Last month Waterford alumnus Chris Stapley (UK, WK 82-86) and his wife Polly Stapley who is a teacher at Waterford swam across Lake Malawi in order to raise funds for the school's Community Service Projects.
According to a statement released by the swimmers, on the 23rd April, 5 swimmers flew into Lilongwe, Malawi with the goal of swimming the 24km across Lake Malawi from Makanjila Point to Senga Bay. Lake Malawi is the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, the ninth largest lake in the world by area—and the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa.
On the 25th April after having camped the night prior on a sand bank by the start point – Chris and Polly Stapley – both swim coaches with the Sharks Swim Club based in Ezulwini, Jay & Ruth Azran from Royal Jozini Private Game Reserve in eSwatini and Andrew Stevens (Australia) set off on their solo open water challenge in what the experienced support crew stated was the worst conditions they had encountered for a crossing to date.
The swimmers set off in 2 different groups with Polly, Ruth and Andrew starting at 5:45am and Chris and Jay following 50 minutes later. This was to accommodate the varying swimming speeds.
‘’The wind was blowing with purpose from the SE with the weather forecast predicting this to settle down after midday’’ - Jay says. ‘’the surface of the lake felt like a washing machine as we all battled the troughs and crests of the waves for over 6 hrs’’ – ‘’ I felt sorry for the first swim group as they had close to an extra hour of these conditions – but we had to take the gap as the forecast predicted the weather to get worse over the coming days’’.
The plan was for the second group to pass the first group but due to the conditions, they passed 500m south of them. Despite the wind - Chris and Jay seemed to be close to a record time for the first 21 km of the crossing. Then they experienced currents swirling all directions around an island South of Senga Bay which threw serious doubts into the swimmer’s minds as to whether they were going to finish.
‘’At one point we were swimming next to each other’’ Chris states, ‘’then suddenly Jay was a few hundred metres ahead as he managed to get through the current. I changed direction swimming 45 degrees across the current and managed to catch up with Jay who seemed to be stuck in another off-shore current. The last 4km took us close to 2hrs’’.
Chris and Jay finally completed touching the rocky outcrop next to Senga Bay in a time of 8hr40min having swum a distance of 25.3km.
From the first group, after an incredibly gutsy performance by Polly Stapley despite being violently sick due to seasickness in the challenging conditions – a decision was taken to pull her out by the support crew after 5hrs+ of swimming and an admirable distance of 12km. Polly’s biggest concern was suffering severe dehydration with no medical facilities close by.
Andrew Stevens at the age of 64 years old surprised all with his resilience and continued to battle his way through with limited feed stops to complete the crossing in 10hr50 min.
Ruth Azran also surprised the support crew with her determination despite her shoulder injuries to complete in 11hr 08 min. Ruth’s first words on completing the challenge was that she had done this to inspire her kids – and she certainly did just that.
The swimmers followed English Channel rules with no touching of the support boat during their feed stops. The group walk away with having broken 3 new records. Chris being the first Swazi citizen to complete the crossing, Jay & Ruth the first married couple to complete the crossing and Andy the first Australian and oldest to have completed the crossing. Chris and Jay also lay claim to the 2nd fastest crossing to date with the current record of 7hr 53 min being set in 2016.
N.B. Article and picture courtesy of the swimmers