Ridge Grimsey was one of three Stra’an swimmers — the others were Eliza Smith and Graeme Brewer — to be hosted by the Noumea Olympique swimming club at the Ile aux Canards (Duck Island) Swim in Noumea on February 23. Here’s how it went…

I was very happy when I heard back from oceanswims.com that the race organisers had planned for Eliza, Graeme and I to race the 20th Duck Island Swim in Noumea. I had never been to New Caledonia, or any country where English was not the number one spoken language, so I was very excited. I knew Graeme from 2006 as my old swimming team used to have a training camp with his team at Noosa every year, so was looking forward to meeting him eight years later! And I had met Eliza briefly at Open Water Swims in Queensland and NSW so knew she was a great surf swimmer.

We left on Thursday, February 20, at 8:30pm. Unfortunately, I can't sleep on planes so was a little sleepy when we landed and got through customs. We were greeted by two very cheerful Erics! Eric Verlaguet is the Olympique club president (whose father, Guy Paul, started the Duck Island Swim 20 years ago: os.c). Straight after introducing himself and fellow Eric (Lucini) to us, he told us he wasn't great at English, which I found very quickly meant he was a lot better at English then I am with my two words of French.

On the way to our accommodation at Le Nouvata Parc Hotel, he gave us a great Tour Guide of New Caledonia and I very quickly wanted to live there! By the time we arrived at our accommodation, it was 1:30am and I probably didn't look too crash hot after a 5am start the previous morning. But as soon as my eyes set on the bed, I was out for a 10 count, best sleep of my life!

The next morning, we had an amazing buffet breakfast at our accommodation before we met a journalist who was writing a newspaper article for the following day’s paper. He also started with saying he wasn't very good at English and soon I realised that everyone over here was all too modest.

new caledonia duck island australians 2014Trois Amis: (l-r) Graeme Brewer, Eliza Smith, and Ridge Grimsey.

After Eliza, Graeme and I had told our life stories to the journalist, Cyril arrived! Joyful is an understatement: this guy would make anybody smile. Cyril also is from the Olympique club and was the race announcer on Sunday. He showed us around some more and we took some pictures with the beach in the background, which puts the Gold Coast to shame!

Later in the afternoon, after a big day of stand up paddle boarding we went to the pool to meet the junior squad and go for a swim. Even though I understood nothing that the kids were saying, it was great to see how much they loved swimming!

After our swim, we met Peter Williams who was the man who planned the whole trip via email a few weeks out from the event. Peter and his wife, Andrea, were amazing hosts. We had dinner at our hotel that night with a few people from the club including Eric, Peter and Andrea. We were treated like royalty. The hotel we ate at served well beyond 5 star food!

The next morning, it was much easier to wake after a full night of sleep and we had planned to go to the markets with Peter and Andrea. So after another buffet breakfast, with the best Chocolate Danishes I've ever eaten, we spent the morning at the markets.

On the way back, we pulled into a crepe restaurant which Peter recommended strongly. One look at the menu and it wasn't hard to decide where to eat lunch! This menu was what motivated me to go for a midday swim to the island and back to build an appetite. And I wasn't disappointed. First up was the American crepe, a very decent size beef burger on a crepe, followed by a classic athlete’s dessert: a delightful caramel syrup crepe with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream! To add to the great food was an absolutely incredible view of another bay in Noumea. Then to top it off, water spraying out the roof to cool us off. Definitely 10 out of 10!

Earlier in the day, Peter had spoken to a radio station who asked to interview us in the afternoon, so we headed to the radio station straight after lunch. Luckily, we had a great translator (Andrea) who was put on the spot as she had to remember large bulks of our replies then repeat them in French. It was very cool doing a radio interview and yet not understanding a word.

At this time, we had attempted to read the newsaper article about us before giving up and asking Andrea, who showed much patience as she gave us the English version!

After the radio interview, Andrea was kind enough to take us to the zoo where amongst many other amazing animals, we got to see the Kagu which is found only in New Caledonia. We also learnt a great amount of New Caledonian history on our way through the park. It was a big day and we got so much done, and I think there were only two things Graeme, Eliza and I were thinking: food and bed! We ate at the hotel again, but this time I went for the carbo load ahead of race day. Two big pasta plates and a bowl of chips later I was ready for a good sleep.

Race Day!!! What was only 54 hours in New Caledonia had felt much longer as we had seen so much. And it was time for a little feed then to the start of the race! It was great to see so many people getting ready for such a well-run annual event. The water looked beautiful and it was overcast, which I love when I race as the sun doesn’t blind you. Eric (Verlaguet) was there over the loud speaker so energetically saying a million words a minute in French and the crowd looked very eager to jump in and swim.

At this stage I felt quite nervous as I looked in the wave of athletes starting seven minutes before us. There were some very fit people. I remember saying to Eliza, “Let’s hope they can't actually swim!” But I had to swallow my words very quickly as we saw them fly into the water and to the first buoy which looked about 500m offshore. Then the triathletes went and we knew we had another two minutes before our start.

It was looking impossible as that first wave got closer and closer to Duck Island, but I love a challenge and was very keen to try to chase them down. Next time I will make sure to learn my numbers because, at the start, they counted down from 6 which made it quite hard to know when to go, so I simply went when the person next to me went!

Much like a last leg of the relay when you have so much adrenaline and a big gap to close, I was a little silly and went as hard as I could for as long as I could. I was feeling very good till about 500m, then started tiring as I went around the two boats near moored near Duck Island. I knew at this stage I had probably closed a great deal of the gap but I was very tired from my early pace and could feel my legs were not working too well. So let’s just say that that last 1km was very hard!

new-caledonia grimsey ridge duck island swim 2014

I kept passing people every few seconds till about 500m to go when I looked up and saw no one in the distance. It was at this stage that I thought, I am either at the front or there are one or two breakaways. The fact that I could not see anyone meant they were at least 200m in front, and with less then 500m to go I didn't like my chances. However, I tried holding my stroke together the best I could, then put in a last sprint at the end.

When I finished, I still had no idea whether I had won as I have no clue of French, but there was Andrea to tell me that “Thomo” had come in a few minutes ago! A little bit of disappointment that I couldn't get closer to the winner (Thomas), but at the same time I was happy that I had the overall fastest time ahead of the fins category. It was also great to see Eliza finish 5th overall and 1st Female. Then Graeme did very well also to place 4th in the whole of the licensed swimmers wave. It was a great result on the whole.

Straight after the race we were again treated like royalty as we were pulled over for multiple interviews and, my favourite part, every swimmer received a coke and kit kat for finishing!!

After presentation, which was done brilliantly with many laughs by, Cyril, we quickly packed and went to Peter's house for lunch before our flight back home. Lunch was amazing. Peter was nice enough to make a chicken dish, as I don't eat seafood, and I think I could have eaten that chicken pasta all day. Such a nice way to finish the trip. Peter's house is beautiful, right up the top of a mountain with stunning vast views of Noumea and the ocean!

Then to the airport for the short two-hour flight back home to reality.

Ridge Grimsey

Results... click here

Thanks, too, to Stephanie and Julian ("Jephanie") Lymburner for their pics of the event and of their hols in New Caledonia.

20th Duck Island Swim - 20ème édition de la traversée Anse-Vata / Ilot Canard

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