By Chloe Tingle.
I’ve been a volunteer for FRANK Water for several years and as part of that I helped out at the Dart 10k swim two years in a row. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the swim and it is in an incredibly beautiful location, so beautiful in fact I decided to move out of Bristol and down to this amazing part of South Devon last year. The Dart 10k is so impressive! Seeing all those hundreds of swimmers filling up the deep, dark estuary is inspiring- particularly if you are on a floating island feed station positioned half way through the swim, tasked with chucking jelly babies into swimmers open mouths (just like feeding time at the zoo). I’ve promised myself having moved down here that one day I will do the Dart 10k but I’m not quite ready yet, it’s very deep, full of mud, fast flowing and there’s quite a few boats (including a passenger ferry) to avoid- definitely a challenge.
So, with a view to one day building up to the Dart 10K I was so excited to hear about another swim, the Bantham Swoosh only 20 minutes away from my house but heading down a much shallower, sandy, warmer estuary and ending with a little push out to sea. My friend Steve and I decided to sign ourselves up for the challenge and raise money for FRANK water.
I had done one swim event before but it was only a mile in a lake and several years before when I was much more into my swimming. I love to be in the water but I am not a natural swimmer and I was certainly very unfit when I started my training (marginally fitter by the end). I set myself an intensive training plan with swims 3 times a week building up my distance each time and an outdoor swim in the sea or the estuary at least once a fortnight (I’m very lucky to live just 20mins from the coast and 10mins from the Dart). Of course, I didn’t stick to that plan at all! I did make myself go in cold water as often as possible but the first few times in early April I barely stayed in 5 minutes (due to brain freeze and feeling like my face was going to fall off) and there were times when I just couldn’t face it. I was worried I hadn’t done enough distance before the event, I think I made it up to 4km once or twice in the pool and the furthest I did in the sea was a mile.
I also found out I have a massive irrational fear of swimming in the sea due to what might be lurking in the murky water- seaweed, SHARKS, bits of plastic that look like jelly fish, SHARKS, bottles hitting you on the head, SHARKS, other swimmers, SHARKS- you get the idea. One day, I saw a seal on one of my swims and ran across the water back to the beach and didn’t go back in for a couple of weeks!
I thought I would make up for my lack of training just before the event but of course I caught a cold and had a big contract at work which meant I had no time for extra training. To make maters worse just the week before the swim, news broke of the UK’s first ever shark attack and guess where it was- you guessed it- BANTHAM! OK so the guy had a bloody thumb and the shark was about the size of a cat, but still, now I was even more afraid of swimming in the open.
On my last pool swim, I managed to rip a gaping hole in my costume and the night before the event I was desperately patching up my wetsuit which had been left in the car in the sunshine and melted along the seams - none of this seemed like good omen.
On the day of the swim we got up super early and drove to the finish at Bantham beach, we were doing the dawn swim (they time it to be with the tides either dawn or dusk) it was pretty grey and rainy, we got in to our wetsuits and waited around shivering (not a good start) to get a coach the 6km back up the river to the start. We were briefed and told to swim breaststroke for the first couple of hundred metres as it was a bit of a bottle neck where we got in and they didn’t want people swimming over one another.
It was a bit nippy and a bit soupy (full of little bits of debris) when we first got in and being well behaved myself and Steve swam the first few hundred metres together in breast stroke (most people didn’t they just ploughed ahead in front crawl) but it wasn’t a mass start, it felt very relaxed and exciting rather than scary.
We separated (I’m a lot slower than Steve) and put our heads down to swim front crawl. The whole time I was swimming I felt well looked after and safe, I could see life guards on surfboards at all times and 90% of the time I was surrounded by other swimmers. Once the estuary opened up it was beautifully clear and there was plenty of space, it also wasn’t too deep so if I had needed to I could have put my feet down, but I never felt like I needed to stop. I even enjoyed seeing the crabs scooting along the bottom and never even thought of the ‘S’ word during my swim. I paced myself and didn’t worry too much about all the people over taking me, in fact I was quite surprised when I got to the part where I could see lots of boats as I knew that was quite close to the end and I thought actually I probably could have swum a bit faster.
I was really looking forward to the swoosh part (the current picks up at the end and pulls you in to the beach) although I didn’t feel the full effects of it until right before the finish line (which was a bit disappointing). I let myself float along on my back for the last hundred metres and felt very relaxed when I got to the end and was helped out by volunteers and given a beautiful big warm fluffy swoosh towel.
I absolutely loved my Bantham Swoosh experience and I would encourage everyone to have a go. 6km seems like a really long way but its surprisingly not that bad and even if your training doesn’t go anywhere near to plan its definitely still achievable. I just kept saying to myself even a log that can’t swim at all will eventually get to the end due to the pull of the tide so don’t worry. It’s a very gentle ease into outdoor swimming events, with it being sandy, shallow, reasonably warm (compared to a lake or deep river) and with the bonus of a little extra help from the swoosh. So go for it- you won’t regret it.
One day I will be back to tell you about my Dart 10K experiences, but not until I have spent some time trying to get over my SHARK fear.
FRANK Water is a charity partner to the Bantham Swoosh, the Dart 10K and the Windermere One Way Swim. If you'd like to take a leaf out of Chloe's book and don your wetsuit for FRANK Water, email Amanda@frankwater.com to find out more.