We're back! A New Year heralds Part Three of our global feature series, bringing you mythic tales and water-loving stories from our favourite open water swimmers around the world. Keep an eye out for all our latest entries - released on our blog every Thursday! And expect another fantastic selection of stunning swim locations around the world, as well as many life-changing feats accomplished in the waters of our blue planet...
- Simon Murie (Bonifacio Strait – Corsica to Sardinia)
- Louise Twining Ward (British Virgin Islands)
- Sian and Telly (Baltic Lakes, Lithuania)
- Gary Emich (Alcatraz, San Francisco - 1000 crossings)
- George English (Tremiti Islands, Italy)
- Ann Hartland (Dalmatian Coast, Croatia)
- James Donnet (The Bosphorus, Turkey)
- Rose Stevens (Crete, Greece)
- Bronwen Puleston-Jones (Rottnest Channel, Australia)
- Trevor & Lucy (Greek Sporades, Greece)
- Kate Todd (English Channel, England & France)
- Simon Emm (Oman Fjords, Oman)
- Ricky & Sian (Corfu to Sivota Bay Retreat)
- Kate Matwychuk (Sea of Cortez, Baja California)
- Marie Corley (Lycian Way, Turkey)
- Benjamin McIvor (Baltic Lakes, Lithuania)
- Olivia Weatherill (Musandam Peninsula, Oman)
- Simon Murie (Oulujoki River, Finland)
- Dr Nick Murch (Long Distance Training Camp, Mallorca)
- Reggie Lang (Bosphorus Cross Continental Race)
41. Simon Murie (Bonifacio Strait – Corsica to Sardinia)
13.5 km swim on June 17, 2014
"Dividing the French Island of Corsica and the Italian Island of Sardinia is the Strait of Bonifacio, a 12km wide stretch of water that has a fearsome reputation among sailors the world over. Due to the mountainous nature of both islands and the prevailing westerly wind direction the islands can literally funnel the wind through the strait to generate powerful gales."
"One such storm led to the notorious sinking of the French frigate Semillante, which sank with nearly 700 hands when it was on its way to the Crimea but hit the Lavessi Islands in the north eastern part of the strait in 1855. More recently, the breaking up of the tanker, MV Erika, in a heavy storm caused an environmental disaster in 1999, the ramifications of which are still being felt locally to this day."
"Due to its powerful winds the strait isn’t the easiest place for swimming, which (to me) makes the crossing all the more attractive. There’s also the pull of crossing between two of Europe’s major countries. When considering a swim, I always like to look at historical precedent and what, if anything, has been achieved before. However in this case historical records are hard to come by on either side of the strait and no official annals seems to have been kept for successful crossings. Locals in Northern Sardinia refer to the Clacci brothers (Ruggero & Paolo) from Rome as being the first swimmers known (from the Italian side at least) to successfully complete the crossing in 1958 when they landed in Sardinia with Ruggero finishing just three seconds ahead of his brother."
"Locals in Northern Sardinia refer to the Clacci brothers (Ruggero & Paolo) from Rome as being the first swimmers known (from the Italian side at least)..."
"This swim is certainly less established than many other European strait crossings such as the English Channel, Gibraltar, Messina and Hellespont, with no real organisation or established pilots on either side for swimmers to turn to."
"This swim has been on my own radar for the last three years yet has proved elusive because of the weather and problems in gaining the right permissions from both the French and Italian authorities to undertake the swim."
"I made my latest attempt in June this year with my swimming mate Tom Hudson from the South London Swimming Club and ably crewed by Richard Tricker of the same club. The swim was organised by Tommaso Muntoni, the owner of a local Sardinian dive company. Diving Mediterraneo, based in the port town of Santa Teresa Gallura, who is relatively new to this game of escorting swimmers (Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation president Nick Adams and friends had swum with him a year earlier)."
"Sea conditions were ideal as we headed out on the half-hour boat ride to the southeast Corsican coast. On arrival we had an impromptu medical before diving in and making our way into the petit beach of Cala di Ciappili, which was to be the start point."
