For centuries the Strait of Gibraltar has been a place of historical significance from the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Moors to the mythological legend of the Pillars of Hercules to what it is today one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.
For swimmers the allure of the Strait of Gibraltar is that you can swim from one continent to the next-Europe to Africa and at the same time swim from one country to the next-Spain to Morocco. How cool is that?
(Aerial view of the Strait of Gibraltar from a friend)
Through a stroke of good luck earlier this year my friend Grant and I were introduced to Clint a dedicated school teacher from Alabama who had secured a slot to swim the Strait of Gibraltar this June. Together the three of us agreed to do the swim training separately in Boston, Birmingham and Manhattan. In the end Clint couldn’t make it however Grant and I pressed on and trained for this adventure.
The journey began when Grant and I met at the airport in Malaga. Once we finally figured out where to pick up our rental car we were on our way to Tarifa, the starting point of the swim. Our base of operations was Dar Cilla a charming guest house with a private roof top deck that had spectacular views of Africa and our eventual swim course. Martina and Nora were our lovely and informative hosts. It was Saturday and our window didn’t open until Monday so we headed to Playa Chica the town beach for a quick dip and swim. The water was chillier than expected! The upcoming swim was beginning to feel more real.
(the view from our roof top deck @ Dar Cilla)
Late Sunday afternoon (8:00pm?) we were to meet with Rafael of ACNEG, the governing body of Strait of Gibraltar swims, for our briefing. To kill time during the day we took a trip to Gibraltar. We rode the cable car to the top of the Rock saw the monkeys, took in the view and walked the long way down. We tested the Mediterranean waters at a Gibraltan beach and made our way back to Tarifa for our briefing.
(Grant and Bob at the top of the Rock looking west)
(the Rock is huge!)
(Grant acclimating to the Med)
It was a short walk down the hill from Dar Cilla to Rafael’s. We met in his office where he walked through the logistics of the swim from the tides, the wind and the ideal course. There would be two boats with us at all times a fishing boat that would plot the course and guide the way and a zodiac that would provide support and our feeds. It was getting late and we needed to be at the marina by 6:30am so we rushed home to organize our stuff. Grant cooked the special mix of lanolin and vaseline (to prevent chaffing) and we scrounged a dinner of bread, serrano jamon and queso. Likely not the best pre-event meal. Per usual, before a big event, sleep didn’t come easy for either of us.
Finally the alarm went off! We nibbled on some food, protein mixes and made our way to the harbor to meet Rafael. Things seemed to move pretty quick once we got there, we met the boat captain, his crew, our photographer, we greased up and were motoring out of the harbor just before 7:00am.
The anticipation had certainly been building for awhile but when you are in your speedo on the boat to the Tarifa lighthouse and watching the sun begin to rise over the Strait of Gibraltar-you think “damn this is going to happen!”
Grant and I gave each other a big high five and it was-go time! On the count of 3 we jumped in (actually 3.5 for me)! We swam to the rocks below the lighthouse the starter on zodiac blew then whistle and we were off.
(Tarifa, Spain Lighthouse)
We started off quickly due to the excitement but also to get the blood flowing to take off the chill. In no time at all we fell into a rhythm and were stroking evenly paced side by side. My thoughts early in the swim were–wow we are really doing this and look at that beautiful sunrise from sea level in the Strait of Gibraltar. Not many people see it from that perspective.
(Gibraltar in the background)
(Jebel Musa in Morocco, Africa in the background)
(Early morning fisherman checking us out)
The first hour in the water was a bit cool. Not horrible but you felt it. It the middle the water felt quite nice-perhaps even balmy. This worked well with the feeding plan to swim for an hour straight at the beginning have a feed and then feed every 30 minutes thereafter.
(Is that really my stroke?)
After the first feed I felt we hit our our groove and just enjoyed what was around us. Memorable to both Grant and I was the huge school of fish that swam under us. The clear water made it easy to see the hundreds of fish and each other as we swam side by side.
Swimming in a major shipping channel there were also the massive cargo ships and tankers that our crew seamlessly dodged. Some we saw out of our peripheral vision and others we didn’t.
(Passing through the shipping channel-oddly no big wake)
(Totally didn’t see this one)
Morocco started to really come into focus and it was clear we would be hitting land soon. The water got a bit choppy and started to cool down and we felt a bit of a push from the current. Under the skillful navigation of captain Antonio we were swimming up to rocky Punta Almansa.
(Captain Antonio and Skipper Fernando)
(Madonna and Child watching over our navigation)
We dodged a few rocks and carefully climbed ashore. Grant and I high fived each other, enjoyed the moment looking back across the Strait and the vast body of water we had just swum across. We looked behind us and there was an old Moroccan fishermen staring at us with his companion sleeping on the rock next to him. Above the fisherman, on the hill (top left) there was a lone figure staring down at us-border patrol. Just making sure we weren’t going to stay in Morocco.
(Swimming to shore at Punta Almansa)
(On the zodiac back to Columba)
We took one last look around and jumped into the water swam to the zodiac that took us back to the big boat and Tarifa.
We did it!!! 17.3km and it took 4 hours 21 minutes!
(Grant and Bob with Rafael Guiterrez Mesa, President of ACNEG)
Our celebration the rest of the week consisted of lots of tapas, sangria, cerveza, wine and mojitos! Along with day trips to….Tarifa’s nearby beach Valdevaqueros a kiteboarding and mojitos mecca.
Tangier, Morocco for Ramadan and took more traditional transportation–the high speed ferry.
(Roof top view of the Casbah and the Medina)
(Camels on the beach)
It was a great adventure making new friends and creating lifetime memories!
(How big is that Iberico jamon?)
Dreams and late night talks with Grant of future swims, life and adventures were always close at hand. Where will the swim be next???
Thank you to Grant for being a great swimming and travel companion and importantly to my family (read Shannon) for supporting these adventures!