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New Zealand Lake Taupo Swim

February 1, 2009

Chris, Penny and I get up at around 1:30am to get ready for the swim.  We load up the chilly bins (aka eskies, coolers, etc).  Heather shows up to help us get all the gear down to the harbor.  Heather picks up Julie and Lucy.  Chris, Penny and I pick up Stephen S. and then it is off to the harbor.  We meet the rest of the team and the boat pilots and crew.  We quickly load up the boats and start the trip to the other side of the lake.  We have been advised to sleep for the trip over and most of us take that to heart.  As we get about 40 minutes from the start of the swim, Penny starts getting suited up and ready to kick off the swim for the women.  Steve Junk is the lead off for the men.  I’m awake at this point as is the rest of the team because I’m so excited for the swim to start.  Plus I’m a nervous nelly and like to be uber ready for when my time comes to get in the water.

Steve and Penny were in the dinghies and getting taken to the shore.  Peter and Michael had gotten up super early and drove to meet us at the other side of the lake.  It was so nice of them to be the onshore support.  Plus they were the only ones to get the photos from the start of the swim.  Penny and Steve kicked off the swim with a bang at 5:33am.  They ended up swimming together for their entire leg.  It was great to see them working together….as this wasn’t a race.  Then it was time for me and Mark to get in for our legs.  Before each of my legs, I took the prerequisite cheesy photo.  I had decided to wear a different swim cap for each of my legs so in case I saw photos I would know what leg I was in.  So Barbara agreed to take my cheesy photo before every leg.  Now Mark and I also swam neck and neck but we weren’t right next to each other like Steve and Penny as there was a boat in between us, but the boats were still very close.  During my leg, I realized that although this “wasn’t a race” it was definitely a race and I would have to work my hardest to help the women’s team.  Basically it was an hour of sprinting every 5 hours.  It was tough.  After my first leg, I was standing on the deck and watching Barbara in her first leg and over the water I hear Steve J calling “Nice swim Miss America”.  Needless to say the nickname stuck.  I thought it was so amusing, so I didn’t mind.  I of course tried to give my best beauty queen wave. 

Penny and I quickly settled into a routine on the boat.  She would swim and I would get ready to swim and cheer for her.  Then when I went in the water she would eat and get warmed up.  After I finished swimming, I would quickly eat, cheer on Barbara and then Penny and I would hit the front cabin in the boat and go down for a nap.  This routine started after the first round of swimming, as I wanted to get photos of everyone’s first leg.  Plus I think we were all too jazzed up to sleep.  And we were beginning to realize that this was very much a race. The first day was just a gorgeous day and calm waters.  Everyone was swimming very well. 

Let me recap my text messages to my dad right now and swim order.

5:33-6:30am: Penny and Steve J.  are neck and neck.  Actually I think that they were just playing with each other; one pulling ahead, and then waiting for swimmer to catch up and repeat.  I could see the smiles on their face most of the time.

6:30-7:30am: Michelle and Mark in water.  Text message: Just finished 1st leg.  Barb and Dougal in the water now.  Swimming is going well, calm water, good temp, cloudy and spirits seem high.  Men in lead for now.

7:30-8:30am: Barb and Dougal in the water.  Pretty much a close race.  At this point we all had the opportunity to see Dougal’s 50 stroke per minute stroke rate, but man he had a strong underwater pull.

8:30-9:30am: Heather and Chris in the water.  Heather has a preference for swimming behind the boat.  It is interesting and it always looks like she is chasing the boat.  I personally hate being back in this position, so I’m in complete admiration for her mental skill to hang out back there.  Plus I would be worried about the boat fumes.

9:30-10:30am: Julie and Stephen S in the water.

10:30-11:30am: Lucy and Steve J in the water.

11:30-12:30pm: Penny and Mark in the water.

12:30-1:30pm: Michelle and Dougal in water.  Text to dad: 2nd leg complete.  Julie and Chris in the water.  Sunny day, still calm water.  Boys and girls are neck and neck.