"As you strike out, the Sardinian coast seems far away. The clarity in this part of the Mediterranean is superb and it was possible to see the sea floor up to a kilometre from shore. A later study of a nautical map showed that we were swimming along a narrow corridor where the sea bed was no more than 18m below the surface. The Lavezzi Islands were our constant companions as we swam south. As well as swimming between two islands we were also at the divide of two seas. As we breathed to the right we were looking at the Western Mediterranean Sea and as we breathed to the left our view was of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which separates both of these islands from the Italian mainland."
"As well as swimming between two islands we were also at the divide of two seas. As we breathed to the right we were looking at the Western Mediterranean Sea and as we breathed to the left our view was of the Tyrrhenian Sea..."
"The forecast for the whole day was excellent and by the half-way point we had made good progress and thought we were looking at a rather straightforward swim. But then, and seemingly out of nowhere, a strong wind hit and within a few minutes made the swim an altogether tougher prospect. At this stage swimming next to the escort boat became impractical and this we had to navigate ourselves in a choppy sea as well as dealing with a head-on surface current created by the wind that caused us a significant delay in our swim. There were mutterings between us that either a two-hour training swim wasn’t the greatest preparation for what we were undertaking or that maybe both of us were getting far too old for this sort of endeavour."
"This stretch of Sardinian coastline is the world famous Costa Smerelda and we had plenty of time to look at the emerald colour of the water (which was in start contrast to the turquoise blue of the Corsican side) as we slowly inched our way to the coast."
"After 5 hours and 33 minutes we eventually pulled ourselves out onto a Sardinian rock at Punta Corvo a straight line distance of 13.5km from our start point."
"This is swimming in one of its most basic forms. There are no fancy maps to check out of briefings before you swim. To be honest if you don’t speak Italian (although Tommaso speaks some French) you will struggle to communicate clearly with your pilot. At some stages during your swim you’re not even sure if you’re following the boat or indeed if the boat is following you and don’t expect nice certificates, medals or even your name on a roll of honour as of the moment none of that actually exists."
42. Louise and Kay (British Virgin Islands)
When Louise Twining-Ward, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, wanted to indulge her love of the big blue by going on a SwimTrek to the British Virgin Islands, she faced a dilemma. Her children (12 and 14) are too young to join and her husband is a more of a dry-land sort of chap...
Louise’s mother Kay Johnson had the answer: “I’d love to come!”
Kay had lived on the small two acre island, Marine Cay, in the Caribbean during the 1960s so when Louise asked if her Mum would like to join her, Kay was thrilled and thought it would be a fabulous way to have some Mother-Daughter time and revisit some wonderful memories. Initially, Kay booked as a non-swimmer as she thought that although her daughter would be suited to the swimming distances each day, Kay felt that it was out of reach for her even though she regularly swims 1km at her local pool at Prested Hall, Kelvedon.
That was until she reached the British Virgin Islands where upon seeing the stunning blue ocean and sunshine, Kay was converted and could not wait to get in. With the support of the SwimTrek guides Yves, Gary and Mike the boat pilot, Kay was encouraged and regularly swam with the group each day - getting out when she had enough.
This may not sound too remarkable, but when you consider that Kay was 84 (we did ask if we could mention this) on this, her first SwimTrek holiday, she has become our oldest ever SwimTrekker and proves that if you have the right attitude and have done the training for the trip you can achieve incredible things whatever your abilities.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the swim guides," said Kay, "I feel so lucky to have taken part in such a wonderful experience. I just hope other people are inspired by what I have done and have a fabulous time just as I did. If you have thought about going on a SwimTrek holiday but thought you might not be good enough whatever your age, just book it, otherwise you could be missing the experience of a lifetime!"
"I can’t speak highly enough of the swim guides," said Kay, "I feel so lucky to have taken part in such a wonderful experience..."
Find out more about our British Virgin Islands swimming holiday
43. Sian and Telly (Baltic Lakes, Lithuania)
From field notes to photos, adventures can be recorded in many ways to aid the stories you share on your return. Guides Sian and Telly share just some of their memories and highlights from years spent guiding the Baltic Lakes trips in the tall forests and freshwater lakes of Lithuania:
"Lithuania, not expected to be renowned for its culinary delights, surprised us with the best homemade granola and curd cake topped with local, handpicked blueberries from the surrounding pine forests for breakfast. Audra's amazing broccoli salad for lunch, and Matthew's barbecued ribs for dinner with Audra's main ingredient - love..."
