The journey from Arholma to Landsort felt almost like a trip to the moon, the world’s toughest challenge, an unreachable Lighthouse somewhere in space but with a door that we; Team 4 with Robban, Marika, Alexander and Fredrik, were determined to put our hands to. A task just as complex as trying to imagine a healthy and clean “One Water” on our Planet Earth. Complex and mind-blowing challenges is something that we all can put our vision towards, and it was time to get moving.
In the morning 22nd of August 2023 we had put together a team we believed in, packed our boxes mentally and physically, put our eyes on the lighthouse door at Arholma and by taking on one challenge at a time, map by map, checkpoint by checkpoint, we were determined to make it to the lighthouse door. Even if it would require an ultimate proof of human capacity.
All seven teams, in a long row of determined souls, silently walked up the path to the starting point at Arholma Nord. Robban, our head navigator on the boat, directly started to spot flat spaces where we could unfold the maps. 10, 9, 8….3, 2, 1, boom! Let the craziness begin. Some teams just ran off, but we took our time and Robban painted a line over the first islands. Go! Heading south on gravel roads felt good, knowing that the door was about 250 km south from here and we were on our way.
We soon learned that the orienteering across the first islands was a bit tricky, we were fighting to keep up with the other teams and to warm up our orienteering brains. Alexander directly proved that he is the son of Poseidon and managed to lead us at a good pace on the swims. Robban and our beloved skipper guarded and guided us in the water. Unfortunately, we lost quite some time on land before we reached Checkpoint 1, happy but with a feeling that we needed to catch up. Back towards the mainland we started picking up on a long run in the warm sun. A long swim over to Yxlan and then a 16km run in heated neoprene but with good spirits. We were off on an adventure with a lot of swimrun ahead of us. This is what we love doing!
Passing CP2 and Robban guided us towards a section with several long swims over to Möja before we would meet the darkness in the deep forests of Lökaön. Also known as one of the “hell islands”. Alexander continued to push water at a good pace and we prepared mentally for darkness, difficult orienteering and full focus on the compass. We felt safe with Robban, our sharp strategic navigator, giving us the best route every time we got a new map. Would have been great to take Robban on to some of those islands to guide us through swamps, bushes, wetlands, rocks, and deep forest but Marika and Fredrik did their best with the compass and map.
At Hemö we suddenly found Team 7 in a tent, and we understood that something was wrong. We got worried but could see that they were taken care of by the organisers. A pity losing such a fantastic team in the race. With team 1 just around and some terrain we truly love we kept the same pace as the leading Team 2 from Australia down to the famous ÖtillÖ-island Vindalsö, and we closed up on 24h racing. We felt good!
We looked forward to Runmarö but landed in big trouble trying to pass the properties in a safe way. A lot of time was spent in the sun just trying to be 100% sure of where we were on the map, not putting our feet in places we could disturb people or get disqualified. We decided to go back to a safe place on the map under a powerline and let it lead us out of the mess. A difficult decision to take but Marika proved to be a strong leader when things get bad. Robban had good reasons to be frustrated on the boat but he managed to lift the mood and confidence of the whole team in an instant, meeting us with his big smile. He then guided us through some fantastic island jumping and real swimrun propaganda terrain. We had lost time but were now approaching one of the most beautiful sections on the race course over the islands of Jungfruskär. Swimrun at its best and we had a good time. Alexander kept us happy at all times with a good joke, Fredrik constantly reminding us to look around and enjoy nature. We met the most beautiful sunset ever as we got to the south end of Jungfruskär. Crossing paths with Team 1 every now and then, what a fantastic gang of athletes and good people they are. We were for sure competing, but it was always great to meet them on the course.
Robban had put a perfect line on the map and Alexander paved the way through the darkness, swimming towards Kymmendö. Soon we were happy to be on Ornö to take on the challenge of a long hard run and orienteering with sleepy minds. As we reached CP9 Robban told us the hard facts; we are now 6h behind and we need to speed up. We still prioritised a 5 min nap in the blueberry fields to refresh our minds and reset for this big push. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our Dryrobes available, but Robban took off all his shirts and put them on us and then ran like an elk down to the boat. We kicked our shoes off, put Alexander in the middle, Marika in front and Fredrik in the back as a large team-spoon. After a minute Robban also put the Dryrobes on top and a silent rain fell on us. It was dead silent, and our bodies just drowned into the wet forest.
5 min later we geared up again and motivation was higher than ever. Now it was time to pick up on lost time and close in on the leading Australian team. It was great to feel the sun getting warmer in the morning, we got stronger for every step, and suddenly spotted Team 5 in the water over from Ornö. We made fast transitions and agreed to keep a high pace over the islands approaching Utö. We let Marika lead the way, knowing the islands well since many years back, passed Team 5 and hit Utö in full speed. As full as “full speed” can look like after 48 hours. We managed to hit CP10 at Ängsholmen over an hour faster than the leading Team2 since the last checkpoint. Great feeling, things were looking bright.