1:30-2:30pm: Julie and Chris in the water.  Now you may notice that this is a shift in the women’s team rotation.  Unfortunately sometime in the morning, Julie broke a tooth.  Philip Rush worked to schedule an emergency dentist appointment at 4pm for Julie to have her tooth fixed.  Since her original rotation would have put her at 3:30-4:30pm we had a team meeting and switched the rotation for one grouping.  This still allowed for all 6 swimmers to be in the water for the grouping and we wouldn’t have had to drop a swimmer.  Philip went and confirmed the decision with the men’s team and they approved as well.  So as soon as Julie finished her leg, Philip took the dinghy and took Julie to Taupo for her appointment.  She would be back for her next leg where we would return to our original rotation.  It was great of Philip to go to the trouble to get the appointment.  And the rest of the team made sure that everything on the boat went smoothly in their absence. 

2:30-3:30pm:  Barb and Stephen S in the water.

3:30-4:30pm: Heather and Steve J in the water.  Heather and Steve were responsible for completing the first crossing of Lake Taupo.  The women at this point were probably about 5 minutes behind the men.  On the shore, Philip, Julie and some friends were cheering for the teams.  We of course cheered for each other as our boats passed each other. Text message: The women just finished the first crossing.  Heather ran in & turned back around.  Men are 5 minutes ahead. Girls first crossing in about 10 hours 35 minutes

4:30-5:30pm: Lucy and Mark in the water.

5:30-6:30pm: Penny and Dougal in the water. We start gaining some ground on the men.  The water is starting to get a little bumpy.  We got a little cheering squad that came by from the sail boat tour of the lake.  I don’t remember the name of the boat…the Barnably, Barnacle…something with a B.  Also Julie and Philip returned from the dentist appointment.  Broken tooth has been fixed and we are all set to get moving again.

6:30-7:30pm:  Michelle and Chris in the water.  Gaining more ground.  Water getting really choppy now.  Text message: 3rd leg in.  Barb and Stephen in the water.  Sun setting and water getting really bumpy.  Girls have overtaken boys by 5 minutes.  Time for dinner.  (Note:  Dinner consisted of salad and pasta with a red sauce.  Thankfully Penny had it all cooked and ready to go when I hit the deck.  After a quick dinner and a change, Penny and I went down for our nap).

7:30-8:30pm: Barb and Stephen S. in the water.  At this point the water is getting very choppy and Barb is battling through it very well.  It was only the day after the swim that I found out that Barb was also battling stomach problems.  After her leg she was ill, but kept it a secret from the rest of the boat.  She dealt with the problem silently and with the only medication she had on hand…maalox.  In addition to the waves and stomach problems, Barb and Heather were short on rest due to the switch up in the line up.  They were champs through the whole thing.

8:30-9:30pm: Heather and Steve J in the water.  Battling even more waves.  At this point we have switched to running the swimmers next to the dinghy.  We are all wearing our glow sticks and Philip is the guide in the dinghy. 

9:30-10:30pm: Julie and Mark in the water. 

10:30-11:30pm: Lucy and Dougal in the water.

11:30-12:30am: Penny and Chris in the water.  I remember we are behind the men at this point, but we were going to gain some ground here just due to different swimming speeds.  It was probably interesting for Chris and Penny competing against each other.

12:30-1:30am: Michelle and Stephen S in water.  Now night swimming is fine for me.  I just follow the boat, but I like to follow the boat very closely.  Probably not a good thing and I was having a little bit of trouble judging distance due to the color of the glow sticks on the boat, but for the most part really like the night swimming.  Text message: 4th leg done.  Barb and Steve J in the water.  Lake has got light chop but not bad.  We are having boat trouble. Keep you updated (Note:  Sometime during the night, our boat started to burn off a very dark smoke.  Our pilot decided to speed up to burn off the oil and hopefully get the engine running better…bad news…the boat wouldn’t come out of idle and we couldn’t get it to burn off its oil.  Our boat pilot was very concerned.  He wasn’t sure it would make the return trip.  This scared me to death to think that this swim could end due to the boat, but we all talked about getting in the dinghy to finish the swim.  We weren’t going to quit no matter what).

1:30-2:30am: Barb and Steve J in the water. 

2:30-3:30am: Heather and Mark in the water.  Navigation has gotten very difficult as we are landing where there are no dwellings so there are no lights that help us see the shore.

