Thursday, October 10, 2019

Perhentian Island Challenge (16km) on 5 October 2019

16 km swimmers at the PIR jetty just before the start
The Best Swim Event in the World

I honestly think the 16 km swim around Pulau  Perhentian  Besar on 5 October 2019 was the best  swim event in the world. Obviously I have not participated in all swimming events, but I have completed more than 100 Open Water Swims (including triathlons), all over the world.
The sea conditions were so pristine on 5 October, that it was so unlike the normal Perhentian Besar that I am used to. The adjacent Pulau Perhentian Kecil is an easier and also beautiful swim but not normally Perhentian Besar. I have done five swims of 15 km and above around the Perhentian islands and the sea is always choppy, especially the exposed part of Perhentian Besar that faces the South China Sea.
Last year, it was very choppy from the 4 km point, all the way to 12 km point. On two swims that I previously did the boatmen got sea sick and had to be rescued mid swim. In 2016, my wife's boat had to turn back for fear of capsizing.
So much so, I was a full 1 hour 28 mins faster in 2019 vs 2018. My previous all time PB in 2017, was reduced by a whopping 28 mins.  All (except for one swimmer) 16 km solo swimmers (numbering 26), completed the swim vs more than 30% DNF, the previous two years. All Duos and Quad Teams in 2019 also completed their respective swims.
Only one 4 km swimmer DNF, so it was all smiles during prize giving at 5 p.m. I'm sure many did not expect to finish but they were now fully fledged Ultra Marathon Swimmers (FINA defines distances of 15 km and above as Ultra Marathon swims).
The happy female finishers. All Ultra Marathon Swimmers
 ALL swimmers were smiling, I'm sure the Organisers will try to replicate the timing of the event next year.
Why was it so pristine?
The position of the moon causes tides. When its a full or new moon (which happens twice a month), tidal changes will be at its maximum. Which means strong currents and waves. But exactly one week on either side (called First or Last Quarters), the tidal changes would be at a minimum.
There is a numerical measurement, called Tidal Coefficient that will accurately predict the tides based on historical data. I have always shared this information in my blog and on Facebook. It is not a state secret that I want to only keep for myself.
So 5 October 2019, had the lowest Tidal Coefficient for the whole month of October. The Organiser had by chance selected the best day in October for swimming.
But there is something that is much more important, the wind. I looked at numerous weather forecasts and it was all single digit winds for Terengganu. Could it be a mistake, because it has always been low double digits during my previous visits?
But I spoke to the locals (which is the best thing to do) and they all said the past two days had been calm. I secretly knew that there was a real possibility of pristine conditions on 5 Oct and I shared this info with all swimmers during the briefing.
So during the swim on 5 October, there was no wind, no rain, no jelly fish and of course no pollution in the sea. We could see large boulders, schools of colourful fishes, corals, the sun's rays piercing the clear sea at many places.  
Sighting was easy, corner to corner in a straight line I stressed during the briefing. The trouble was, everyone swam so well that I got beat. "I knew exactly what to do because of the briefing", a top swimmer told me. Yeah man, that's the idea.
Shubam Vanmali, India (4:17)

Paul, two years running here (4:29)
Meeting the Villagers, the day before
Race / Event Director (Amir) arranged for a meet your boatmen session and volleyball game at the local village (Kampung Nelayan) the day before the swim at 5 p.m. This program has the support of local tourism authority. There was even a trophy for the volleyball game.
I immediately realized that this was a great opportunity to do simple charity work with the local villagers. I went through all my Ironman souveniers I had collected over the years. They were actually quality items but I had not used them. The items fitted very nicely into a quality back pack that we received at Challenge Bahrain. The items included cycling jerseys, swimming things, T shirts, all precious mementoes.
I gave a back pack full of Ironman mementoes to my boat man
 Tip, my wife made her brownies (114 pieces) for giving away.

When we arrived at the Village Jetty, we were all given a nice "door gift". I really like this initiative by Amir, I don't think many other sporting events combines sports and charity. Next year I hope to do even better, maybe some things for children etc.

With our Door Gifts at the Village, what a nice gesture
Race briefing
Last year it was an impromptu briefing, it wasn't well done. In fact, it was rubbish. I did it.
We knew we had to improve and started our discussions almost immediately after last year's event. I exchange WhatsApp messages with Amir almost on a daily basis. He is my "Boss". He listens to all ideas. He is a good Boss.
I did a detailed Racebook many months ago. In March we went to Perhentian and Amir did good preparatory work.
So this year we had a proper hall to do the briefing with microphones, projectors and so on. I wrote the Racebook and had it memorized, so it was no problem.

