Sunday, July 08, 2018

Bali 10 km Charity Swim on 1 July 2018

This was  my fourth consecutive year,  doing this Charity swim. My blog Reports for the earlier swims were 2017, 2016 and 2015.

The effect of  Mt Agung
This time, a local volcano (Mt. Agung) added to the excitement. On Friday (29th June), Bali Denpasar Airport was actually closed from about 3 a.m. to around 5 p.m. This meant that about ten swimmers (out of twenty) that had paid for the 10 km were unable to participate. Our inbound flight was on Saturday, so we only experienced flight delays, but no cancellations. I feel terrible for a close friend of mine, who had to cancel everything after looking forward to the swim for such a long time.
I felt that the Kuta sky was a bit darker than normal. The famed sunset went missing and the sea was a bit murkier on race day.
After the swim, we departed Bali on Tuesday at around 3 p.m. But by 9 p.m., Mt Agung was spewing lava again, this time the airport was not closed.
So I guess we were very lucky, that we were able to get in, swim and get out.
Background Info - Bali Ocean Swim
1 July 2018 was the ninth consecutive year of the Bali Ocean Swim. It is a real Charity swim event. The entry fee is high (USD 100 for 10 km) but proceeds goes to the BSF (Bali Sports Foundation), Kuta Baliwista (Kuta Lifeguards), young swimmers, the handicapped etc.
One gets a "good feeling" participating as there are many special needs / handicapped youngsters attending to us during the Registration process. During each of the four years I participated, I made special donations to the BSF and / or Kuta Baliwista.
The lifeguards are very professional, humble and nice people. They organize the swim course every year and being Lifeguards, take the safety of swimmers very seriously. Every year I would have at least one kayak shadowing me for the latter part of the race. The event is even safe for handicapped swimmers.

The Head Lifeguard, Kuta Baliwista. A wonderful chap.
The downside to this event is that there are no Finisher's medals or T shirts. 10 km Finishers only get a towel and certificate. I have four of these towels now.

At another Charity swim event, Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim at Hong Kong, there are no mementoes at all for participants, unless you win. I guess Charity swims try to minimize costs.
At Bali, there are no age-groups for the 10km, its only Men's Open and Women's Open. The Champion gets a small Plaque, whilst Second and Third gets a cheap looking medal.
Race Registration
Registration for the Race can be done by bank transfer before the event. However, there is a better alternative. where Registration / payment can be done at the Reception of the official hotel Bali Garden Beach Resort by 5 p.m. the day before the event. You must pay in CASH (eg USD 100 cash for 10 km).
Registration / Payment can even be done on race morning in cash.
Race registration. All volunteers at the counter are in wheelchairs, a real Charity event.
Race Morning
Reporting counters open at 6.30 a.m.
Registration / Payment can even be done on race morning if you haven't done so.
Body marking starts at about 7 a.m.
At 8 a.m. you need to give your special needs (if any) to the boat men.
8.30 a.m. is race briefing.
9 a.m. the 10 km starts.
The 5 km and 1.2 km races starts shortly later.

Course Background
The sea temperature is about 26 degrees, which is quite  cool initially, but perfect for swimming. The water is murky ( I immediately crashed into Simon at the start as I couldn't see anything). Somehow nothing comes close to the islands off Terengganu when it comes to water clarity.