"Loosely following the Great Ring kayak route around the lakes of Auksitija National Park, we earned a whole lot of kudos hoisting the kayaks in and out of the water and transporting them between lakes by road, accompanied by some class tunes provided by our resident Californian DJ/driver/host/barbecue king..."
"Our strolls between swims took us through woods full of blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries past pretty little lakes and houses..."
"Our strolls between swims took us through woods full of blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries past pretty little lakes and houses."
Ladakalnis to Piliakalnis
"Climbing up the steps to Ladakalnis, following a picturesque, peaceful swim across Linkmenas, we caught a photo opportunity of the beautiful view of 6 lakes from the top of the hill, as well as the kudos-collecting kayaker who drew the short straw in towing both kayaks and heavy kit back to the base of Piliakalnis."
"Are you familiar with the birch? There is a cluster of intertwined birches in the distance in the middle of a pine forest - aim for the birches!"
"Look at the treeline. It's flat, no? Now look left of the flat treeline. Can you see the two tufty trees in the distance. Aim for the gap between them."
"Can you see the two grassy islands? Well, no they don't look like islands because there's another grassy island behind them, on which there is a single birch. Aim for the gap just in front of the birch."
"Actually, scrap that just follow the orange shirt on the kayak. Enjoy the view and swim straight, please."
"Watching the sun go down over Lusiai, sitting in a Japanese hot tub while the wetsuits dry in the sauna after a long but lovely day in Lithuania - that was a highlight!"
Final day swim from Asalnai, via Meironys across Lusiai to Tiki Inn
"Definitely the most challenging swim of the trip but sweetened by the 'Extraction Point' tea stop at Maironys, and knowing that you are swimming home to the Tiki Inn and yet another lovely lunch."
Find out more about our trip in Lithuania
Read the full blog: Sian and Telly's Baltic Adventure
44. Gary Emich (Alcatraz, San Francisco - 1000 crossings)
Gary Emich is an accomplished and well-travelled open water swimmer and regular guide for SwimTrek. He has swum in the Amazon, Lake Titicaca, Loch Ness, Fiji, Rottnest Channel Swim, relayed in the English Channel, swum the Catalina Channel, Strait of Gibraltar, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and even around Key West. What makes Gary truly unique though is his obsession with Alcatraz. Not only does Gary already hold the record for the greatest number of Alcatraz Island swims. He also embarked on his 1000th crossing on 11 June 2013, together with Steven Hurwitz - without a wetsuit or fins.
Following is a selection Gary's memories from his 1000 Alcatraz crossings:
(Alcatraz Crossing No 1) "[I] lacerated my entire body with cuts from barnacles after I missed the opening into Aquatic Park and had no other recourse but to clamber over Muni Pier’s underside to finish the swim – I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossing No 65) "The regatta materialized out of nowhere. Swimming through it was akin to dodging traffic while running across an 8-lane expressway – I returned for more."
"A heart attack nearly exploded in my chest as a long black shadow buzzed beneath me in the murky water. Rolling up into a ball I frantically looked around to scream for the nearest pilot..."
(Alcatraz Crossing No 72) "The fog descended without warning. Neither swimmers nor pilots could see anything – only the movement of the water provided clues as to the direction of shore – I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossing No 201) "A heart attack nearly exploded in my chest as a long black shadow buzzed beneath me in the murky water. Rolling up into a ball I frantically looked around to scream for the nearest pilot. Suddenly a playful sea lion pup breached 5 feet in front of me. From sheer terror to laughter in a split second - I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossings Nos 229, 230, 231 & 232) "During the course of a single day and in concert with the shifting currents I “escaped” from Alcatraz in all four directions: east to Treasure Island, north to Angel Island, west to the Golden Gate Bridge and finally south back to San Francisco. Ten miles in one day – I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossings No 415 & 416) "Braving your 5.6 knot raging ebb I swam 7 miles in 79 minutes (11.3 mph miles) starting at the Bay Bridge, stopping to high-five Alcatraz and then continuing on to the Golden Gate Bridge all the while with 3 foot waves and 15 knot winds smacking into my face - I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossings Nos 601 to 616) "To torment my friend and fellow rival I swam out to Alcatraz and back to shore 8 times in 10 days (yes that counts as 16 crossings) moving from 10 behind him to 6 ahead. At age 58 this pushed me to the limits of my physical abilities; and it temporarily strained our friendship - I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossing No 702) "After 700+ conquests of your frozen, choppy, shark-infested and treacherous waters it was time to pay the tribute you were demanding: near amputation of my left big toe after stepping on an underwater razor sharp rock at Alcatraz – seven stitches down to the bone – I returned for more."
