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NSRI volunteers raised over R145 000 for the organisation at a recent Robben Island crossing. But there’s more to this iconic swim than meets the eye.

The Robben Island crossing is an open water swim from Robben Island to Blouberg Beach or Three Anchor Bay, or around the Island, or any combination thereof. The shortest distance for the crossing, from Robben Island to Big Bay, is 7.5km. However, very few people swim it in a straight line so the distances are different for each individual.

“The swim has always been on my bucket list,” says David Taylor, volunteer at Station 2 (Bakoven). “I knew I wouldn’t do it if I did it by myself as you get so much more motivation when you do it with other people.”

David decided to do the swim as a fundraising drive for the NSRI. “I also saw it as an opportunity for volunteers from different stations to have more integration. At the end of the day, we’re all like-minded individuals who are giving up our time for something that is bigger than us,” he says.

David contacted Paula Armstrong, a volunteer from Station 3 (Table Bay) who he knew from doing triathlons. Paula has done the swim nine times so she has an understanding of the logistics involved.

“Dave and I met for coffee towards the end of 2021 and started working on getting enough people together to justify making an event out of the swim,” Paula says. “We thought that if we got five to ten people, we’d be doing really well.”

Their estimates proved to be quite conservative – 26 NSRI volunteers from Bakoven, Table Bay, Hout Bay, Strandfontein, and Simon’s Town ended up taking part. According to Paula, it was the biggest crossing that Big Bay Events, the water events management company that helped out on the day, had been involved in.

“Obviously this was a group fundraising event for the NSRI, but we wanted people to ‘own’ their own challenge and for them to say this is my challenge for 2022,” David says. “Everyone could set up their own profile on the Given Gain website and fill in their own motivation for why they were swimming for this particular charity. People’s communities really jumped in to help. It was awesome to see.”

Paula and David hope to make the event an annual one; however, both feel that they’ll have to cap the numbers at 20 swimmers in order to make logistics a bit easier on the day.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm to do it again. It takes a lot of organisation and a lot of moving parts, and herding cats essentially. But luckily I enjoy the herding,” Paula says with a laugh. “There was such a lovely vibe and a feeling of goodwill around it.”

David agrees. “We usually integrate with other people from the NSRI on an operational basis. So that’s more like seeing each other from different boats during rescues. But now, I think everybody who was at that swim would be comfortable popping into any one of the stations involved and having a braai.”

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