I didn't see any jelly fishes in all my four years at Bali. It's a safe beach (no rocks) and popular with new surfers. In 2018, the water close to the beach was positively black and oily, probably from the many fishing boats close to the shore.
The safety float is not allowed at Bali but this is ok as very competent Lifeguards are everywhere.
The course is roughly four laps of about 2.5 km. Buoys are about 250m in a perfectly straight line. Swimmers should always aim for the next buoy and they will swim in a straight line. The turnaround points though are actually flags (a bit difficult to see compared to the much larger buoys).
There are no specific rules on swimwear.
Eleven swimmers (7 males and 4 females) started the 10 km (twenty names had registered).
10 of the 11 swimmers that started the 10km. The overall winner was behind the gantry. 2nd overall, Jamie Bowler is far left.
I started right at the back and after the initial warm up settled into seventh position all the way to the finish.. There was a lady swimmer just in front of me but I just couldn't bridge the gap. Even at the finish, my usually reliable finishing kick couldn't reel her in. So well done to Dutch Lady, Adrienne Plaisier. It was her first 10 km swim event.
In long distance swimming, I think one can only go at the same constant speed the whole way. So once you are settled into your position, that would be it, right until the end.
I used two GPS watches (Garmin 920XT and 735XT) and realized at the first turnaround that the course was over distance. My speed was also slower than the previous year, so no PB.
Job done
The turnaround marker at 5km / 9.9 km is a fishing boat with a flag, rather than the usual huge buoy. I had trouble sighting this flag as there were other fishing boats nearby. I made a rookie mistake and headed for the wrong fishing boat. Adrianne headed for the right boat, so I couldn't catch her. My mistake.

Another watch (920XT) had it as 11.2 km
In the end, I was fourth male (just missing the podium for the first time in Bali) and seventh overall out of eleven swimmers. 

I was 7th Overall. 4th Male
All swimmers finished, which is great. Bali actually attracts very fast swimmers to its event every year. For example in 2015, I was dead last. It would be interesting to see how our Jose would fare against the best that came.
1st Women, Jamie Bowler, a regular participant and sometime first Overall.
 The Pros
  • The race location (Kuta Beach) is only about 3 km from the Airport. At many other events, getting to the nearest Airport is only the start of the battle.
  • There are many hotels at Kuta Beach, really many hotels. The swimmer can have breakfast at their own hotel and still won't be late. After the swim, the swimmer can walk back to their  hotel to shower off.
  • Very competent Lifeguards on duty. The course is set out by the same professional Lifeguards (Kuta Baliwista) every year. At many events, the course is marshalled by ordinary kayakers who are not real Lifeguards, but not at Bali.
  • Not seriously choppy. Cool sea water temperature. Support kayaks everywhere with drinking water available.
The Cons
  • Unfortunately there's no Finisher's Medals or an event T shirt. Even the podium winners only receive cheap looking medals. So I don't think spoilt Malaysians will come to this event in droves.
  • The cost. Bali is an expensive holiday destination. Hotel food and taxis, the prices are astronomical.

I will return in 2019, inshallah.
I go to all events with my wife. Thank you.
Thank you
8 July 2018

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Kelab Tasik Putrajaya 13 May 2018 (3.8 km)

