Theo Yach 

Theodore Yach was a swimmer from Cape Town, best known for the 108 Robben Island crossings he achieved in his lifetime - (way) more than any other swimmer! He has also swum across the English Channel, and he is the first person to swim from Cape Town around Robben Island and back, taking 11 hours. Yach made quite a splash in Israel in 2016 when he swam across the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) “not the width like most long-distance swimmers but the length – 22 kilometres from south to north.”  He died in Cape Town on the 17th October 2018. 

Theodore’s late father Solly, himself a champion swimmer, “told me as a kid to keep a record of my swimming achievements, which I did,” and led to his internationally acclaimed autobiography. Titled, ‘In My Element’, it is an inspiring story that brings alive the sport of open water swimming and reveals how the boy matured to a man with every stroke. “I planned a simple paperback book until my editor looked at all the photographs and material I had, and she convinced me otherwise,” he reveals in his preface to the book.

Theo Yach and his brother Derek Yach in the 1973 Wynberg Boys High School swimming team.

The King Is Dead

By David E. Kaplan

Legendary SA ocean swimmer known as the “King of Robben Island’’ dies suddenly in Cape Town

Swimming in the ocean is my ultimate joy,” he once said of his favourite pastime. “There are no boundaries, no lane ropes to constrain me and very few people to disturb me.”

Having faced off the perils of the open sea from dangerous currents, Great White sharks, poisonous giant jelly fish and sheer exhaustion,  it was  a routine check-up in Cape Town  on the 17 October for asthma that surprisingly struck down South Africa’s legendary ocean swimmer Theodore Yach at the young age of 60.

Holding the record for the most crossings to Robben Island – hence his nickname in the ocean swimming fraternity as “The King of Robben Island” –  Yach made quite a splash in Israel in 2016 when he swam across the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)  “not the width like most long-distance swimmers but the LENGTH – 22 kilometres from south to north,” says Stanley Milliner from Kfar Saba Israel who has been a friend of the Yach family since childhood.

“It was a tough swim because he was more accustomed to swimming in the cold temperatures off the Atlantic Cape coast and not the 26 degrees of the Kinneret and thus took him over 8 hours,” recalls Milliner. “There was great excitement at the time as members of the Israeli Swimming Association joined him for sections along the way.” Apart from the famed St. Peter’s fish, “He appreciated the human company.”

“It’s been such an unexpected shock for his friends and fans. He was a titan in the water and an example to future generations of ocean swimmers.”

Away from the water, the Yach family name on terra firma is synonymous with philanthropy supporting causes both in South Africa and Israel.

image001 (9)
Theodore Yach (right) with Stanley Milliner at the 2005 Maccabi Games in Israel

Leading Light

A leading member of Cape Town’s general and Jewish communities and an inspiring role model of philanthropy, Theodore Yach’s mother, Estelle has been a devoted friend of Israel and the Hebrew University whose benevolence significantly advanced the University and enabled hundreds of its students to pursue a higher education.

It all began in 1938, when Theodor’s grandfather, Morris Mauerberger, established the Mauerberger Foundation Fund, which his son-in-law and Theodore’s late father Solm Yach went on to head. His mother chaired the Foundation for over twenty years; thereafter passing over the reins to his sister, Dianna Yach.

Since the 1960s, the Mauerberger Foundation has lent its support to a wide range of projects at the Hebrew University, including the Mauerberger Medical Bursaries, the Morris and Helen Mauerberger Chair in Agricultural Entomology, research projects in diverse areas and, notably, numerous research fellowships and scholarships for Israeli and international students, many from underprivileged backgrounds.

Africa Israel – A Pulsating Partnership

Africa is benefiting today from the launch in 2017 of a prize by Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology together with the Mauerberger Foundation Fund in South Africa. Each year, Israeli scientists now compete for a $500,000 prize for suggesting ways of addressing a major development priority in the African continent – and in doing so, also advance the role of women in science.

Dianne Yach called on scientists to collaborate in tackling impediments to the full development of people and societies, while Technion president, Prof. Peretz Lavie committed the Technion to fostering Israel-African partnerships “with purpose and impact.”

The new prize builds on 80 years of the Mauerberger Foundation Fund support for those areas in Israel and South Africa that include the initial support for the Technion’s Soil Engineering Building in 1955; chairs in nursing, preventive cardiology and neurosurgery at the University of Cape Town; and the advancement of public health at the University of the Western Cape.

Theodore’s grandfather and founder of the Fund first visited the Technion in 1955.

