False Bay crossings

Capetonians have the luxury of two oceans to choose from when they want to do some open water swimming. Table Bay on the Atlantic side is cold, while False Bay lies on the Indian Ocean side, and is considerably warmer - at least for swimming.

In the past, villages like St James, Fishoek, Kalkbaai and Muizenberg along the western edge of the Bay, grew as resort towns. Swimmers like Henry Hooper regularly swam in the Bay, and the local Western Province Swimming Association held the Gentry Cup Mile race in the Bay. Many tidal pools along the coast attest to the popularity of the area, as well as the need to create safer spaces to swim.

There have been a number of attempts to swim across False Bay. The swim is considered to be unsafe today due to the perceived threat of shark attacks on swimmers in False Bay.

In 1986 three local swimers attempted too swim across the bay - Derek yach, Godfrey Mocke and Kevin Fialkov.  Only 5 hardy souls have actually completed the 35 km swim from Rooi Els to Miller's Point. Annemie Landmeters of Belgium was the first to succeed, in 1989 and Sea Point local Steven Klugman did it in 2004 while another local Carina Bruwer followed in 2006. The record of 9:15 was set by Barend Nortje in 2007.  Irishman Ned Denison was the last to succeed in 2012.

Roger Fich tried in 2014, but had to retire when currents pushed him out into the open sea.

Other swimmers have recently completed shorter swims along the coast. Lewis Pugh swam 11km's from Fish Hoek to Miller's Point in 2018. 

Annemie Landmeters is an open water swimmer from Belgium who was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1991 as an Honour Swimmer.

Klugman Steve WP 1

Steve was Western Province swimmer, coached by Clara Aurik, before his career as an Open Water swimmer began.

SA man conquers False Bay


Top long distance swimmer Steven Klugman has become the first local to swim across False Bay from Rooi Els to Miller's Point, SABC radio news reported on Monday.

Klugman attempted the feat to raise funds for Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town.

The 36-year-old completed the 34km distance in about 14-and-a half hours, taking slightly longer than expected because of choppy seas and strong winds.

A Dutch woman in the 1980s was the only other person to have successfully completed the distance.

Klugman holds the record for most swims to Robben Island.

In 2016 Steve and two others was attempted a 60km swim in Australia.

Klugman Steve 2016

Madman' conquers False Bay

Cape Argus - February 16, 2004. A Cape Town swimmer braved choppy seas and strong winds to become the first South African to swim across False Bay.

Steve Klugman, 39, of Sea Point, has already swum to and from Robben Island and crossed the English Channel. Yesterday he completed the 34km between Rooi Els and Miller's Point in 14 hours and 15 minutes.

And why did he do it? "I am mad in the head. I am insane."

This is only the second time that anyone has completed the swim from Rooi Els to Miller's Point. Belgian Annemie Landmeters completed the swim in the 1980s.

Klugman began swimming when he was six years old, but started taking long-distance swimming seriously about three years ago. "I've wanted to do this for for a long time. I thought yesterday was a good day, but it was actually the wrong day to do it."

Conditions were "atrocious" because the sea was choppy and the strong wind disorientated him.

"It was not that bad when I started, but after four and a half hours the conditions deteriorated. I should have given up then."

He said if he had attempted the swim on a good day it would only have taken nine and a half hours.

Despite the tough swim, Klugman was elated when it was successfully over.

"It is fantastic and I am glad I've done it."

And would he do it again? "Never. For those who are looking at doing it, good luck!"

The swim raised funds for the Red Cross Children's Hospital and was made possible by Master Currency.

26 February 2006 

Carina Bruwer, Capetonian marathon swimmer, today swam the 35km across FasleBay successfully, becoming only the third person ever, and the first South African woman, to do so. She started from Rooi Els around 06:45, and walked ashore at Millers’ Point 10h58mins later.

“I feel ecstatic, emotional, and very relieved. I was on standby to swim for a month, and I became quite obsessed. To me it is a huge achievement, as the Bay has beaten me and many other swimmers before”, said Carina. Carina attempted the crossing in March last year, but got hypothermic after swimming for 5 hours. The temperature then was 14-15 degrees. “My support crew was great, although there were a few anxious moments when during the first couple of hours, the GPS failed in thick mist. I wasn’t very amused at the time!”