The Kelab Tasik Putrajaya MOWS on 13 May 2018, was the second in a series of races organized by Swimon for 2018.
Swimon, apart from organising many swim races  (see below for list of their races in 2018), also regularly organizes Open Water training sessions at Port Dickson for adults and kids and semi formal (not races) swim events.
Swimon working with Aquaputra, Emergency Medical Services etc  help develop competent lifesavers and medical teams for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia.    
Swimon also helps in developing a team of volunteers / officials to become competent in all aspects of open water swimming (eg. registration, timing, swim course management etc). Many of the volunteers at Swimon events also attend courses organized by FINA / ASUM and officiate at the highest levels (eg SEA Games, Asian Open Water Swimming Championships etc.)
With each event, these dedicated volunteers become more and more competent. The sport of Open Water Swimming benefits. So I would say Swimon and its team are doing a grand job in promoting the sport.
I urge all swimmers to support Open Water Swimming in Malaysia. Please wear your safety float when swimming in open water at all times. Thank you
MOWS 2018 and other events by Swimon
  1. 1st Leg. 4 Feb 2018 at P.D. Sold out and Completed
  2. 2nd Leg. 13 May 2018 at Kelab Tasik Putrajaya. Sold out and completed.
  3. 23 June 2018. Saturday, 5 p.m. at P.D. Renang and Rendang. OWS clinic and training. Registration still not opened.
  4. 3rd Leg. 1 July 2018 at Port Dickson. Event info. But I think Registration is closed.
  5. Tentatively 28 July 2018. Informal 10km swim around Putrajaya. Details still not out. Participation by invitation only.
  6. 12 Aug 2018. Bukit Merah Lake. Still to be confirmed.
  7. 31 Aug. Merdeka Night Swim at Putrajaya. Details still not out.
  8. 6 Oct 2018. Around Pulau Perhentian Besar. 16km (solo, teams of two or four), and 4 km. Registration for the 16km solo, duo, team is officially closed. But please contact Swimon if you are keen to participate. Registration for the 4km is OPEN.  
  9. 4 Nov 2018. Finale. Putrajaya Swimfest.
Other Swim Races
  • The very successful  Kapas Marang 6.5km, organized by Triathlon Malaysia was  held on 22 April 2018.
  • Labuan 5.4 km was held on 28 April 2018 (which I didn't go).
  • The APMG Penang Cross Channel Torch Swim is on 2 Sep 2018, please follow the Penang OWS Facebook page).
  • Oceanman Krabi is on 14 Oct 2018. This will be incredible. Registration is open.
  • Oceanman World Championship will be at Dubai on 16 Nov 2018. Details still not out.
  • Thailand Swimathon will be on the weekend of 8/9 Dec 2018 at Pattaya. Registration is normally through "runlah", I think still not open.
I'm definitely going to attempt the circumnavigation of beautiful Pulau Redang again in 2018. So 2018, will be a full year for swimming.
Kelab Tasik Putrajaya 13 May 2018
I'm beginning to like swimming at Putrajaya Lake more and more now. The water is pitch black and was very off putting initially. But it is safe for swimming and I didn't feel any irritation at all after the swim or have any salty feeling.
Putrajaya is also only 30 minutes from where I live, very convenient.
The distances competed for were 300m for kids and 1.9 km or 3.8 km for adults. Kids and adults were sub divided into age groups. So many participants got two medals (one for finishing and one for podium).
My buddy. Fauzi Othman
Everything went quite smoothly and there was no sun.
Well done to the Organising Team
Largely it was the same organizing team as for the 1st Leg (P.D. 4 Feb 2018). So there was improvement in all areas.
I'm on the WhatsApp Organising Committee Group and I knew they were getting things ready way before the event. Eg. sorting out the medals and goody bags.
This time a few had to go for SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) training. There was a lot of  short cuts at P.D., which I saw with my own eyes. But this time turning judges on SUPs were deployed at all turning buoys, so no short cuts.
The buoys didn't go flying about, well there's no currents in a lake.
The results were out quickly and almost 100% accurate.
Prize giving went smoothly as Yvonne and Tip also assisted at P.D.
Loges was again the M.C. Advance Tan took over for prize giving announcements.
No ultra long queues at Registration (well done Sumai, Julia and Joey).
Joey and little Elysa did food distribution.
Tip helped with left luggage and buoy rental, then she helped with medal distribution.
Of course Tip gave away her very popular banana cakes (99 pieces or more  I think).
Yoshi and Philip Tan were out on the course.
Jose followed the last kid swimming.
Zai provided amazing photographs for memories.
Many others helped.
Yoshi, one of the very top swimmers in the country but volunteers every race. Arigato

