The Trip of a Lifetime. Swim vacations offer Masters swimmers the opportunity to explore beautiful open water destinations.
“Follow the shoreline for 1 kilometer to the mouth of the bay,” says Borut Strel. co-founder of the swim vacation company Strel Swimming Adventures. “We’ll rendezvous there before we go across.”
Clad from head to toe in neon yellow, Strel stands behind the wheel of his inflatable Zodiac, while we, his 14 paying customers, wait for the all-clear to jump into the beautiful waters of the Adriatic Sea just feet from us.
We’re on what might be best described as a swimmer’s dream vacation: a five-day “swimming holiday” in the Elaphiti Islands, 90 minutes by ferry from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Each morning we set out from our base in the postcard-perfect village of Sipanska-Luka, board our creaky wooden cruiser- a traditional Croatian fishing boat the crew says has been on the water for more than a century- and motor in the cloudless sunshine to the starting point of the day’s first swim.
The trip’s main attraction is the two daily swims, between 2 and 3 kilometers each, along the lavender and evergreen- covered shorelines of the craggy limestone islands.
Air temperatures hold steady in the 80s, and the water is so clear and blue that you can see more than 50 feet down, the islands sloping from their peaks to the inky abyss below. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, whenever we anchor for lunch and tea, I slip over the side of the boat to sneak in another swim.
Strel Swimming Adventures was founded by Strel, a Slovenian, and his father, “Big River Man” Martin Strel, known for swimming the Yangtze, Paraná, Mississippi, Danube and Amazon RIvers. Borut ran logistics for his father’s swims and compared with those Herculean undertakings, guiding a bunch of giddy swimmers around the Adriatic under cloudless skies is a cinch. “No problem,” Strel says, flashing his characteristic grin.
The folks on my trip come from as far away as India and Australia, and range from diehard Masters swimmers to a couple who’d only been swimming a few months. Yet somehow Strel and his guides manage to ensure that we all end up at the same meeting point, where a smiling support crew waits with water and lemonade.
Strel recently led a group of Australian swimmers on an extended 11-day swimming cruise along the Turkish Coast during which time they stroked their way to nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles).
Some swimmers come without much open-water experience at all. One woman on my trip, Susannah, tells me she’d booked her trip specifically to try our ocean swimming in a more controlled environment. Strel and the other guides ensure she feels safe enough to take the plunge. She overseers her nerves quickly and is leading the pack by the last day. I swim alongside her for a while, our strokes in cadence, and when we stop for a break I ask how she feels. She huffs and shoots me a thumbs up. “Amazing,” she says, waving at the coastline, our guide boat bobbing on the horizon. “Just amazing”.
My flight between Chicago and Split, Croatia, cost $882. For less than a long weekend at a Cancún all-inclusive, I experienced the trip of a lifetime.
“When American Masters swimmers find our about these trips, you might get booked up in a hurry”, I tell Strel. “Can you handle this demand?”
He grins, “No problem,” he says.
On our last day, we motor to the windward side of Sipan Island, our home for the past week. Our final swim takes us close to 3 kilometers, around the lighthouse at the tip of the island and back to the beach from which we’d launched on the first day.