75km Round Lantau Swim
Endurance Dream Team
Observers watching racers usually only see the tip of the iceberg: they are in awe when contemplating people sprinting -or crawling- at the finish line, but they often miss the point of what brought them to that line. People who saw us finish last Sunday, stumbling, face and tummy bloated, unshaved and badly chaffed, probably had a relative good sense of the effort we put along the last hours. But as we endurance people know, the finish is just the consecration of a long-term project that started months ago… and I don’t think many people had a good feel for that when they applauded us four days ago.
Just to give you a flavour of the backstage of this project, just start with figuring out the logistics for the swim itself:
We had to obtain authorisations to swim in restricted areas, close to shipping channels, into building sites… and potentially polluted water. While HK marine staff was helpful and accommodating, it remained a tedious and long process. Basically, obtaining these authorisations were on the ‘critical path’ of the project –as we say in Project Management jargon- i.e. no green light, no swim.
We had to time the swim perfectly, every day. We double- and triple-checked with the most experienced kayakers, sailors and marine specialists in HKG. Indeed, even the best swimmers in the World could not swim against the current when it is running in the wrong direction. The idea was not get a ‘free ride’ either, being carried by the current, but to time the swim right before the turn of the tide, so that we either have a slight current in favour, a slight resistance or a neutral situation. Day 3 and day 4 were very tight in that respect and we had to stop the swim abruptly as progress became impossible, which was fine as we were just more or less finishing our daily digest of 15k.
We had to get experienced kayakers and outrigger canoe specialists to guide the swimmers, one for each. We also needed a speedboat driver and a photographer. As the swim spread over 5 days, the team had to be renewed every day, very few people being able to commit for more than a day. Make the math: that’s almost 20 people who have been with us at some point on the sea. Of course we also needed a driver for the big boat and an assistant, none of them understood English…
Swimmers eat, and eat a lot, so we had people going to our house every 36h and bring back fresh food. But we are not the only ones in need of fuel, and the management of the carburant for the motorboat was a headache in itself.
And I am not even talking about the beach clean-up events, which occurred every day, with its necessity to manage volunteers, make them work in good conditions, mini-events in themselves that also require brain and manpower.
As the event was about raising awareness of the problem of plastics in seas and increasing the profile of Plastic Free Seas to the public, there was a lot of marketing and media actions involved. Finally, and not the least, the project is also meant to raise funds for Plastic Free Seas, so a lot of energy has been used to collect funds through donations.
This is just a very partial overview of what had to be dealt with.
Still, I believe that with the best team in the World, and just this, we may have not succeeded. What impacted me most in this adventure was that everybody did much more than being perfect in his/her role, they all went far beyond, and that’s what made it a success. There was an incredible team spirit that I have never felt elsewhere, never in my life. A feeling of belonging to something unique that was far exceeding our little selves, a feeling of pride for doing something good. Good for the environment, good for the Charity, good for our heart… good for our Karma… How many times, in our life, do we have the feeling of doing something that has no downside, that is 100% positive? How often do you get to work with people who are not only the best specialists in their field, but who are also people who are inspiring, who dedicate time and energy to environmental issue, animal protection, etc. not once for 5 days, but as a regular activity?
Bruce and me did our share very well, and I am quite proud of what we did (I will elaborate on our share at a later stage). But no more and no better than the kayakers, the people who facilitated the beach clean-ups, the people at SportsWorld, and much less than Tracey and Dana at Plastic Free Seas. In that sense, the most impacting feeling I have about all this is not pride, it is gratitude. Gratitude for being part of this amazing and crazy project, and to have played a role in the team that I have started to call after Day 2, the ‘dream team’.