Marathon swimmer Andy Donaldson has broken the Cook Strait World Record, in a time of 4 hours, 33 minutes and 50 seconds taking 4 minutes 37 seconds off the previous record held by Casey Glover which has stood since 2008.
Currently on a mission to complete all of the Oceans Sevens swims in one year, while raising awareness and funds for mental health charity Black Dog Institute, Mr Donaldson has officially ticked off his third Oceans Seven marathon swim since August.
Mr Donaldson defied the odds and set out on the 22.5km swim from Perano Head in the Marlborough Sounds to Wellington in the pitch black and against a challenging ‘spring tide’ after waiting over three weeks for the ideal conditions.
“I had been waiting in Wellington for three weeks waiting for the winds to die down and a gap in the weather to arise,” said Mr Donaldson.
“Finally, a window presented itself which just so happened to be 11:45 pm, which meant I would be swimming in complete darkness.
“Not only would I be battling darkness but also the notorious spring tide, complex currents, unpredictable weather, cold water and sharks.
“I had actually been told that many people believed it would be physically impossible to swim the Cook Strait during a spring tide because this sort of tide typically sees more water passing through the channel at any particular time, resulting in stronger and more complex currents to face.
“Then I found out that 1 in 20 swimmers experiences a shark sighting and I met a few swimmers who had experienced it themselves which was a nerve-wracking prospect on top of all the other challenges I would be facing with nighttime swimming.”
Once out in the water, Mr Donaldson found himself in beautiful conditions to start the swim before hitting challenging conditions later on but got through thanks to the support of his team.
“Before even heading out, myself plus Jacqueline McClelland from Infinity (the organiser) and my skipper Grant Orchard developed a game plan to come out hard from the start to escape the possible localised currents and eddies,” said Mr Donaldson.
“But once I started swimming it was dead calm, the water was like glass, which was a really surreal experience to swim under the stars in such good conditions with a great team by my side.
“Even with these conditions I stuck to the plan and started out at a 1:10/100m pace for the first hour.
“My team communicated with me via a whiteboard and light because it was so dark and Jacqueline would instruct me if I needed to lift pace to escape any potentially slow-moving water.
“We also made sure to keep extra fuel in the tank for the finish where we thought I might encounter unfavourable currents and as it turned out that was the case and the final 2.5km of the swim took around 40 minutes with 30 minutes of those being at max effort.”
Similar to when Mr Donaldson conquered the North Channel he was battling cold water, but this time he was much better prepared.
“The water was 14 degrees, which was the same temperature as when I did my North Channel Swim from Ireland to Scotland where I really struggled with the cold water,” said Mr Donaldson.
“From this experience, I knew that I had to be better prepared for the cold as I didn’t want my body shutting down again.
“Living in Perth it was certainly hard to get cold water swimming in at the height of the Australian summer, so I went after an alternative solution of utilising ice baths. This really helped me acclimatise to the cold water.
“I also worked really closely with my nutritionist, Christie Robson, to increase the ratio of my 200ml feed to be 50 per cent boiling water every 15 minutes.
“Taking a smaller amount of feed more frequently definitely helped battle the cold but also helped me to interact with the team more often to really reinforce in my mind that I wasn’t alone out there which was very beneficial since the swim was at night.”
Having now broken records on every one of his swims, Mr Donaldson seems to be on a record-breaking mission, but he tells us the records are the last thing on his mind during his mission to conquer the Oceans Seven in a year.
“In my eyes successfully completing any of these Oceans Seven swims is a huge achievement and I’ve done three so far,” said Mr Donaldson.
“But to come away with the fastest time ever for the Cook Strait and in challenging conditions swimming through the night was pretty amazing.
“For me, it was a testament to the efforts of the team and all of the people around me who have been helping on this journey especially my coaches Eoin Carroll and Ryan Everden at Perth City Swimming Club.
“And while it has been great to break records on all three swims so far, completion of crossings safely always comes first for me.
“I try not to get carried away with records or become complacent coming into any of the swims because they are the toughest channels in the world for a reason and there’s a good chance that any moment you take your eye off the ball or come into a swim unprepared, nature will quickly remind you of its strength and bring you crashing back down to earth.”
As you can imagine celebrations were had all around after Mr Donaldson’s record-breaking swim, but not for too long, with him setting his eye on the next channel crossing.
“Initially, celebrations were held for a while as I tried to recover from the swim,” said Mr Donaldson.
“My body was fine and I didn’t feel that sore. However, because I had increased the frequency of feeds to every 15 minutes, my blood sugar levels were off the charts and I felt pretty horrendous for the rest of the day after my swim.
“But once I got back to Wellington, I was met by some local swimmers at the airport which was incredibly touching and then a few days later they threw me a lovely celebratory evening with cakes and drinks.
“It was incredibly touching to see how lovely and welcoming the ocean swimming community was towards me.
“But celebrations didn’t last long, as I headed back to Perth and back into training again for my next swim, the 43km Molokai Channel in Hawaii, the longest and toughest swim of the Oceans Sevens.”
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