O'Fee: Sore but happy

The original article by Peter Gibbs is posted (with picture) on NelsonMail/stuff since 13:00 25/02/2011

At 7.54am yesterday, Nelson swimmer Andrea O'Fee slipped into the water at Ohau Point, just south of the village of Makara to the west of Wellington. She was heading for the South Island, on a course that was slightly north of due west.

At 3.02pm, she stepped ashore at a beach north of Perano Head in the Marlborough Sounds. It had taken 7 hours, 8 minutes and 16 seconds to cover just on 30 kilometres, following an S-shaped course across Cook Strait.

In the early stages of the swim, a southerly breeze set up a choppy surface and the current carried her south, according to plan.

By 11am she'd covered 12km and the wind had dropped away. At this stage, the sea was glassy and the only unforeseen circumstance was that the tide had turned earlier than expected.

The current that should have carried her to her destination instead carried her several kilometres further north.

She had regular breaks of about 20 seconds every half hour to take on fluids and energy gels, but continued to swim strongly with high elbows and a regular cadence.

At 1.15pm it was obvious that a record was possible, but the seas were rougher, a southerly breeze stirring up whitecaps and she was much further north than planned.

The Brothers Islands provided a buffer from the winds and about 2pm her guide and mentor, multiple Cook Strait swimmer Philip Rush, told her that if she could swim 2.6km in 50 minutes she'd break the record for a woman across the strait.

"By then it had started to get colder," said O'Fee. The water temperature had dropped from 19.5 degrees Celsius earlier on to about 16C.

The cold and the current conspired to head off the record, but it was an elated O'Fee who landed on the lonely South Island beach just after 3pm.

"I'm feeling pretty sore, but so happy," she said last night.

"I was thinking I would be in the water for longer than nine hours."

Today, O'Fee was looking forward to a leisurely 50m in Freyberg Pool in Wellington, followed by a soak in the hot tub and a massage.

"My arms feel terrible," she said. "But I've felt this before after long swims and today's swim makes it all worthwhile."