03/07/2016 by Carl Reynolds
The BLDSA runs a series of events around Britain (I hesitate to use Great in the current circumstances, Little might be more appropriate) for long distance swimmers. I’d had my eye on the Torbay swim for some time, as it’s 4 miles from one side to the other, which on a flat sea is a two hour swim for me. I also thought it’d be a good marker for my progress, the week before I join the NedFest in Cork and do at least that distance everyday for nine days.
Mark, my kayaker, and I had a trial run on Thursday evening. The wind was blowing at 14/15mph, and out of our tiny bay at Meadfoot (also the starting point of the Torbay swim) it was white capping. For those of you in the know, this means swimming is challenging, because you’re in choppy waters and you’re as likely to have your arm meet water halfway through your stroke, as you are to find no water and feel yourself fall through its absence. Our trial helped us work out position between kayak and swimmer; but more importantly, that if the wind persisted, he would be kayaking sideways to go forward. The wind persisted!
After the usual pre-event faffage we were off. On the entry form, I’d been assured that my bag would be taken across the Bay to Fishcombe – 4 miles in a straight line, considerably longer by car. Mrs Ape left as soon as we knew the event was on – it was whitecapping, but we’d come this far – so was not on hand when the Race Controller announced that, even if you were to only swim one way, you had to get into a rib and be transported back! Well, bollox to that thought I and Mark.
Once clear of the protection of Meadfoot (around 200m) I had the best part of two hours being flung up and down and round and round; ingesting the odd gob full of sea water; dancing with numerous gangs of jellies; getting slapped in the face when it gusted to Force 6; being immersed in sea cloud and driving rain; and wondering why I had not already got out. And just at the point when I thought I’d throw my dummy out of the pram, I determined to relax and go on…even though I was now stung on barely felt feet, had developed claws and was mightily sick of the taste of salt. And then it seemed closer and the land provided a break from the wind. And the sun sort of came out. And then to shore, a smiling reception and off for a hot shower and some grub.
Two hours later the Race Controller rings me and asks me if I’m out of the water, as she’s about to call the Coastguard. I thank her for her concern, reassure her that I am OK, and ask her to consider why, after both my wife and I had informed the safety boat that we were not returning – several times in my case, this had not been communicated.
An hour or so after finishing I thought that while this wasn’t one of the longest swims I’ve done, it was certainly the hardest, both physically and mentally. A day later, my shoulders feel as though they have been on a mighty punch up. Thanks to Mark for kayak support, Kate for tolerating my obsession and everyone else for best wishes and oooh and argghhhs!