To swim the entire length of the Breede River is a magnificent achievement. Liz Webb, long-distance record breaking swimmer from Simon’s Town is still awed by what she and her fellow swimmers, Craig Torr and Richard Willmore have done. Not only had no one ever swum the entire river before, but all the team members were over forty, a fact that Liz delights in pointing out!
One of the main motivations for the swim was to raise awareness of the need for clean water in South Africa. Our rivers, streams and dams are under constant threat from environmental pollution and there is a dire need for us to keep this majestic river and others like it clean and beautiful for all South Africans to enjoy!
To swim from the source of the Breede to its mouth at Cape Infanta, a distance of 309 km, took the intrepid swimmers three weeks, swimming an average of 15-17kms a day, the equivalent of doing a daily double Robben Island swim. The longest distance they covered in a day was 19km
In preparation for the venture, the team followed a training schedule of 30kms over five days every week. Sometimes they would do 10km one day and then divide the balance of the mileage over the remaining four days. They had one practice swim in the Breede- in an easy section- about 3 weeks before embarking on their epic.
The first day of the swim was the most difficult, the water being very shallow, with more stumbling over slippery rocks and crawling being done than swimming. The team took to the water 6kms out of Ceres, where the Wit Els and Dwars Rivers meet. River conditions improved thereafter, although for much of the time the weather was miserable. For the most part the day’s swim would begin around 10am, once the day was a little warmer. Despite this, within an hour on most days the team would have to leave the water for another hour or more in order to thaw out. Once the swimmers reached the tidal zone, 50kms from the mouth of the Breede River, they set out at 6am in order to catch the outgoing Spring tide. Swimming with the tide made a huge difference as did the fact that the water in this section was warmer. It took on the tang of salt about 30kms upstream, near Malgas.
Asked whether they felt like abandoning the venture at any time, Liz replied that not one of them would have given up, but there were very trying times, the most trying being the long sections of open water where they would be swimming 5kms at a time, interrupted by the odd rapid. Depending on the size of the rapid, they would either walk around it, or do a “nappy run”, protected by the wetsuit shorties and the rash vests they wore. Vibram Five Fingers shoes prevented their feet (would you have guessed?!) from being cut and torn and they were very grateful to have had all of these sponsored.
Liz finds the amount of food the team consumed remarkable! Budgeting on 6000 calories a day each, they would eat a “huge” breakfast, polish off two loaves of bread with fillings for lunch, and a bowl of sweets and a bowl of bananas before enjoying their campsite supper.
Commenting on the quality of the water in the Breede River, Liz says that they were all surprised at how clean it is, except for a section around Bonnievale. The swimmers were all covered in minor cuts, but none of these became infected. She laments the fact that, having taken part in a relay swim down the Orange River from the border of Lesotho to Oranjemund, there are probably no rivers left in South Africa to tackle. Liz swam the section of the Orange between Upington and Ontseepkans near Springbok, most of it with a cracked coccyx from a fall in a rapid. The Berg River and other South African rivers are too polluted, have bilharzia or are inhabited by crocodiles and hippos. The Fish River is a possibility but might be too difficult to navigate.
Part of what made the swim so very special, apart from the tremendous camaraderie between the team members, was the closeness they felt with nature. The Breede is full of fish: mainly carp, barbel and bass, which would slither underneath the swimmers in the shallow water. The back up team saw a cobra swimming in the river and a banded black and yellow snake on shore- “possibly a Harlequin or a boomslang”. Although there was much evidence of otters on the banks, the swimmers only caught sight of one large one near Robertson. There were plenty of buck and Fish Eagles, one of which flew off leaving a half eaten carp behind, its heart still beating. Eucalyptus trees – Blue gums – line the banks of the river for most of its course, as do Palmiet reeds. On some days the swimmers had difficulty finding their exit points which created a fair amount of trouble for them and their back-up team.
A young calf owes its life to the swimmers. They came across it stuck in the mud up to its rib cage and seriously weakened. With the guys pushing and pulling and Liz holding up the calf’s head, they managed to get it to shore where some farm labourers put it into the recovery position. “Its eyes immediately lost their glazed look”. Looking back as she continued her swim, Liz was grateful to see that it had managed to stumble onto its wobbly legs.
On reaching Cape Infanta, accompanied by a cheering crowd of supporters, Craig suggested that they should swim back to Cape Town. But for now, both Liz and Craig are taking a break from swimming for several months, Liz planning to turn her attention to training for the Argus Cycle Tour. Richard will continue – he still wants to tackle the Robben Island swim.
Liz has braved the icy Atlantic to do the Robben Island Swim nine times and has completed one Robben Island Double. Earlier this year she was invited to accompany Roger Finch from Johannesburg on his English Channel swim. The rules for Channel swimming are very strict and she was only allowed to be in the water with him every third hour. Roger was very lucky- only 40 people were able to swim the Channel this year because of adverse weather conditions. His time of 12 1/2 hours was the 11th best and Liz hastens to say that he is over 50. She is adamant that age should not stand in the way of people getting out there and achieving their dreams! She loved being part of Roger’s swim, as she had been involved in his training for it and the swim itself was something she had always considered doing. Would she still do it? Not anymore.
There are too many other challenges out there waiting to be met….
To read more about Liz and her record-breaking swims see
And for more about the Breede River swim see the blog site http://source2sea.net