(Alcatraz Crossing No 914) "Over 900 crossings and never a second thought given to the five species of harmless sharks in San Francisco Bay (the Great Whites stay out in the ocean) but the hair literally stood up on the back of my neck and I sensed the presence of something very menacing, very ominous, very nearby and very real - I returned for more."
Read Gary's full blog: The 1000th Crossing.
45. George English (Tremiti Islands, Italy)
"Travelling down from Bonnie Scotland made for an interesting journey. After using almost every mode of transport (Trains Planes & Automobiles) I arrived at the Tremiti Islands... I knew the long, hard journey would bring its rewards."
"Once on the islands we were transported to the hotel to be checked in and meet our guides for the week, Francesco & Ricky (aka The Cardinal). The welcome dinner allowed us swimmers to converse and get to know each other more. (My Shrek-like accent meant the conversations with my multi-national swimmers were challenging at times. However, I shouldn’t have worried as everybody got on right from the start, chatting away as if we had known each other for ages, then off to bed for some well-deserved sleep."
"Up early for breakfast Italian style (cakes, cakes & more cake), then off down to the beach for our acclimatisation swim. We were all videoed swimming which was later played back to us, with the coaches giving good advice on how to improve your swimming technique… That’s if you needed improvement! Although an agenda of swims was provided, this was always dependent on weather conditions. The instructors would ensure we had a swim, but always with our safety in mind. Our first swim adventure turned out to be a 1st for the Tremiti SwimTrek. We ventured 3.4km down the north coast of Capraia with it stunning views. Back to dry land for some post swim warm drinks & biscuits to chat about our day’s adventure."
"Another first for the Tremiti trip as we circumnavigated the Island of San Nicola. 3.5km. Again, fantastic views! Each island presented us with views of unique cliff structure... Lunch was at the beachside restaurant (this is where we would have our lunch every day). The holiday afforded us the opportunity to explore the small islands, along with chill-out time on the lone beach before our afternoon swim. This was a straight crossing of 1.6km from San Nicola to Capraia. It was after this swim that I realised it was not all about speed and getting from one point to the other in the fastest time. This holiday is more about doing the sport you love, exploring the unique coastlines and scenery you encounter on your journey. Back for warm drinks and our daily chat about today’s swims during dinner and getting to know more about each other."
"Today’s swim was along the north coast of San Domino. This was a nice leisurely swim where I was able to improve my techniques from the tips given to me by my coaches. This was a 3.5km swim through stunning coastline, full of caves and secret pools to investigate. Second swim of the day was across from Cretaccio to Capraia. This was a bit more challenging as there was a slight swell in the channel, but with the sun shining behind us - this made it all the more enjoyable."
"This was a short 2km swim with more stunning views along the north east coast of San Domino & the circumnavigation of Cretaccio. The weather turned to wind and rain after lunch. We were taken over to San Nicola - home to a monastery which dominates many pictures of the Tremiti islands. We were given some background history of the islands. It was indeed a fun afternoon with a few beers and a laugh about the day's adventure in the harbour café, while waiting on the ferry back to the main island."
"Today’s swim was a 3km trail from the beach down the south side of San Domino, meandering through the bays and swimming through caves. We witnessed equally stunning coastal views - just like all the other islands. The 2nd swim of the day was down the south-east side of Capraia, where we had the opportunity to view the sunken Statua di Padre Sommera, which lies some 13-metres below the surface. Back to the hotel for our last dinner and relaxation after our week-long adventure. After dinner, we went up to the local Gelateria, where I tried Mirto for the first time. More fun and laughter before traveling home the following day."
