim together through the village as advised by the good boatman.
Claire cleverly suggested that we swim underneath the jetties rather than going around them as boat traffic was quite heavy by this time. At the huge mosque we crossed over to Barat Jetty.
The last bit took 1.5 hours. No problem, full speed ahead as I drafted Claire.
Tip had been tracking our progress and was waiting at the Barat Jetty. We finished on the beach.
A good swim, no problem.

Swim related Tips
  • Buy a foam box from a hardware type shop along the way and some strong garbage bags.
  • Buy ice in the morning from Barat Restaurant.
  • Place the ice in the garbage bag and into the foam box. Your drinks will stay ice cold for the whole day. A wonderful luxury whilst swimming.
  • I love bananas whilst swimming. One piece can last me one hour. I bring my favourite bananas from home, of course you could alternatively buy them along the road.
  • Take a couple of anti sea sick pills that you are familiar with before the start.
  • Have spare medicines, vinegar in the boat.
  • Optional to bring spare goggles, Vaseline, goggle spray, slippers in the boat.
  • I have my handphone in the boat so my wife can track me.
  • I place cash for the boatmen in my safety buoy dry compartment.
  • Attach a spare GPS to your buoy. But I'm fed up now, they all don't seem to work anywhere you put them.
This is my fifth long swim at Perhentian Islands.
I have found my calling. Definitely I will come back here again and again and draft Claire.

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