It was a wild ride for the 91 competitors in this new addition to the swim calendar.
Hayden Squance (pictured) made one critical decision which gave him an edge over Oxford Bayley at the midpoint of the race and he carried this advantage all the way to the finish.
The plan was to swim from the yacht club, out through The Cut via the dolphin, then south to the beach.
The tide was a large one – 4.3m – at 12.29 pm. The 10am start meant that the first part of the course was going to be problematic. Those who headed straight for the dolphin found themselves pushed to the right as the incoming current swept up the harbour. Wise swimmers kept as far as possible to the left, taking an arc to the dolphin.
Several swimmers were picked up early on after they missed the cutoff at this point and were dropped off at the island.
Once past the dolphin, it was a steady push out through The Cut, but not unachievable for those who had made it this far.
The drama started in earnest at the end of the Mole, the long rock wall that defines the southern side of The Cut.
At the western tip of the wall, as swimmers needed to turn south towards the beach, the water was funnelling in at a speed in excess of 4km/h. This proved too big a step for more than three quarters of the field.
Out in front, Hayden chose an abrupt left turn and forced his way through the tumult into quieter water. He later called this the hardest section of swimming he had ever done. Oxford went wider, seeking an easier passage, but this cost him dearly, as Hayden broke away with the incoming tide pushing him south around the back of Haulashore Island.
Oxford couldn’t bridge this gap and Hayden increased his lead over the tide-assisted 1.8km to the beach finish, recording an incredible time of 34 minutes 30 seconds for the 3km event.
Matt Hansen came in next, five minutes behind the leader, with Christina Harris the first woman a further two minutes behind.
Christina had this to say about the passage around the end of the Mole: “It was a hell of a slog, and I thought of giving up, but eventually I got thru. I was making no progress for about eternity (approximately), then I got there. But I eased up on the speed and went backwards, and had to do it again.”
Ben Van Dyke finished sixth and he had problems too. After pushing himself to the limit he thought he’d made it, only to find he was being pushed back. “I was close to the end of the wall, so I grabbed a rock and just breathed for 20 seconds or more – then I stood on the rock, dived forward and managed to get out of the current.
Wendy Healey and Paula Spriggs took the second and third women’s spots, finishing within a few seconds of each other.
Back in the field there was a reasonable amount of carnage. After the first dozen or so made it around the end of the Mole, the surging nature of the incoming tide only allowed a couple of mid-field swimmers to get by, with some of the region’s top swimmers defeated by the current.
More than 30 were forced to clamber up on to the Mole and drop back in on the other side – in itself no mean feat – while others were plucked from the water and dropped off further along the course.
In other race options, swimmers could choose to swim to Haulashore Island and taking the short track across before contining on their way to the beach.
Sierra Thomas celebrated her first outing of the summer, winning this option from Jessica Bryant, Jess Fulford and Janis Crampton.
Even the short option was affected by the current. Originally planned to start at the Richardson St steps, the start was shifted south to avoid the notorious current by the steps. Competitors instead climbed down the ladder by the fishing jetty and swim to the beach.
Lilly Claridge snatched victory by two seconds from Ariah Bayley, with Brian Mills next, getting a final race in before next weekends Wanaka Challenge.
Photos – in the pipeline