"This holiday is more about doing the sport you love, exploring the unique coastlines and scenery you encounter on your journey..."
46. Ann Hartland (Dalmatian Coast, Croatia)
"The Croatian Dalmatian Coast trip, based on the island of Prvic, seemed an obvious choice when searching for my second SwimTrek holiday, earlier this year. My first tour was in the British Virgin Islands in March, which I knew would be hard to beat in terms of weather and dazzling seas - where it seemed all the fish in the world congregated, purely for our swimming pleasure that week."
"...where it seemed all the fish in the world congregated, purely for our swimming pleasure that week."
"Croatia came close though. The waters are warm in August (around 26C), the sun is an almost permanent feature (more on this later) - the average distance is a challenging 4km per day, but, just as important, although quite a dull reason to pick the trip in comparison, was the ease of which we could get there from Split airport (we arranged a direct transfer from the airport to the hotel for just €40 each way, as advised on the SwimTrek website), which in total took about an hour and fifteen minutes."
"The guides were also key to my choice of location. We had Ricky and Kelly on our trip to the BVI, so ideally I wanted a trip with one of them, within reason. As someone who had done very little open-water swimming before that first trip, I wanted to feel safe and confident while I swam. They were both great and put me at ease. As it was, I had the quite rare experience of getting them both on the Croatia trip, which was a bonus. What astonishes me is their ability to seemingly remember every single person from every single trip they’ve ever done in the past four years - recalling names, incidents, and the group dynamics - it really makes you feel special."
"For anyone who has been on a SwimTrek tour, it's the people in your group and your shared experiences that are often more memorable than the actual swimming. I don't mean to dismiss the swimming, which is obviously incredible, but you know it will be great wherever you go. As for the group, I've been lucky to have been part of two fantastic, easy-going and hilariously funny groups on both trips. Even now, just days after returning, I can't remember all the swims we did, or their locations, but I can remember every single person on the boat, the colour of their hat, their stories, their personalities and our joint experiences."
"The sage and remarkably fast Barry, from Switzerland, who offered me advice far beyond swimming and treated us all to ice-cream on the second night (thank you, Barry). Tom and Martha, the father and daughter pairing from Canada who've been on several SwimTrek tours together in recent years. Tom is approaching 70 years of age yet still managed to do a ballsy dive off the top of the boat one day, and brave Martha, who is back on the fitness trail after months of being away recovering from a serious illness."
"'Superman' Andreas from Germany led the field each day, keeping us all in check and providing me with a pair of feet to drag from – he also had a remarkable and unquenchable thirst for watermelon. His cheeky wife Romina who we witnessed in true form during our impromptu water polo 'games', courtesy of our guide Kelly, who plays professional water polo during the winter - many swimmers were sunk at the hands of the tiny German if you held the ball too long."
"Then there were the Aussies from Perth - four of them! Neil and Rebecca and Maree and Declan (who actually comes from California, but lives in Perth, so is an honorary Aussie). Wherever they were you could usually guarantee there was a lot of laughter. They had such joie de vivre and were a constant reminder to not take life (or the swimming) too seriously."
"Then we had the two Scots from Glasgow, who after 12 years of being engaged are getting married in October and couldn't be less stressed about the event if they tried. They used the swimming trip as an opportunity to give us a flavour of their wedding by getting us to do a Ceilidh once, quite remarkably, on the boat, and then again on our last-night meal, much to the disbelief of the locals."
"Roommates Phillip and Vincenzo met on the trip and couldn't have been more chalk and cheese – the former a laid-back fifth Aussie on the trip who, when he put his mind to it, eased his way to the front taking half the amount of strokes to do so than the rest of us - and Vincenzo, the Italian with boundless energy who would break into butterfly halfway through a swim, often in a completely different direction to the rest of the group."
"And finally Diane, my partner in crime on the trip, who won the prize for being the 'Best Vaselinee' after being the most polite to ask for grease each day. 'Please may I have some Vaseline, Ricky?' Anyone who has had Ricky as a guide, though, will know that there's always a very busy line in his Vaseline queue, among the men as well as the women!"