Technion
https://www.jpost.com/Business-and-Innovation/Health-and-Science/Technion-S-African-foundation-launch-prize-498245

Today, the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Soil Engineering Building is home to ‘Engineers without Borders’, a programme that the fund continues to support, and that enables Technion students to initiate community projects in Israel and abroad and promote the University’s goodwill in Africa.

In Cape Town, Theodore Yach with his expertise in property development, was one of the key strategists behind the Central City Improvement District, “which helped the city avoid the inner-city decay that has affected so many other cities in South Africa and across the world.” In keeping with the family tradition of Tikkun Olam (Hebrew: “repairing the world”), Theodore Yach has over the years, raised millions of Rands for various charities.

During office hours, Yach was a divisional director at Zenprop, one of South Africa’s top property development and investment companies. He has also been a director of his family’s philanthropic Mauerberger Foundation and supporter of the Cadiz Open Water Swimming 

The Cadiz Freedom Swim is an extreme 7.5 kilometres open water swimming race from Robben Island to Big Bay, Bloubergstrand. It takes place annually close to Freedom Day  – the 27th  April, the date of SA’s first democratic elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, marking the end of Apartheid.

The Cadiz Freedom Swim is recognised as one of the world’s most extreme sea races due to the extremely cold water characteristics of the Atlantic Ocean, unpredictable sea and weather conditions, and the presence of the Great White Shark.

Legacy of a Legend

Deserving of the moniker “The King of Robben Island”, Yach had at the time of his passing, 108 Robben Island crossings to his name – more than any other swimmer in the world. He has also swum across the English Channel, and he is the first person to swim from Cape Town around Robben Island and back, taking 11 hours. Despite the freezing temperature of the water, the area is popular for sharks, including the Great White. This never deterred Yach who always took the necessary precautions.

Yach comes from a family of swimmers and his love for swimming was nurtured from an early age.

image004 (10)
Theodore the Titan. Theodore Yach emerges from the water after his epic 30km Ultra Swim from Three Achor Bay, around Robben Island and back in a trip that took approximately 11 hours wearing only a regulation swimsuit, cap and goggles while being totally exposed to the elements. (Stephen Williams, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

In His Element

Theodore’s late father Solly, himself a champion swimmer, “told me as a kid to keep a record of my swimming achievements, which I did,” and led to his internationally acclaimed autobiography.

Titled, ‘In My Element’, it is an inspiring story that brings alive the sport of open water swimming and reveals how the boy matured to a man with every stroke.

in my element.jpg

“I planned a simple paperback book until my editor looked at all the photographs and material I had, and she convinced me otherwise,” he reveals in his preface to the book.

The world of ocean swimming in South Africa is not for the faint of heart. “It requires guts, training and a sense of adventure, all of which characterized Theo,” says Milliner.  “It was no wonder,” continues Milliner, “that his book was nominated in the ‘World Open Water Swimming Offering’ of the year category,” which recognises innovative products or services that have made a positive impact on the world of open water swimming.

Set in the backdrop of the wild waters off the South African coast, In My Element is filled with photographs, memories and personal highlights of his often-risky open water sea-swimming exploits undertaken since the 1980s, including stories about swimming with sea life such as sharks, seals and dolphins.

The autobiographical book sets out to motivate other swimmers and offers training advice.

An unrivalled pastime

“Swimming in the ocean is my ultimate joy; there are no boundaries, no lane ropes to constrain me and very few people to disturb me.”

Long distance open water swimmers are always exposed to the threat of hypothermia, jellyfish stings, bluebottles and the ever-present danger of sharks, yet Yach enjoyed every opportunity to get into the water.

“The best part of swimming in open water is that it isn’t structured. I don’t want structure in my leisure time,” he said. “I like the solitude and the fact that I am in the middle of nature and I like the possibility of a Great White that can come visit!”

But he was never reckless. He always swam within two metres of his support crew and with a shark shield that hung off the boat. The device created an electronic force field around him that kept sharks away.

He maintained that open water swimming was a tough sport that involves as much psychological preparation as physical endurance.

“The mental aspect of ocean swimming is more important than physical preparation because you are dealing with the sea, the cold water, currents, sea life and the fear of what is under the water.”

“Hypothermia and heart failure are biggest risks for open water swimmers – even more than shark attacks.”

Yach noted that South Africa was becoming the preferred destination for top open water swimmers to train, “as the water on the Cape coast is so cold.”

He explained that training in water with optimal temperatures was critical for open water swimmers who were preparing for races. “A swimmer’s ability to cope with cold water is essential and this is why they train in our waters for races such as the English Channel.”