Sports brings UNITY / MUHIBBAH

Zai the photographer who brings happiness and wonderful memeories to so many people. TERIMA KASIH
There were no safety scares.
So it went quite well.
Well done Organising Team.
My personal race
A few days earlier (here comes the excuses), I swam my longest swim ever (25km +), so I knew I would have no speed. Anyway I was happy to be there with other swimmers.
I was slow. I felt so heavy due to the lack of buoyancy and I didn't stretch my shoulders enough (more excuses). I just did what I could and it wasn't good.
At the last turnaround buoy before the end of the first lap, I found myself close to a swimmer. So I drafted this swimmer for more than 2km of a 3.8km race. I struggled to keep with this swimmer who wasn't swimming in a straight line. Well beggars cant be choosy.
It was a young little person and I thought it might be Serge's daughter, Cloe. She is only about ten years old and at the finish I sprinted past her. I guess I have no shame drafting a ten year old girl for 2 km and sprinting by her just before the finish.
Third in my 50-59 Age group. First was Serge and Second a chap who came from Korea
I was third in my age group (50 - 59) in 1 hour 21 minutes. Serge was the clear winner. Even the second placed person (who came all the way from Korea) was far in front of me. Doesn't matter. It was a lovely sunless morning.
Notable winners
Jose was first overall as expected.
The future. Aiman and Mimi Adriana Lee
But second overall was young boy Aiman Lee. Now he is definitely something for the future. Him and his sister Mimi Lee, both are definitely something for the future. Their dad is Ben Lee who is a Triathlon and Swim coach, wonderful person, wonderful family.
Serge's powerful kids. Lucas and Cloe.
Third Overall was a woman, Jessie Wong from Sarawak. The 15km swims at 3.30 a.m. in the mornings have paid off for her.
I want to be like them when I grow up. First Male (Jose) and first Female (Jessie from Sarawak)
A happy morning.

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

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Kapas Marang Swim (6.5 km) on 22 April 2018

This is the longest running (since the early 1990s) and most popular swim event in Malaysia. The 600 slots were fully taken up in minutes. 
The event is strongly supported by the local Terengganu Government. For the very low entry fee of RM 100 (USD 25), swimmers receive a Finisher's medal, good T Shirt, boat transfer to island, hotel transfer to jetty (main hotels only), 100 kayaks / jet skis on duty,  well marked course, nice after race meal, grand prize giving occasion, prize money for top three in each category, trophies for top ten in each category, on line results and e-certs the following day, rescue and medical etc.
Can't  be matched by any other event I've participated in terms of value for entry fee.
100 kayaks on duty
The 6.5km swim is from the beautiful island of Pulau Kapas to the Terengganu coastline on the east coast of West Malaysia, specifically Pantai Kelulut, which is also a nice long beach. The east coast of Malaysia is known for its nice beaches and clean waters, except during the monsoon months.
The islands off Terengganu - A swim party waiting to happen
Malaysia, specifically Terengganu is blessed with many beautiful islands and warm clear waters, which are very capable of becoming world class open water swimming venues. The diving community have discovered them, its time for the swimming community to discover them.
The swims / venues that have strong potential are:
  • This Kapas -  Marang swim which started about 25 years ago. They could easily get 1,000 participants next year. They have the strong backing of the Government  agencies and the financial backing of the local Government.
  • Pulau  Perhentian (16km and 4km) started last year (2017). The water is super clear, support boats available etc.
  • Pulau Redang, Pulau Tenggol, Pulau Tioman (Pahang) etc. are all a swimmer's paradise waiting to happen.
Getting there and the accommodation
The 6.5 km swim is from the island of Pulau Kapas to the mainland (Pantai Kelulut).
Swimmers may opt to stay at either:
  • Pulau Kapas itself. The waters and beaches around the island are nice (good opportunity to take stunning photos). But the accommodation from what I was told and can observe, is AWFUL. There's problems with electricity and many other things. Many swimmers did opt to stay on the island.
  • Close to the finish (Pantai Kelulut). There are simple chalets.
  • Kuala Terengganu, which is about 11 km to Marang Jetty and a bit more to Pantai Kelulut. The city of Kuala Terengganu has many modern hotels. We stayed at the Regency Waterfront which I like very much. Located in a beautiful park next to waterways, horse training area, the sea etc. Centrally located, it is a reasonable distance to the Airport, Marang Jetty, Shahbandar Jetty, the town etc.

