Getting closer…

Bolonia to Bolonia 3,130m.

As part of my training for swimming the Gibraltar Strait I had this crazy idea to swim from Conil to Tarifa. Not all in one go of course, maybe take a few months in various stages. I planned it, plotted a route with distances, went for the first swim. That was February 2020. We all know what happened a month later. Nevertheless, it seems to have taken a more than reasonable time to get as far as Bolonia, two thirds in to the journey.

Conil to Tarifa – a 62,600m. swim

It’s amazing how many factors can change one’s expectations and disrupt plans. The pandemic didn’t help, although lockdown here in Vejer only kept us away from the sea for a few months. I managed the first Cape Trafalgar swim during the pandemic (and I ended up doing that solo) as my swimming partners weren’t around for much else out of the summer season. Blame the moon but tides and wind were also a great disrupter. Living on this coast (windy and Atlantic) there’s frequently mother nature throwing out a warning not to venture in to the sea in nothing more than a wetsuit and a pair of swim goggles. Commitments to work, family and kids don’t help but sometimes I’ll be honest it’s pure weekend lethargy, mid-week laziness. Really? Cold water, salty lips, strained muscles – can I be bothered….

Bolonia beach from Betijuelo to the dune

But the sea beckons and in the last few weeks I’ve cleared a few milestones. We swam one of the most dangerous parts of the route (Bolonia headland to Atlanterra) in early September, I managed a solo 10km. swim (Atlanterra to Bolonia) and yesterday we crossed the bay of Bolonia leaving just three long stages (a 5,5km, a 4,3km and a 6,8km swim) before we get to Tarifa. Maybe these last few legs we’ll break up but the training plan was to increase distances gradually. Having said that as we move in to winter here the conditions are not always perfect for consistent 2 hour swims without wind or waves picking up. Yesterday however was a perfect weather window, in surfer terms the water was pure glass, the water wonderfully transparent and as this year’s endless summer (no rain since May gulp!) goes on the water temperature around 20º. Chris needless to say swam without a wetsuit, I however swim in a better position with mine on but wished I hadn’t once we got going. ‘Cold is good!’ is Chris’s new mantra and he trains in the cooler seas around Gibraltar where that water is frequently 5º colder than either the Mediterranean or Atlantic side of the peninsula.

Despite the perfect conditions under an overcast sky yesterday was a slow day for me. Having been doing a bit of pool training recently the wetsuit seemed too tight then Chris took off at a great speed (he’s been training with swimming champion Nathan Payas recently) and I hadn’t warmed up properly so my heartbeat went through the roof too quickly. It always takes a minimum of a 1,000m. before I start to relax in the water and I usually find myself faster after 2 or 3km. in to a swim. We swam over vast shoals of boquerones, Chris saw a skate a metre wide, the wind stayed calm. We’d hoped for a bit of a push from the current but none was forthcoming. By the time we came out of the water over jagged rocks the bright sand had warmed up and the sun was out. A herd of cows came down to the waters edge to greet us and we walked back to the car with big smiles.

Chris Keightley-Pugh, Bolonia beach