2018 - Crossing the Gulf of Toroneos

… It is not a contest but a celebration!
For this reason, this race must be viewed differently from a classic competition. At the end of this race all the competitors receive the same prizes and congratulations without any discrimination, there are no important cash or material prizes, all the competitors are presented and applauded on stage.
The whole festival lasts a few days and everything is prepared by the Nikiti authorities with the support of the local community and local or even international sponsors. The party starts on Wednesday with all kinds of cultural activities, ancient Greek music and folk music. On Thursday night I even caught a choir of about 20 ladies between 60 and 70 years old dressed all very beautifully and who sang divinely!
On Friday morning there was also a 1500m race for children between 12 and 16 years old, a race won by Tudor, a boy we will definitely hear about again! Tudor trains at Izvorani, swims very nicely and had a considerable lead over the 2nd place.

Back to the "big" race.

How did I find out about the race:
Around the summer of 2017, Bogdan and I kept looking for interesting endurance swimming races. And since there aren't too many, it wasn't too hard for us to decide. I am looking for something close by that can be combined with a vacation. A holiday where I can also train for triathlon, but if I can do some diving (a lot, right?!?). Bogdan had his eyes on Lago d’Orta and said to me… “see if there is one in Greece. You cross a bay… ”. When I found out he was near the house, I needed it.
On the internet you will find very little information about this race. It was very difficult for me to get in touch with the organizers of the event. The actual registration lasts several months. Not being a classic contest, the organizing committee is made up of ordinary people with normal jobs who work as volunteers and the poor also answer when they can and within the limits of the information they have.

Some technical data about the race: The race takes place in the Gulf of Toroneos between the towns of Kallithea and Nikiti in the Aegean Sea (between the Kassandra and Sithonia branches of the Halkidiki Peninsula). Having already had several active holidays in this area, I know the place quite well and I already have Greek friends who helped me with the organization. The distance between start and finish measured on google maps is 26.2km. In the water things are a little different. Depending on the weather conditions and the skill of the captain as far as the support boat leads you, you can reach 36km (it happened in 2017). The number of competitors is limited to 20 swimmers. This year there were 21. Each swimmer is assigned a boat (usually fishing) that will accompany him throughout the race and that will be able to transport 1-2 supporters to help you with "Nutrition" (I have fun every time I mention nutrition. It's a very important term for Zurbagiu 😊))
Registration: After the first discussions with the organizing committee, I was informed on the steps to be followed in order to register. It's simple. Send an email with information about your history as a swimmer to prove that you have done a race of at least 5km in open water. Let's say it's a CV that will be presented to the public when you are presented on stage. The registration fee is 150e paid the day before the competition when the technical session is held. A medical certificate, preferably in English, will also be required for registration. I took the model from Lago d’Orta and it was ok.
