Cape Town swimmer who did 108 Robben Island crossings dies

2018-10-18 11:48
Theodore Yach emerges from the water after his epic 30km Ultra Swim from Three Achor Bay, around Robben Island and back in a trip that took approximately 11 hours wearing only a regulation swimsuit, cap and goggles while being totally exposed to the elements. (Stephen Williams, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

Theodore Yach emerges from the water after his epic 30km Ultra Swim from Three Achor Bay, around Robben Island and back in a trip that took approximately 11 hours wearing only a regulation swimsuit, cap and goggles while being totally exposed to the elements. (Stephen Williams, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

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Theodore Yach, the Cape Town businessman who holds the record for swimming between the mainland and Robben Island 108 times, has died.

Friends confirmed that the 60-year-old had died in hospital on Wednesday afternoon, after being admitted with asthmatic complaints.

They described his death as unexpected.

Yach was known for swimming in icy waters without a wetsuit.

The DA described him as "South Africa's most accomplished ultra-cold and open water swimmer".

READ: Swimmer completes 100th Robben Island crossing

Martin Goodman had known Yach for around 10 years and did more than 20 crossings with him, including the first ever 22km swim from Llandudno to Robben Island in 2014.

"He took me under his wing and taught me how to do open [water] swimming. To say he has done a massive amount for me in the pool is an understatement," an emotional Goodman told News24 on Thursday morning.

He described Yach as a private person who he got to know well, spending many hours at the pool together talking about life.

Yach had sent him a cellphone message, saying he might be admitted to hospital overnight because he needed treatment for asthmatic symptoms.

"I responded to him via SMS to say something like: 'Oh well, cool, keep me informed.' The next day at 12:30 [on Thursday], I SMSed him to ask what has happened and the SMS remains unread."

'It is completely unexpected'

Peter Bales, who retired earlier this year after 48 years as chairperson of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, told News24 that they were all in shock.

He said he had known Yach for decades.

"I know that he was extremely fit and was contemplating other swims. It is completely unexpected," he said.

Bales said he admired Yach's consistency in swimming.

"He managed to do 108 crossings. Most people do a few and then give up, or do one here and there... I am sure he would have kept going up until [old] age."

He expressed his condolences to Yach's loved ones, including his wife and sons.

In 2015, Yach shared how his swimming journey had started in his 20s, on the back of a provincial swimming and water polo career.

After finishing his studies, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, who had already completed a few Robben Island swims.

He had raised millions of rand for charities by 2015 and said he hoped to be tackling the ocean for a long time to come.

In 2016, he completed his 100th Robben Island crossing, with Bales part of his boat crew.

Bales had also been part of his crew in 1981 for his maiden voyage to the landmark.

Yach said his 100th swim was a memory he would always treasure.

Call to rename Robben Island swim

Condolences have been pouring in from those who knew him and organisations with which he was linked.

M&C Saatchi CEO Mike Abel said on Twitter that the Robben Island to Cape Town swim should be called the "Theodore Yach Challenge". 

Ricardo Mackenzie, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Cultural Affairs and Sports in the Western Cape legislature, said the DA backed this call.

Besides swimming the English Channel in 1996, Yach's other achievements were receiving the Mayor's Medal for civic contribution in 2010 and debuting his autobiography in 2012, said Mackenzie.

"In light of Mr Yach's incredibly illustrious career, I will write to the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, and the Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, to consider the possibility of renaming the Robben Island to Cape Town swim after Theodore Yach," he said.

Western Cape premier Helen Zille responded: "I can think of no honour more appropriate than naming this event after Mr Yach."

She said that besides his swimming achievements, Yach was also celebrated for being one of the key strategists and drivers behind the Central City Improvement District, "which helped the city avoid the inner city decay that has affected so many other cities in South Africa and across the world".

"Theodore Yach was an extraordinary man. He was the visionary and the brains behind the City Improvement District and has played a huge role in the transformation of the City," she said.

"To his wife, Michelle, his sons David and Daniel, his mother Estelle and his siblings, we send our deepest condolences and wishes for a long life."

WATCH: Theodore Yach and Martin Goodman swimming with the dolphins from Three Anchor Bay to Robben Island in December 2015:

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