"It was this group and its spirit that pulled together right from the start when, on the first day, we had a delay because of a thunder and lightning storm. Despite being in the Mediterranean, in what is supposed to be one of the hottest months of the year, we were reminded that it can rain anywhere - whether it’s your summer holiday or not. We weren't able to do a swim that morning, instead walking around the ancient town of Sibenik, where those of us who were too stupid (me) to bring a jacket, got soaked. We made up for it in the afternoon with a 3km swim along Zlarin, so all was not lost. Other days of grey skies and lightning followed, but it didn't dampen the mood - the laughter flowed just as well as the beers did in the evening."
"...laughter flowed just as well as the beers did in the evening"
47. James Donnet (The Bosphorus, Turkey)
"Eventually all middle-aged men hit 'peak triathlon' so towards the end of 2015 I resolved to freshen things up for 2016 by focusing on single discipline events (with the emphasis on events rather than races). Swimming wise this meant some coaching to improve my plodding freestyle technique and entering some long distance swimming events. The Asia to Europe swim rang a bell from my time of working in Istanbul a decade ago and Google led me to SwimTrek which seemed to have the bases covered in terms of race entry and associated admin..."
"Friday night before the trip I was fidgeting with my smart-phone and came across tweets about a coup attempt in Turkey, blockaded bridges and President Erdogan imploring his compatriots (via FaceTime) onto the streets to give the mutinous troops a bloody good hiding. Rolling news channels' reporters had their sternest faces on and the ticker tape of developments got ever more alarming. My pre race Zen was in tatters and my wife concluded that 'it looks like the trip is off'. I emailed friends in Turkey hoping they would reassure me that it was all just local high spirits but as the weekend wore on things didn't look too promising (geopolitically or swim-wise)."
"SwimTrek reluctantly waved the white flag on Monday evening. I was all British stoicism when the cancellation email arrived, accepting that it was the only realistic option in the face of an uncertain situation and ambiguous guidance from the FCO. Friends and relatives offered commiserations and advised I was doing the 'prudent thing'. Come Tuesday morning my pragmatism had evaporated and I had the proper hump: were those 120 mile roundtrips to Kent and Parliament Hill lido sessions in vain!? SwimTrek clearly sensed our frustration and whilst angrily shopping in St Albans I received the email to say that race entries remained valid and for those still wishing to make the trip SwimTrek would run the trip, subject to a few more waivers. Game on!"
"My pre race Zen was in tatters and my wife concluded that 'it looks like the trip is off'..."
"Arriving in Istanbul not a lot seemed different from 10 years back: a few more flags on display but otherwise it was business as usual with yellow cabs beep-beeping their way around town and people puffing ciggies wherever they pleased. At registration I was given a snazzy holdall with race essentials (timing chip & cap), memorabilia (t-shirt, slippers) and loads of biscuits/snacks. Some arrival drinks with fellow swimmers then the plan was head down for an early night..."
"I polished off an omelette for my pre race breakfast, which fellow participants advised me was of close to nil nutritional value for the challenge ahead. Soon close to 2,000 swimmers of all nationalities and body shapes were being ferried across to the Asian side of the city, flanked by safety vessels and drones. After the preparatory hullabaloo the swim itself (all 83 minutes of it in my case) was an almost baptismal experience - the pre race hassles were washed away upon dropping in off the starting pontoon. The water was a balmy 25C and, for such a busy shipping thoroughfare, surprisingly clear (not quite the shimmering turquoise of Maldives holiday brochures but not Albert Docks sludge either). The waters were not too choppy and the jellyfish were keeping at a safe depth. Like Naples, Istanbul is a city whose chaotic nature and rolling landscapes are best appreciated from the water - all the more so being actually in rather than just on the water. Those colossal bridges are imposing structures from the vantage point of a boat but swimming under them had a real 'am I actually doing this?' feel to it. As we progressed and I found the currents I got quite cocky and even fancied I might not be too far off the hour. I told myself I should find a steady rhythm and savour the experience (apologies: my inner triathlete compels such rationalisation). The last few hundred metres were a bit of a washing machine with counter currents and flailing arms but soon I was towelling off and wrestling the crowds for my finishers’ certificate."