Carina’s crew consisted of Peter Bales (chairman of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association), Steven Klugman, Cape Town’s long distance swimming ace who completed the swim in 2004, Anton Viljoen, friend of Carina’s, and Billy Hadlow, director of LOG-IT (www.log-it.co.za) – sponsor of the swim..

“I’m so happy that I could also do my sponsor proud. And it was great to have Billy from LOG-IT on the boat too. It’s a great new company, providing proactive solution for data management and property maintenance”, said Carina.

Barend Nortjé - seen with Steve Klugman, holds the record for the fastest False Bay crossing. Like many of the other marathon swimmers he also completed the somewhat easier and shorter English Channel three times, and holds the record for fastest South African across the Channel.  

Man breaks record for 34km False Bay swim

6 MARCH 2007

A Cape Town swimmer has broken an 18-year record for the swim across False Bay from Rooi Els Point to Miller's Point and become only the fourth person to have completed the 34-kilometre distance.

Barend Nortjé, 33, finished in 9 hours and 17 minutes, breaking Belgian swimmer Annemie Landmeters's record of 9.56, set in 1989.

Nortjé, who has swum the English Channel, braved difficult weather and the sharks of False Bay during the swim, said Peter Bales, chairperson of the Cape Long Distance Association.

He had been "waiting for weeks for suitable weather", Bales said.

"It was an outstanding swim - he was looking very good."

The swim has been attempted 20 times, with Landmeters being the first to complete it. The others were South African swimmer Steven Klugman in 2004 and Carina Bruwer, of Cape Town, last year.

Since 2004, the association has used the electronic Shark Shield, attached to the swimmer's support boat.

One False Move By Ned Denison Across The Bay

ned denison

Ned Denison described first-hand his 20-mile False Bay Swim in December 2012:

He was the fifth person in history to cross False Bay from Rooi Els to Miller’s point in 11 hours 5 minutes under the guidance of escort pilot Arend Grondman.

I enjoy a blessing and a curse through my friendship with Kevin Murphy. The blessing includes an insight into his incredible global marathon career. The curse delivers suggested swims that I should tackle – none looking easy.

So Kevin planted the False Bay – home of the great white sharks – seed, one of the few swims he attempted but did not complete. I heard more, when I served on the Santa Barbara Channel Board, from Carina Bruwer, the fourth swimmer to complete this swim.

False Bay never really featured on my long wish list until May 2011 when I tied the speed record for the swim around Cape Point with the last 6 km in False Bay. Fast forward eighteen months and looking for a holiday swim. I could accept (just) Steve Redmond charging ahead with Oceans Seven. But Eddie Irwin beat me to the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and I wanted to beat him and the other local marathoners back behind me (which of course will not work) by doing something big and gnarly…! Finally, we all have a shark fear so the mental challenge was a big part of my choice. I never rated my mental toughness in most of the previous marathon swims – so time to put it to a big test.

I called my friend living on False Bay: channel swimmer and waterman Hugh Tucker. The hospitality in Cape Town the year before still had me smiling. From that point on, I stopped watching the shark programs on the Discovery Channel. I landed in Cape Town on December 26th to fabulous swim conditions and set a date of the 28th. Within minutes, the wind picked up and we faced the first delay. Cape Town produces fine marathon swimmers, many with an eye to the False Bay swim. They hesitate for three reasons. Firstly, the 400 square mile bay contains 200,000 seals and 200 great white sharks. Most weeks, the “shark spotter organisation” closes a beach until the danger passes and several times a year a human attack occurs. Secondly, the water temperature moves from 9° to 20°C pretty quickly. Thirdly, the winds from the South Atlantic come up quickly and strongly. Some local swimmers wait more than a decade for the perfect day.

I took advantage of the delay to get re-acquainted with False Bay. I did a 4 km swim on the 27th – alone. I returned again on the 28th and did a 6 km swim: half alone and half with Linda Clarke, a super swimmer on holiday from Dublin. My head nearly exploded with constant shark fears and visions – in hindsight I got them out of my system.

My trip afforded me an 11-day swim window. I might not get a shot and certainly not a perfect day. My pilot Arend and I spoke daily and he monitored the conditions. The 29th looked likely and then the forecasts started to favour the 4th. Arend made the call on the 29th that the 30th looked possible – but he had one more call to make. He reported back that the “shark spotter organisation” recommended that no swimmer ever attempt the swim. I told him we knew this already and agreed the 30th. I arranged for Arend and his boat (and of course Hugh who crewed three times for me in 2011) and Keith with a second “shark spotter” boat. I offered to pay more for a “shark stopper”.