Its a five hours drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu. Many of my friends did this. Our little group flew (55 minutes flight) and rented a car at the airport. The organizer did provide a bus between the town and jetties and Pantai Kelulut. If you miss the bus then you are in trouble as its very difficult to get a taxi. So renting a car is a good idea.
Thus if you opt to fly and then rent a car at the airport, its a very convenient to get to this event.
Race briefings are held at Marang Jetty and on Pulau Kapas. Race pack distribution is at Marang Jetty. 

Checking out the Finish
The boat trip beween Marang Jetty to the island is a short 25 minutes. Its about one our if one takes a nice ferry from Shahbandar Jetty. Those that took the Shabandar ferry only arrived at the island a mere 5 minutes before race start. So please take the 6 a.m. boat from Marang Jetty to the island on race morning. 
The Actual Race
Race morning : Ernesto, Han Ah Wah, Soh, KL Tan, Thong, Myself and Philip Tan
The Men started at 8.08 a.m. whilst the Women started at 8.13 a.m.
The official distance was 6.5km. Swimmers recorded from 6.45 km to more than 8 km on their smart watches.
Men's Race Start
Sea Lice
For the first part of the race, there was a lot of painful sea lice stings going right across one's face. It felt like jelly fish tentacles.
Sea lice stings affects individuals differently. Some develop severe rashes, allergies and don't do this race anymore.
But for most, the sting is severe but it goes away quickly. For the second half, no stings whatsoever.

My strategy was to go from buoy to buoy (about 350 m apart), no matter what. I don't actually trust my sense of direction. I just head for the next buoy regardless of what my wonky brain was thinking..
Sometimes I arrive at a buoy at right angles due to the currents. I try to pass each buoy on the right side. This meant I got quite an accurate 6.5 km or so on my Garmin, but the down side was, I was always sighting and this slowed me down a lot I guess. But better to swim straight I thought.
Some fast women went by me even before the half way point.
Half Way
At Half way, I literally swam into the kayak that was giving out water. I didn't take the water but did swallow down a gel I was carrying. A swimmer set off from the kayak and I decided to draft him. I soon realized the swimmer was Soh Chiow Chun. I have lost to him at P.D. and Labuan so I didn't mind going at his speed and trying to conserve energy.
Two young girls also elected to draft Soh. So we swam in a pack of four for quite a while.
Nearing the Finish
Swimmers started appearing from all angles, all converging on the finish balloon. 
It was incredibly exciting. I felt like this was the Rio 2016 finish. Everyone picked up speed and were going into each other.
I decided to swim on my own as drafting is a boring way to swim. Surprisingly I was able to actually pull away and I managed to overtake the whole bunch except for one young girl who had already broken away.
So it was a 2 hours 5 mins and 32 seconds finish. I was secretly hoping for sub 2 hours, but we always accept whatever fate gives us. 
Some friends were in front of me, whilst some were behind. You win some, you loose some. No problem.
  • The clear overall winner was Tern Jian Hin in 1:25:46. He had just been to the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and had participated in the Backstroke final.
  • Second overall was Rupert Tan in 1:27:15.
  • Third was young Australian Luke Mallia in 1:29:11
  • Fourth was Jose in 1:29:12 who also won his category.
  • First in my category (above 47 years) was Australian Dean Hancock in 1:42:12
The most amazing result to me was that of Jessie Wong Toh Shing in 1:34:52 winner of Female 35 years and above.
I first met her at Pattaya in Dec 2016 where she was already fast and yet 40 minutes behind Rupert. Now its only seven minutes.
Her 15 km training swims at 3.30 a.m. have paid off. Congratulations Jessie.
Jessie, going to create history soon
Full Results
By exercising, by being at the start line means you are a winner. Only 534 swimmers finished the 6.5km out of Malaysia's population of 31 million. Being at the start line puts you in the top 0.002% of the population. Definitely a WINNER.

