Robben Island

The roots of organized swimming and marathon swimming at Sandycove Island can be found in Africa!

Steven Black was the first organizer (he lived just up the hill in those early years) and led the local group when it came to signing up for and completing an epic sea swim. He completed his first 5k swim in Cape Town in 1999 and was looking to push it a bit on his next visit.

The seed was first planted in the 1970s while Steven was at school and the 20th to 40th swims from the Robben Island were still big news. He contacted the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA) and their long time leader Peter Bales vetting his swimming prowess at a Cape Town beach. A few days later, in 5 meter swells, Steven completed the 7.5 km crossing in 2 hours and 55 minutes swimming together with local experts Tony Sellmeyer and Sarah Matthews. Tony advised on how to overcome fatigue after the first 2 hours (a few liquid feeds and counting strokes between rests) while Sarah swam around them in big circles since she was a lot faster.

Steven’s father crewed and took loads of photos and were met at the breaking waves off Bloubergstrand by some kayakers who came out to offer encouragement and congratulations.

The party then started with warm greetings from Sarah’s mother, some old school friends and a celebratory dinner (with un-salted drinks).

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L-R: Mike Harris, Steven Black and Joe Donnelly

Steven spread the word and in 2003 returned with Deidre Leddin (not swimming), Joe Donnelly and Mike Harris – again they had tremendous support from the CLDSA. All three (plus Sarah) completed the swim in 2 hours and 38 minutes and they enjoyed a further week of sightseeing before returning to Ireland – full of fond memories of the help and hospitality.

The Cork connection continued when Ned Denison contacted Tony and Peter Bales prior to his swim trip in 2011 and for a further trip at Christmas 2012. The connection is still open for the next swimmers…

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