I shared everything I knew, so that even first timers knew exactly what to do. We focused on risks, safety, rules and exactly what swimmers will encounter on race day.

We gave a much better briefing in 2019.
The improvements in 2019
  1. Support of local government.
  2. National swimming's body sanction.
  3. Perhentian Island Resort (right on the start / finish beach) as our partner Hotel.
  4. Boat loading, briefing, carbo loading dinner, body marking, prize giving were all at PIR instead of being at different locations in previous years.
  5. Get together with local villagers (I really like this).
  6. Proper room for race briefing and race pack collection.
  7. Better race briefing and racebook.
  8. Improvement to our race rules.
  9. Better management of carbo loading dinner, but this still needs lots of improvement.
  10. Punctuality of boatmen on race morning.
  11. Boat loading at same beach (PIR beach) as the starting beach.
  12. Butterworth Lifesaving Society came all the way to be our safety providers.
  13. Four medical Doctors with water sport experience on duty.
  14. AED on standby
  15. Better management of escort boats, swimmers and the swim course.
  16. Excellent swim conditions.
  17. Better prize giving location.
  18. Better management of High Tea during prize giving (the past two years it ran out).
  19. Sports drink (Gatorade) partner.
  20. Flags of all participating nations on beach.
  21. Official results published the same day (well done).
  22. Improved all round performance by the organizing crew as practice makes perfect.
  23. Cheaper taxi from airport.
Of course, all the good things from previous years (ambulance, EMS, uniformed personnel, photographers etc.) were maintained.
So take a bow Amir and the Organising Crew, these are significant improvements. Well done.
The Organising Crew
  • Almost all are FINA certified.
  • Almost all have officiated at proper FINA OWS events.
  • All have been with Amir many years and have now officiated at many swim events.
  • The Butterworth Life Saving Society are highly competent.
Amir, KL Tan, Philip Tan, Sumai, Julia, Cherish, Ahmad Syukry, Melisa, Rasinah, Azizul Hakim, Afiq, Chew, Ross Kass, Christopher Wee THANK YOU.
No crew, no event.
The actual swim
The 16 km swim started punctually at 8.05 a.m. We swam anti clockwise. At 1 km, we paired with our respective boats. A bit of a traffic jam but OK, boats on the outside and swimmers on the inside.
The first 4 km was uneventful as expected. The dreaded choppy conditions at the 4 km corner (Tanjung Batu Lochek) did not actually materialise. We also arrived at that corner very quickly.
Jose (4:42) and Fred(4:35) setting the pace
At 4 km (as I had stressed during the briefing), all swimmers went in a perfectly straight line to the subsequent corner (Tanjung Tukas Darat). The water was perfectly still along the way,  instead of normally being very choppy.
Elite swimmer, Jose swimming right beside the rocks
Then it was another straight line to Tanjung Tukas Laut. Bubbles Resort was on the left and I knew from a previous swim that Tanjung Tukas Laut could be extremely choppy. But this time it was all flat. 
Calum Hudson making the 12 km cut off
It was all easy peasy and soon the 12 km cut off point (Tanjung Basi) appeared to be in view. I wasn't quite sure of the landmark as in the previous year, I only got there only after 5.5 hours. But this time, it was not even 4 hours. Sure enough the large mosque on Perhentian Kecil came into view around the corner. Now I was sure it was a very fast swim due to the extraordinarily calm conditions.
It's the mosque! Go for it
It was all hands on deck until the finish, except that I couldn't quite catch my buddy, Simon Gardiner. Well done to him.
Job done