"Soon close to 2,000 swimmers of all nationalities and body shapes were being ferried across to the Asian side of the city..."
"Reflections one month on: an event like this has an inevitably high 'faff to actual event' ratio but I prefer to ask myself two questions: was it an interesting experience and would I repeat it? Yes, and yes. Unsolicited big thanks to SwimTrek: this was a trip delivered by a committed team in trying circumstances and they didn't once grumble or invoke the small print. Thanks also to Barry Stuhler and his wife Margaret who were gracious dining companions to a lone traveller before and after the race."
Read James' full blog: 'My Story of Swimming from Asia to Europe'
48. Rose Stevens (Crete, Greece)
"I’m a nervous flyer but I quashed my fear with prosecco and my nerves dissolved as we landed in stunning Chania. We had dinner at a restaurant in the old town, and the waiter brought us free chocolate cake and a small carafe of raki as if we were old friends. This gesture set the tone for the holiday: friendship and free stuff."
"Our SwimTrek was based in Paleochora, a lively little town in the south of the island. After a morning acclimatisation swim, during which we were split into 3 groups according to speed, we set off with Damulis, our boat captain. The water was turquoise and my fellow swimmers were lovely, looking out for one another as we swam and making sure that everyone kept up. Sitting on the bow of Damulis’s boat as we bounced home across the bay, I experienced that sense of freedom and exhilaration that only a SwimTrek holiday can bring.
"This gesture set the tone for the holiday: friendship and free stuff..."
"That evening, after a delicious dinner followed by a free nutty chocolate dessert and raki, we went shopping. Paleochora comes to life in the evenings with lively bars and restaurants spilling noisily onto the pavement and shops open until late. There’s also free stuff. A simple bag purchase turned into a sociable encounter with a shop owner who plied us with samples of his homemade jam and my new favourite tipple - coffee and ouzo."
"The wind was up the next day and we had to stick to the bay for our morning swim. I’m a relatively inexperienced open water swimmer and to me the swell still seemed scarily big. What kept me in the water and out of the support boat was the encouragement of our fantastic guides Trish and Caoihme, along with a fellow swimmer’s valiant under-water rendition of: ‘I got my mind set on you’. I started singing too, fixed my eyes on the finishing point of Damulis’ boat and went for it. During our afternoon swim the waves were just as big, but, spurred on by my morning’s success, I loved it."
"The next day, after a 5k swim, three of us went running. During our 5k vertical run up a nearby hill it started to rain so hard that we could barely see and we were sloshing through torrents of brown water. My running companions were far fitter than me, but, just as when we were swimming, they stuck with me. The rain had eased as we squelched back down the hill and checked out the scenery, including the ubiquitous poly tunnels. which are dotted around this part of the island. Our nosiness was rewarded by a gift of an enormous bag of tomatoes from the grower."
"Bad weather conditions meant a spectacular hike the following morning followed by another choppy swim. The next day the weather was even worse, torrential rain and fog and even a water spout that danced across the bay during the morning swim. We took it easy in the afternoon and enjoyed an extended lunch made longer by free orange cake and raki. That evening we toasted a fantastic week over dinner followed by free raki and huge plates of grapes. The weather had been dodgy and we’d had to be flexible with our swimming routes, but, thanks to our wonderful guides and the new friends we’d all made, none of us wanted to go home."
"The following morning there was just enough time for an exhilarating swim in the bay, before we had to say a sad goodbye (and can we please have your jobs!) to Trish and Caoihme. On the flight home I was gritting my teeth through some mild turbulence, when a small bottle of prosecco appeared. It was a gift from a fellow SwimTrekker who was sitting further down the plane and knew about my flying phobia. Friends and free stuff, it’s what great holidays are made of."
49. Bronwen Puleston-Jones (Rottnest Channel, Australia)
A while back SwimTrek asked on Facebook: “Who goes swimming on their Birthday?”. Skip forward a few months and our guide Bronwen got in touch about how she celebrated her birthday. Rather than simply sinking a few beers, Bronwen took on a solo swim of the famous Rottnest Channel - 19.7km in open water from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island - following her enjoyable duo swim the year before...