Technical meeting: The technical meeting is held one day before the competition in a meeting room of the town hall. It presents the technical data, the final list of participants, the times and places of departure. In fact, it is a great place where everyone kisses everyone and enjoys seeing old friends again. 3 doctors from a medical university in Thessaloniki also came to this meeting. A university professor with two doctoral students (I suppose). With our consent and for didactic purposes, they did various tests for us and took blood samples before and after the race. Honestly, I really wanted such a study, so they were right! The departure time was set at 5 in the morning in front of the hotel and at 5:30 in the marina. The transport to Kalithea is done by a mini-bus and takes about an hour. In Kalithea breakfast is served from 7 and at 8 the race starts. After the technical session we all went to a restaurant where we had a dinner given by the organizers. A kind of pasta party. After dinner we went to the stage where we were invited one by one on stage and were introduced to the audience. I was I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot of Romanian supporters in public who came to congratulate me at the end of the race. This whole thing ends around 11pm!
The night before the race: Of course I didn't have my luggage ready, so it took me another hour to pack. I trained Petrisor how to prepare and feed me and how to work with the photo / video equipment. We managed to get into bed after 12 o'clock and wake up at 4 in the morning! The sleep was severe and I managed to sleep only about 2 hours. We woke up at 4 and around 4:50 we headed for the bus. And since I'm a bad ass, I usually grabbed the heaviest bag with my right hand, so in the 200m to the bus I managed to get a little injured in my right hand. And I hadn't swum a meter yet 😊). The bus was clearly too small for the number of participants and attendants so some stood. We were lucky to start at the end of the line and take place. As crowded as I was, I sat in the chair and managed to sleep almost all the way. When I got to the starting point I was somehow dizzy from sleep. I managed to go to the toilet, washed my face and recovered. I couldn't eat there anymore but I had already eaten 3 croissants at the hotel. Unfortunately I had planned to eat a chocolate before the start but I completely forgot.
The race: Arriving on the beach, I started to warm up for swimming, I prepared my equipment and I anointed myself well with sunscreen, which I applied with a lot of lanolin. Unfortunately, I forgot to apply sunscreen on my lips, even though I had everything I needed. There would be no contact anyway 😊 At 8 o'clock the race started. Everyone left strong and as usual I was the last. My plan was to go at 2:30 and I didn't want to go after the others just for the sake of not being the last. On shorter distances I shoot harder but at 26km to make sure I finish the race on my feet I decided that 2:30 is exactly what I need. I estimated that I would finish between 8 and 12 hours depending on the water conditions. Mark Miller (NASA man) one of the participants told me that he estimates that he will do between 7 and 11 hours, which confirmed to me that I estimated the crossing correctly. You know how to get in the water but you don't know what happens along the way. And it happened 😊. When it started, the water was lake!
After a few hundred meters I came across the boat. Petrisor had arrived safely with all his luggage on the fishing boat and was already concerned with "nutrition". I had already decided that I would eat every hour, so Petrisor was waiting for me with the can ready. The bottle contained 2 gels from SIS, a dissolved Canah bar and a boost from Isostar + water up to 500ml. By the way, I didn't get to read but Petrisor says that on the gels from SIS it is clearly written that you can't consume more than 5 a day, so my plan was stupid anyway 😊. At the first stop I found that I could not swallow anything solid even though I dissolved the bars from Canah. I just couldn't swallow 2-3mm particles. I told Petrisor to change the recipe, reduce the amount of water and remove the bars from Canah. At the next feeding I gave up this combination and I took 2 gels directly from their packaging + 100ml of cola. This combination worked very well until around 3 o'clock when the water changed completely!

