Adventure, people, swimming and solitude
There are so many things to love about our wonderful sport. I genuinely feel that my own open water swimming journey has changed me as a person. I am calmer, more resilient, better – just better. I now coach and spend my days trying to help others to find their own swimming story.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to take part in many marathon swims, but one swim encapsulates everything I love about this sport – Galilee. I often find myself reminiscing about this place and I will definitely be back to swim it again in the future.
Before opening the Swimcube, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and spent a great deal of time travelling internationally. I always tried to combine my business travel with my love of swimming and would seek out the local open water swim communities wherever I could find them. Minutes after posting a message on an Israeli open water Facebook group, my journey had begun.
I had found a group in Israel called SAFSAL who meet at North Cliff beach in Tel Aviv. I am very proud to call these people my friends and have spent many hours swimming with them over the years. A year or so after meeting them, I had a message from Yaron Davidi …”Hey Stu, would you like to swim the Sea of Galilee with us?” This was not an opportunity to miss and the adventure had begun!
The Sea of Galilee, also called lake Tiberias or Kinneret is the lowest freshwater lake on earth - 21km long, 13km wide and is fed by the Jordan river to the North.
I planned a ‘work trip’ around the December dates Yaron had provided and began to look for a suitable hotel. I stayed in Tel Aviv and found a hotel right next to the “Gordon pool’ … A 50-metre sea pool, ideal for training and soaking up the sun. I know how to book the right hotel for a swimmer!
A few days later, I made my way to Tiberias on the shore of Galilee and attempted to get some sleep… I always struggle to sleep the night before a big swim as excitement gets the better of me.
After a restless night’s sleep, I find myself on a power boat with the SAFSAL swimmers making our way to the south shore of the lake. The boat journey was filled with banter and discussion of the likely water temperature. December is the perfect time to swim Galilee as the temperature will be around 16c (perfect Channel training too!)
The plan was for me to swim with a kayaker and one other swimmer as they felt we were faster than the main group. I remember jumping off the boat and feeling like the luckiest man alive. What an honour to swim with these people in this incredible and historic place.
The swim started and we settled into a good steady rhythm despite the conditions being far windier than anticipated. After an hour we stop for our first feed and the problems began. Our kayaker is nowhere to be seen….
The main boat is also nowhere to be seen!
Eventually our kayaker finds us and tells us that he is struggling with the conditions. We swim on and the very same thing happens at the next feed. Our kayaker informs us that he cannot continue with the swim! I started to worry as we could not see the main boat and being stranded on the shore of Galilee in Speedos was not part of my plan.
After much swearing (in Hebrew and English), we decide to swim ‘across’ the lake in an attempt to find the main boat. I mentioned ‘resilience’ earlier and it was needed in abundance at this point of the swim. My brain began to play tricks on me … What would we do if we can’t find the main boat? After some time of panicked swimming, there it is! the main boat and the group of welcoming swimmers!
The feeling of relief washed over us as we joined the main group. For the remainder of the swim, we would swim ahead and circle back to stay with the group.
Eventually the north shore of the lake came into view and the swim ended. I am very proud to have completed this swim. This experience provided the perfect mental training for my channel swim to follow. For me, Open water swimming is about the people. I have made so many friends around the world through this sport of ours. Long may that continue.
I have no idea how far I actually swam that day… But I learned a great deal:
Be ready for anything in a marathon swim – anything can and WILL happen.
Work on the mental side swimming as much as the physical.
Enjoy every moment in the water – we are part of a very special sport.
Lockdown has been a tough time for swimmers and coaches, but our resilience is certainly there. I am around anytime to talk if any of you fancy a chat about swimming.
There is now an official Gaililee swimming federation if you are interested in finding out more about this place and its rich history:
About Stuart Hacker
A passionate swimmer and coach, Stuart was a competitive swimmer in his youth and has conquered some of the world’s most iconic swims including the English Channel solo, Three Man English Channel relay, Lake Windermere solo and Champion of Champions Dover.
Head coach at The Swimcube, Stuart is committed to helping others fulfil their swimming potential.