Sunday, 15 August 2021

Round Jersey Solo 51km Swim - 11th August 2021

95% of this iconic & unique swim was an absolute hoot. You could sense the assisting tidal tow for ca. 75% of it and I was fortunate enough to have favourable weather/sea conditions. Some people turn up for this swim and get weathered out (more than once in some cases). Must say that despite much cold water training, the water temperature never felt totally comfortable given it's the Atlantic @ 17c at best. Therefore had to ensure to keep moving to keep warm but managed to thump out a reasonable time of 10hours 21mins (one of the faster times on the course). The Pilot is ultimate professional and I had marathon-swimming royalty for crew & observer. 

We raised over £8k for Macmillan: Just Giving Page

This was the 148th swim Round Jersey in history - got my name on the board here: Roll of honour

Now for a quick geography refresher (a subject I failed at GCSE btw!):

According to Wikipedia, Jersey is an island which measures 118.2 square kilometres or 45.6 square miles. It lies about 14 miles west of the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy, France and about 100 miles due south of Great Britain. It's the largest and southernmost of the Channel Islands and part of the British Isles with a maximum land elevation of 143m above sea level:

The swim start and finish is at the Elizabeth Castle breakwater (6 o'clock on image below). Swim is typically run to benefit from the spring tide and has only ever been swum in an anti-clockwise direction (to south east corner first!). Someone one day will be silly enough to take it on clockwise but why would you go to the dentist opting for no anaesthetic? 

Quite interesting to add this old chart below as it depicts most of the small rocks that have caught many a boat out in history (note especially rocky south east corner but loads of random rocks jutting out everywhere):

After a champion night's sleep, both Swimmer and crew rendezvoused with the pilot at La Collette Yacht Basin at 06:15am (none of this swimming through the night nonsense with this one)!

Only the best for me with proper open-water swim royalty in attendance on this occasion. 

L>R: Kate Robarts (Observer (previously one of my Geneva solo crew)), Cliff Golding (crew/greaser), Sam Jones (crew/reserve pilot). Only 5 English Channel swims and 4 Round Jersey swims between these pressure Shezza - better bring yer A-game geezer!!

Cliffy (on right below) discussing the finer points of 'zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' with horizontal chilled-out pilot Matt (on left) below. If not sure what to ask a pilot to strike up a conversation, ask him something about boats! 

After a decent layer of sun cream & vaseline (thanks Cliffy) time to drop one's warm self into the freezing cold briny for a very civilised start (no scrambling up beach required). Thanks to Jamie Nettleton for 'The Rugby Pod' budgie smugglers. Episode 50. Go to minute 60 for shout out on Spotify

Had to touch the eastern side of Elizabeth Castle breakwater and wait for boat horn to start:

And we're off!

First arm stroke. Only 28,349 to go......

First ca. 2 hour spent being guided by pilot Richard in 'Lioncub' (on right below) as despite being near high-tide not much draught for larger boat 'Lionheart' (on left). (Can pick me out just aft starboard side of lion cub). 

For some of these first 2 hours from the start (6 o'clock to 4 o'clock on the south east corner at La Rocque) could sometimes see the sea bed with the odd piece of rock sticking up submerged but almost protruding the surface at high tide  - I almost swam into one of them which would have been rather uncomfortable!

I returned the day after to the south east corner at low tide and it's like a completely different moonscape (photo taken atop Green Island facing east towards La Rocque):

Rendez-vous took place just after being swept around La Rocque (south Eastern corner) - I decided to bob for the occasion. You can also find on You Tube: You Tube video rounding La Rocque:('This is so much fun....wish every swim were like this....I'm having a wee') LOL

I then had my first feed (hourly thereafter) and for the first half the menu comprised of a carb-loader type drink with the odd flapjack to munch on (switching to flat Fevertree Cola for 2nd half).

We then proceeded to blast up the eastern side past St Catherine's breakwater (I took some footage the day before of how the water moves. This really would be impossible to swim against it and realised just how treacherous these waters are). 

The northern leg was tough with a very confused wind against tide. Yet more rocks to dodge (Paternosters in the background) and again some brilliant piloting skills to find the most direct route.

I got a massive lift as at 4 hours 37 mins into the swim I was 1/2 way (even started to entertain the idea that I was on for a new record given a simple doubling putting me ahead of Ross Wisby's 2015 record of 9 hours 26 mins....). We were travelling in this run of tide at 5 knots (8km per hour!). Feeling good and much more in the tank to 'ave it' for the 2nd half. Jersey’s version of the Eiffel Tower to mark 1/2 way: 

Soon approaching the north-west corner with Grosnez castle in ca. 6 hours and my feeds switched to flat Fevertree Cola (other brands are available) with more nutritious flapjacks which get properly stuck in your teeth therefore providing lasting hit!

Then we rounded the corner and found ourselves in the enormous horse-shoe shaped bay at St. Ouen with Corbiere lighthouse at the end representing the gateway to the homestraight. Was warned about the fact this western side would take 2 hours so didn't look up and grafted hard opting to look just to the side or slightly behind. You could make out aircraft taking off so I knew I was over half way past the bay once the ascending aircraft were then behind me.

Just after 8 hours we rounded the majestic Corbiere lighthouse and I switched momentarily to the port side of the boat for the ‘money shot’ photo opportunity:

The stretch from this landmark past St Brelade's Bay to the Noirmont representing the entrance to final St. Aubin's bay was very tough and I was running on fumes having given it too much beans during the prior 9 hours in the cold! Then great skills from crewperson Sam who unbeknownst to me subtly dunked a scoop of carb powder into my next flat coke feed for the final 40 minute push to the finish and the Western wall at Elizabeth castle breakwater. The end was now in sight across St. Aubin's bay and I was giving it everything I had.

