Date posted: 21/08/2023 5 min read

CA’s epic swims make headlines around the world for mental health

Andrew Donaldson CA has made history by successfully swimming the world’s seven toughest and most dangerous cross-channel swims in less than a year – with some lessons for CAs along the way.

In Brief

  • Andrew Donaldson CA is the first person to swim all Oceans Seven crossings in less than a year, completing the combined 197km in world-record time.
  • The global swim is raising funds for mental health, an issue Donaldson wants to increase awareness of in the accounting community.
  • Sharks, stinging jellyfish, freezing waters and dangerous currents were all part of his epic effort.

Andrew Donaldson CA says his favourite swim of the past year was completing the 22km Cook Strait between New Zealand’s North and South Islands – in the dark.

“We swam it through the night, which is a really nerve-wracking prospect,” he says.

It wasn’t just the darkness that made it hard. In fact, he’d been warned it was impossible.

“To get technical, we swam in something called a spring tide,” he says, “which is where the currents and the tides are most powerful. Many people had said to me, ‘You know, that’s impossible to do. It’s never been done. You can’t do that!’. But we did.”

Not only did Donaldson do the impossible, he broke the world record for the crossing, swimming from Picton in the South Island east to Wellington in four hours, 33 minutes and 50 seconds in March this year.

Andrew Donaldson CA

Lessons learned

Long-distance swimming isn’t for everyone: it can be tough, lonely and dangerous. It also gives you time to think and learn. In the case of Cook Strait, the lesson learned was to back yourself and your team.

“It’s great to get people's opinions and advice. But ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what to do with that information and how you want to process it. Together with my close unit and my team, we felt it was possible. And it resulted in this incredible swim and world record,” Donaldson says.

But what’s really incredible is Donaldson’s story over the past year.

The West Australian CA, based in Perth, was already a champion swimmer when he decided to take on the Oceans Seven, the seven toughest ocean crossings in the world. They include the English Channel, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Catalina Channel near Los Angeles (see Acuity’s story last year).

He’s now completed all seven crossings, the 24th person in the world to complete all seven crossings and the first person to complete the Oceans Seven in less than a year, having taken 355 days. He also broke the record for the fastest Oceans Seven swim, completing the 197km total in a cumulative time of 63 hours and two minutes, breaking the previous world record by more than 1.5 hours.

Along the way, the Scottish-born chartered accountant’s feat has been making headlines in Australian and international media including the BBC, sporting channel ESPN, and The Times – and, not surprisingly, a number of Scottish media.

A 13-hour nightmare

Donaldson completed his seventh and last Oceans Seven crossing in late July, when he swam the 19.5km Tsugaru Strait in Japan. At least, it was supposed to be 19.5km.

A powerful 10km/h current turned the swim into a 13-hour, 37km nightmare.

“It was an absolute beast,” Donaldson says. “It felt like being like a rag doll and a washing machine. I was just being thrown around.”

While the New Zealand crossing was his favourite, Donaldson says swimming Hawaii’s Molokai Strait was the least enjoyable. On that swim he battled powerful currents, a storm with 30-knot winds whipping the swell to two or three metres, an encounter with a shark and breathing difficulties due to swallowing a jellyfish.

“It was the first time I’ve really experienced adversity like that, and I came really close to quitting,” he says.

Oddly enough, he says another takeaway is that your lowest experience can end up being a highlight that you can draw strength from.

“They can be the most valuable experiences of your life,” Donaldson says. “The Molokai swim was really terrible at the time but, in retrospect, it’s an experience that I'll be able to draw from for the rest of my days and remind myself that when times get tough, I’ve done this in the past and know how to get through these challenges,” he says.

Swimming with purpose

With a great support team behind him, Donaldson undertook the Oceans Seven after suffering depression following a relationship breakdown and burnout at work. He says that chartered accountants should be aware of their mental health and never be shy about tapping into others.

“It’s never just one person. There are always people around to help you in life,” he says.

“I’d say that’s been the core learning from all of this. You can’t do it alone; it’s infinitely better if you work together.”

Donaldson is aiming to raise A$100,000 for the Black Dog Institute from his epic feat, with donations still coming in. One of his biggest cheer squads is the West Australian office of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, which has raised more than A$7600 so far.

“We had a charity fundraiser quiz night,’ says Donaldson. “It was a very successful night and I’m very grateful for all their encouragement and support over this journey.”

Back in the water

Donaldson’s now back in Perth, where he is chief financial officer at Mobiwash, an industrial cleaning business, and co-founder of Swimclan, which uses swimming to help enrich people’s lives.

So, what’s next?

“I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off, and maybe just do some other things to stay active and fit,” says Donaldson.

But he’s aiming to be back in the water by the start of September and is due to take part in a charity swim later in the year.

Would he ever do something like the Oceans Seven again?

“I think it depends on the purpose why,” he says. “I’m not motivated that much by accolades or records, or money. It’s got to have some bigger purpose or cause to support. I enjoy swimming and will continue to support causes close to my heart.”

You can find out more about Andrew’s Oceans Seven swims and support the project with a donation to the Black Dog Institute.

Andrew Donaldson CA

Andrew Donaldson CA’s Oceans Seven swim challenge:

1. English Channel, 33km, 8 hours, August 2022 – British record

2. North Channel, 34.5km, 9 hours 13 minutes, September 2022 – British record

3. Cook Strait, 22km, 4 hours 33 minutes, March 2023 – world record

4. Molokai Channel, 43km, 15 hours 52 minutes, April 2023

5. Strait of Gibraltar, 14.5km, 2 hours 56 minutes, May 2023 – British record

6. Catalina Channel, 32km, 9 hours 22 minutes, July 2023 – British record

7. Tsugaru Strait, 19.5km, 13 hours 14 minutes, July 2023.

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