The cold water of the Cape has lost its warm friend.

https://layoftheland.online/category/sport/

Theodore posted this article on the Vineyard SC website:

So, after 29 years covering 56 Robben Island to Mainland crossings which includes many record swims along the way, an English Channel crossing, various other open water swims including the SA 25km Champs at Quaggaskloof Dam many years ago and now an attempt on the coldest open water swim in Africa on Saturday 19 July in Fraserburg, I am asked what drives me, why I keep going, what preparation goes into each attempt and what I think about whilst I am swimming, especially in waters where sharks also swim…

I reckon that the best place to start is at the beginning. My late father, Solly, represented SA at the Helsinki Olympics 1952 for water polo and was also one of SA’s top freestylers for many years. My sister, Dianna, reached WP senior level and then promptly gave up. My older brother, Derek, had a long WP butterfly career and was also considered as SA’s best long distance sea swimmer in the 1980’s and held various records including being the fastest African to cross the English Channel and I had a junior and senior WP swimming and water polo career from 1967 through 1981.

I am a firm believer in generational achievement and, to that end, my younger son, Daniel, is currently in the WP U19 Water Polo team so my theory seems to work. I love history and believe that each person has a unique ability to create their own piece of unique history, part of the “why?”

Genetics aside, one has to put in the work and it was only after I had stopped playing provincial water polo in 1981 at the age of 23 that the concept of work=success really kicked in so you could say that I was a late developer as far as recognizing the benefits of serious training are concerned and it is that recognition that drives me and keeps me going still today. Talent is all well and fine but many, many folk have talent and I have realised that it is their capacity for work that separates the OK from the FANTASTIC!

I am constantly training and we can explore my training methodologies in the future. Karoly von Toros (the master of “over swims”) and Kevin Fialkov (probably one of the canniest psychological coaches I have ever interacted with) jointly prepared me for my 1996 English Channel crossing as I had failed in a 1989 attempt. I love training –even at the age of 52– and in summer train 6 days/week in the water and in winter swim 3 days and gym 3 days. I am happy to share my training methodologies in a future article.

The final question to answer for now, I suppose, is what do I think about whilst I am swimming across the ocean? In the 1980’s I failed a swim and almost failed several others by losing focus in the last 400 metres to the degree that I became so disorientated that the only way Tony Scalabrino –my pilot/coach/mentor for most of my swims– could keep me in the water and not panicking was to smack on the back with a wooden paddle on one memorable swim! I kid you not! It took me many swims to develop a methodology that I now follow religiously no matter how long the swim distance is:

  1. I do not ask how much time I have been in the water. The challenge is to swim from A to B, time taken is irrelevant;
  2. I count each and every stroke and repeat every 1000 strokes till my hands hit the shore;
  3. The cold is “locked” into a small box in my mind during the swim;
  4. I have long conversations with myself –and arguments which I don’t always win so work that one out!– about whatever I am having to deal with at the time. Anything to distract myself from the long hours ahead. The last 800m of the 34km of the English Channel in 1996 took me over 4 hours as the conditions turned dramatically against me when I could see Calais lighthouse right in front of me. I can still remember myself having a raging argument –with myself– to get through it to the degree that when I eventually hit the shore in France it was almost anticlimactic!

I think that’s it for now. There are several topics that I can still cover: hypothermia, sharks, the team plus the items that I alluded to in the discussion above.

More later…

Theodore

King of Robben Island - Theodore Yach

Theodore speaking

Maura Sanderoff in middle with Delle Henry on left and Theodore Yach after completing his 79th Robben Island to Bloubergstrand crossing in March 2014.

Maura 1

Openwaterpedia lists all of Theo's crossings:

