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Thread: Traversée Dakar-Gorée

  1. #1
    Very Active Member ourswimmer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Oakland, California

    Traversée Dakar-Gorée

    On September 30, I swam in the 31st Annual Traversée Dakar-Gorée. I can’t be the first USMS member ever to have done this event, but I didn’t find any other reports about it on the forums. I had never done a race outside the US before and this experience was quite a thrill.

    The Federation Senegalaise de Natation et Sauvetage, or Senegalese Swimming and Lifesaving Federation, organizes the race. They say that 678 people entered the race this year. Most of the swimmers are local residents.

    The race starts at the Voile d’Or beach, just north of the Port of Dakar. It finishes on a beach at Gorée Island. Gorée is now part of the City of Dakar, and is both a residential and a tourist area. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a fort on Gorée was an important collection and embarkation point for shipping captive people to the Americas. I had visited the fort and museum many years ago and did not go again on this trip, but I recommend it strongly to any first-time visitor to Dakar.

    Swimmers are in two groups: A, for “elite” swimmers and B for everyone else. “Elite” swimmers are from local clubs, and each club can select its top swimmers to enter the A group. People who are not members of local clubs can swim in the A group only if they have done the race before and finished under 1:30. I had to enter the B group because I hadn’t swum this race before.

    Group A probably included about 175 swimmers and Group B about 500. Group A started at 11:45 am and Group B at noon. Swimmers in Group A had to round a buoy that made their course 5.2 kilometers; Group B swimmers went straight to the finish beach, for 4.5 kilometers.

    The Group A winner, reported to be a member of Senegal’s Navy, finished in about 1:15. Many swimmers took 2:00 or more, though. The current pushing in toward the Port of Dakar was strong, and we all probably swam farther than the minimum distance.

    Most people, especially in Group B, were just out to finish. The top swimmers in Group A wore standard racing suits but the race imposes no controls on swimwear or equipment. In Group B, I saw people with snorkels and fins, and wearing many different kinds of clothing. I wore a normal tank suit and to no great surprise got a sunburn where I had failed to apply sunblock effectively.

    I had thought about wearing a racing suit with legs, mostly for sun protection, but I was afraid that I would be too warm. The water temperature was not as high as I had feared, though; it was around 80F, like a pool. I also had feared that contamination from urban runoff would make me ill later, but I was fine. Aside from the current, the conditions were great: clear water with some small swells but no chop and no wind.

    People had to enter the race during the preceding week, in person at the Dakar municipal pool (a fantastic complex that includes a deep 50m pool, a shallow 25m pool, and a diving well). It cost 5000CFA (about $10) and required a “medical certificate.” A one-sentence letter in English from my primary care physician stating that I was “fit for open water swimming” was satisfactory. I thought about trying to talk my way into Group A but didn’t want to be a difficult foreigner.

    People gathered at the starting beach beginning at about 10 am. They had assigned race numbers and posted them. You had to find your race number; go to a check-in table for your number range; and get a marked cap, red for A and white for B. Then they wanted people to get their numbers marked on their bodies but the line for marking was so slow that most people including me skipped it.

    For the start, they guided people into a roped-off corral, but they didn’t make any effort to monitor exactly who entered the water. It was a mass start for each group. We had to dolphin through some breakers to get out to where we could swim. They had small motorized boats as well as kayaks for support along the course. I didn’t see many other swimmers on the way, but support crew in boats gave me some route advice a few times.

    The finish was on a beach right next to the Gorée ferry pier. They marked it with a big inflatable arch. You swam up to a line in the water and then people mobbed you to hand you drinking water, a can of Red Bull (promotional photo mandatory), and a goody bag with a T-shirt and some milk products. After walking out of the water they routed you past someone who marked down your number, and then you could exit the finish area to find your family and friends.

    The arrangements for spectators were the weakest organizational point. Regular passenger-only ferry service occurs between Dakar and Gorée, but they had not arranged any supplemental service for the race and they had no way to buy advance tickets. Also, because of the timing, you couldn’t have someone collect your clothes and shoes at the start and then take the ferry over to meet you at the finish. I had one friend stay at the start with me and take my clothes and shoes back to the house without ever coming to the finish line. Other friends met me at the finish with different clothes and shoes. This video, from Agence France-Presse, is in French but features some nice drone footage. This video, from Al-Jazeera News, is in English. The narration is silly but the images are fun. Despite the reporter’s hyperbole, no dangerous wildlife any bigger than a microbe is or ever has been in this water, and the course is not especially difficult if you have trained.

    Overall, the event was different enough from a USMS-sanctioned race to be an adventure, but similar enough to be safe and fun. The energy was really positive and high. Recommended!

  2. #2
    Very Active Member ForceDJ's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Portsmouth, RI

    Re: Traversée Dakar-Gorée

    Sounds like quite an experience. A few more services from the organizers would make it perfect.


  3. #3
    Very Active Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Re: Traversée Dakar-Gorée

    Thanks for the report -sounds like a fun race.

    If you are fast enough that you could be confident of a < 1:30 finish, you should have talked yourself into group A, but it would sure be an embarrassment if you didn't make it.


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