Reached out, lunged for the wall like GB's Duncan Scott at the olympics.....Observer Kate stopped the watch at 10 hours 21mins. My own olympic event and one of the faster times in history (would have bitten your arm off for that time before starting). Not bad for an old geezer! Plenty of claps and cheering from the boat - all wrapped up before dinner!!

Feeling of relief and wondering how many Big Mac meals I was going to eat guilt-free for dinner (easiest thing to get down given swollen salt-water tongue). Smashed it - get in! : 

Here's the swim track here (thanks to Kate and Steve Robarts for letting me use their Garmin tracker and for sending across my route):

Recommendations if you're planning this swim

1. Accommodation - We stayed at SACO serviced apartments on Pier Road in St. Helier. A walk to harbour and many nice restaurants. Had a pull-down double murphy bed in sitting room (for the daughter who came with) and kitchen for sorting all swim kit. Clean with loads of hot water, washing machine and tumble drier. Much nicer we thought than a hotel. Could have cooked in the kitchen but with so many nice restaurants on offer we never bothered! Cost £1365 for the week.

2. Flights/Car - Flew BA from London Heathrow and hired a car (Toyota Aygo) via Avis. Flights were 30mins out, 40mins return and car was perfect for parking, touring and for girls to follow the swim. Automatic car cost £661.50 with all the insurances zero excess.

3. Pilot - I used professional pilot Matt Clarke who runs Lionheart Pilotage . He's a very talented individual - man of few words and so relaxed almost horizontal. Was £1450 for piloting swim (1/2 price of the English Channel!) plus £125 to Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club (JLDSA) to ratify/observe the swim. JLDSC also offers piloting services:

4. JLDSC club swims - Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings. This was an ideal way to relax post-travel and get to know more about swimming in/around the island. Jersey probably boasts more English Channel swimmers per capita than anywhere else in the world. A charming bunch who made us feel so welcome. Even presented us with Bacon sarnie after Sunday 7am session. Many thanks Jenny and Chantelle. 

5. Training - I spent the coldest weeks of the summer leading to a 6 hour swim in 13.2c on 5th June '21 with the Dover Channel Training (DCT) group every Saturday morning. Once complete I then switched to fresh water and  loads of 1 hour sessions with the odd 10km sessions thrown in with very specific rep times to keep intensity (and speed) up. Seb Coe was always an advocate of quality over quantity and that certainly works for me. The lap of St Andrews Lakes is 600m and we'd do 16 of those in 11min reps (including rest) - I actually felt more tired after that 10km Saturday session than I did after this Round Jersey as the lake if fresh water with less buoyancy. Thanks to Adrian Rotchell for completing most of the sessions with me although had no major swim booked himself (other than swimming on holiday). LOL


So chuffed to have executed this swim. A very special day indeed accompanied by great friends. Without the pandemic, I might well have missed this one in favour of British firsts in the US but this swim is totally unique like nothing else on anyone’s potential open water bucket list. The places that marathon swimming has brought us to! 95% of the swim was physically no bother....there's always the final stretch which is tough in any swim but as long as you can put one arm in front of the other you can keep going. That's the reality.
The mental aspect was never hard at all having supported people close to me  through cancer treatments during the year. Being able to give something back to the Macmillan nurses is the least I could do.
Thank you again for all of you who supported me. Your generosity as ever is amazing.
Until the next escapade!

Unofficial observer report taken by Kate Robarts (warning some colourful language).......

Mark Sheridan  Round Jersey

11th August 2021

Lionheart Pilotage - Matthew Clarke

Start - Elizabeth Castle east wall             Finish – Elizabeth Castle west wall

Start time – 06:57                                 Finish time – 17:18

Swim time – 10 hours 21 minutes 19 seconds

PoB – Matt Clarke, Sam Jones, Cliff Golding, Kate Robarts

We arrive at Lionheart at 6.15am and begin unloading the trolley. Shezza helpfully unloads his own bag but this results in the other end of the trolley landing on Sam’s foot.

Much banter onboard the boat. Matt says he’s still trying to get used to sharing his boat with semi-naked men. Meanwhile, Shezza is wondering if one new tub of Vaseline will be enough. He’s slathered with Kids’ Factor 50 sun lotion and greased up by Cliffy, whilst the rest of the crew clamour to book therapy as a result of his new Budgie Smugglers.

At 6.47 Lionheart is underway for the brief journey from the marina to the wall for the start. Shezza reminds the crew not to forget to put Lucky Duck where he can be seen and points out the pack of Velcro pads. 

The weather is sunny and calm with mirror-like conditions.

Shezza climbs down the ladder and swims to the wall for the start, to be accompanied by Richard in Lion Cub for the first two hours through the Gutters. 

He touches the wall, waits for the signal and starts. It is 6:57am.

For the next two hours he will be quite a distance away from Lionheart, so crew will see him only through binoculars from deeper water. Richard will report progress via radio.

As Shezza gets underway and settles into his swim, Cliff may be seen wandering around forlornly, carrying Lucky Duck upside down. The morning dew prevents him from attaching LD to the bow so it’s a waiting game.

Around 8am, Richard reports that Shezza has swum over a rock, just below the surface, shallow enough to touch it with his hands. He’s stopped to have a laugh about it and have a pee break. Richard jovially blames Matt for the rock incident because he missed it when checking position.

Meanwhile, Cliffy goes to recce the possibility of attaching Lucky Duck. Nope, still too much dew.

Ten minutes later, Cliff can be seen disappearing to the bow with a cloth to see if he can solve the problem. Still no luck.

It appears from radio reports that Sea Swimmer II, the JLDSC club boat, actually made contact with that particular rock and called for possible assistance….but it transpires that all is well and it continues with the two man wetsuit relay, about 800m ahead of Shezza.

