Blog: The Yellow-Beaked Australian

Blog: The Yellow-Beaked Australian

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Yellow-Beaked Australian

Sunday 24th Jan 2016, 7am: As the sun rises over the Haitian mountains behind us, 50 brave/foolhardy souls gather on a glorious Haitian beach ready to participate in the 7.8km swim to an island that can just be seen in the horizon. Perhaps not surprisingly the crowd is mostly male, and mostly young (well…younger than me anyway). Whilst the event is billed as a ‘fun’ endurance challenge there is still the distinctive whiff of competitive testosterone in the air.

The Isle team comprised two of my sons (Angus, 21 and Torin, 14), our Head of DealFlow Tom Jacks, the MD for Isle Australia Tim Day and me. Tim had shown true dedication to the cause and brought along his wife, his sister-in-law and his daughter, all of whom undertook roles as part of the event support-team. As we donned our mandatory bathing caps (much easier to find the bodies if they are wearing a bright yellow hat!) and gathered for a pre-swim photo Tom commented that this would be the photo his mother would keep by her bedside to remember him by.

For the avoidance of doubt, Tim is the older fellow in the photo. He is the one with the bright yellow nose. He claimed it was a special zinc-based sun-cream. I don’t believe him. I think it was war-paint made to spook the rest of us. I am the one who is beetroot-red, having foolishly spent 30 minutes the day before out in the sun unprotected. Mad dogs and Englishmen.

As the horn sounded we launched ourselves into the sea, thrashing our way into deep water. The young bucks initially took the lead but with age comes stamina and it was not long before the leading pack was exclusively over-40.

Each swimmer had a local fisherman assigned as their safety boat. To a man, none of the fishermen spoke English and, to a man, none of the competitors spoke Haitian Creole. This was not a problem. ‘Help I am drowning’ and ‘Where the hell is sodding the island?’ are relatively easy to express in hand signals. Despite my original fears, this year there were no sharks and no jellyfish. Instead the unforeseen challenge was the strong cross-current that added on average an extra hour to the swim. People with GPS watches tell me that the current meant they swam over 9km. I am not sure of this. All I know is there was an hour in the middle of the event where no matter how hard you pulled yourself through the water the island seemed to stay exactly the same distance away. It almost broke me.

Now everyone knows that Australians are competitive, it is in their blood. They may not be very good at cricket , but swimming is a particular forte and Tim, my elderly (he is 52!) yellow-beaked colleague dug deep and romped to the finish line first in a staggeringly impressive 2 hours and 47 minutes. Gold for the Aussies! A Frenchman took second place, and a Canadian took third. I brought in the UK contingent at 4th , a mere 6 minutes behind Tim. No medal. No glory. How very British.

Two hours later, with every swimmer now safely on the island the post event party commenced. Food, drink, sunshine…... Another day in paradise.

(And yes, for my Aussie readers, I deliberately didn’t mention rugby. You really don’t need any further encouragement).

Piers Clark

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