2 Islands, 4km open sea, 1 epic swim
This March, hundreds of people will take part in the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim, one of the world’s most wonderful open-water events. Why not join in?
Cyclist, triathlete, windsurfer, former Veterans Downhill Champion of the Caribbean, Ironman, event organiser, referee and one-man ambassador for St Kitts & Nevis, Winston Crooke is not a man to sit still. An accomplished athlete himself, he has spent the best part of two decades putting his tiny island nation on the world sporting map.
As well as establishing the Nevis Triathlon as one of the region’s best, now attracting athletes from overseas as well as encouraging locals to take up the sport, Winston is also responsible for one of the Caribbean’s most iconic events: the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim. This challenging splash across the Narrows between the two islands is now one of the highlights on the local calendar.
“It has been an exhilarating ride,” says Winston. “As I have engaged in so-called fringe sports, I have won many medals. But I have also led many young people into these wonderful sports. I have developed events for the benefit of the people of Nevis, and tried my best to represent my country as positively as possible.”
We caught up with Winston to find out about the swim – and how you can take part…
Q What is the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim?
It’s an open-water swim across the Narrows, starting from Oualie Beach on Nevis at 8am and finishing at Cockleshell Beach on St Kitts – a distance of 4km (2.5 miles). The swim is open to experienced swimmers and adventurers alike. Participants in the racing category can use only standard swim equipment, but others can use swim aids such as masks, snorkels, wetsuits and fins. In 2017 we had 226 participants.
Q When did it start?
It began 16 years ago; 2018 will be the 17th edition. I started this swim to celebrate the life of one of our early cycle and triathlon club members, Bente Weber, who was sadly taken from us by cancer. I wanted to honour her contribution, so I thought of running this swim. The first year we had just 35 swimmers, including myself. Although the event has since developed, the spirit remains, giving young and old, expert and novice, the chance to take on this amazing challenge. I know Bente would be proud.
In 2017, the 16th Cross Channel swim broke all kinds of records. We had five Olympians competing, along with an age-group world champion Ironman, arguably the most decorated swimmer in the world, plus multiple high-profile triathletes and US masters swimming champs. The course record was broken by more than four minutes. We also included Special Olympics athletes again, this time in a relay format – the first time anywhere in the world. A very special year indeed.
Q Can anyone have a go?
We have a very broad range of participants, from Olympic athletes to kids and octogenarians, experienced swimmers and first-timers. But all share a sense of adventure and want to challenge themselves.
Q How hard is it?
It’s definitely a challenge, mainly because it crosses open water and is subject to varying conditions. But if you’re prepared to train, most people can do it. We’ve had participants ranging from eight years old to 80!
Q What’s the fastest time ever recorded?
The record was set in 2017 by Olympian Ashley Whitney – 55 minutes and 28 seconds. The slower swimmers generally take between two and 2.5 hours.
Q What have been some of the most memorable moments in past races?
One year I witnessed a mid-ocean spat between a couple who decided this was an ideal place to have a very verbal argument! It only ended because I threatened to have the coastguard pull both of them out of the water. It was also very memorable to see the Special Olympic athletes race in a relay format, with the Olympians partnered or supported by their teams as they made the crossing. Simply amazing.
Q What one piece of advice do you give to competitors?
If you look up and don’t see land, STOP SWIMMING!
Q Is it safe?
It is as safe as I can make it. I am very serious about this, which is why I no longer swim myself. We have kayaks, boats, jet skis, dinghies and the coastguard in support, and I take the main boat to coordinate and make sure everyone is accounted for. This year all the swimmers were given bright orange buoys to make them more visible.
Q How much training do competitors need to do beforehand?
This depends on their goals, but normally three to four months out they should be adding distance to their regular swims. If they can do some open-water practice beforehand that’s really advantageous. A key element is learning to breathe on both sides as conditions can vary so much, and waves can be an issue.
Q Is swimming growing in popularity in the Caribbean?
I like to think that this event showcases open-water swimming in our region, and this particular discipline is growing in popularity globally, so I use it to promote our islands via sport tourism. Surprisingly, swimming is not as popular as it should be in the Caribbean. Many Caribbean people cannot swim and are afraid of the ocean, but we are trying to change this.
Q What are the benefits of swimming?
Swimming is a superb exercise for all, but particularly important for our youngsters, as it is the one sport that can actually save your life. I like the discipline that is required to master swimming, and believe it can influence the direction a person takes in their life.
Q If people don’t want to do the swim, can they still come to the event?
Yes! It’s great to watch at the start and the finish, and we are trying to enhance the overall experience for non-swimmers by having viewing boats following the racers across. And the finish line activities are a huge part of the fun!
Need to know
The 2018 Cross Channel Swim is on 25 March. The event starts from Oualie Beach on Nevis at 8am; participants cross the Narrows to finish at Cockleshell Beach on St Kitts. www.nevistostkittscrosschannelswim.com