Because I felt my right arm, because of the morning luggage, I tried to pull better with my left hand and handle my right arm as much as I could. It worked but over time I got more tired on my left arm.
At 3 o'clock the nightmare began. I had passed the middle of the race, the water was perfect and suddenly some small waves started. After another 30 minutes I was in a washing machine both literally and figuratively!
The waves coming from the south had an irregular shape with a very dubious frequency. Petrisor told me that 4-5 big waves usually came, followed by a series of small waves.

They were not in the same direction and sometimes broke between them. Sometimes when I was between the waves I could only see the roof of the boat! There was no storm or tsunami but it was a very choppy water for swimming. The filming shows how there was a little silence between the waves, after which the waves came again completely randomly. The height of the waves varied between 1m and 1.5 m so they were not too big but due to the shape and the frequency and direction of my advance the whole thing had become a survival race in the most serious way. Several times I had the impression that the boat would capsize. On the boat, Petrisor had already packed everything and secured his luggage, the boatman's dog got into a corner and the boat drifted further north. Because we were advancing very hard, the boat drifted far to the north. At one point I went to the port side of the ship in the hope that the water is calmer and I will be protected by the boat. The crew did not agree with me and they took me out to starboard again on the grounds that the boatman could not see me too well on the window. The biggest problem for me had become the boat. For the simple reason that due to the distance and the turbulent water I had no chance of rescue in case of an unfortunate event. I was heading south because I was already noticing my coastal landmarks but my boat was heading north. I couldn't get close to the boat, but neither did the boat follow me as I thought would be normal. After all, the boat has engine, rudder and buoyancy. In vain did I shout at them that they did not understand what I wanted to do anyway. From this point on, my support had become a problem! When I was sick from the waves (I felt like throwing up because of the seasickness) I shouted at Petrisor to prepare a lifebuoy that the job had become critical. All he understood was that he had to be prepared (this preparation meant that he was looking at me hanging from a bar, without a lifebuoy without a vest ready). I was dying there. That instead of putting on a life jacket and sitting with the coil in his hand, he says to me… "come on, don't complain anymore". Their boat swayed on all sides, risking capsizing. Who else could save me when they couldn't save themselves?!? I was already dead in the washing machine!
On the shore, Petrisor tells me that he would have jumped into the water if I had suffered something 😃. Funny. The boat was 20-30m from me, the coil was not ready, he had not even seen the life jacket, and he was swimming a kind of Moldovan crawl. He died until he reached me 😊. Many times I was completely covered by the wave. My hands and feet went in all directions and my torso contorted as the water wanted. My great luck… My great luck in all this madness were the years of yoga practice and diving classes and experience. Dozens of dives and diving safaris in Egypt have hardened me when it comes to choppy waters. It was about 5km to the shore but the direction was totally wrong. It didn't matter anyway. When I saw the entrance to the marina, I said that I would get out of the water and walk to the finish. I thought it would disqualify me, but in the end it's about crossing the gulf, not a fitness competition where I have to cross an established finish line. The one with the boat was still in my way and in the end I said to give it to the dam where the finish was because I already had less than a kilometer to get there. When you swim many kilometers, you don't get to the last kilometer anyway 😊 And not to say that I crossed the bay without taking a sip of water, one comes out of the marina with a power boat, it makes a big wave that comes straight into my mouth when I was inspired. So I can't brag that I didn't take water in this race. I shot a few more minutes and I reached the dam but there I did not want to go directly parallel to the dam because I knew that the water is deeper and the waves break. A few meters from the shore I was greeted with a wreath of olive branches. Here I was reborn! I cursed Petrisor and the boatman once more and started greeting the volunteers. Maki, he took me in his arms and I went to the stage where I said a few words and then I went down to the doctors' tent for a check. Getting out of the water and walking there was smooth. I didn't feel weak, I didn't lose my balance, I was lucid all the time… in short I still wanted to dance but it wasn't the right music. The girls were plentiful 😊. I was hungry but first I went for a medical check-up.

I talked to the medical team, they took my blood pressure again, weighed me, took my blood and checked the elasticity of my arteries again with a special device. At the departure we had a slightly higher tension 13 by 9 as we say in the people. In the end I had 11 by 7 and the doctor said it was absolutely normal. The arteries looked according to the age charts, which is good.
After about 20 minutes I finished with the doctors, I was hungry for a wolf and honestly I would have done something to a volunteer there 😃.
Because it was already late, I didn't go to the hotel and I was waiting for the awards ceremony there. I tried to drink the two liters of Isostar that I had in my bag but it didn't fit more than a liter. I ate almost a whole chocolate, I took pictures with people and I drank about 500ml of water.
Meanwhile, the last competitor was out of the water. A super cute boy who was now literally destroyed. The volunteers carried him on their backs! I was shocked to see that a man in this physical condition managed to finish the race.

The award ceremony took place at 9:30. They invited us all in order in order to get out of the water and on this occasion I found out that I am on the 20th place (initially I thought I was on the 19th… but anyway I didn't like how it sounds 19. How it sounds 20 and how it sounds 19 😊 ) The good part was that the one who handed me the cup was the president of a miscellaneous organization. To see the coincidence 😃. Aaaaa… and again I gave a small speech on stage 😃. The group photos, the discussions and the congratulations with the rest of the competitors and with the organizers followed, I also met the priest that something was on my mind and I went to the table. On the way to the restaurant I was greeted and congratulated again by our compatriots (nice people). At the restaurant we met Tudor's father who introduced us to a friend who wanted to meet us and who honored us with a very good wine! (thanks guys!) … And that was the race 😊

