Thursday, October 11, 2018

16 km Solo Swim Around Pulau Perhentian Besar on 6 October 2018

Always with my wife
It was a big relief for us that no serious safety incident took place. No injuries from propellers, no heart attacks etc. just a few jelly fish stings, which is nothing.
I guess the standby ambulance, standby speedboat, various safety gadgets in each boat were all not used. These items increases the entry fee, but we need to have these safety precautions in place. If there was a serious safety incident, this event and Open Water Swimming  in Malaysia might come to a halt.

Privately, I was so happy that Malaysia has pulled this off. We probably only started Open Water Swimming seriously in 2016 and its only the second year that Perhentian has this event. This is the longest Open Water Swimming event in South East Asia and we pulled it off. Just marvelous.

Big increase in swimmers from 2017
107 solo swimmers took part in the 4 km, whilst 24 solo swimmers (15 males and 9 females) and 40 duos or quad swimmers took part in the 16 km circumnavigation swim of Pulau Perhentian Besar. So there was a total of 171 swimmers this year, a big increase from 2017 especially in international participants.
The 24 solo starters for the 16 km is a good increase from last year's 15 starters. Its difficult to get huge solo numbers for a long distance swim event. For example the long running Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim (15 km) that also took place on 6 October 2018, only had 10 starters for the solo swim but huge numbers for the relays. 
Only 17 (71%) swimmers (10 males and 7 females) finished the Perhentian 16 km this year versus 11 swimmers (73%) in 2017. What was mind boggling was that, only one Malaysian Male (myself) and one Malaysian Female (Jessie), finished in 2018. Jessie was outstanding being Champion Female and Second Overall to Jose, whilst I was last male finisher.
The build up (behind the scenes)
Preparations started shortly after last year's 16 September event. The Organisers decided that the event would be held on the first weekend of October as this was the earliest possible date to get the huge number of boats required. Actually the date for 2019  has been confirmed, 5 October 2019. Perhentian will always be on the first weekend of October.
Suggestions came thick and fast from the enthusiastic Perhentian WhatsApp group that Amir created. To his credit, he considers all suggestions made. Registration opened months ahead. The same lifeguards (Aquaputra Putrjaya), medics (EMS) and timekeepers that Swimon uses for its events were retained. The members of the Organising Committee are essentially the same from event to event. Many attended FINA and lifesaving courses at their own expense.
By the time of the Perhentian event, the Committee and support teams were familiar with each other and had acquired much expertise in open water swimming. As 6 October neared, more suggestions came thick and fast.
So I would say on 6 October 2018, everything went quite smoothly. Though we were all very stressed as many things could still go wrong unexpectedly, for example, the weather.
5 Oct 2018 (the day before)
For me and my wife, living close to the secondary Subang Airport, it was incredibly convenient. We could wake up at our usual morning time, breeze through Subang and Kota Baru Airports, take a Grab to Besut Jetty  and use the boat company (Safe Park) recommended by Swimon. Safe Park is RM 10 off the usual rate per person, each way and they seem to have the most boats. My wife and I were on Perhentian by 12.30 p.m., quite incredible.
Its so nice to be back here
For those coming from Singapore for example, its much more stressful. They have to take two flights with a transit in KL, but it is still possible to get to Perhentian by say 3.30 p.m.

Race briefing, race pack collection and Buffet Dinner for 16 km participants was at 6 p.m. at Perhentian Island ResortFor 2019, PIR will be the central Hotel for the race on 5 October.

Luckily I had proof read the Race Book in detail for Amir. So when he told me to do the briefing, I was able to do it with assistance from Amir, Yoshi and Philip. Yoshi and Philip held the loud hailer whilst I flipped through the pages of the Race Book. In 2019, we hope to do a better briefing with microphones etc. For me, it was wonderful to see many new faces from overseas and they were actually quite OK to me.

But on the eve of the Race, we the organisers were still very worried how race day would turn out.

