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A Shot at the Derwent

The Derwent River ‘Big Swim’ wasn’t really on my radar.

I knew Val Kalmikovs was running a new support service with his boat ‘Meow’ but the thought of an early start into a long river swim ending at Hobart didn’t have the same appeal as some of the more well-known world ocean swims.

Unfortunately I was behind on my training thanks to a bout of Covid, and had a Molokai Channel Swim attempt looming large.

I needed another hard swim and the team at Ultra 24, a new swim in Melbourne, suggested I call Val to see if he could fit me in. Generous as always, Val delayed his trip home to give me a shot at the Derwent, and so it was on.

An early start in the dark, Val took me to the start line and I slipped into the river. It wasn’t as cold as it usually is (a blessing!) and I settled into my routine.

A slap on the face from a passing fish followed by my high-pitched squeal got Val’s attention, and a note from him that I was lucky he didn’t catch that little bit of cowardice on film.

As the sun rose I could make out the beautiful landscape on both sides of the river and with virtually no wind, found myself in a meditational rhythm. The fresh water was slightly harder work than the usual salt, but as we closed in on Hobart it became more brackish – a sure sign we were getting to the end.

Val religiously captured my stroke count, organised all my feeds perfectly, and knew what to say and when, as only a highly-experienced swimmer and pilot can do.

I felt safe and in control the entire swim, and when we passed under the Tasman Bridge to close it out, Val was ready with all the right protocols to make sure I was in decent shape and healthy.

Like many of the world’s great swims, this one brings something unique – clean fresh water, no jellyfish (!), less prospect of being eaten (I’m not even sure that’s true, but that’s what I thought), the beauty of scenery throughout, and a finish line that gets you to the pub in quick time.

Val and his team were superb and I couldn’t recommend them, and him, more highly.

– Words by Mark Sowerby

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