After ther race: Well, it was good. I had some pain in my left arm, but because I went through it before, I knew how to save it and in two days I was recovered. 3 days later I could swim like before the competition.
I couldn't eat much after the race or in the next few days. I had a very irritated tongue and mouth from the salt water. Fortunately, his nose was not badly affected by the salt water. If you end up in this situation, it is good to use honey to heal faster. I didn't do that and I struggled with eating until it healed on its own.
The first night I slept enough but I couldn't say I was sleep deprived. When I first swam 20km the next day I slept until 11😊 . In the following days I tried to sleep a little more than 6 hours as I am used to but it didn't work out for me because of the trip on Tuesday night to Thessaloniki (a boy with special needs just bought something from a store and we carat us too 😊 ).
Some technical data about the race:
- Theoretically the race would be about 26.2km. I estimated that I did about 30km because of the drift and the place where we approached the shore.
- The total time was 12:11 'according to the organizers. I'd say 12:12 'I like the way it sounds 
- I consumed 14 gels from SIS, 5 boosts from Isostar and about a liter of cola all the way
- The Garmin stopped twice and I didn't bother to start it because the waves had already started and I had other priorities 😊 . Fuck Garmin! (garmin 935xt to make him laugh until the end). So I only have a piece of track but I know for sure where I went depending on the coastal reliefs (my skipper friends will appreciate the expression 😛 )
- The registration cost is 150e which includes the 3 nights accommodation at a hotel that costs 80e / night. Basically, the organizer comes with money from home. The boat costs another 300e for each participant! Once again bows to the organizers!
In conclusion, crossing the Toroneos Bay can be a pleasure, a torment or a struggle for survival depending on the weather. Many people can swim 30km but I still don't know one who overcame nature. In 2017, only 13 people finished the race, the rest being taken out of the water because the situation had become extremely dangerous. And don't imagine that some suckers are coming to this race 😊 . So the expression "swim or die" is as correct as possible.
I do not recommend this race in any form to one who has not swum at least 20km in open water and is not used to the rough sea that can end badly! I mean, you can try, but you have to have a very well-prepared crew and possibly have your own boat that knows what to do in an emergency. Greek fishermen are not saviors at sea! They are very good people, very nice but they are not ready to be rescuers when the situation reaches its limit. And we know what the limits of athletes are: never stop… let's keep going… don't give up other encouraging things that lead directly to death. Encouragement is good but there must always be someone with a fine eye who can see when the limit has been exceeded!
If someone wants to enroll in the coming years, I will be happy to help. I have all the data of the organizers and I think I understood how the organization of this event works. I know the area quite well already.
Maybe in the future I will even come as a support for a swimmer. I also have a boat permit and we can rent a boat… etc.
In the end I want to thank once again Petrisor for the support and support (it is not the poor man's fault that he is not ready to be a savior at sea), Bogdan Zurbagiu who encouraged and educated me all the time and without whom I would have been a fat man who does not swim more than 25m (now I am a fat man who swims a little more), friends who encouraged me all the time!
Thanks also to Nikos from Shark Fin diving centre. An extraordinary man! If you are going to Sithonia on holiday and you want to go diving as a beginner, I highly recommend it.
Thanks and all my good thoughts to the organizers who were great! There are some people with a big heart who make the history of crossing the Toroneos continuous!
… To say that see you at the next edition?!? 😊 . Very possible.

Some things I forgot to mention and that should be known: - Lanolin lasted on the skin for about 5 hours after which I had to go back to the areas where I was rubbing. Under the arm and on the neck. because I had the amethyst tied around my neck, his thread started to bite me quite badly. In salt water any wound stings badly 🙂. I did the last 2 hours with pretty nasty stings but those were no longer my priority. - My swimming experience is not advanced. I tied the first hundred meters in the pool at the end of 2016 and in March 2017 I did the first kilometer. After Ocean Lava from Mamaia in 2017, I started to do long distances and I increased from 1 to 5km and then to 10km. In 2017 I did many 10km laps and in 2018 I was already doing longer distances. I swam in lakes and the sea even in weather or stress conditions (when you are at sea with a beginner friend and he can't do it anymore but you are 500m from the shore and the storm is coming, you kind of think…). My mother lost another boy and I wouldn't want to hear on the news that I'm not getting home. Bad ass… bad ass, but responsible. I specify all this to make everyone understand that a crossing like this is a very serious thing and to think very well about everything that involves such a thing when I decide to do it. I did not know or imagine certain things that are actually vital! The selection of participants is done by the organizers quite briefly. People are in good faith and expect us to be responsible and knowledgeable when we sign up. - The water temperature was relatively constant with small variations. 24-27 degrees (at least that's how Garmin managed to measure)