Andy, Rupert, Annika, Jose, Myself and Gary
Exercising / swimming delays the aging process, increases the body's immunization system, sharpens the mind, makes you happy, keeps serious ailments like diabetes, cancer, arthritis and many more away.
So anyone that does sports is definitely a WINNER. 
The down side was, just for a two day trip, I put on 1 kg. Our group didn't stop eating.
Thank you
2 May 2018

Pics by Fiz Said, Lokman Hakim etc and us

Saturday, April 14, 2018

21km Swim aound the island of Koh Tao, Thailand (4 Apil 2018)

This was the longest swim I have ever done (21km taking 9 hours 42 mins). There is much uncertainty in Open Water swimming. Not all of us completed this swim. I have done about 20 serious Open Water Swims now and  DNF two (Tabarca - Alicante and the heart attack at P.D.). So I guess overall, I have been lucky.
Koh Tao and getting there
Koh Tao is a "Diving" island about 2 hours ferry ride from Koh Samui. Koh Tao has apparently 70 diving schools and produces the most certified divers in the world. Their rates are the cheapest in the world. So you can imagine the waters around the island would be quite good to swim in.
The town and roads are very basic though. The island is popular with back packers who would often visit both Ko Pha Ngan and Koh Tao.
The ferry from Nathon, Koh Samui stops at Koh Pha Ngan (which is famous for its "Full Moon" and other parties) on the way to Koh Tao.
Koh Samui is more upmarket and suited for families. Unfortunately Air Asia does not fly to Koh Samui and the rates by Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui are quite high. A cheaper option from KL would be to fly Air Asia to Krabi, bus to Surat Thani I think and ferry across to Nathon. This option takes quite a bit of time.
The water around these three islands are actually quite beautiful. Sometimes there are no waves whatsoever and the water surface actually glistens (I have actually not seen this effect anywhere else). The temperature is also a good 3 degrees cooler than K.L. and it doesn't rain as often. So there is a ready paradise here for long distance swimming, no need to go all the way to the cold English Channel or the Saint Lucia Channel swim that I was contemplating.
The water is not as clear as Pulau Perhentian though but there are fewer jelly fishes (I only saw one) or other sea animals. So again overall, its a very good place to do long distance swimming. We have more lined up.
The day before. Helter Skelter at 4.30 p.m.
The initial plan was to swim the 18km or so between Koh Samui and the Thai mainland, but this swim would not be in clear water.
We thought about the island of Koh Tao which is world famous for its diving and clear waters. We found out that the last ferry for Koh Tao from Nathon would leave at 5.30 p.m. So at the late hour of 4.30 p.m., we made the call to instead swim around Koh Tao and to try and catch the 5.30 p.m. ferry from Nathon a good 30 minutes away. We quickly packed whatever we could and rushed off to Nathon by motorbike. We did make it on time.
You know, I have not even heard of "Koh Tao".
We arrived at Koh Tao at about 8 p.m., very tired. Andy has lived and worked on the island for about 5 years. So with his abundant local knowledge we did identify a Diving School that could rent us a couple of kayaks the following day for the swim.
THE ACTUAL SWIM (4 April 2018)
The teams were:
  • Jose Lois Larossa (swimmer) and Andy (kayak support)
  • Myself (Sofian) swimming and Annika Larsson (kayak support)

