Gearing up for the Five Islands

Christina Harris is returning to Samoa next week to defend the Five Islands Challenge title she won in emphatic fashion a year ago this month. 

Swimmers from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and local open water swimmers are all primed for the competition starting next week. The Oceania Gas sponsored Samoa Events Five Islands is a five swim series over four days with a total of 27km of swimming.

Fifty-three year old Harris from Nelson, New Zealand is aiming for a repeat of her open water performance in the inaugural series. Her win then was built around her win in the first return race to Manono Island, a distance of 7.4km. That swim is also the first swim of this year’s event, which is on Wednesday next week.

She will be working very hard toward keeping her crown. Christina is taking no chances, bringing her own kayaker as she did last year, to accompany her in all the swims. Her stern challenge will come from another female swimmer, 34 year old Californian Elizabeth Schlicher.

The two women are very dedicated to their training and should be too fast for the rest of the field including our local open water swimmers. Schlicher is traveling to Samoa to test out the waters in the Five Islands with the view of swimming the Upolu-Savai’i swim next year.  

Christina is a regular visitor to Samoa. She first travelled here in 2013 to celebrate her 50th birthday by swimming the Pacific Open Water Challenge 10km and 5km swims.

That year she also competed in the first Warrior Race in a team. Christina's team won that day. She has been back every year since to compete in other Samoa Events including twice last year for the Five Islands in May and Samoa Swim Series (SSS) in August. She is returning again in August this year for SSS. Like Schlicher, Christina is also planning on contesting the Upolu-Savai’i 22.3km swim sometime in the near future.

The Oceania Gas sponsored competition is proving a popular attraction at this time of year. The swim is featured on the worldwide BBC Travel Show this month for its attractive open water swim racing around Samoa. Island hopping is a great industry attraction in the Greek Islands, and is the reason the BBC show was interested in featuring the Samoa Five Islands this time.

The five swims are Manono Island, Nu’usafe’e, Fanuatapu, Namu’a and Nu’utele in Aleipata. All of the swims are return swims, starting on the mainland and finishing back on the mainland.

The first swim of the Five Islands this year is the 7.4km return swim to Manono Island next Wednesday. That swim starts at the Manono wharf taking a straight line to the nearest tip of the island. That distance is 3.7km, the return swim makes it a 7.4km distance.

Following on the next day, swimmers will then transfer to Aleipata where they will be based for three days for the three swims on the South East coast. The first is the Mutiatele to Fanuatapu Island with the finish at Namu’a Island, a 5km distance swim.

This is the toughest swim of the lot, particularly as it is going head on to the incoming tide. The twin reef merging at Fanuatapu means the water coming over the reef and into the deep lagoon is very slow going for the swimmers. At last year’s event, only two swimmers completed that swim. The rest floundered and finished on Fanuatapu then taking the boat back to the mainland.

The next swim in the afternoon of Thursday is the long 5km swim from Namu’a Island to Lalomanu. Challenging parts is at Cape Tapaga on the tip of Lalomanu where water flow is vicious and will challenge the swimmers. The good thing is the strong current part is a very small part of that swim. All swimmers completed that challenge last year.

The next swim the next morning is another 5km hit out to Nu’usafe’e island in Falealili. That swim starts at Tafatafa Beach and then taking the current flow to Nu’usafe’e where there is a water station for the swimmers before racing back to the mainland at Poutasi.

The final swim on Saturday is the long 6km swim from Sauano village at Fagaloa Tai all the way to Leuaina Resort in Faleapuna past Matautu Island on the tip of Falefa. Swimmers and supporters will stay at Leuaina Resort for the night and for prize giving that evening.

All swims are timed around the tides. It is a tight schedule to keep given the volatile nature of the swell around Upolu at this time of year. Last year, Nu’usafe’e swim did not go ahead for that reason. It was replaced by the reserve swim of the Series around Albatross Island at Saoluafata Bay. Albatross Island is again the reserve swim for this year’s Series.

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