New World Harbour Race hits its stride on new route for second time
- After a swimmer died during the 2016 edition of the race, organisers went through a full review
- A route change in 2017 seems to have reinvigorated the race
New World Harbour Race organisers seem to have all the kinks worked out on the competition’s new route. The 2018 iteration drew positive reviews once again from swimmers, the second consecutive time the race has been held at its original route.
The government gave organisers the green light in 2017 after lower E coli readings to move the route back to Tsim Sha Tsui Public Pier south to the Wan Chai Golden Bauhinia Square Public Pier. Previously the race had been held from Sam Ka Tsuen pier in Lei Yue Mun, Kowloon, ending at the Quarry Bay Park, however it was marred by controversy in 2016 when a man died while competing. The incident prompted a full review of the competition which included a number of changes including multiple measures to ease congestion. Approximately 3,600 racers completed the swim Sunday (October 21) in relatively mild conditions which included light wind and overcast skies.
First held in 1906, the event went on for 70 years before a break, and was revived in 2011. Competitors and leisure swimmers made the 1,000 metre trek starting in the morning at 8am guided by boats and kayakers.
For Gillian Castka, who came third in the over 50s category, the swim is a way to continue staying active. She was one of the top marathon runners in the UK in the 1980s and has had impressive performances in the Hong Kong marathon, but has switched to swimming to protect her knees.
“I’m over 60,” she said. “When I was over 50 I had muscles, I had legs, I had hormones! But now, my legs are scrawny.”
Andrea Wright was taking part in the same category, and although she reached the podium she was pipped to the post.
“I got out-sprinted at the end,” Wright said. “It was choppy so when we sight we have to make sure we sight properly. I did get taken a little off course which probably helped my competitor.”
She added that she took up swimming in Hong Kong four years ago, but recently Typhoon Mangkhut has meant there is a lot of rubbish in the water.
At the other end of the category spectrum were two teenagers. George Chan Tsz-chui, from Diocesan school, and Leung Ka-ching of Hong Kong University Graduate Association College secondary school, both reached the podium.
“I only swim in open water once or twice a year,” Tsz-Chui said. “I swam in here last year. Maybe I’ll do more. I feel good in open-water swimming.”
Ka-ching said: “It was better than all my expectations. This is my first year, I did not expect this great result. I train five days a week. It was very difficult with waves and currents.”
Other participants were taking the event less seriously and were not aiming for the podium, like Matt Kelsey, who was visiting from Shenzhen.
“In Hong Kong it is very easy to stay active,” he said, adding this was his third year in the event. “Whenever I get the chance I try and come down and do something.”
Tim Knaup has swum it four times: “How many people get to swim across Hong Kong harbour? But the current was stronger than the last few years. It drains your energy quicker, especially when you don’t train in open water like me.”
Mei Hua Yi simply declared: “I enjoyed it. It was very fun because I love swimming.”
Joe Hui, a 45-year-old from Hong Kong, said the biggest difference from the 2016 edition was the path of the racers.
“It was much better with the current this year,” he said. “The current is east to west so they had us starting out swimming against the current when we had energy, and then we headed west after. They didn’t do that last time and it was a lot more tiring.”
Simon Disler, 35, who is originally from the UK, said this year’s swim was a lot more organised than it was two years ago when they last did it.
“It was a fun atmosphere definitely,” he said. Disler completed the race with his partner Charlotte Mau, 31, from Hong Kong, who noted the water’s cleanliness didn’t seem to be an issue either.
“I think I saw maybe one piece of garbage and that was it,” she said. “You’ll never get the chance to swim the harbour like this so it’s quite the event to take part in.”
Disler noted while they started together, Mau had to wait for him on the other side.
“She’s faster than me, that’s for sure.”