3:30-4:30am: Julie and Dougal in the water.   There is quite a bit of confusion on the landing and the pilots and dinghy pilots are getting pretty sharp with each other.  Apparently the men’s team is headed up some creek rather than heading towards land.  We have a different heading and seem to be headed in the right direction towards the shore.  I find out that Julie and Dougal finally land and make the turn back towards Taupo.

4:30-5:30am: Lucy and Chris in the water.  Our boat is still limping along and the pilot is doing the best that he can.  He is committed to following this race to its end.

5:30-6:30am: Penny and Stephen S in the water.

6:30-7:30am: Michelle and Steve J in the water.  Text message: 5th leg complete. Barb and Mark in water.  Girls slightly ahead on the third crossing of lake.  Boat can only idle, captain is nervous, but we keep moving forward.

7:30-8:30am: Barb and Mark in water.

8:30-9:30am: Heather and Dougal in water.

9:30-10:30am: Julie and Chris in water.

10:30-11:30am: Lucy and Stephen S in water.

11:30-12:30pm: Penny and Steve J in the water.  We have now come back to our original rotation.  The women are still a little behind the men, but Penny loves the chase and is great at the chase.  I have a great feeling that we will catch up by the end of her leg.  Both swimmers are pounding it.  Penny does close the gap and over take the men.  This will be the last rotation that we will each have.

12:30-1:30pm: Michelle and Mark in the water.  Due to our boat troubles I was off the back end of the boat, my least favorite place to be.  I tried everything I could to mentally let it go.  I wasn’t winning that battle.  However, I could see the Men’s boat so I kept swimming with them.  However, after about 30 minutes I took a breath away from seeing the men’s boat and when I looked back they were gone.  (Note: I would find out later that the men’s boat caught a current that was going around Rangitira point.  Thus the shoot forward. )  It was a mentally crushing event.  I had lost the lead that Penny had worked so hard to get.  I was out of the water in tears.  Text message: 5th leg done.  Barb and Dougal in water.  Penny worked hard to get lead for girls and I turned around and lost it.  Getting close to finish.

1:30-2:30pm: Barb and Dougal in the water.  Dougal is turning his arms over faster than I have seen the whole trip.  Barb is working so hard.  We are maintaining position. 

2:30-3:30pm: Heather and Chris in the water.  These are the last swimmers.  It seems appropriate that the local New Zealander will be finishing the event for us.  The men finish ahead of the women.  For the finish, we all enter the water and swim in with our teammate.  Peter and Michael are on the shore with champagne.  Heather’s friend, Carol, has brought chocolate fish, which is apparently a tradition for Heather to have at the halfway point of a swim but we didn’t have them on the boat so we have them on the shore.  There are hugs all around and more than a few smiles.  I’m so happy to be part of this event.  Text Message: Finished a bit ago.  Men time: 33 hrs, 31 min, 15 seconds.  Women time: 33hrs, 33 min, 54 sec.  Basically it was just 2 minutes 39 seconds separating the teams.  We couldn’t have planned it that close.

After the swim, we all took a quick run across the parking lot back to the boats to unload.  We met with the local sports reporter of course we commented that this “wasn’t a race”, but the men seemed pretty happy by their win 🙂 

That evening after showers and a change of clothes, we met at a local restaurant to share boat stories and really just enjoy all of our successes.  It is here that I found out about the current, which made me feel a little better…but only a little.

What do we do on the boat?  Mostly we got into a routine on the women’s boat and it sounds like it was very similar on the men’s.  We would eat, rest, cheer and spot for our swimmers in the water, prepare for our leg and then swim.  We had some amazing cheerleaders on our team.  I think I hardly ever saw Heather below deck.  She could always be found on the bow of the boat cheering on the swimmer.  I think she perfected the silent clapping.  Lucy was usually cheering off the back part of the boat.  Overall the support from the team was amazing.  It was rare to be in the water and not see someone on the boat watching you in the water.  I think we all knew how important it was to have someone there going through your leg with you.  Plus it was always great to see the next swimmer start to get ready on the back of the boat and get the 5 minute warning.

Swim Route – I have no idea why the google picture isn’t showing. 

View Larger Map

Chris Palfrey’s account of the swim – This is super interesting to see the view of the swim from the Men’s boat.  Click on the link below.


Photos from the Shore by Peter and Michael

Photos from the Women’s Boat

Photos from the Men’s Boat

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