1. on 25 November 1981, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 1 hours 54 minutes
2. on 31 October 1987, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 24 minutes
3. on 5 March 1988, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 27 minutes
4. on 12 May 1988, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 54 minutes
5. on 22 December 1988, 20.4 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay (two-way) in 6 hours 53 minutes
6. on 22 December 1988, 20.4 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay (two-way) in 6 hours 53 minutes
7. on 2 June 1991, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 19 minutes
8. on 23 February 1993, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 21 minutes
9. on 14 August 1993, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 19 minutes
10. on 7 May 1994, 20 km from Camps Bay to Robben Island in 5 hours 30 minutes
11. on 14 May 1995, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 14 minutes
12. on 17 February 1996, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 54 minutes
13. on 19 May 1996, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 58 minutes
14. on 20 December 1997, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 4 hours 17 minutes
15. on 22 February 1998, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 18 minutes
16. on 1 May 1998, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 33 minutes
17. on 3 October 1998, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 26 minutes
18. on 2 January 1999, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 17 minutes
19. on 1 May 1999, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 15 minutes
20. on 6 November 1999, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 33 minutes
21. on 18 November 1999, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 10 minutes
22. on 30 December 1999, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 33 minutes
23. on 10 June 2000, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 31 minutes
24. on 14 October 2000, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 20 minutes
25. on 3 March 2001, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 38 minutes
26. on 1 May 2001, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 42 minutes
27. on 18 May 2001, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 22 minutes
28. on 16 June 2001, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 4 hours 1 minutes
29. on 23 September 2001, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 3 hours 9 minutes
30. on 2 March 2002, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 12 minutes
31. on 11 May 2002, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 18 minutes
32. on 2 June 2002, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 36 minutes
33. on 30 December 2002, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 4 hours 19 minutes
34. on 1 March 2003, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 23 minutes
35. on 26 April 2003, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 20 minutes
36. on 31 May 2003, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 16 minutes
37. on 19 October 2003, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 59 minutes
38. on 30 November 2003, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 13 minutes
39. on 27 March 2004, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 3 minutes
40. on 14 April 2004, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 33 minutes
41. on 30 January 2005, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 44 minutes
42. on 11 September 2005, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 33 minutes
43. on 18 February 2006, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 38 minutes
44. on 5 March 2006, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 5 minutes
45. on 12 May 2006, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 22 minutes
46. on 5 January 2007, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 15 minutes
47. on 17 February 2007, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 21 minutes
48. on 31 March 2007, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 22 minutes
49. on 1 May 2007, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 14 minutes
50. on 4 April 2008, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 5 minutes
51. on 27 April 2008, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 54 minutes
52. on 28 September 2008, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 43 minutes
53. on 26 April 2009, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 17 minutes
54. on 28 November 2009, 20.4 km from Three Anchor Bay to Round Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay (two-way) in 10 hours 39 minutes
55. on 28 November 2009, 20.4 km from Three Anchor Bay to Round Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay (two-way) in 10 hours 39 minutes
56. on 2 May 2010, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 51 minutes
57. on 4 December 2010, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 17 minutes
58. on 18 December 2010, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 2 hours 58 minutes
59. on 13 February 2011, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 26 minutes
60. on 19 March 2011, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 49 minutes
61. on 25 August 2011, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 45 minutes
62. on 25 September 2011, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 36 minutes
63. on 29 January 2012, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 33 minutes
64. on 18 March 2012, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 40 minutes
65. on 29 July 2012, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 3 hours 27 minutes
66. on 16 September 2012, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 27 minutes
67. on 2 October 2012, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 26 minutes
68. on 15 December 2012, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 33 minutes
69. on 17 February 2013, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 2 hours 45 minutes
70. on 6 March 2013, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 29 minutes
71. on 11 May 2013, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 40 minutes
72. on 17 June 2013 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 35 minutes
73. on 10 July 2013, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 3 hours 4 minutes
74. on 2 October 2013, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 19 minutes
75. on 3 November 2013, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 3 hours 47 minutes
76. on 24 November 2013, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 22 minutes 
77. on 27 December 2013, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 4 hours 20 minutes
78. on 26 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 24 minutes
79. on 1 March 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 30 minutes
80. on 29 March 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 13 minutes
81. on 8 April 2014, 27 km from Llandudno to Robben Island in 7 hours 3 minutes
82. on 28 June 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 14 minutes
83. on 30 July 2014, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 31 minutes
84. on 17 August 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 40 minutes
85. on 7 November 2014, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 17 minutes
86. on 29 November 2014, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 3 hours 52 minutes
87. on 1 January 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 20 minutes
88. on 24 January 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 30 minutes
89. on 15 March 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 8 minutes
90. on 30 March 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 21 minutes
91. on 12 April 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 15 minutes
92. on 17 May 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 30 minutes
93. on 20 June 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 34 minutes
94. on 9 October 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 43 minutes
95. on 22 November 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg on 2 hours 0 minutes
96. on 6 December 2015, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 1 hour 59 minutes
97. on 17 December 2015, 10.2 km from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in 4 hours 36 minutes
98. on 16 January 2016, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 26 minutes
99. on 13 February 2016, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 40 minutes
100. on 22 March 2016, 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 10 minutes
101. on 26 October 2016 10.2 km from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay in 3 hours 28 minutes
102. on 21 March 2017, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 32 minutes
103. on 20 April 2017, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 35 minutes
104. on 4 July 2017, 7.4 km from Robben Island to Blouberg in 2 hours 27 minutes