Andy and Annika are from Sweden and have lived at Koh Samui for many years.  We have met them many times at swim events. In fact, we have even hosted them at our house.
6.40 a.m. About to start
Jose and Andy with their GoPro went clockwise whilst myself and Annika went anti-clockwise. We did the same thing on 28 Sep 2016 when we first swam around the island of Pulau Perhentian Besar. It would be nice to again bump into each other about mid way,  the other side of the island.
0 km - 3 km (sea was calm)
We started from the main beach (where all the Diving Schools are located) at 6.40 a.m.
The water was perfectly flat and I felt wonderful. My watch was inadvertently on "miles", so I mistakenly thought I was going fast. Didn't matter, I base my swim on an "easy feeling" and not on actual speed.
I found the start very nice, swimming smoothly in such calm waters.
Swim speed:  2:02 - 2:20 min. / 100 m
3.5 km - 8.5 km (high waves)
The wind picked up substantially. The waves were very high especially when swimming around the corners which were all huge boulders.
I greatly appreciated that my kayaker Annika, would always place her kayak in-between the scary boulders and myself. Thank you Annika.
Sea was nice all the way
I had learnt my lesson when encountering huge waves at Hong Kong. Then I didn't know any better and would fight with all my might the big waves, resulting in me expending all my energy and collapsing at the finish.
But now I know better. Effort must be "constant" throughout. It's the same as for an Ironman. So I kept on maintaining a "comfortable" effort in spite of the high waves.
Another "trick" is to not look at the high waves. They are scary. Just stay calm and keep on swimming the normal way.
The support person on the boat, or in this case the kayak, would find it very difficult when the sea starts to bob up and down. My nutrition (bananas and home made cookies) were soaked with sea water. Annika had to keep on bailing the kayak. 
Swim speed:    2:36 - 3:43 min. / 100 m
9 km - 16.5 km (calmer)
 The sea was calmer but still choppy going around corners. There sure seems to be a lot of corners and big boulders at Koh Tao. 

I expected to see Jose coming in the opposite direction at about 4 hours or earlier. I knew something had happened when I didn't see him.
The good thing was that the phone and internet was always working during the swim. Annika made the phone calls and informed me the other team had stopped.

My nutrition up to this point was CarboPro mixed with water and bananas mixed with sea water, every 30 minutes.

The battery on my watch went dead and I relied on Annika for distance swam. At 11km I was so disheartened that we were only about half way.

Swim speed:   2:04 - 2:52 min. / 100 m
17 km - 20.5 km (going against the current)
By this time, I was very confident on finishing. We decided to change the nutrition to plain water and gels. I only had a few pieces of my wife's oat cookies as it was soaked with sea water.

Whilst the sea was now "flat", we were going against a strong current. I didn't dare glance at landmarks as knew I was hardly moving. Whilst high waves hurtling towards the boulders are very scary to look at, it is currents going against you that really slow you down.
Rocks everywhere
Oh well, we just have to keep on going. I didn't try to have a strong finish as it wasn't a race.

Swim speed :    3:01 - 3:58 min / 100 m
20.5 - 21.2 km (totally calm)
We were back in the Bay where we started. The sea was totally flat. We stopped many times as Annika phoned the rest of the team to determine exactly where we should finish.

The sea was very shallow and full of corals and very sharp looking sea urchins. I was worried I might graze the corals or even couldn't put my feet down.

But just close to the shore, it became clear sand and I was able to put my feet down.

Swim speed:    2:31 - 2:46 min / 100 m

The Finish
 Gosh I was relieved and so happy. My longest swim ever. It was actually all down to my kayak support who was able to last the full distance (the other pair had to stop due to kayak issues).
I gave the appropriate respect to Annika (my kayaker), Jose (my swim mentor) and Andy (our local expert).
Job done. Thank you to Jose, Andy and especially to Annika Larsson, my kayaker

This is from Annika's Fenix 5. It's super accurate as the signals were uninterrupted
TOTAL:     9 hours 42 mins 28.7 secs       21.26 km         2:44 min / 100 m

Any body damage?
 I have about ten minor cuts all over my body. Some is from my compression top, which is not actually for swimming, but I wanted some protection from the sun and jelly fish. There are some insect bites I think here and there, not serious.

I was tired of course, but the legs were quite ok and I could walk a good few km with luggage to town after the swim. Recovery has taken about a week. I have quickly got back to 60 km per week, but going very slowly. The very long swim killed my speed.

But overall I'm quite OK and I am eagerly researching even longer swims to do now.

Was I the first person to swim around the island?
A South African lady has actually done this swim taking about the same number of hours. She has also swam the 32km or so from Koh Pha Ngan to Koh Tao. That would be a possibility for our next project.

Thank You