Scenery wise
Due to it being windless, the sea surface glistened like a mirror almost the whole circumference of the island. It had also not rained, so the underwater view was very apparent. Everything was clear, the corals, the underwater boulders, the sun's rays piercing through the water and schools of colourful fishes at many places.
Above water, due to the clear weather, sighting the next corner was always very easy. The large rocks all along the island was a wonderful sight.
Sheryl (4:01) swimming by beautiful rocks
I only stopped for nutrition (Carbo Pro and a banana) four times throughout the five hour swim versus the usual every 30 mins breaks. It just went very well the whole way.
My personal result
  • 2019. 5 hrs 13 min (12th Male Solo out of 21). Personal Best.
  • 2018. 6 hours 41 min (Last Male Solo)
  • 2017. 5 hours 40 min. Previous PB.
  • 2016. 7 hours 2 mins (informal swim with Jose)
Notable solo performances (2019)
  • Male Solo Champion. Fredric Liljestrom (now living in Msia) in a new course record of 3 hours 35 mins.
  • Female Solo Champion. Sheryl Lyn Slater (living in HK) in a new course record of 4 hours 1 min.
  • Malaysian Male Solo Champion. Matthew Choo in 4 hours 14 min. 3rd Male Solo in 2019.
  • Malaysian Female Solo Champion. Angelia Ong in 4 hours 37 min. 2nd Female Solo in 2019.
I just love the Juniors (4:19)
I am very happy that my buddy Norman Seah finished. Not that long ago he finished LAST in PD, but now he is an Ultra Marathon Swimmer
Mukh and Team Dugong did very well

Why the 16 km swim on 5 Oct 2019 is the best Swim event in the world to me?
  • All 16 km swimmers (except one) solos, duos and quads successfully finishing. 21 Solo Finishers can call themselves Ultra Marathon Swimmers.  It was more than 30% DNF in 2018 and 2017. Imagine the happiness during prize giving as all had Personal Best times.
  • Water surface glistening almost the whole way. Hardly any surface waves. A beautiful sight.
  • Crystal clear water as there was no rain. Large boulders, corals, schools of colourful fishes, sun's rays etc. could be clearly seen.
  • No jelly fish (I didn't see any).
  • No pollution in the water.
  • Wonderful view of the semi rocky island throughout.
  • Essentially faultless organization.
  • Competent and experienced Organisation Crew (together for many years now and almost all FINA certified).
  • Escort boat and crew provided for all Solos, Duos and Quads 16 km participants.
  • Safety and Lifeguard services provided by the competent Butterworth Lifesaving Society.
  • EMS providing Medical tent, ambulance, AED.
  • Four full medical doctors and other medical professionals on duty.
  • Marine Police, Fire Department (Marine Rescue Unit), Maritime Enforcement Agency, Civil Defence in attendance.
  • Event and Finisher's T shirt for all participants (irrespective of finishing).
  • Finisher's medal, certificate, specially made Turtle bag for all 16 km finishers.
  • Plaques for all podium finishers in all categories.
  • Official results available same day.
  • Hundreds of official photographs available after a few days for free.
  • Meet your boatmen and local villagers at the local village the day before. Opportunity to do charity.
  • Cute door gift for all that went to the village.
  • Availability of all national flags at the finish chute.
  • Comprehensive Racebook and race briefing.
  • Carbo loading dinner and high tea.
  • Host hotel for convenience.
    Race venue right outside my room
  • Easy availability of luxury or dormitory accommodation and outstanding night BBQ.
    The Barat nearby
  • Ease of reachability for a genuine tropical island. Travelers from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur can easily arrive the same day.
  • Turtle sanctuary parks, many different types of animals on land and in the sea, ease of scuba diving and snorkeling on island.
That enough?

Swimmers' Testimonials

  • 4:17 Subham Vanmali's write up on WOWSA's web-site.  "Amirizal is an amazing Race Director; his team exactly knew what to do. The pre-race briefing and race book were very well put together and perfectly explained everything".
  • 4:42 Jose "amazingly well organised, awesome day. Congratulations to everyone".
  • South African "highly recommended, delicious brownies, one of the best ever organised events". 
  • 3:35 Champion Fredric "OWS at its best".
  • 5:18 Emily "what an amazing day".
  • 4:37 Angelia "Yes, Perhentian is a very special race indeed".
  • 4:41 Claire "there's something breathtaking about the rocks".
  • 6:53 Calum Hudson "it was really incredible to experience a whole new community of open water swimmers. 🇲🇾 The friendship, camaraderie and welcoming nature of everyone there was overwhelming and it was really special to be half way around the world in a new continent and country but find the same easy going friendly nature so common amongst aquatic folk".

Essentially, everyone was happy.

We are targeting to have next year's event on 10 October, Saturday (subject to official confirmation by Swimon) to coincide with the moon's quarter position. The wind though can't be predicted so far ahead.
See you next year tentatively on 10 October 2020.
P.S. For your information, my wife and I are completely unpaid at all events. We might get a Crew's T shirt, nothing more. My wife gives hundreds of pieces of little cakes out at most events.
We are happy to help out for free whatever Boss Amir tells us to do.
Thank you, see you next year

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