I'm a bit tired but here goes, bear with me.
On Saturday I went for a swim.
On Saturday I went for a swim in the Scilly Islands.
On Saturday I went for a swim across all of the Scilly Islands.
It took about 7 hours of swimming. And it was a bit nippy.
But it was worth it. In fact it was a great day out. Raising funds for FRANK Water Projects I had volunteered, with Alex Fawcett to be their crash test dummy for the world's first Scilly Isles Challenge. 150 long-distance swimmers gathered on 6th September at Bar Point on St. Marys to begin the first of 6 long swims (15Km) and 6 short walks (10 Km) across the inhabited bits of the Scillies.
The idea was to swim to an island, have a cup of tea, walk across it, spot the next island somewhere on the horizon and swim to that, have a cup of tea... repeat until dark.
I remember distinctly at 0630am on the first beach falling over trying to put my wetsuit on.
And thinking what am I doing here? Then I remember the cold rush of water going down my neck when I first dived in and thinking; I shouldn't have modified my neck seal by cutting it off the night before.
And then I remember thinking I can't do this. I am surrounded by hardcore athletes. I am amongst them but I definitely not one of them. I swim once a week in a 25 metre heated pool with a black line on the bottom.
15 minutes in – I nearly turned around. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I am very comfortable in my skin. And frankly my wetsuit is a bit tight.
Only 12 hours later I finished. Don't ask me how. Muscle memory apparently. It must be - because my brain memory can't remember large chunks of it. I do remember vomiting three times on the last swim. Never eat a malt loaf and a pack of Haribo 30 seconds before a 2 hour swim. That's my advice.
The first three swims were idyllic, like a cruise across the Caribbean with a bit of windmill arm action thrown in. The water was a rejuvenating and refreshing 13 degrees. And crystal clear to about 5 metres. It was simply stunning. And there were loads of jellyfish - which a few unfortunates caught in the face. But not me.
The tea breaks felt deserved, the fruitcake and bacon sandwiches hit the spot. Strangely enough although I felt more tired as the day progressed – I didn't slow down. The challenge is not a race but more of an inclusive rally. So long as you can swim a mile in 40 minutes – you qualify. The youngest was 18, the eldest 69 years young. Largesse and being well covered was it seemed – a bonus. And then there were the 'skins' – the hardcore that swam all day without a wetsuit. Did I mention it was 13 degrees?
You've never met a bunch of more hypothermic, shivering uncontrollably, blue lipped, blue handed, blue faced people – who contrary to all the evidence, tell you that swimming without a wetsuit is all-in-the-mind. It is mental they say. They are mental. But – to their credit they actually did it. I saw it. No one died. I was shivering in my wetsuit.
Eric Shipton the 1950's mountaineer said there were three parts to an expedition, the planning, the doing and the talking about it after. And he wasn't sure which bit he preferred. The doing of the Scilly Challenge was no doubt the very hard bit – but it is a sweet feeling knowing you can do something you never thought you could. Even at the time. And to raise funds for FRANK water was just great. It kept me going.
They say it's not over till the fat lady sings. Well with me it wasn't over until the fat man was on the beach. After 14km of swimming with the last beach almost in sight 800m away– horror of horrors - the tide turned against us. That was tough. Imagine running a half marathon then in the last 100 metres getting on a treadmill for an hour within sight of the finish.
To be honest it got a bit hairy - especially when we started to go backwards and other more desperate swimmers escaped by throwing themselves on the rocks. A 50 minute swim to the finish turned into a 2 hour slog to the bitter end swimming at ½ mile per hour over the seabed.. We had to dig deep, but then again we had been digging fairly deep since about 7am. No doubt about it - It was a big and memorable finish for everyone.
But enough about me and my big swim. The event was really special, not because of the challenge, or the perfect weather or stunning location – the event was special because of the people. You've never 'raced' in such good company; the safety kayaks, boats, tea makers, supporters and organisers were to a man and woman, competent caring, compassionate and funny – the camaraderie amongst the swimmers was simply lovely, they were; supportive and strong and it must be said as a group - they were pretty good at front crawl.
It was a pleasure to take part, I recommend it to anyone who likes very long swims in the sea.
Thank you to all my supporters and fundraisers – you kept me going when things got rough – after the first 15 minutes in. I could have done it but I wouldn't have without you. And there's still time to donate if you'd like to.