Labuan Cross Channel Swimming 2017

I consider the Labuan Cross Channel Swimming as an annual pilgrimage for me to do an open water swim event. It is a 5.4km openwater swim from Labuan to Pulau Papan and Back.

labuan cross channel swim 2017 start

In the picture above, I am pointing to the island that I am swimming to. I honestly feel like it looks closer than what I remember to be. But I know how far it is from previous experience. Notice the ships in the area. We have been informed that the ships would clear out for our path, but in past experiences the currents have pushed them  in our path. Which is the case that morning. The target is just slightly left to the centre of island, and you can see the ship was partially blocking.

There were a few changes this year compared to previous years. Previously, the kids category started of from Pulau Papan, having been sent there on a boat. This year they start from Labuan, and will be picked up by boat from Pulau Papan. Joining them are the veterans, who previously did the whole 5.4km, but are now limited to half the distance along with the kids. A few people I know my age wouldn’t have mind doing the half distance, especially beginners swimmers. The start of the swim seemed more happening as all the categories started at the same time.

A last minute change was that originally the 3 different categories were to be started 2 mins apart. But as most swimmers disagreed (I believe it is mostly due to possible cheaters or confused starts, 2 mins is a huge gap for any race) the organizers decided to flag of everyone at the same time.

labuan cross channel swimming 2017

(note/reminder: my gps got stuck 1/3 on the way back)

Before the start of the swim, I identified the 2 big boats that I need to sight in order to reach the island. I ignored the swim markers, knowing that they tend to be pushed by the currents, on which I noticed was being pushed to the north or left of the shore.  the first 1/3 of the swim was interesting, it was relatively clear, I could see other swimmers in the water,  and I could also see debris in the water, and I am not just talking rubbish, but the tree trunks floating in the water. It was a mine field, swimming around the debris.

At two-thirds of the swim, I could feel it was getting more difficult to swim through the currents, at some point the waves seemed coming from all directions. Possibly due to some small ship passing by or the winds blowing the big ships causing some waves. Almost to the island it always bothered me that the island doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

As I reached the island after 1 hr 30 mins. I was wondering should I go back. 1. I was later than usual, 2. the waves were rough and 3. I was experience a few pains, including small jelly fish stings and my armpits were chaffing. at 1hr 40min, I decided to continue, hoping to that 1. the current pushing me back earlier, could push me back faster, 2. I can withstand the pain for a little bit longer. I asked the organizers there if they had any vaseline or vinegar, but they didn’t have any, it didn’t look like they even had any medic on stand by as it was available last year.

So I went, being able to see the big white tent from the island, pinpointed the ships that i can use to sight. swam back. a few times I can feel the stings from underneath my suit, and while swimming I could sometimes see small blue things in the water the size pin needle. Unsure if they are the things causing the stings. I went through the obstacles again, starting with the rough waves and the mine field. All through out, I could feel I was riding through with the waves heading back to labuan.

At some point in the middle, I felt like checking my surrounding, I stopped, looked around, saw and realized… that I was alone… no one nearby, no kayaks, only the ships. and I was 1km away from any dry land. It was worrying, and yet cool at the same time. As I checked my watched, I realized that although the time was working, the GPS was not functioning any more, which was disappointing, as it was the first time I was swimming Labuan with a GPS watch. But I carried on anyway.

Closer to Labuan, the currents were not as consistent or I was that tired that my alignment was off. I swear the currents going back was pushing me to the right, but as I got closer to Labuan, the current seemed to be pushing me to the left. Maybe something to do with vortices around the island.

On shore, I saw my wife waiting for my return. As I got out, I thought the finishing timer would be in the tent as previous times so I ran to the tent, but then I realized there was no one there recording the time, and I looked back it was the people close to the shore that was doing so. In any case, I rested in the shade before I double check with the time recorders on my official time and position. My wife took a video of me finishing the swim.

I was glad that I participated and completed the swim again this year. It was probably the most painful swim I have yet to experience. So here is a few reminders for myself as well as others when doing this swim.

  1. take motion sickness medication, my personal preference is overloading with ginger, either in pill supplement form or the in the cook foods (which by the way labuan has a few restaurants serving ginger as a condiment)
  2. sleep earlier, wake up earlier, to drink water and empty bowels before the event.
  3. book a place that is a walking distance from the start/finish line. closed areas include beta apartments, billion water front, and dorsett.
  4. contact the labuan tourism department weeks before the event for event info, registration details are rarely found online. It is best to acquire it by calling or emailing the government department involved, specifically the Labuan Tourism.
  5. Use lubricant like Vaseline on joints. e.g. armpits and groin area. I might try to use it on the rest of my body to see if it prevents jelly fish stings.
  6. consider using a thin full body suit or a rash guard to avoid jelly fish stings.
  7. During swim, go straight for the island, the faster you go, the less rough it feels.
  8. Swimming with a buddy would be easier mentally.

I look forward to the next event. Every year it seems there are different organizers, as I do not recognize the people organizing for the last few years. But if they are reading this, then here is a few feedback.

the good.

  1. This year after 3 years now, finally we have event shirts!
  2. There were kayakers
  3. event is done on a sunday instead of a saturday, more easier for some people to join.

the bad or at least to be improved.

  1. There was no T-shirt size for me, had to get the non-participant shirt for the available size. Highly recommended open up the registration 2 months before, and close the registrations 1 month before, that way you can prepare for the t-shirt as well as the event itself. I highly recommend using
  2. the event info was almost non-existent, I could only google up and found the dates for the event, but I didn’t see any event details or registration forms, until  1 week before, where a swimming colleague shared the form on whatsapp.
  3. there is no 2.7km event for open category. I know a few beginners who would want to join, but if it was one way. consider it as a half marathon to a marathon. You would get more participants.
  4. considering this time around the finish line for the veteran and the kids is at Pulau Papan… you can charge a fee for people who want to go on a boat to be at the finish line. I am very sure that parents or other family members would like to be at the finish line.

My personal reason for coming to labuan every year is because it was my first open water swim event, and it is the easiest, cheapest and closest openwater event I can get to from Brunei.

I know a few other swimmers that have joined, and the reasons for them not joining is either the swim is too long (so if you can do half some people might be okay), or poorly marketed as most people don’t know until its too late (so the forms should be out earlier), or event is poorly organized.

In any case you need some help with organization, I wouldn’t mind helping organizing it, as I have organzied a few events before. As long as I get paid a fee, but I personally would prefer to swim the event than to organize it. 😀


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