Sir Bob Harvey recalls his swim across the Dardanelles Strait
This summer, I will do what I have done for the past 63 years. I will put on a Surf Life Saving patrol uniform and once a month sit between the flags on Karekare beach. It's been a long summer for me, nearly my whole life saving people from a watery death. My companion for these years, Stuart Hammond, has just turned 80 and I'm heading that way next year. We trained at the Tepid Baths through the long Auckland winters and, in those early days, our Surf Life Saving costume was a pair of Speedos and a lifesaving cap, nowadays it's a real dressed-up job of shirts and jackets and instant rescues.
I've never feared the sea or the surf and as a descendant of Portuguese whalers I think I have salt water in my veins. I've never feared sharks and Stuart and I swam the Manukau Heads, bronze whalers and white pointers raced under us as we made the first crossing from the south tip to the Whatipu cliffs. It's important you don't fear what lies beneath. I once swam the treacherous strait of the Dardanelles, which links Europe to Asia. It's a daunting swim and I do remember wondering what was beneath.
I was very keen to emulate the remarkable Lord Byron, who had made the swim in May 1862. I read his winter diaries as he warmed up for the attempt. It was the stuff of legends. The strait was greatly feared from ancient times, with its four strong currents and reputation for destroying the Persian fleet. When I got to the beach where he had swum from I found a large new modern town and military guards everywhere and police on high alert. It took many bribes to even get near the wharf for the plunge. It's 4km across and it seemed no one had made the swim in living memory.
Byron was amazing. With a club foot and swimming the Victorian sidestroke, he beat my time by 15 minutes. I did the swim at the same time of year, so we both had a very icy top layer of water from the snow-capped mountains to the North, but a warm current flowing underneath. I finally landed further down the strait than the Master and to my horror found myself in a Turkish army zone! Within minutes of landing on the small beach, I was being held for questions by some very serious armed troops. To be honest, I thought it was over for me, or worse, I was going to be held in a Turkish jail like the American in Midnight Express. But, thanks to a young Turkish fisherman who helped me sort out the bribes in the morning, I was finally released and swam back to his boat waiting for a bullet.
We have remained lifelong friends and a couple of years back my wife Barbara and I visited him and his family. He was delighted to see me again and knowing my love for Turkey, he took us both off to a massive anti-government rally and riot. You have just go with the flow.
I remember one glorious afternoon catching a sizeable wave at Muriwai after a surf carnival with Stuart and my two sons, Fraser and Rupert. We all caught the wave together and as I came down the face of it I looked along and instantly I felt I was with my favourite people all on one wave. It's a memory that stays with me.
I've swum in many stretches of water, across the Thames and across the Waikato River and so the Waitematā Harbour - a warmer, more placid body of water - has always fascinated me because of its rich history around the founding of Auckland.
I'm keen to return to my ancestors' island in the Azores next year and the surf there looks large and challenging. Why not? I think I will keep swimming all my life and I long for summers, endless and hot. It's one of the great pleasures of life. The perfect wave on a summer's day. I'm obsessed with one beach - Karekare - and I've written about its history in my books Rolling Thunder and Untamed Coast, but it's nice to have a change of scene and write the history of the Waitematā with Sea Edge.
Karekare remains my one and only great love. Its rugged wild beauty, boisterous and often dangerous surf is part of who I am. To me, nothing compares.
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Sir Bob Harvey appears at the Going West Writers Festival on Saturday September 7, at Titirangi War Memorial Hall, talking about his new book Sea Edge in conversation with award-winning writer Gregory O'Brien and arts champion Elisabeth Vaneveld.