Twenty months ago I first joined a Linscquad swim session on a dark and cold winter night. Swimming was not my thing. I was a breaststroke swimmer. The best I could manage was one length of front crawl before having to stop and recover. A long distance, open water sea swim was about as far from off my bucket list as sitting in a pit full of venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions. For this reason I can’t quite believe that I am now lucky enough to be in a position to write this event report but here it goes…
On Saturday 6th September I went for a little dip in the sea. This was however a swim with a difference. Taking in six of the main Islands on the isles of Scilly, totalling 15km of swimming and 10k of walking in one day….the Scilly Swim Challenge 2014!
The alarm went off at 4.30am and panic immediately ensued. 1hr to get kit ready and walk to our meeting point for a 5.30am start. It was dark! But along the quiet streets of St Marys tiptoed 130 intrepid explorers, largely clad in neoprene though not exclusively. Once congregated at Porthmellon beach, we made the first walk of our day by torchlight to Bar Point where our challenge would begin. As we descended onto the beach the sun was rising and the ramshackle group of swimmers spread over the beach to prepare for the first swim. In the distance two seals popped up, clearly rather curious at the unfolding events. As the sun slowly rose, a very majestic looking flotilla of support kayaks, safety boats and our very own supporter’s boat sailed silently into the bay. It really was an awe inspiring sight. At 7am we lined up on the shore, St Martins bound; 2.7km swim until bacon butties….go!
And so we went. Slower swimmers (including me) first to try and ensure the pack stayed together. I was terrified. My overarching fear of ‘what lies beneath’ playing on my mind. Just over an hour and I touch down on the steps of St Martin’s jetty having survived my first official sea swim, complete with crab sighting! Some competitors, and not just skin swimmers, were already very cold at this point. The water was 13 degrees! Fuelling station, warming and socialising done, we walked across the island to begin the next swim 2.14km to Tresco and lunch! Even at this early point, you couldn’t help but appreciate the sheer beauty of your surroundings, not to mention the amazing comradery between the swimmers, organisers and supporters for the day.
Next swim, Tresco to Bryher for about 900m then to Samsun, another relatively short swim but with a noticeably increasing tidal swell. There was no fuel stop on Samsun, just a walk across the beach and straight back in for the longest swim of the day, 5k, Samsun to St Agnus. This is the one that some of the locals said was not possible! To be honest, they weren’t far wrong. The cruise along Samsun’s coast wasn’t bad but turning left into open sea, we really were at the mercy of the tides. A heavy swell made the almost 2hr swim difficult but the contrasting and clashing waves left you feeling very vulnerable and isolated for this leg of the swim. I was searching for a kayak to rest on but there just weren’t any close enough so I had to keep going. On arrival to St Agnus it became clear just how bad it was. Quite a few people had to be pulled from the water for their own safety, and the supporters greeting us at our last stop were extremely efficient in bringing food and queueing for hot drinks for us having witnessed the battle with the waves over the last leg. Only one more swim until finish but it was 3k, and back out into the tidal surges of the last route.
St Agnus to St Marys was the final slog. The elation of almost finishing was certainly present but it was still a 3k swim in heavy swells to finish and it certainly provided a sting in the tail of the whole event. The tides turned. With the finish almost in sight I could see swimmers climbing over the rocks to get into the bay. The changing tide meant that in effect the weakest swimmers were going backwards and the average swimmers were swimming as if on a treadmill and only the strongest swimmers were making it through and onwards into the bay. Only 800m to go and we all had to dig as deep as we could to get through. The crowd in sight, we limped into Porthcressa on St Mary’s, absolutely shattered from the final tidal battle.
When I finally dragged myself from the sea I could have cried with relief but I think I was just too tired after a 12hr event. I have to say that the organisation of this event was amazing. Feeding stations, support crew, super friendly fellow competitors and their families were the best. I will definitely be back to do this again!