Raleigh Round Island Challenge: The Perhentian swim

A team of people take turns to conquer the seas around Perhentian Islands with their bare hands.

IT was cold. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and glanced at the clock on the wall. 5.30am. I could hear the waves gently brushing against the morning sand.

I stripped out of my pyjamas and into my Speedos. For a moment... I felt like Superman. Next thing I knew, I was part of a relay team swimming through the clear, blue waters off Terengganu.

It has been 11 months since the adventure ended. However, fond memories remain of being part of the Raleigh Round Island Challenge 2013, a relay swim of 56 swimmers covering 56km around both the beautiful Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil Islands. We each swam for 3km over rolling seas to help raise funds for Raleigh Kuala Lumpur. And oh, there were also three days of being fried under the sun too!...

Training for the event was a grueling task. It was funny how we swimmers would be able to sense – underwater, mind you – that both our coaches from Advanced Aquatics, Peh Gin Hai and Abdul Hafiz Salleh, were hawk-eyeing our every stroke.

Occasionally, one of them would stop us to correct our technique. They always ended the sessions with “You’re almost there, come on!” doses of encouragement and motivation to keep our spirits going. It was indeed a pleasure to be under their wings.

This ‘battle board’ was used to plot swim times and routes.

After hours and hours of swimming in the rather chilly waters of the National Aquatics Centre at Bukit Jalil, KL, significant improvements in our speed and strokes gradually became visible. That, in addition to

two training sessions out in the open sea, and boom, we were ready.

On May 3, 2013, we were on the bus along with the team of volunteers from Raleigh KL and Magnum Cares heading to the island. Upon arrival, we had a short briefing by the organisers and the opportunity to mingle among ourselves.

Dinner and an early night was on the agenda as the first swim team was scheduled for flag off at 6.30am. Clearly, excitement was in the air when Facebook was filled with posts of the swimmers taking selfies in their spanking new swimwear.

Participants and crew members of the Raleigh Round Island Challenge.

Cahaya, the main boat from Watercolours Resort & Dive Centre, was to be the hub of our operations in the middle of the sea for the day. Swimmers jumped off, swift like dolphins, into the warm, shimmering blue waters of Perhentian.

They were released in batches of four or five at different hours and locations throughout the day as the relay progressed. Meanwhile, those who had completed their shift would clamber on to the boat, tired but happy.

The swimmer were guided by our own kayakers plus escort boats from Watercolours, the Civil Defence Department and the Maritime Department.

When our turn came up, the feeling was surreal; we could not believe that our months of hard work and training were culminating into this swim. Being out in the open against the roiling waves of the South China Sea definitely got the calories burning for many of us. Sometimes it felt like swimming in a bottomless pit of salt water!

It was also a challenge to maintain sight of the correct direction, and some of us went off the designated route. Thankfully, because we were swimming in groups, we had each other as swim buddies to help do sightings of our course.

The swimmers took turns with a 3km route each to complete a loop around the
Perhentian Islands.

Luckily, there were no issues with cramps or jelly fish. But a few of us with overly creative minds joked about marauding sharks.

After some 90 minutes, our shift was over and it was time to hand over the baton to the swimmers on the next shift. Night eventually came and our crew radioed in saying that the last shift was now coming in to shore. Specks of light could be seen from afar as Cahaya came and moments later, we crossed the finishing line as a team.

It was certainly an experience not to be forgotten in our lives.

The upcoming Raleigh KL Round Island Challenge 2014 will see 15 teams braving the rolling seas for a 15km swim around the Perhentian Islands within 10 hours on May 9 to 11. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/RaleighRIC or www.raleighinternational.org.my.

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