Fahal Island Swim

13 May 2010


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Yearly event at the PDO Recreation Club.
The Fahal Island swim.

The Fahal Island Swim tradition started in 1989 and has been going strong ever since. This year there were  97 participants.

Fahal is a small island of white limestone with sheer vertical cliffs right off the beaches at Mina Al Fahal and Qurm in Muscat. A scenic backdrop to many holiday picture for sure. The event is all about the challenge of an open-sea swim from the island. The distance from the island to the beach of the Petroleum Development Oman Recreation Club (PDO RC) in a straight line is about 4 km.

Participants are taken on a boat to the island and have to swim back to the beach. Below is an extract of the invitation for this event.

"..... People are expected at the PDO boat club and to be ready at 6:30 am. At 6:45 am registration and liability forms have to be finalised. After the swimmers count on the beach, at 7:00 am the support boats will shuttle the swimmers to Fahal Island. Last swimmers count will be conducted at the Fahal Island and at 7:30 am the green light will be given for you to swim back the 4km to the boat club at the PDO beach. Depending on the wave and currents, the fastest swimmers will do this in around one hour; the slower ones may take up to three hours. The purpose of the Fahal Swim, however, is not about winning, but about getting this warm feeling of belonging to an exclusive group of people that are brave enough to challenge the open waters of the sea.

It’s an endurance event, not a race. Times will be recorded but there is no specific prize for the first or last swimmer. You can swim whatever stroke you want, but flippers and flotation devices are not allowed (unless in emergency situations). Obviously, safety is of paramount importance in the whole event. As said before, you should make sure that you are physically fit and capable of exercising for a period of time. You can swim as an individual or in a group, as long as you have a boat cover to provide assistance in case of problems. Arranging a boat cover is the responsibility of every swimmer; the organizers do not allow swimmers without boat cover to participate. Swimmers under 16 should be accompanied by one of their parents as boat cover. Groups must swim together; those that break up will be hauled out by the marshals. This will especially affect groups of swimmers of mixed ability. So choose your team-mates with some care and stay together! We request the boats to stay clear of the race line at the start and accompany the swimmers 300m away from the island, at which point the swimmers will have funnelled into a single file. It is mandatory for the swimmers to wear a swimming cap for visibility purposes. Exceptions can be granted by the committee. The committee will provide yellow swim caps. The maximum number of swimmers in this event is set at 100. First come, first serve ....."

he currents could be strong and the waves high, but nothing of that this time. The sea as flat as a mirror and hardly any currents. Almost ideal, if it was not already +35 C at 8:00 in the morning.

Google Map of the Fahal Island Swim as we paddled it on 13 May 2010. Right branch to the island and the left branch back again. Note our attempts to check two swimmers who slowly separated. We paddled about 10.1km, whereas the swimming distance is about 4.1 km following the left track. For Google Earth track, see FahalIsland.kml
Our story starts with Gordon asking me whether I could be his back-up boat cover for this swim, together with his wife Erna. Slightly worried about waves, currents, big fish and whatever comes up in my land-locked mind, there was also the temptation of seeing the little Fahal Island and experience a bit of the Fahal Swim feeling from a safe boat. Gordon teamed-up with Jamie so we would have two swimmers to care for.

We were to paddle on own steam to the island and wait for the start. That would the biggest feat for us paddlers: getting to the island. Back would be much slower and therefore easier.

With the sea as flat as it was, no wind, and hardly any current, it could not be better.  Paddling in the canoe we got to the island well before the the swimmers arrived. By that time, at around 07:15hrs, it was already quite hot.
The plan was that Gordon and Jamie would remain at the right side of the pack, to benefit from a longshore current pushing in the right direction closer to the beach. Checking the GPS track that I recorded it appears that the master plan worked, albeit differently for Gordon. He took a slightly straighter route, more and more deviating from Jamie. This explains why we paddled a few kilometres more than the swimmers.

Above: registration in the PDO RC Boat Club

Left: Gordon mentally preparing for the swim 
The support crew before take-off in Irene's great canoe
Little Fahal Island in the early morning haze.
Getting out of the bay under the curious gaze of birds
Arrival of the first boat loaded with swimmers at Fahal island
Waiting under the overhanging rocks of Fahal Island for the start at 07:30 hrs sharp
Crystal clear water, with a stingray below on the rocks
Like a colony of penguins waiting on the right wave. Yellow capped penguins that is. Home Fahalitus
Try to recognise the penguin called Gordon or Jamie, labeled #50 and #1 respectively.

More yellow-capped swimmers waiting at the start
Gordon and Jamie indeed at the right side
The start
A lot of splashing and all very close together
Jamie in foreground and Gordon slightly ahead. Both going very strong
Paddling back is slow, and plenty of time to relax
Like big whales
View from swimming level to the finish-bay still far away
The Finish on the beach right in from in less than 2 hours for most.
Strong stories on the beach. They have done it. My compliments. A big feat.
The pack dispersed rapidly in the water to converge again closer to the beach.
Gordon and Jamie got slightly separated. The reason was Gordon's persistent and strong left deviation when crawling. Something to do with a built-in left character?

The fastest time was just under one hour (0.59.35). Gordon arrived #49 in 1.46.06 (hr.mm.ss) A great achievement for all swimmers, and indeed, it was nice to share a bit of that feeling, even from the safety of a canoe.  

All participants with Fahal Island hiding in middle-right. Photo courtesy organising committee.
Thanks to Irene and yet another Jamie for borrowing us their nice, still new, canoe.
Thanks to Gordon for asking me as back-up. It was nice to be part of the swim.  

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@ J. Schreurs May 2010