Cliff has a brainwave and attaches LD to the bow with a piece of string. He’s happy now.

At 8:20 Sam prepares the first feed of 350ml Maxim and summer fruits. Shezza will be fed after the breakwater at La Rocque.

Shezza arrives at La Rocque at 8:46, where Sal and a few others are waiting to cheer him on.

He stops swimming for a few minutes, allowing the tide to carry him along, smiling broadly and exclaiming, 

“This is brilliant… it’s just so much fun!”

He swims on past and into the harbour, where he has his feed from Sam and Cliff. It’s 8:58. Sam tells him not to swim on just yet because Matt isn’t at the wheel. Shez replies, “Good, gives me time for a piss.”

He and his crew discuss the possibility of overtaking the relay. Richard takes his leave and Shez thanks him and shouts that they need to arrange a beer later in the week. Richard waves and heads back to La Collette in Lion Cub.

Shezza is a very contented swimmer. Over the next hour, he gives Sam a thumbs up. The crew is outside, chatting, watching him and exclaiming over the huge swathes of seaweed he’s swimming through.

At 9:58, Shezza feeds well and takes a bit of flapjack from contortionist, Sam, who’s flat out with one arm through the railings. He’s loving it, (‘avin’ it). Matt teases him and offers to let Shez do it all again tomorrow. “I’ll hold you to that”, is the response.

Sea Swimmer II is about half a mile ahead. Lionheart passes St Cath’s b/w at around 3 hrs 15. The water is like glass and the sun is blazing. The crew have bacon rolls. (egg for Cliff).

At 10:30, Sam takes the helm to give Matt a break. There are slight ripples on the water and a little more breeze at 5- 9 kts. The wind is turning westerly. Water temperature is 17.9c and the air is 18.4.

Shezza is maintaining a stroke count of 47.

10:58 Cliff feeds Shez. He’s very happy and takes all his feed, requesting the same, but with another small piece of flapjack, at the next feed. Cliff explains that Lionheart was a little too far off the b/w at St Cath’s for Mark to see Em and Issie, but that they were there and they could see him. Shez has a pee and says, “This is all rather nice!”

11:27 It’s getting a little choppy now, Wind is at 8kts from WNW and is creating waves head on. He extends his glide slightly and looks very relaxed in the choppier water.

11:57 A feed with flapjack from Sam. Cliff reminds Shezza of the halfway mast and tells him he’s already past it. That was at 4 hrs 37 minutes. Sam points out Grosnez and Shez has a pee and says he can’t believe he can see Grosnez already. The crew tell him he’s doing a fabulous job and Cliff exclaims that he’s going to hang up his Speedos because he can’t swim like Shezza.

10 minutes later, Shezza stops to unwind a large swathe of seaweed, wrapped round his neck. In the next 15 minutes, the sea flattens out a little and Mark asks for a cookie with his next feed.

At this next feed, (12:56) the crew point out that a small seabird, probably a fulmar, has started following Shezza. It flies close to his feet, lands near him and bobs around, looking at him. Mark flicks water at it but it doesn’t want to leave.

Cliff confirms with Shez that he now wants to switch to flat coke for the rest of his feeds. He also tells him that Em can see him from Grosnez. S/c 43.

13:37 the water has calmed down. Mark is swimming across St Ouen’s Bay. Cliff is watching from the bow.

Just before his next feed, Mark asks for some flapjack with it. He says,

“It’s lovely here……apart from the company”

Cliff points out that he has a woman either side of him so it’s a bit dangerous to respond. 

Shezza grins and says, “Hangin’ with yer biatches!”

After the feed of flat coke and flapjack, Cliff points out how close Shezza is to the Lighthouse at Corbiere and that Emily and Issie will be there. Shez asks how far he has to there and Matt tells him about 15 minutes.

Cliff says, “Sorry conditions aren’t better”, as he surveys the totally calm water and Shez quips, “Yeah, can I have a glassy sea, please?”

After a warning from Sam, Matt manoeuvres Lionheart around to put Shezza to port, for the money shot with Corbiere as a backdrop. He plays to the camera with a wave and Sam gets the shot.

By 15:27 Lionheart is back on the other side and Shezza continues to swim in flat calm water. Five or six jetskis hug the coast towards the lighthouse.

Mark is very appreciative of the flat coke at his next feed and says, “That was long overdue!” Sam has added a scoop of Maxim to the coke as a boost.

Cliff points out Noirmont ahead and tells Shezza that once he’s passed that, he can go head down and reel it in.

Shez is relaxed and enjoying it. There is no pressure, fabulous scenery, calm water and a peaceful, happy boat. He has, as ever, maintained his technique superbly throughout. Crew bitch happily about how good he looks and what perfect conditions he has. The air is very warm now, at 21-24C and the wind is negligible. Stroke count is 42.

At around 16:20, the wash from a passing motorboat hits and Shezza is riding the waves. There is much more boat traffic around as we near the finish.

At 16:30, Shez has a final feed, a little early, as Cliff and Sam decide a booster is a good idea so he can head off and bring it home. Sam has again added a scoop of Maxim for this final leg. Shez accepts the early feed, says, “Okay”, has a quick pee and heads off. The passengers on the Wetwheels boat , (Disability Access organisation), applaud Mark as they go by.

Shezza flies past Noirmont and heads towards the west side of the wall at Elizabeth Castle. His stroke rate increases again and he looks strong and determined.

Meanwhile, the club boat with the relay swim seems to have overshot the wall and has to head back around to pick up their swimmers.

At 17:10 the crew head to the bow with stopwatch and camera. There is lots of vocal encouragement. Cliff films the finish with commentary.

Shezza hits the wall at 17:18, after 10 hours, 21 minutes and 19 seconds.

“’Avin it!” (Shez decides not to take Matt up on the offer to do it again on Thursday.)

Sunday, 13 October 2019

10 things I wished I had known when I started marathon swimming

(Embarking on Wastwater 2011 - ca. 3 miles - my 1st major marathon swim) enjoy a few lengths, the buoyancy of the water, can swim a mile (maybe a mix of freestyle and breaststroke?) and think you want to take it to a new level? Take the plunge! It will take you on an AMAZING journey but you might want to consider the following (from my very own experience!):

Before you embark on your marathon swim journey ensure you are putting your hands (and legs) where your mouth is. You will simply NOT be able to lay down a mountain of training & events on poor technique plus you’ll get injured and end up throwing money at physios and/or surgery which might have been totally avoidable in the first place. Prevention is better than cure! I saw Ray Gibbs at SwimCanarywharf but would also recommend Dan Bullock at Swimfortri and Chris Malpass for the northerners. There are many others but make sure it is in a pool with cameras where they are looking at your stroke BELOW the water not just above! Keep working on that stroke. Every week I watch the YouTube videos from Brenton Ford’s Effortless Swimming who I really rate and often watch something from his channel before a session.

Easy in the summer as there’s the amazingly supportive Channel Training group led by Emma France for example. But where are you going to go in the Winter? My recommendation is to swim with some sort of club at least 1x per week plus outside 1x per week to keep the acclimatisation up. They’ll provoke you and help you improve. Keep dipping in the winter. You’ll find loads of groups along the length of the country from the Kent Sea Swimmers in the south east to the Fausto Bathing Club in Sunderland! If you go to the pool on your own HAVE A PLAN of what you want to achieve. Don’t just go there and faff - you can do that in the bath-tub!

No matter how demotivated you might feel at times you will ALWAYS feel better (and more relaxed) after going for a swim - plus you will probably sleep better. Even if you don’t achieve the set goal of the day ensure to take the positives out of each swim/event. I have been at the start line of so many events and heard other competitors almost talking themselves out of it before they have even started therefore not surprised to see them pull out. Remember, it is still all experience in the bank and its cumulative. Swim in many different conditions and locations as you can. Life isn’t just about going up and down Dover Harbour or your local lake. Each sea or lake swim presents different learning points no matter how many years you’ve been doing it.

As soon as you register for events (and pay the race fees) your training will get renewed focus and you’ll be less likely to skip sessions. I personally find that most people don’t stretch themselves enough - you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when push comes to shove. 
There are literally thousands of events to chose from globally. I never set out to do this but completed the entire BLDSA calendar and am now taking on most of the what the USA has to offer. There are so many sources of inspiration many of which you will find in the links section to my blog!

This mights seem obvious but have seen many a swim fail as the swimmer has left too many things to chance and hasn’t taken control of all the issues they might be confronted with ahead of time. Take care of every minor detail so that all you need to do is swim. Don’t leave this to chance or others. Also, spare a minute to think of your crew. On a long swim they are there for YOU and not the other way round. Make sure they get fed, watered and reimbursed for their time. I reckon a successful swim is >50% down to the crew. Etiquette dictates you ALWAYS reimburse your crew.
The more you swim and do events the easier it is to find crew. Kayak for someone and they will kayak for you. 

It really isn't all about distance travelled per week - I never stress about that.
I use the colder months to work tirelessly on technique and speed (100m repetitions). I am a firm believer that if you train well in the winter you will find the summer months easier where you escape the confines of the pool and lay down more time in the water. If your shoulder hurts then you are probably doing something wrong as your body is giving you feedback. Listen to that and work out what you can do to mitigate or see a coach. I swim 3-4 times per week in the winter and this mantra has worked in the last few years. I am lucky as the finest outdoor 50m pool in the UK is 30mins from my house at Charlton Lido.

In the last year I volunteered on the Dover beach to be a grease-monkey for the odd Sunday early in the season and it was eye-opening how we all seem to create chafe in different areas given body types and stroke technique. I know over a long swim that I get sore in the area called the ‘cubical fossa’ or inside of the elbow for most people. #weirdo!

Many UK swimmers boast monumental hat-tan lines after swims but with global warming we are doing ourselves quite a lot of skin damage which is magnified if you are in the water. One of the only sports where one can get hypothermia and sunstroke at the same time!!! If you swim in the parts of the US they really don’t mess around and know from an early age how to apply suncream AND zinc (sudocrem) to protect skin from the suns rays. I did a Torbay 8 mile event once and forgot to put suncream on the backs of my legs - didn’t sit down at work for a week afterwards! LOL!

So many of us sit behind the desk during the week and then expect our bodies to take 100s of miles of swimming throughout the year. Eventually your body will complain about something even if you have the finest freestyle stroke in the history of mankind. I did a 1:1 with a Pilates coach for 4 years and arguably the best money one could spend on oneself. The older you get the longer it takes to warm up the muscles therefore respect the warm up (and warm down!)

If you are contemplating big events take the time and money to know your bloods, ECG and other measurements. Many swims are self-declared and even if they are not if you do extensive medical then you at least will know where you are at physically and will get advice on what you need to work on to help your results. I do this every year and am living proof that such a thing can save your life.

Good luck and happy swimming!

Sunday, 21 July 2019

25 mile Lake Memphremagog Swim - A British First, 16th July 2019

If you are into connecting with nature, seeing bald eagles & ospreys overhead, stunning vistas washed down with warmer waters in the summertime then Vermont might well be your ideal venue. NEKOWSA (North East Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association) boasts a ‘ladder’ swim series and a unique selling point arguably not seen anywhere else in the world with a proper graduation of events from 1mile, 5km, 10km, 10mile, 25km culminating in the ultimate 25 mile (In Search of Memphre) length of the entire lake of Lake Memphremagog between Newport in Vermont, USA to Magog in Quebec, Canada. Indeed 4/5ths of the surface area of this lake is actually Canadian. There’s a monster in there too named Memphre and this is part of the 3-part lake monster series (along with Tahoe in California/Nevada (which I did in 2018) and Loch Ness in Scotland which I have yet to attempt in solo format).
Check out the Kingdom Games events here:

The seed for attempting this swim was planted by Paula Yankauskas whilst breakfasting at the Apache Lake Motel after swimming 17-mile Lake Apache as part of our 42 mile SCAR swim series in Arizona in 2015 led by Kent Nicholas (here: She, in her typical humble fashion, regaled the story of a stunning 25 mile swim which crosses the US border into Canada (requiring passport on support boat), the fabled monster and her ca. 18 hour conquering having battled the elements, testing her physical and mental limits but ultimately coming out victorious on her journey to her English Channel swim and also the Triple Crown. No mean feat for someone who was 60 at the time which totally earns my (and everyone in the sport's) utmost respect.

The notion of this attempt for me was further cemented during a 10 mile Swim the Suck Swim in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2016 (here: as the kayaker serendipitously chosen (by race director Karah Nazor) to guide me that day was none other than Phil White who is race director of the 25 mile ‘In Search of Memphre’, founder of the entire Kingdom Games series and one of the key figures in US extreme swimming and other sports. He’s a bit of a legend in the area and you can feel that the events are run for athletes by athletes who are great ambassadors for the beauty of the area and rejoice in the achievements of others only wanting athletes to succeed.

So, fast forward 3 years to July 2019 and 3 swimmers (Natalie Rose from Boston, Massachusetts  and Jim Loreto from Bethesda, Maryland plus yours truly) managed to arrive at the start line of this year’s July 'Search' where the programme commenced with the ominously named ‘Last Supper’ which combined as a safety briefing, get-to-know-each-other-session and crew meet on the Sunday night before pinpointing the best of the three day window (Tuesday 16th). The idea was to give participants the best possible chance at completing rather than being anchored to a specific day. (I devoted a whole week to being in the area just in case the weather blew up so I could get it done). Check out this sunset!

(Jim, Natalie and Shez befriending each other and the butterflies!)

So the 'jump' was set for 5am on Tuesday 16th July 2019 with getting ready (zinc-ing up) from 4am so much more civilised than so many other swims and we even had a room to do it in! The short 5 mins ride from the apartment in Newport to the start line confirmed the forecast that their was a reasonable 4-6mph tailwind as the wind had veered overnight as denoted by the flags on Main Street as I drove across town. After forgetting the lucky duck for the recent 20 bridges ‘round Manhattan’ swim I knew fortune was going to be on my side as he complimented by Union Jack swim cap recently presented to me by colleagues ahead of my successful round-manhattan swim.

(thumbs up if you only do this sport for the zinc!)

Each crew and boat captain had been presented with a laminated map which I had studied extensively so I pretty much new at all times how far I had covered and in what time given my feeds were programmed to be hourly. Check out the map!

(errr - that's one helluva long way innit)

I had barely known Theresa Gerade, one of my crew, for a couple of hours and then here she was donning rubber gloves to a complete stranger and helping to protect my body from the sun proving to be a dab hand with sun cream and zinc! Here she is on board with the lucky duck the day before feeling proud to have 'duck-taped' him to the bow area! Looking across at the duck all day really does  put a smile on one's face. One of my crew on my victorious 43-mile Geneva swim is also called Teresa so I knew luck was on my side.

(Theresa getting to know the lucky duck)

At 4.53am Phil set us off (with the rattle of his metal cup, lol!) and we entered the water at the Eastside restaurant in Newport at the southernmost end. The water was a totally bath-like 72f which takes getting ones head around as in the winter the ice on the lake can be over 3 feet thick!

(only 25.2 miles to go....)

As usual got into my usual catatonic ca. 50-stroke rhythm  and was matching fellow competitor Jim stroke for stroke whilst Natalie was giving it more beans moving clear ahead of us. Jim had just returned from a distance week in Cork and although I was slightly envious of his training camp, I was secretly glad that was not my taper as I tend to shun salt water when gunning for a major fresh water event. My taper comprised of barely swimming in the prior 2 weeks (other than with the Fausto group in Sunderland at 12c!) and concentrating on eating mostly whatever I wanted and drinking gin! I planned to feed every hour on the hour to keep things totally simple with the first 2/3rd comprised of very diluted carbohydrate & cordial drink followed by flat coke in the final 1/3rd with the odd treat thrown in at the discretion of the crew (either strawberry wafer, Oreo mini, 1/2 banana or soft  oatmeal cream pie (the latter was a total revelation btw given soft and sustaining)!)

(ultimate marathon swimming nutrition)

As we rounded the first jut of trees to our right a bald eagle took off from its nest and flew over the swimmers and crews. It was squawking away probably complaining that we were interrupting its key early morning hunting agenda. The sun then started to rise and it was a really magical feeling being free in the lake taking on such an expedition surrounded by highly supportive local crews hell-bent on seeing us succeed.

(My boat in the distance with Natalie's kayaker closer to the camera - photo credit Charlotte Brynn)

(Rounding the first bend where the bald eagle lives - photo credit Charlotte Brynn)

After another mile or so (we learnt later that) Natalie’s husband in the kayak turned over so he had to be rescued whilst Natalie swam in circles waiting! That would have driven me slightly potty! The paddle sunk to the bottom of the lake so the monster must have had that for breakfast. That must have been around 1/5 into the swim where we entered the Canadian border as denoted by the line of trees cut down on the mainland and one of the islands! She must have taken it in her stride as still got the job done but would have thrown others for six.

(Jim and Shez enjoying the new Olympic sport of long distance synchronised freestyle!)

Evidently Jim Loreto and I matched each other largely stroke for stroke all the way until the Il Ronde island which marked the 8 mile completion point. (On the maps above you will see that this key island and also Lord's Island break up the swim into thirds (south, mid and north basins)).

The next feature above us was Mont Owl Head granting us rite of passage and it drew fond memories of Ben Lomond also being the key mid-way landmark on my Loch Lomond solo in 2012. Owl Head dominates the skyline from both Newport at one end and Magog on the other so I thanked him (and of course the monster) for looking after us as we passed. Phil informed me that this was the deepest point at 400 feet to which I pointed out that I could see the bottom and the monster was definitely not at home! Captain then relaxed, had a pee in the bucket, leaned back in his seat and put his feet up on the side of the boat proudly boasting 2 odd socks (one with flamingo's on of course). OMG how these odd socks started to mess with my OCD!

We nudged our way past the halfway point and slogged up to the sweet town of Georgeville on the eastern shore that I had visited the day before just chilling out. We continued to be pushed down the lake and feeds continued at hourly intervals. Some of the waves were 1 feet high which made feeds thoroughly inconvenient dissolving my creme pies and diluting my cordial before I had even taken a bite or a swig! I swear I was drinking most of the lake and surprised there was any water left. At this stage I was getting so thrilled about my new feeding treat of the oatmeal cream pies that I had the let down of having consumed the last one and not packing enough leaving the balance in the apartment!

The view on the western shore after the main inlet on the left was then dominated by the stunning monastery on the Western bank which I knew from memorising the map was only 2 miles to go until Ile Lorde island. I asked Phil what was the name of the place and in best English (totally bastardising French) he offered 'Abbaye De St-Benoit-Du-Lac' which I replied 'you were f-ing wasted in the legal profession, you should have been a French teacher!' We all giggled and carried on.

(Shezza closing in on the final third with Magog in the very far distance - photo credit Phil White)

We then rounded Ile Lorde island and this was the first time since the start that I saw the bottom not even 6 feet below me and I feared the support boat might come stuck but relented to say anything realising that they must have it covered. First rule of marathon swimming = always trust your crew and never second guess them I reminded myself! Once round the island Phil confirmed forthrightly '7 miles to go'. Oh Ullswater then I thought. Simples and not much more than a cheeky 10km! The plan I had in my head was to get to this point and then flood my brain with feelings of joy of finishing and what I would do hanging out in the US relaxing for the next 3 days. I also vowed NEVER to look up at the finish line. This largely worked a treat but the last 3 miles were tough as this distance is >4 miles longer than the Channel and in fresh water so the body was really beginning to hurt.
After what seemed like an eternity we started to encounter more boat traffic, chop, windsurfers and moored boats which heralded 1.5 miles to go which I reckoned was exaggerated so told myself we would be done within the hour. After 45 mins I finally allowed myself my first glimpse of what was ahead. Barely able to see out of the goggles after the suction had been so strong in the waves making my eyes hazy, I finally reconciled Peter and Geneve  the arrival party cheering the swimmers in.
Probing ones feet down into the sand & rocks was divine and the conclusion in stumbling to clear the water meant stopping the clock was imminent.

After 13 hours and 8 mins I realised I was the first swimmer home in a time I would have bitten your arm off for beforehand having put ca. 14-15 hours on my form. First thing I was offered from the land crew of Peter and Geneve  was a beer (!) which was hilarious as I was adamant that would have made me queazy - I politely declined that in favour of a ham sub sandwich with lashings of mayo and tea! Amazing how one craves savoury after a day of sweet things!

(Boat Captain Phil White with awesome crew Theresa Girade and Owl Head in the distance)

Once Jim finished ca 40 mins later we shook hands and basked in mutual respect and glory of achievement. Then only 5 mins later Natalie emerged from the water with the biggest grin on her face and we were all so thrilled for her having stepped up for the first time to a distance north of 20 miles.

(A 'Rose' between two (bald) thorns - Jim Loreto, Natalie Rose and Shezza)

One of Natalie's crew, the lovely Charlotte Brynn,  came  bouncing over to the bench I was recovering on beaming from ear to ear presenting me with a congratulatory hug and a look in her eye you could only earn from a former soloist of the lake. Natalie had indeed almost caught Jim in the final stages which took some doing given the kayak woes earlier in the day. I duly informed her that if she could do this then the world would be her oyster given most events in extreme swimming  are at least 4 miles shorter! We were put into the record books as only the 37th, 38th and 39th amateur swimmers in history to have completed this swim.

Read the official swim report from the organisers here:

Here are my observer sheets:

Observations and final thoughts

This swim was really no bother given the temperature of the water and I'm glad I only fed 1x per hour to let the crew just get on with other things. I'm amazed that no amateur Canadian has even completed this yet. This swim will get more popular imho. My training was perfect and I definitely didn't overtrain for it but then I have amassed a few miles in the tank over the years (and I am very happy with my technique) which stands for something!

The views from the water of the surroundings are totally stunning. Probably the most remarkable scenery on any 20+ mile swim I have ever done. Water temp was so perfect that when I exited the water I strutted around in T-shirt and shorts with no shaking. The organisation was first classs and well-briefed feeling safe all of the time.

I flew into Boston which is a 4 hour drive from Newport. There are more daily flights into Boston than Montreal plus they are cheaper.

I stayed at ‘Vita Huset’ - an apartment, surprisingly good value and clean with my own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living area with access to laundry, fridge-freezer etc.

Much of the lake frontage plots are private and residential but my favourite swim spot is Eagle Point on the east side just below the Canadian border - right by a nature reserve where you will spot the Osprey’s nest and otters.

Don't forget to take your passport everywhere with you. The border police pulled me over one morning on the way back from a sunrise swim with nothing better to do than to question me.

You should definitely take a day or two to go and explore Lake Willoughby and Crystal lake that are only 30 mins away.

Sunset on Lake Memphremagog on my last night:

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

28.5 Mile Manhattan 20-Bridges Swim 1st June 2019

The attempt at a circumnavigation swim of Manhattan island was special in so many ways. It helped me close the file on wanting to do this swim since 2012 but so many things kept getting in the way. The result of the swim is that it has enabled me to feel SO much more at ease in New York being able to see the much quieter and more thoughtful spaces that I like to occupy in my mind with when not at work. After being quite down on NYC, I can see how people can cultivate a life here now having done the swim, stayed on the Upper West Side, having visited Governor's island and being taken training to Brighton Beach on Coney Island (many thanks to Arik and Jaimie). Given I work in a big city myself (London), unsurprising that I like to find quiet on vacation days.
Thanks to the generosity of colleagues and clients, this swim also raised over £4200 for Haven House Children’s Hospice in the UK

For this swim, I had enlisted the kayaking skills of all-round swimming California legend and one of my best swim buddies in Dan Simonelli (pic above) who had been my observer on Catalina and fellow completer of SCAR, Arizona in 2015. We were afforded an absolutely top observer/crew and all round great guy in John Humenik who looked after everything on the boat with NYPD fireman Eric (below) at the helm. At the end of the swim, fireman Eric literally gave me his fireman's T-shirt off his back!
It’s worth me, at this juncture, noting that I had updated many vaccinations (MMR 1&2, DTP and Hep A 6 weeks before the swim) plus was prescribed Doxycycline to take pre- and post swim to ward off any potential nasties. 

Our ‘Jump’ was 09:20 and due to the tides the start was held at Mill Rock Island which was half way up the Eastern shore of Manhattan (just off Randall island) which was different to most of the swims starting and finishing at North Cove.

After an early 06:30 registration, some nervous ‘Hellos’ complete with group photo taken above, I finally got the chance to meet the charming Rondi Davies and Dave Barra, we made our way round to the start, John ‘ghosted me up’ using the rubber gloves caked with sun cream and zinc (sudocrem) to prevent any ill effects of the sun. I applied Vaseline where I usually chafe and luckily our diligence paid off as not much chafe or sunburn ensued save for patch on front left shoulder from stubble that one will always get on a long swim. It always seems to get you somewhere no matter how you try and prevent it!

I was in wave 3 out of 5 with the slower swimmers heading off first led by Jessi from Vancouver. The start was a whistle and we all jumped out off our boats into the cold <60f (ca. 15c in British money) water to get the party started. The first hour was a tough battle without the pull of the tide (in fact the remnants of the ebb were hitting us head on) and constantly needing to pee but didn’t want to stop so battled on and tried ones best to cope whilst moving!

After the first feed post the first hour, you could now feel the current helping to push the swimmer up the Harlem and many of the 20 Bridges came thick and fast with one of the group who started 10mins after me (Israeli swimmer) Avishag, absolutely leathering it past me like a rocket. That made me want to raise my stroke rate so I upped the game and got stuck in. We were being swept along and although the water was brisk it wasn’t totally unmanageable given the time of year and being the 'earliest ever in the season' swim in history of Manhattan swimming. Given the tow we were getting from the current, at the next feed I joked to paddler Dan ‘Even a sodding plastic bag could swim this’ and he came back with ‘yeah - even a condom!!’. We overtook Ger Devin from Ireland and Jessi from Canada during  this stretch - it was obvious who they were as their kayakers had small Irish and Canadian flags flying from poles at the stern of their kayaks respectively.

There was one doubt though in my mind that kept nagging me as I had forgotten to bring my lucky duck (!) who turns up to all swims and events usually sitting on the bow of the boat (on my Channels) or kayak taking the conditions head first. I was hoping that wouldn't be my undoing but one stroke of luck I counted was my new shiny union jack swim cap presented to me from a few kind colleagues at work. I consoled myself that would mitigate the duck staying at home. I had fretted pre-swim that the unique tight fit of swim caps can be very personal but amazingly this one worked a treat so will be getting another outing next month in the US.

Anyway, we continued moving northwards and we passed the Yankees stadium on the right and I continued to hold most of the chasing pack (starting at later times) well at bay. We passed a shack on the left which looked like one of the coolest residences on the island:

Then the super humble Anna-Carin (Ocean’s 7 first female) caught us up with another swimmer both turning over their arms in quite a rapid stroke rate but we cracked on and she never really managed to get past us the whole race thanks to Dan’s expert kayaking and me trying to get my head down.

Rounding the top of the northern part of Manhattan island gave the swimmer a huge sense of achievement having clicked off ca. 1/4 of the endeavour and all of a sudden after passing the ‘C’ representing Columbia Uni (above), the next thing I knew the swimmer and Kayaker basically got jettisoned at pace thru a rail bridge (looking East below) into the temperate (5 degree warmer) Hudson. As we were 'whooshed' under the rail bridge into the Hudson I let out a massive yell of excitement - this was sensational - both warm, fast and now non-salty!

We could then see the George Washington Bridge (GWB) reveal itself (below) spanning the brackish Hudson in all it’s iconic majesty. I just felt this overwhelming sense of privilege to be able to be here to do this with Dan by my side and gunning for the triple crown. I didn't want to be anywhere else and found it really easy to stay in the moment for a change.

The flow from the previous days rains in the Hudson allowed us to fly down to the GWB in 30 mins from the top of the northern part of the island and now the enormity of the swim started to kick in with a plethora or sky-scrapers (what’s the plural?) WAY further down in the far distance. This was a low point for me and probably due to giving it too many beans in the Harlem river trying to chase Avishag and fending off Anna! I did, however, take the opportunity to do a few turns of backstroke under the GWB which is a customary rite of passage!

Gradually we made progress and eased our way down the Western shore and some sights became familiar given the walks we had done having stayed on W 88th Street on the Upper West Side. I was convinced I was swimming slowly and flailing around but we had long dropped any chasing swimmers and Dan reassured we were averaging 3.5-4.5 knots. That made me feel mildly more positive.

(All under control - thumbs up Shez if want flat coke on next feed?!)

We were cracking along nicely and I was beginning to think this was an absolute breeze given the 4 hours taken so far (as I could count them feeding only once per hour) but then we hit the parallel with 40th street and the chop from the wind over tide, boats, helicopters, yachts, tugs (you-name-it) kicked up the water creating a very random rhythm. I generally like it when it properly kicks off and this reminded me of swimming a double Bala 10km in Wales a few years before which almost got cancelled. The only trouble this time was that there was no consistency in the waves coming at you. I couldn't look up to sight as kept getting mouthfuls of water so I resigned myself for letting paddler Dan sight for me so got my head down, endured and properly got stuck into what was coming at me. I was in my element. I caught up a couple of other swimmers who went of in earlier groups and was told by John that the chop would last to just after the battery close to the southern-most end. Water temp was no issue but huge ferry boats and the like were bearing down on us constantly. I didn’t have to worry as I knew Dan was all over it and looked relaxed as only a Californian man can in such a situation. I duly informed him at the next feed wanting to prize a smile that ‘I like it rough’ and ‘love it when it kicks off’ drew a grin. 

I knew we were within 20mins of the southernmost end after going past the North Cove marina where registration earlier on took place but could now see the Freedom Tower standing proudly over us. Very humbling experience indeed. John took the cracking pic above from the comfort of the support boat.

We were close to rounding the southernmost end where the Staten-island ferry comes in and heard loads of hoots of ferry horns and Dan told me to stop dead in your tracks ‘do you need to pee as this is a good time?!’  We were now back in more tidal seawater rather than the brackish Hudson and the temperature dropped back below 60f within a few meters and it stopped me so quickly in my tacks that I couldn’t muster up a pee whilst we spent 30 seconds treading water much to my frustration. The tide was still 45-60mins from turning so in effect we had arrived too quickly knowing that we'd be taking some ebbing current head on.

We rounded the point and it was majestic looking up the south eastern part with the trio of ‘BMW’ bridges (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg) all within sight. The chop was now really bad, the water was bl00dy freezing and we were stopped in our tracks by the remnants of the outgoing tide. The chop was coming from all angles including some weird under-tows. I began to feel disheartened and cold to the bone with frozen hands and forearms having borne the brunt of the kicking we were getting in the chop which was showing no signs of abating. I did begin to wonder whether I would actually get the job done. Feeds had now switched from carb powder to flat coke which raised spirits somewhat and we battled on through the violently unpredictable water and under-currents clicking off the miles.

(Passed the Brooklyn Bridge in the background - even creating a bow wave with my head if you look closely!)

Eventually we rounded the Williamsburg bridge and made the left turn up the Eastern side of the island, the water calmed down and we now had the tide in our favour feeling the gentle push behind. Dan expertly navigated the fastest course possible but pointed out that my ‘stroke rate had markedly slowed’ (I did warn them I didn't appreciate comments on stroke rate before the swim!). I was feeling very cold and informed him that my forearms and hands felt cramped up frozen solid where I just couldn’t relax them. I felt pretty beaten up having to constantly squeeze my goggles into my face so they didn't get swept away and was secretly glad that this swim was no ‘gimmie’. I was deeply regretting making the comment about the plastic bag being able to do it! I was convinced that there might be someone who wouldn’t get it done given the water temperatures but evidently the extensive screening process for this earliest ever attempt at Manhattan works as everyone made it as the field was littered with cold water practitioners!

The finish was now in sight and with every arm pull the current seemed to power us along, past other swimmers following Dan on the paddles who tried to find the smallest advantage in the fast water. The last mile seemed like we totally blasted back up to Mill rock and before you knew it we went past the imaginary finish line, a hooter went off and I was informed to stop swimming. It was over. Round of applause, hollering and waving from whoever was around. Relief, joy and deep sense of accomplishment as I scrambled back onto the support boat (on the 2nd attempt) and whole body cramping like mad. 

I looked over and saw the safety boat captained by Dave Barra and thought how safe and well organised this day was from start to finish with everyone on radios, NYPD on the water and nothing left to chance. Dan came over and said ‘great job Man’ and I got changed and drank hot water during a particualrly bumpy & nauseating boat right back to North Cove Marina. I realised we had overtaken a few other swimmers in the latter stages but didn't know till later that I had come 8th overall and 3rd male home with a time I would have died for - 7 hours 52 mins! (Rondi later informed me the current we had on the day was about average).

Completing this swim allowed me to earn the right to label myself as the 210th ‘Triple Crowner’ alongside the 20 other Brits who had gone on the journey before me.

You can read more about that here:

In conclusion this is a great swim and I would definitely recommend that UK aspirants choose first swim of the season as I really couldn't bear the thought of doing this in heat and warm water - makes me feel ill just thinking about it. Many will come and not give this swim the respect it deserves. The southern section on West- and East sides present a real threat of chop and all swimmers felt pretty beaten up afterwards. The views of the city are breathtaking but I wouldn't want to do it being a right-side breather only which is worth bearing in mind. Luckily, I am left-dominant on breathing. This swim is exceptionally well run and the safety boats were literally everywhere including race officials, NYPD constantly interacting on the radio with ferries etc. These are busy waterways after all. Highly recommended.

Question is, will I return for the 40 Bridges? Always fancied the sightseeing tour at night!