Simon Griffiths reports on a challenging and scenic swim along Spain’s Costa Brava
Cap de Creus is mainland Spain’s most easterly point and the starting place for Marnaton’s beautiful Cadaqués swim. Heading south from the Cap, before you reach the picturesque natural harbour of Cadaqués, you pass Port Lligat, where Salvador Dalí lived for 50 years. Making the most of his easterly location, Dalí installed a mirror in his bedroom angled so that the rising sun would be reflected into his bed, so he could claim to be the first person in Spain to see the rising sun each day.
The swim follows the rugged Costa Brava coastline. It’s the type of swim that once you’ve raced you will want to repeat more slowly in order to savour the details: the hundreds of fish darting below you, their scales flashing in the sunlight; the rocks with their sea anemones and strange looking plants; the jumbled, twisted rocks that make up the coastline.
The event takes place in mid-September each year, at the tail end of the tourist season. The weather is usually still mild and the water, in the high teens or low 20s, is warm enough for those who want to swim without wetsuits but not too hot for wearing one if that’s your preference. As with most races in Spain, the majority opt for neoprene. As well as the full 6.5km option there are shorter distance swims of 4km and 2.5km. The event is popular, attracting around 1500 swimmers in total with about 600 doing the full distance. This is the maximum number permitted because of pressures more people would put on a protected natural environment. Consequently, the event sells out most years, so apply early if you want a place.
Swimmers are transported in boats from Cadaqués to the start under the lighthouse at Cap de Creus. There is a bag drop at the beach in Cadaqués and you need to leave everything there as nothing is brought back on the boats. This was slightly awkward for non-wetsuit swimmers this year as they had to take the trip in just their togs and some got a little cold before entering the water. Hopefully this will be addressed next year.
For much of the swim you stay close to the cliffs in relatively sheltered water but on a couple of more exposed stretches the wind picked up significantly and the water became a little lumpy – which either adds to the fun or increases the challenge, depending on your perspective.
The route is well-marked with bright yellow buoys and superbly marshalled by plenty of kayakers and other safety craft. Many of the safety team are working lifeboat crew and have experienced rescuing hundreds of migrants whose boats have got into difficulty between Africa and Europe. You feel that you are in good hands. About a kilometre from the end you pass through a narrow and shallow gap between the mainland and an island. Here you are guided by lane ropes and even a yellow line under the water to keep you on the safest path. For the final section through the harbour you need to thread your way between the hundreds of moored boats before finishing on the beach in front of the main square in Cadaqués. There are two feed stations serving gels and drinks at around the 3km and 5km mark along the route. Further snacks and drinks are available at the finish.
The Cadaqués swim is part of a series of Marnaton swims along the Costa Brava, with the others in Barcelona, Begur and St Feliu de Guíxols. Do all four in a year to be in contention for a series prize. As Cadaqués is at the end of the season, this is when the series awards are made, at its famous post-swim party with a live band in the main square. Those familiar with Spain won’t be surprised to learn that this party doesn’t get going until around 1:30 in the morning! Miguel, the organiser, traditionally dons a cap and goggles and ‘swims’ across the crowd from the stage to the bar. If you want an authentic Spanish experience, make sure you attend the party as well as the swim.
Name: eDreams MARNATON Cadaqués by VW California
Water type: Sea
Distances: 6.5km, 4km and 2.5km
Wetsuit policy: optional but need to demonstrate appropriate experience to swim without. Non-wetsuit swimmers identified in results.
Water temperature: 18 to 19 degrees in 2017
Fastest swimmer: Raul Santiago, 1:08:43
Nearest airport: Girona
Find out more: marnatonedreams.com/en/home.html