Swimmer in Hall of Fame

2017-12-12 06:00
Fish Hoek resident Hugh Tucker was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame this year.

Fish Hoek resident Hugh Tucker was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame this year.

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A Fish Hoek resident has been awarded an international honour for his career as an open water swimmer.

Hugh Tucker was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame this year.

Tucker attempted to cross the English Channel four times before he succeeded, at the age of 53, in 13 hours, 37 minutes in 2004.

He is also known for making shark cages for False Bay attempts and was instrumental in establishing the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association with fellow open water swimmer Peter Bales.

At 21, Tucker established the 14km record between Robben Island and Woodstock beach of 4 hours, 9 minutes. He has also held the record from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island and from Simon’s Town to Muizenberg.

Tucker started the sport in 1972 after meeting up with Bales.

“He taught me to pilot and got me involved with long-distance swimming. For the first few years it was mainly Peter and I who took the majority of swims to Robben Island,” he says.

He has served as a pilot since the mid-1970s. The role of the pilot is to guide and protect the swimmer from start to finish during a swim. The pilot gives the direction and the swimmer sets the speed, explains Tucker.

“On one of Bales’s swims to Robben Island we encountered a great white shark that glided slowly under him and moved off with no interest in the swimmer,” he says.

Tucker has had a few other close calls during his swims.

“On my successful Channel swim I was nearly run over by a tanker but at the last second it saw my escort boat and altered direction. It was very close as I could hear the propellers. The blue bottles and jelly fish are the worst as too much poison can stop a swim,” he explains.

This happened to fellow open water swimmer Corrie Ebbelaar, who, after swallowing a blue bottle sting on a Muizenberg swim, had to be rushed to hospital.

The highlights of Tucker’s swimming career include completing the English Channel. His first three attempts took place in 1972. He then attempted another failed crossing in 2003.

“Some swims that stand out are Andy Pfaff’s Channel swim, that failed after 21 hours of swimming in very rough water, and the dogleg swim from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island and then on to Blou­berg.

“This was completed the first time by Bales and was a really tough swim as the water was 12°C. The record was only broken about 20 years later,” he says.

“The best long-distance swimmers have very strong and well-prepared minds to suck up the bad times. All swimmers hit the wall in swims over 10 hours. They know that this period of pain is not for too long and learn to swim through it. They also train at least five times a week and cross-train with gym work.”

Tucker still swims three times a week and is planning a long swim for next year.

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