On the evening of the 29th a third crew, with a boat, volunteered to help, bringing two English Channel aspirants who would do some escort swimming. We met at 6 am in the dark and I was delighted that Peter Bales was also coming. Peter is the Chairman of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, an English Channel swimmer, had been on the previous four successful swims and was Kevin Muphy’s False Bay swimming partner on the long ago attempt.

We motored across the bay in calm seas and I set off.

This would be the swim that most depended on mental toughness. From my training swims in False Bay (without a crew) I moved to 3 safety boats, a pilot (Arend) who I used twice before, Hugh who crewed my three swims in 2011, Peter who crewed all 4 previous successful False Bay swims, a shark shield (pulsing wire in the water) and 5 others. I felt safe and secure with a boat on each side and one behind. I trusted my team. My mind was occupied with the NORMAL physical and mental part of a 20-mile swim into worsening conditions. Arend had warned me that it would “freshen up” later in the day. Only seven times – for about 15 seconds each – did I get a shark thought in the next 11 hours:

* Several crew pointed to something (in the distance)
* Within minutes of starting I swam into a thick kelp stalk 
* My foot hit a substantial object

For these three, I didn’t look and got my head back into the swim quickly.

Arend’s boat seemingly hit something BIG, veered dramatically to the right, the crew nearly fell over and it needed to be replaced on my right by another boat. I later found out that the steering bolt shattered – but it could have hit a big shark!

Arend put an extension pole on a big fish gaff. I later found out he used it to steer.

The crew tapping on the shark shield, pulling it up and replacing the batteries.

The final time I noticed at least 20 seals – shark’s normal food – within 15 feet of me at a feed stop. I tried to imagine a full table of delicious Christmas foods….with that horrible pickled onion dish that NOBODY in my family ever touched. I thought of myself as that dish.
In the sport we know that some of the marathon swims are 80% mental, once you have correctly prepared physically. False Bay was maybe 95%… and I was really happy with my mental toughness for a change.

I have very few other memories of the first six hours. Arend later told me that I was fighting a current for the first half.

I remember vividly when it all changed – “freshened up”. The swim so far was calm and warm – only moderate glory in that. Now the wind increased to 17 knots – gusting to 22 knots from my left and the water temperature was dropping 5°C (9°F) in pockets. It gave the water a formidable “texture”. Normally this is where my head would go, I’d slow and all but cry for my Mommy.

I could imagine Roger Finch phoning Arend from Johannesburg and emailing the news to Owen O’Keefe in Cork who would be posting to the web. I knew that the Cape swimmers would be following and being the 30th of December I would be the only open water news for the northern hemisphere swimmers. I could imagine the shiver going up the backs of monitoring marathon swimming friends. I have been on the end of such reports myself in the past – you just groan at the thought of conditions deteriorating in the last part of the swim.

It helped to motivate me.

This was the first of my nine big marathons (more than 16 miles/25 km) where I got tougher in the second half. A few months earlier in the Catalina swim I “mentally enjoyed” a jellyfish sting – now I enjoyed ploughing through the waves. I didn’t have a single physical pain or throw up – another first.

Then Hugh gave me the best news: one more feed. I did the math; I was drinking 400 ml of carbo drink every 30 minutes, less than an hour. With a poor history of mentally and physically “limping home” – I actually picked by my pace.

After 11 hours and 5 minutes, a group greeted me at the end and walked to Arend’s boat club for a long shower, drinks at the bar and a sausage off the grill. I enjoyed Kevin Murphy’s induction speech to a thousand guests at the International Swimming Hall of Fame years earlier: “I don’t enjoy the swims – but I sure like having accomplished them.” Maybe I found a better way: I enjoyed the swim and the accomplishment slowly started to hit as my phone, email and Facebook lit up.

The morning papers carried the news along with a picture of a great white taking a seal – a few miles away while I was swimming. Very cool to see while having coffee – sporting the evidence of a long swim (see picture on left).

The best came days later when I met Hugh, Fran and Andy for breakfast. Hugh said, “The conditions were tough, wind up to 40 km/h and swell at 4 meters. Lots of seals that can look like sharks to a swimmer. I have been on about 250 swims and this rates as number one with Andy Pfaff’s English Channel swim.”

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming