Monday 9 July 2012


So, Superman (Mark Bayliss) and I decided the best plan of attack for the Torbay swim, and in order to not to use up any holiday, would be to hit the roads after work (7ish) and mosey on down to the English Riviera, pitch a tent somewhere and then report for swimming duty at the Meadfoot beach at 7.30am for the 8 mile swim. Like any good plan, we found out that flexibility was going to be key! I packed the monster truck with tuck box with food, stoves, tent, cool box with goodies and scooped up Superman at 7.30pm. We duly avoided all the tailbacks on the M25 and wormed our way past Guildford whereupon the heavens opened. I said jokingly, I bet it rains now until we get home….Wish I had been wrong…… We rocked into Torquay at around 11.30pm with some pretty heavy rain continuing and pulled up by Meedfoot Beach where the sea was coming all the way up to the harbour wall and it was going to be apparent that no tent would get pitched on the beach…. What were we thinking?! Suddenly realised I couldn’t get out of the truck as a local taxi driver pulled up so close alongside preventing me from getting out – he and I both wound windows down and he noted ‘I put money on it that you’ve been drinking’ – I retorted ‘I wish I had – just driven down from London and have been up since 5am this morning’. He wasn’t budging – ‘don’t worry I have called the police and given them your number plate’!!! Utter nonsense…. Being too tired to really give this rascal a piece of my mind I just said ‘Bring it on. Just Bring it on’’. He then drove off….What a charming welcome to Torquay. To cut a long story short, we nudged up the road and found a small park with a large tree 200 yards off the road. Exhausted, pitched the tent, pumped up my airbed and launched ourselves into the tent with the rain hammering down.
The rain continued but was then accompanied by an ever greater wind and all i could hear was the sound of an avalanche the whole time (oh, that'll be the sea then!)..By the time daylight came, my feet were soaked in my pod sleeping bag due to the tent caving in on my legs and we then hastily packed up the tent at 6am as soon as humanly right to cook breakfast. Never had tried to sleep with wet feet before…. Up the road we found a storm shelter to rustle up the finest outdoor breakfast known to mankind and Superman was treated to Museli, fresh milk, boiled eggs, bacon sandwiches and never ending coffee from cafĂ© Sheridan. The rain and wind continued to come in horizontal fashion……  

We reported to the Meadfoot beach at 7.30am for registration with the waves crashing into the harbour wall and going 20m vertically up in the air. It was around that time that Superman and I realised we had actually pitched the tent on the most exposed headland in the area with no shelter from the onslaught of wind and rain. Amazing what daylight uncovers... It was impossible to walk along the pavement without a right old soaking. Swimmers, Kayakers, Safety people and the BLDSA swim organisers then started arriving and gradual decisions made upon the course of action. The 8-miler across to Brixham and back was cancelled as you couldn’t see Brixham so a ½ mile loop course laid out into the bay with 8 laps resulting in 4 miles round the bay starting at 12.15.

Delightful and inviting sea here....

Quite rightly, the president of the BLDSA made sure we were reminded that just to get into the water today was going to be an achievement in itself. I kept drumming that into my head as I de-layered into the speedo’s. Counted into the water and set off. The swell was monstrous and after Dover harbour a big change now actually having to swim in the sea (without the protection that a harbour affords). It was a mixture of extreme fun and utterly terrifying. After two or three mouthfuls of sea water heading down to that 1st buoy one of my fist reactions was that I was going to drown, vomit or both. Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!. In the end I calmed down and luckily remembered seeing the video of Liane Llewellyn on youtube when she did the double channel where she did a stroke that appeared more like catch-up to make sure she held her stroke into the waves and swell. I therefore decided to copy this and I think it really helped to stop my arms from being smashed aside out of control by the large waves. My mask goggles came off twice (will change these next time in a big sea) and the eyes were getting sore with the sea water. I finished the first lap and really wondered how 8 laps of this was ever going to be on the cards. (swim underway here)

Just when desperation was staring me in the eyes, a canoeist decided to accompany me all the way around and kept pretty close to my side. ‘Ian’ (his name I was to find out later) really helped me to hang in there – owe him big time... In the end, I settled down and after half way was in some reasonably high spirits and had convinced myself that I was absolutely flying – the water felt marginally calmer. In fact, my overall pace wasn’t too shabby as Superman and Simon Lee only caught up with me as I was finishing my 7th lap. There were times that I really wished I had been sick because I thought it might help but body wasn’t obliging. When I finished the swim, something really remarkable happened. Trying to get back to the beach was utterly mental having to avoid getting smashed into the large rocks by the large waves. The great Vince Classen held out his strong hand and scooped me out of the water whilst wearing his drysuit. Amazing and without him I certainly have been injured in some way… The other thing that was touching, and a first for me at a BLDSA swim, - not only did all the people on the beach clap, when I rose the stairs to the undercover area – both finishers and crowd clapped again. I think everyone was well aware how utterly brutal that swim was.

I couldn’t forget what an achievement it felt like just to finish and mentioned as such to the president’s Mum whether she wanted to hear it or not! I also, 20 mins after, noticed that the super fast winner, Ollie Wilkinson, came over to the last man to congratulate him for finishing. No bullshit ego one sees from Elites, just plain vanilla respect for each other in a gruelling event. Quality. Nuala Muir Cochrane very kindly made me a nice cup of coffee whilst I began to start some shakes and we then awaited the certificate presentation after all the competitors had finished. They started with the ladies presentations  - I thought I had heard it incorrectly – only 2 finished out of 6 starters with 4 retirements? None of the women vets finished the race in order to get the trophy....The men were then read out – winner Ollie Wilkinson finishing in 1hr 41m . I came 5th out of 6th seniors in 2hrs 25mins. Convinced myself that time was irrelevant in these conditions. Even the people who retired did well. Out of 60million people in the country, some of the toughest characters in the country I am convinced were here getting into the water on this day.....Another unforgettable experience...

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