6 Oct 2018 (before the start)
The weather was fine, a relief.
To be frank the morning was chaotic (I guess we have to improve this part). 4km and 16km swimmers met in front of the REEF Hotel. The Thai Restaurant right beside the REEF Hotel gave some swimmers (including me) a big bag of ice for free, what luck. This particular restaurant served the best food of all the eating spots. But they were about to close the business down.

Philip took charge and gave a short briefing. Thong led the warm up. The boats were late as they could only start moving  from the mainland after sun rise. When they did arrive, everyone rushed on the small Barat Jetty which looked like it was going to sink (this part where swimmers and boatmen meet, we have to improve). I had the same boat as in 2017, so I had no problems.

Solos, Duos and Team Quads started at the same time at 8.30 a.m. There were about 40 swimmers.

We met the boats at the 1 km point. I was quite concerned about this meeting point as last year it was chaotic. But surprisingly it was quite orderly. The boats were lined up in a smart line on the outside, whilst the swimmers swam on the inside close to the island. I also didn't smell any fumes this year.
I think the matching of swimmers with their respective boats went quite well, we were off.

Until 4 km - quite flat
It only started to get choppy at the first big left corner. Last year the 4.5km ended at the beach nearby and it was also choppy. Many boats and swimmers went closely around the corner and continued to hog the coastline. I feel this was a mistake as one should actually swim from "corner to corner" in a straight line to get the shortest distance. The disadvantage of this strategy was that the sea was much more choppy the further one gets from the shore.

It was at this corner that swimmers started to spread out and the sea became choppy all the way until the last big corner at about 12.5km.

4 km to 12.5 km - choppy
From 4km right until the last big corner at about 12.5km, it was choppy. Not super choppy like in 2016, but it was choppy. Some boatmen advised their swimmers to hog the coastline where it was less choppy. But I preferred to take the shortest straight line between two corners.

I sort of know from experience, that in choppy conditions, the energy expended by the swimmer still has to remain constant. If a swimmer was to fight the waves, the swimmer will run out of energy very quickly.

Slower swimmers will not be able to progress forward during this choppy part. They might be swimming on the spot or even go backwards. So the slow swimmers will stop here.

For fast pool swimmers who are new to long distance sea swims. They will be wondering why they are not moving. The bobbing up and down will also be a new sensation and it goes on without letting up for hours. If one is not careful, negative thoughts will overpower the swimmer and they will stop.

The drop out rate for solo swimmers was about 30%, same as in 2017. A 16 km swim in the deep blue sea is not for fun swimmers. I think a swimmer needs to be able to swim 6km in about 2 hours in the pool, otherwise they won't make the cut off.

Even some duo and quad  teams could not make the cut off. Slow swimmers won't be able to progress forward when the sea is choppy.

Any jelly fish or painful planktons?
Only a little. I did see ONE monster jelly fish, but over 16 km this was nothing. I did see many baby jelly fishes. I'm not sure if I did get stung. There were no painful planktons unlike last year. So overall I would say, conditions were very good.

Was the sea crystal clear?
No, unlike in previous years. The sea was of course clean and crystal but the colourful schools of fishes and beautiful underwater rock formations were missing, for me anyway.

12.5 km to the finish
After the last big corner, one could actually see the big mosque on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. This big mosque became the new target. Also, the choppy waters stopped. The sea became quite calm.

I swam beside Emily the whole stretch.

It became a bit confusing once we entered the finishing Bay (Teluk Pauh) due to the presence of other boats and various buoys (we will improve this part next year), but we weren't rushing and just did whatever the escort kayaks took us.

