Lost at sea… sort of…

Fake News! All the rage a year or so ago I hadn’t ever expected that expression to apply to me, especially to something as innocuous as a Tuesday morning swim with a couple of friends. 

Three people are being searched for who were attempting to swim from Bolonia to El Cañuelo

“Maritime Rescue has mobilised a search party for the disappearance of three people who tried to swim from Bolonia beach to the El Cañuelo beach area, both places separated by Punta Camarinal in Tarifa.

According to Europa Press sources from Salvamento Marítimo, a person phoned the emergency services, alerting them to the lack of news regarding three people who had jumped into the water in the morning at Bolonia beach with the intention of swimming to El Cañuelo beach.

In response, Salvamento Marítimo mobilised one of its helicopters and the rescue vessel Salvamar Arturus, in search of these people.”

We were entirely unaware of the news until the next morning when a friend (who knows I regularly swim in the Faro Camarinal area) rang to see whether A. I might pick up the phone or B. she’d send condolences to my wife.

The Bolonia to Atlanterra swim (a traverse of two headlands, Punta Camarinal and Cabo Gracia with well known strong currents) was part of the seemingly interminable challenge to swim from Conil to Tarifa. This 63km. swim proposal goes way back to pre pandemic February 2020 when I thought we’d knock it off by the end of the summer. As we all know certain events got in the way. 

Add to that finding the right moment with the right people is always complex, open water swimming around headlands is not to everyone’s tastes. Injuries, families, work, losing one’s wetsuit or goggles – convenient excuses to delay the challenge. However this summer we made a pact to get around the Punta Camarinal. After all we’ve swum around the nearby Cabo de Gracia with it’s famous lighthouse the Faro Camarinal several times in the last couple of years. Dodging the bullets might seem the very least of the adventure as we swim through this sensitive military area. (If you look up Punta Camarinal on Google maps that is why this area is heavily pixelated). 

The currents rush through the headland at up to 10 knots, impossible to swim against but on the other hand highly exhilarating if they’re pushing you in the right direction. All you need is someone who understands the local tides… and a degree of luck that the currents really are going the right way. Our man is Ignacio Soto, part of our Gibraltar Straits pod of 4. Expert seaman whose business takes people on upmarket excursions along the coast ( https://www.cadizatlantica.com ) and he’s also an experienced diver along this stretch of coast. Ignacio while looking at a 3 day forecast gave us the confidence to push for it – all we needed was a wind calm morning and a big breakfast.

The video below tells it all; flat sea, crystal clear water, myriads of darting fish, a solitary ray on the sea bed, expansive views of the Bolonia dunes and dense pine woods, an almost imperceptible breeze and a great gush of water pushing us along as we sped over jagged rocks just half a metre below us and of course great companionship. Spectacular and muy divertido. 

L-R Iñaki Guezuraga, Ignacio Soto & James Stuart

It was only the next day we realised that a helicopter had been sent out to rescue us. By the time it was hovering over our supposed location we were tucking in to a fine gazpacho and a hefty plate of local Rabo de Toro (oxtail stew) completely unaware of the drama and subsequent news headlines. I only ever received one phone call asking about my health, maybe I should have taken note that none of my friends were bothered as to whether I spent a lonely night out at sea with only a fluorescent swim buoy for company. 

By 10.15 the next morning the teletype in the news agency spat out that the search had been called off not long after the first pass of the helicopter, apparently we’d made it to the beach under our own steam with no problems at all. Good to know.

‘The three missing people who swam from the beach of Bolonia to the beach area of El Cañuelo appeared on Tuesday afternoon on their own feet, according to sources from Tarifa Maritime Rescue.

When Salvamento Marítimo had mobilised a search operation following the alert call received by the emergency services due to the lack of news of these three people since they left in the morning, these swimmers reached the shore in the afternoon, with the consequent deactivation of the operation.’

How they knew we’d reached the shore I’ve no idea, possibly a Guardia Civil patrol had been watching us, or the military base look outs had relayed back to command that they’d seen us swim past the lighthouse and evidently on to the beach. Chatting about the incident over a chilled cerveza the next day we commented that if we’d done the swim in the winter there would have been nobody on the beach to send out an alert. And if we really had been carried out to sea? Next stop Brazil…