On 27 October, Hong Kong swimmer Mayank Vaid completed his second full circumnavigation of the island. We caught up with him to find out more about this incredible swim.
Outdoor Swimmer: When did you do the swim previously and why did you decide to do it again?
Mayank Vaid: In November 2020, I did this swim as part of a triathlon. The triathlon was called HK360Xtreme and comprised a swim around Hong Kong Island followed by a 215km bike ride and then a 100k run. The swim was rescheduled thrice due to back-to-back typhoons. And then one week before my final swim date, I had the misfortune of cutting my left foot with a barnacle. I ended up with six stitches. However, I was raising money for charity and had already succeeded in raising 90% of the target sum. Additionally, it was the first edition of HK360Xtreme. I didn't want to let anyone down, especially the donors (Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull, Szabotage etc), charity partners (Inspiring HK Sports Foundation and Outward-Bound HK) and the organizer Shu Pu, who had put in so much effort in the run-up to the event. I went ahead and completed the swim and rest of the triathlon but I couldn't give my 100% into the swim. In 2021 I had the chance to train in the pool and get more technique in place. I also worked on speed. I wanted to do this swim properly. That's why I did it again this year.
OS: How did the two swims differ?
MV: Last year the sea was calmer. This year it was very rough. Most of the swim had big swells and chop.
OS: Did you anticipate the conditions would be so bad? Why did you do the swim when you did, rather than wait for better conditions?
MV: This year my original swim date was October 13. That day two typhoons came close to HK and my swim had to be postponed. It’s a lot of work to postpone swims. The organiser applies for the date based on tides and the Marine Department needs to approve the date. Then, the boat, crew, skipper, paddlers etc are hired. And then a typhoon comes along and all plans are out of the window. Shu then gave me October 27 and the next date. She had to get new approvals. The paddlers I had trained with all year could not make it on October 27 so we had to look for a new team. We knew that the sea would not be calm but I had no idea it would be so rough. My only other option was to delay the swim by another two weeks to November 13 but there were relay teams attempting this swim on that day. Further delays meant the water getting much cooler. I am a triathlete and runner and 2-3 degrees Celsius cooler water can work against me on such distances. I didn’t have any more options and had to go on October 27.
OS: Are there any tidal currents around the island that hinder or assist your swimming speed?
MV: Yes, there are. The ebb tide helps the swimmer through the harbour to the easternmost part of Hong Kong Island and then the flood tide pushes the swimmer up the East Lamma Channel and hopefully to the finish. Because there are so many peninsulas and bays in the swim, there are many spots with large back eddies and reverse tides. If the swimmer can time the start well, swim as per prediction and get to the tidal gate on time, the swimmer will be successful.
OS: What was the water temperature?
MV: It was 25 degrees to start but later in the swim it dropped to 22 Celsius.
OS: How do you think the Hong Kong 360 compares to other major marathon swims?
MV: I have swum the English Channel as part of Arch 2 Arc triathlon. It was in a wetsuit. Both swims are very different. Except the cold air and water, both swims challenge the athlete to the extreme. Scenery wise the HK360 is way more entertaining. But with back eddies the swim can be a real challenge. Also, there is much more traffic in the water around HK compared to the English Channel. HK360 is closely monitored by the Marine Police and Marine Department boats that are constantly with the swimmer all the way to make sure the swimmer is safe and is not obstructing larger ships in the shipping channel.