We now knew that the race course would soon bring us to the iconic crazy swim over Danziger Gatt but first we deeply enjoyed one of the most beautiful trails we have ever seen moving down over Ålö. And as it wasn’t enough, when approaching CP 11, the forest opened up and the whole Baltic Sea was screaming in our face. Wind was strong but we were on top of the world putting our hands on the checkpoint. We loved it and were psyched to hit the sea and start doing some heavy swimming. Three seconds later we were knocked down in our shoes as Robban screamed from the boat in his megaphone that the three meter waves made it impossible for him to approach land with the boat.
Three seconds later we were knocked down in our shoes as Robban screamed from the boat in his megaphone that the three meter waves made it impossible for him to approach land with the boat
We needed to go back again and find a better spot to gear up with neoprene and enter the water. We once again made our way back up the mountain on the technical trail but never saw an opportunity to go down to the water. It was steep, crazy terrain and no visibility towards the water. After heading back for a while Marika made a good decision and started navigating towards a ravine that finally took us to the water edge. Robban was also trying to locate us from his end, and it took some time before we were prepared to go in the water. We dressed up for some long cold swims and hit the strong currents outside Stora Björn. Jumped up on land and climbed around the corner. Finally, we landed on Nåttarö, met with the medical and security team that told us that Danziger Gatt will meet us with 8-10 m/s wind in our face. “It will be rough out there”. We were so ready to make it happen! This was the stage we had feared but at the same time longed to conquer.
The Swim! The crux of the course! The challenge of Danziger Gatt! We took the first 500m swim from Nåttarö out to the last island before the big crossing. It felt good but our fears grew when we almost didn’t move the last 100m due to wind, waves and currents. We filled up and knew that our time window was open to pass the Big Water. We looked deep into each other’s eyes before jumping in, and agreed to give it a honest go. We knew this would be something to remember for life as the waves crashed into the cliffs. Alexander set the way being stronger than ever. The waves slammed into our faces, but we kept going. After half an hour we stopped for a bit and concluded that we didn’t really move forward and when not swimming we were blowing backwards. A bit demotivated we started taking turns, giving the lead swimmer the role of pushing hard to ensure we moved forward. We didn’t really see anything on the other side, and it felt like it was Team 4 against “One Water”.
We didn’t really see anything on the other side, and it felt like it was Team 4 against “One Water”
Suddenly Robban and the security team told us we were in trouble. We needed to get out of the trafficked fairway. Robban aimed our swimming towards a lighthouse outside Mällsten. The motivation picked up and Marika declared that the little lighthouse, in fact, grew a bit. We were moving! Going off route for a while was less than optimal and as soon as possible Robban re-directed us towards a dark silhouette in the sunset. We screamed in the wind trying to understand how far it was and with the notion of 3 km we got going again. Cold and exhausted we finally entered the very small and rocky island. Robban gave us coats, rosehip soup and warm porridge. We also celebrated with our second 5 min nap. It was now getting dark and we geared for night mood. We felt like the clock was not working in our favour and Marika said in a silent tone “I was planning to put Landsort lighthouse as a tattoo, but I assume it can also be ok with Järflotta”. It ignited us and we jumped the water again working our way to Yttre Gården. It was a fantastic relief to enter the beautiful beach and look back on the black waters of Danziger Gatt. We made it!
We were keen to get into the water and over to Järflotta, strike CP12 and get the last map showing the way down to the lighthouse door. In the darkness we finally managed to find a safe way down to the water and picked up swimming again. Tired but filled with happiness at Järflotta we concluded almost 5 hours in the water. We looked forward to the final map and some running. Suddenly we heard the voice of the race director. There was a challenge, the race course was about to close at midnight and that gave us less than 2 hours to get to the door. We probably would need twice as much time to make it and all just went black and empty, it was all over!
Team 4 gathered on the dark cliff and cried and laughed. 63 hours of fighting together, over the distance of 248,9 km, 65 km of swimming, we had enjoyed every meter. One Water Race gave us a ride and memories for a lifetime. We were so close to put our hands on the lighthouse door but in the end we didn’t manage. We were so proud of our team, our effort and achievements. But we were not satisfied.
Through One Water Race we got a new family. Not at least all fantastic teams on the starting line. It takes something special just to be there. The huge organisation is world class, making it happen and in the end we think that we fell in love with all of them. Skippers, security, logistics, doctors, directors, media and everybody else that we have forgotten. We felt safe at every minute of the race. A special big high five and love to Team 2 from Australia. Elizabeth, Julian, Glenn, and Rob. Amazing effort conquering the world toughest race and 6 other teams of amazing athletes. It takes exceptional bodies, brains and teamwork. You had it all and you inspire a whole world.
Most of our bodies in Team 4 have healed but are still carrying signs from a rough fight. Some forever. An invisible magnetic field is already pulling us back to the incredible arena of One Water Race. Something is left undone. We will be back for a second tattoo…
/ Marika, Fredrik, Alexander and Robert in Team 4 – SWEDEN
Photo by Anna Åberg, Jimmy Hansen and Otto Norin