Survival swimming lesson for Ocean Stewards

Seventeen new Ocean Stewards are about to embark on a 30-day deep sea research expedition on board the 72-foot expedition yacht, the Angra Pequena. For many of the students, the excitement of going out to sea for the first time is mingled with the fear of falling over board.  To counter these fears, Sea Quests’ Nikki Chapman treated students to a survival swimming lesson this week. Zamo Phungula was there to witness the action.

The “Froggy-Y-I” kick and “medium sized pizza” stroke

It was worth braving chilly swimming pool water learning to swim the Sea Quests’ way this week, say a cohort of marine biology students selected to take part in the 2017 Ocean Stewards expidition which gets under way today.

Supported by The Blue Fund, this years Ocean Stewards expedition will explore deep sea canyons off the uThukela Banks at depths never explored before.

“This forms part of a drive to identify rich biodiverse marine ecosystems deserving protection,” said Wildlands strategic director, Mark Gerrard,  who helped conceive the Ocean Stewards programme two years ago.

Spearheaded by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Scientific Services Manager, Dr Jean Harris, the Ocean Stewards programme enables marine biology students to gain valuable, first-hand research experience alongside top marine scientists on board the 72-foot, wooden expedition yacht, the Angra Pequena.

But for non-swimmers, going out to sea for several days can be scary. In preparing the group of marine biology students for the expedition, Nikki Chapman of Sea Quests this week introduced a group of 2017 Ocean Stewards to the basics of breast stroke, starting with the tried and tested “Froggie-Y-I” technique.

The action took place in wintry, swimming pool water at the Westville campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

“You start the froggie by spreading your knees wide apart and putting the soles of your feet together,” said Nikki. “Make sure your toes aren’t kissing. Then you kick them as far apart as possible creating a Y shape with your legs and body. The further apart your Y is, the further you move forward. Keeping your legs straight, you then bring them together with your arms at each side to create an I shape.”

Then came the demonstration of what to do with one’s arms.

“With your arms bent at the elbow like chicken wings, you push them out to make a round pizza. Make sure you web your fingers tight together like duck’s feet,” said Nikki.

“No, it’s not a large pizza,” said Nikki, correcting one student. “It’s a medium sized chicken pizza. As your hands meet at the bottom of your pizza, put them together and slice your pizza in half. And as your hands come in to your chin, breathe in. Pull, breathe, kick, glide – simple.”

Sthokozile Mamba

Afterwards, still shivering, Sthokozile Mamba, said Nikki’s lesson had helped reduce her nerves about going out to sea for the first time.

“Even though the pool is different to the ocean – there are no waves or sharks – I am now prepared. It’s been worth braving the cold water,” said Sthokozile.

Sthokizile said while swimming was a vital life skill for everyone to learn, for marine biology students it also opened the door to first hand exploration of the marine environment they have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting.

“In being able to swim, we can get to witness life in the ocean through our own eyes,” said Sthokozile, who takes part in the last leg of the forthcoming Ocean Stewards expedition from June 26 – 30. Read more about Sthokozile 

Zodidi Gwayise

UKZN marine Biology masters student Zodidi Gwayise took to the lesson like a duck to water and was still “froggying” around the pool long after the Nikki’s lesson was over.

“I have always wanted to swim in the ocean,” said Zodidi. “Now at least know the basics and will not panic in the water. The best trick I learnt was to let loose your body (relax),” said Zodidi.

Zodidi joins the first leg of the Ocean Stewards expedition from June 2 – 6. Read more about Zodidi.

Zanele Ngwazi

Zanele Ngwazi gets a helping hand from fellow Ocean Steward Njabulo Mdluli

“I was a bit scared,” admits Zanele. “I’ll will practice the whole week to prepare so that I can at least be able to swim by the time I go on the expedition.” Zanele takes part on the Ocean Stewards cruise from June 22 – 26. Read more about Zanele. 

Thamsanqa Nkosi

“The water was very cold. It was very nice though, great actually,” says Thamsanqa. “I’ll be more confident being in the ocean now and will continue to practice what Nikki taught us today, especially mastering my breathing which is my biggest challenge.”

Thamsanga joins the Ocean Stewards expedition from June 18 – 22. Read more about Thamsanqa.

  Njabulo Mdluli

“I grew up around rivers where I spent most of my days in the water,” says Njabulo. “I’m a little rusty now, but I can survive in the ocean. I picked up good tips today, like learning how to slice a medium pizza and the froggie-Y-I technique,” laughs Njabulo.

Njabulo joins the Ocean Stewards expedition from June 18 – 22, and is looking forward to seeing how the state-of-art equipment on board the Angra Pequena gets used to conduct research – and to seeing a squid for the first time! Read more about Njabulo.

Lethiwe Nxumalo

After the stress of writing exams, Lethiwe said she found the day at the pool fun and relaxing. “I love the fact that we’ve all committed to learning to swim. I will continue to practise with the other stewards during the week,” said Lethiwe, who goes on the final leg of this years’ Ocean Stewards expedition from June 26 – 30. Read more about Lethiwe

Nobuhle Mpanza

Nobuhle Mpanza (left) with fellow Ocean Steward Sthokozile Mamba

Excited about going out to sea for the first time, Nobuhle says she will now handle falling overboard, knowing that she will survive.

“I will still have my life jacket on, but I’ll feel much safer now. I like the Froggie–Y-I technique Nikki taught us, and have learned how to paddle with my feet, using my hips instead of my kees- and also blow bubbles! I’m ready for it.”

Nobuhle joins the Ocean Stewards cruise from  June 22 – 26. Read more about Nobuhle…

Sandile Ntuli

Sandile Ntuli also learned to use his hips Seq Quests’ style. Having taking part in last years’ Ocean Stewards expedition, Sandile is pretty relaxed and confident about going out to sea again, and surveying those big, deep canyons out there.

“Maybe we will get to see a coelacanth!” says Sandile

Zamo Phungula

Zamo Phungula is currently serving an apprenticeship with Roving Reporters. As part of her training as an Ocean Watch reporter, Zamo is taking part in the Ocean Stewards cruise, and enjoyed the Sea Quests’ survival swimming lesson.

“The lesson prepared for my time on board the RV Angra Pequena. With nerves at bay, I’m ready to immerse myself in the experience. I look forward to reporting on it,” says Zamo.


Roving Reporters Ocean Watch programme is supported by the Human Elephant Foundation.

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