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The Drifters celebrate their relay swim around Hong Kong Island. Photo: Maxime Vanhol

Swimming around Hong Kong Island: first relay team complete 45km swim in record time

  • The Drifters complete their latest challenge after the English Channel, the Bosphorus swim, Rottnest Island and Enduroman

The first swimming relay to make its way around Hong Kong Island completed the 45-kilometre swim in 12 hours, two minutes and 55 seconds.

The time eclipses any around the Island swim before them, which until now has only been done solo. It is not only a course record, but a world record pending ratification from the Marathon Swimming Federation (MSF).

The five men call themselves The Drifters and set themselves a swimming challenge each year.

“The weather and windy conditions were much worse than anything of the previous swims,” Hong Kong-based Tom Butlin said. “It was extremely difficult to get into a rhythm or your normal breathing pattern. You just don’t know when you’re next going to be hit by a big wave.”

(From left) Nick Miller, Ram Krishnan, Andrew Young, Ben Butlin and Tom Butlin after finishing their around the Island swim. Photo: Maxime Vanhol

The other four members, Ben Butlin, Nick Miller, Andrew Young and Ram Krishnan, flew in from the USA, the UK and Australia for the swim. Their sixth member, Mark Shmulik, missed his flight.

“Once we rounded the cape at Chai Wan we rallied,” Butlin said. “That is when we made up our time.”

The group originally planned to swim for an hour each, but seeing the conditions decided to swap to 15-minute stints. To make the time official under MSF rules, once a relay has decided on a shift pattern they have to stick to the times from the start to the end.

“It was a really good way of doing it considering the waves,” Butlin said. “You could get a rest, a feed and then get back into the water after an hour.”

The swimmers fight with swells to make their way around Hong Kong. Photo: Shu Pu

The Drifters’ first swim was across the English Channel, and they have since completed the Bosphorus, around Rottnest Island in Western Australia and Enduroman, which is a run, swim and cycle from London to Paris.

“Once we had completed the English Channel and recovered we said we need to do an event once a year no matter where we are in the world,” Butlin said. “It was the most silent boat ride of my life [back across the Channel]. It took about a month before we decided to do another swim.”

Under MSF rules, swimmers have to stick to their shift pattern and tap hands to change over. Photo: Shu Pu

Shu Pu helped organise the swim, known as HK360, and hopes it could become an annual event like the swim around Manhattan in New York.

“The swim was really well organised,” Butlin said. “Everything went off within a couple of minutes of the plan.”

Shu already helped Simon Holliday and Edie Hu swim solo around the Island, but even the individual events took a lot of effort to convince the government of its merits.

“They even suggested we miss the Harbour, just got out the water and drove then got back in, which sort of missed the point,” she said.

The Drifters were raising money for Splash. The charity teaches domestic helpers how to swim. The charity believes swimming can empower domestic helpers by giving them a healthy outlet and community to gather around.

Libby Alexander, co-founder and managing director of Splash, said: “The community means a lot to Hong Kong and gives a lot to Hong Kong families.”

The Drifters are already planning their next swim and are eyeing Gibraltar to Morocco.

“Every one is different depending on conditions,” Butlin said.

You can donate to The Drifter’s charity efforts for Splash here.