So I finished side by side with Emily in 6 hours 41 mins (one hour slower than last year but 20 mins faster than in 2016).
Job done. Thank you
No complaints, a finish is a finish. I was so, so tired. During the prize giving, I was dozing off in my wooden chair. Its always great to hear the 4 km swimmers still with much energy cheering everyone. I think the 16 km swimmers were very subdued.
I was last male finisher, the only Malaysian male finisher, the oldest
Jessie Wong
Female Champion in a course record of 4:51, beating a strong international field. She was the second individual overall and the only Malaysian female to finish. The most incredible performance by a Malaysian amateur swimmer I have seen. 
Jessie and Sumai

Jose Lois Larossa 
Jose came to our shores in 2016 and the sport has progressed leaps and bounds.
With good swimmers, it looks like they are breathing below the water level
Male Champion in a new course record time of 4:07, even more incredible when we consider that last year was not as choppy. Jose was first overall beating even the very strong relay teams. What a performance.
First Overall
Kevin Yeap
We are honoured to have the 2017 SEA Games' Gold Medalist in the 10 km Open Water Swim, participating in our event. Partnering his girlfriend, who I understand is also a National swimmer, this very lovely couple easily won the Mixed Duos.
Limited Media Coverage
The event was immediately reported by the  Daily News / Open Water Swimming. Thank you Mr Steven Munatones. Unfortunately there was no coverage in the local media.
Was the event a success?
Oh YES. Definitely a YES.

From the Organiser's point of view, we were relieved that there was no serious safety incident. The ambulance team that came from KL, the dedicated speedboat on standby were not required.
The many boat propellers, didn't endanger the swimmers this time due to the lengthy briefing with the boat men. The personal safety buoys that was made compulsory, is key for the safety of swimmers.

I just knew that the event went very well. I asked many foreign swimmers and absolutely all were very happy and the general consensus was that the event went perfectly ("perfecto"). They will all come back and bring their friends. We knew we nailed it by everyone's good mood during prize giving.

We are already discussing them.
  1. Lets go back to calling the event "16km Swim Around Perhentian Island". The word "Challenge" is used for too many silly things.
  2. We could do with a briefing for the 4km swimmers on 4 Oct 2019.
  3. Boats at 1 km could be arranged in sequence of Bib No. Easier for swimmers to find their boats.
  4. Bib nos could be by seeding to reduce crossing of boats at 1 km.
  5. 16 km start to be later at 9 a.m. so that there is more time for swimmers to meet their boatmen and to reduce the congestion on the Barat Jetty.
  6. The 16 km finishing chute to be clearer.
  7. Race briefing to have proper microphone, room etc (not sure if possible).
  8. Race briefing slides to be prepared. Oops that's me.
  9. Local media coverage would be nice.
  10. All boats must have ladders.

And of course, the good things we are already doing have to be maintained. Can't rest on one's laurels.

The date for all future events has been set for the first Saturday of October. So for 2019, the event will be on 5 October 2019. The Perhentian Island Resort will be the central hotel.

Finally, the all important Organising Committee
The main regular members are:
  1. Amir. Race Director and sole owner of event
  2. Sumai. Chief Secretariat (all rounder, does everything)
  3. Cherish Chin. Chief Safety Officer and all rounder.
  4. Yoshi. Course Officer, Lifeguard. His wife is one of the competent photographers.
  5. Philip Tan. Chief Referee. Swimmer, Surf Life Saver etc
  6. Julia and Azizul (very helpful all rounders)
  7. Afiq. Timekeeper, Referee
  8. Many others, even Tip, Joey helps out
That Open Water Swimming has a future and has been progressing steadily in Malaysia, is  due to having a competent Organising Committee. With each event, they keep on improving bit by bit. They work well together and they work selflessly.

Many have attended FINA Courses. Many officiated at the Asian Open Water Swimming Championships and SEA Games in 2017. Many are Life Savers, swimmers or swimming instructors.

Its because of this Committee, we are able to enjoy safe Open Water Swimming events in Malaysia. So THANK YOU.

An international crowd
Swimmers travelled from Austria (Babara, 2nd Female), New Zealand (Alessandra Cima, 5th Female, English Channel swimmer), Australia (Liz Pinches etc), Spain (Raquel, 3rd Female and others), Korea (Yang, 9th Male) and many from Singapore (Claire, Derek, Alvin Neo, Paul Agaytant and the very many teams). We know it couldn't have been easy getting to the island.

Thank you to all swimmers for taking part, See you all at Perhentian on 5 October 2019.


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