Shipwrecked!

Castaways – Me, Alejandro and Juan in Los Caños de Meca

Well at least that’s what we look like, a bunch of sandy castaways on a desert island. We’ve just come out of the water after a 2km. swim in a very strong levante wind with currents against us all the way. If we’d been shipwrecked off Cape Horn that’s probably the conditions we would have had (minus the cold of course). It was such fun – a battle against the tide, the wind, the waves. Happily we were only a 100m. off shore but it just goes to show how difficult it must be for search and rescue operations as we lost sight of Alejandro for 20 minutes and he was only 20 metres away from us. The wind was too strong to use our safety buoys. Yes yes the irony of it, heavy seas not the most sensible time to ditch them however we knew exactly the conditions through having spent the whole summer swimming here day and night.

Twilight zone with Trafalgar lighthouse flashing on the horizon

Zen and the art of swimming in the dark – is that a book title I’ve misremembered? This was a fascinating experience and voted by many as one of the best of the summer swims. It was an idea I had inspired by Vejer’s full moon ‘Carrera Nocturna’ (time limit – must finish the 19km. run by 02.30 or be disqualified!). I was surprised at the uptake. 8 of us gathered at sunset with the Trafalgar lighthouse blinking on the horizon, the plan was to swim until the moon rose above the Sierra Retin and bathe us in its pale glow. It sort of worked out but after 2,500m. of swimming we couldn’t see a thing and were guided only by the lights of the beach bars. It became a most surreal experience. We couldn’t see more than a few metres ahead and naturally the group broke up. I ended up swimming with Iñaki and we found a break in the reef and crossed in to the safer inside waters of the bay. Only splashing told us whether another swimmer was nearby, the brush of a fish or seaweed against our legs impossible to see – friend or foe?

Iñaki under the full moon with Maite on the paddleboard. Amazingly my GoPro picked up enough light but to us it was pitch black.

The highlight of the swim was undoubtedly the lunar phosphoresence lighting our journey. Also known as bioluminescence this amazing natural phenomenon is caused by light reflecting off algae suspended in the water. It’s always there of course but only at night will you see it. This was a perfectly trippy experience, the water resembling a sea of stars around us as we swam along. From the beach came the sound of Paco de Lucia’s ‘Entre dos Aguas’ just to push us all in to a state of complete nirvana. We came out of the water with the biggest smiles, lots of back slapping and non-Covid man hugging going on. I slept so well that night dreaming of liquid constellations and the life of mermaids and sea creatures under the dark sea with only the light of the moon to guide them.

Around the Cape again – I swore I’d never swim it again but this time accompanied by a pod of local swimmers we had a perfect swim this time south to north. Around the cape again.

The Cape again. August has been a fabulous month for swimming. We’ve had almost no Levante (the strong east winds that blow through the Strait of Gibraltar), warm seas and I’ve discovered a great crowd of local swimmers to pass the time with. In the last month we’ve had a mass of interesting swims including a return to Cape Trafalgar, inspired by my solo swim (read the ‘Death and Survival on the Cape’ post here) the local swimmers couldn’t resist and so we did it the other way round in perfect conditions, so much better than my mad cap battle against the currents. So now I’ve swum the cape in both directions, I’m not sure anyone else has. Admiral Nelson might even have pinned a medal on me with his good …errr…only arm.

Mangueta beach, El Palmar a few days ago – Photo Antonio Bellido

It is now mid-September, we had our first drops of rain since May yesterday, the nights are cooling but the sea is still maintaining its temperature – in the early 20’sºC close to home and a bit chillier between Tarifa and Bolonia. In this Covid era the beaches are virtually empty as there are no foreign visitors, the chiringuitos are closing a few weeks early and most coastal restaurants and hotels will be shut by the end of September, a couple of months ahead of the usual closing season. These are hard times for those of us that work in the hospitality sector, the sea and the beaches provide sustenance for so many people. Happily the fishermen from the local ports are still working but with so many restaurants closing they too will soon be finding it hard as demand drops. The positive side to this though is with lower catches the fish stocks will improve, biodiversity will hopefully improve even if just a little bit. With the long winter ahead and the Spain to Africa swim looking a likely prospect for next summer I’m looking forward to the quiet beaches and winter water for plenty of long inspiring swims.