On Sunday we took the fifty minute flight from Port Vila to Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, the largest island in Vanuatu. The 72 seat flight was full with excited swimmers eager to take the next step on the adventure.
Monday saw us pile into a mini-bus to take the one hour drive to Champagne Beach on the east coast of the island. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches I have been to anywhere, with fine white sand, warm water, and lush tropical plants overlooking it all. We swam as a group around the point to Lonnoc Bay, a distance of just over a kilometre. We are all as excited as school kids on an excursion as we played in the 30 degree water, and glided around the point over coral reefs. Even managed to catch sight of a turtle as it sought refuge from all the noise from the surface. At one point I was by myself, and saw a school of fifty or so colourful fish just beneath me. I stopped swimming, and they floated up towards me, before they moved on in their endless movement. Another feature of this swim was the cool water that bubbles out of the reef on its way from the hills to the ocean. It was great to feel cool water, even though it did reduce visibility. Magical. What an incredible experience.
Monday night had us sitting on a deck at Deco Lodge overlooking the scene of our swim race to be held the next day. Some locals gave us performance of singing and dancing in the water using their arms and hands that was beautiful and graceful.
The real reason for our trip came on Tuesday with the swim race from Unity Park in Luganville to Aore Island Resort on Aore Island. Yes we were swimming from one island to another across a channel covering a distance of about 2.6 km, but with a sweep going from left to right which would make it interesting. After registration I could go make to my hotel as it was just across the road, in order to stay hydrated and cool.
The race was once again an in the water start, and we all made our way out towards the yellow buoy to wait on the start signal. We expected that the Brazilian Samba Queen who won at Vila would also do well in this swim. We were told that the sweep was quite strong, so after chatting to several others, I decided to head well left of the finish marker to compensate.
The start signal was given, and off we all went, all 55 of us. Once again I tried to settle into a steady stroke rate, and soon passed several swimmers who had got too exited at the start and gone too quick. I kept looking up every ten to twenty strokes to make sure the current was not pushing me to the right. At one stage I noticed a group of swimmers on my left go across me towards the right, caught by the current.
About halfway across I noticed the chop had increased which meant breathing to the left was difficult. I also had to work quite hard to ensure that I was still on course, and kept looking ahead quite often. At one point it felt like the finish line was not getting any closer, a notion made worse by the lack of swimmers around me. Most of the pack seemed to be well off to my right, but I was confident that I was on the correct line.
Soon enough the finish line started getting bigger and bigger, even after a patch where I seemed to not making any head way at all. As I got closer to the beach I relaxed knowing that I would soon make it. But the current caught me, and I was swept about 50m to the right, which was annoying, as it took some hard swimming to get back on-line. I made it to the beach, ran over the finish line to hear my time of 47 minutes.
I found this swim tougher than the Vila swim despite it being shorter. I put this down to the battle against the current, and the bigger chop in the water. When the results cam out, I found that I had come 20th overall, and 10th for the men. I was very happy with that.
The next day was another bus tour where we went to various places of interest. Santo was the sight of a large Allied Forces military base in the Second World War. We drove past the resting point of the SS Calvin Coolidge, a US troop carrier that hit a mine on its entry into the harbour. The captain beached the ship on the reef close to shore enabling all but 2 of the 5,000 troops and crew to get to safety. It is one of the best diving sites in the world, with the 190m long ship sitting in 20 to 60m of water.
We also went for a swim at Million Dollar Point where the Americans pushed huge amounts of military hardware into the ocean instead of paying the huge costs of shipping it back stateside. That was surreal to see all this equipment now with the ocean starting to claim it back with the coral and fish swimming amongst the debris.
However, the highlight was going to Matevulu Blue Hole. Santo has a number of blue holes which are created when fresh water from the hills form a spring in a deep hole in the ground. It is possible to swim at a number of these, and we were fortunate enough to do just that. The water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom which at its deepest point is about 20m. In addition, this water was cooler than the ocean, and was fresh water. It truly is remarkable and a pleasure to experience it. We talked to some people who had kayaked from the coast to this blue hole, as it drains into the ocean. They told us it only takes 45 minutes or so to make the trip.
As I sat on the plane on the way back to Sydney, I reflected on the things I had experienced in Vanuatu. I felt privileged that I was lucky to have seen this place. So thank-you to oceanswims for providing the prize for their annual series of swims. I hope those who win the prize in future years enjoy it as much as me. I may even still go in the competition next year even though I will not be eligible for the prize.
Now off to my next adventure.