"I did a duo in 2013 and enjoyed the experience. It's a huge event and a great spectacle, ending on a special island surrounded by aquamarine waters and squeaky white beaches."
"Solo is a very different undertaking (as I'm sure Simon will know), I loved the camaraderie of the team during the duo, you have so much more contact with everyone over the day and you also get more of a sense of the size of the event - you're watching all these other swimmers and boats and paddlers as the flotilla makes its way across. As a solo you only seem to chat with your paddler, mine kept blowing backwards every time we stopped for a feed/drink. I needed a pretty good sense of humour as I swam back to him each time, it's quite a mental hit actually, and I reckon I swam at least a full km backwards."
"The day (23 April, 2015) was supposed to be pretty tough by all the commentary about wind and waves. There was Lizzie and a few SwimTrek guests from Turkey and Croatia trips, doing team and duo swims. The fastest solos got across in about 4.5 hours and the last solo (gal) came in after 10.5 hrs - brilliant effort! I was somewhere in between. I struggled with a shoulder issue from about 11kms and felt as though I was just turning my arms over without any power. But we got there in the end and I was pleased to have a birthday ale later in the evening!"
"I was pleased to have a birthday ale later in the evening!"
50. Trevor & Lucy (Greek Sporades, Greece)
"Well now that we have returned home and our shoulders no longer ache, the flow of photos from the other members has started to circulate. Its time to reflect on our time in the Greek Sporades."
"After a long journey to arrive at Alonissos, travelling from Lanzarote always proves a challenge in itself, we were so pleased to find the hotel. The Atrium hotel is lovely, nice location with magnificent views, staff super friendly and very helpful."
"At the meet-'n'-greet Kate & Bron talked us through the forthcoming week and we had a chance to find out about all the other members. What an amazing group of people from all different walks of life and different swimming abilities."
"The next morning we all took part in SwimTrek´s version of the 'Sorting Hat' as per Harry Potter, and the three groups were decided. So, the holiday began... Each day we had a different location to swim. Each day was a different distance. Each day a lovely lunch was prepared in the one square meter galley. Bron, what a talent! After the morning swim she would disappear below decks and supply us with endless cups of tea and biscuits, followed by these lovely lunchtime meals."
"What an amazing group of people from all different walks of life..."
"At the end of each day we would head back up the hill after having that well-earned cold beer, or a monster ice-cream. Some evenings Kate and Bron organised groups meals. We have been involved with such things in the past and were weary of them. However, what a wonderful surprise, the time wasted looking over the meal, then having to order and wait, and then having to remember what you ordered! Kate had pre-ordered a variety of dishes for us all to share and all the above pain was removed. We tried food that I never would have ordered and travelled to different restaurants on the island. It made those evenings very enjoyable and totally pain free - a great way to end the day!"
"The only disappointment was we did not get to do the 5km crossing from Skopelos back to Alonissos. The weather had been hot and breezy, which made for lovely days on a beach. However, it made for a lot of bobbing up and down on the swell. On the day set aside for the crossing the weather was better, but it was still too choppy to risk the swim, so it was on to Plan B. On the safety front, we have been involved with many training events, from open water swimming, cycling and triathlon camps, and other outdoor adventure type stuff and this was by far the most safety-focused trip we have been on. We will be happy to book again...!"
51. Kate Todd (English Channel, England & France)
"I did it! I swam from England to France on a beautiful sunny October day in 2014."
"I had decided to go for it after crewing in mid-September on a Channel swim for a swimming buddy, who I'd met on the SwimTrek long-distance training camp in April. The water temperature at the time was 18C and it was still 17C at the end of September, which is positively balmy for the Channel. I had to take the chance to swim at that water temperature, but on the flip side, I also knew I was under-trained and under-prepared as I didn't intend to swim the Channel that year. I had however done a few long swims during the summer, including the BLDSA Champion of Champions event in June, the length of Windermere in July and I had swum the length of 2 lakes (Lakes Thun and Brienz - a total of 31km) in Switzerland over 2 days in early September, so I was certainly used to doing long swims. I had picked up a shoulder niggle during those Swiss swims (and in fact one of those swims was the worst 8 hours of my swimming life) but as it turned out, I certainly learnt a few lessons that weekend which I have no doubt helped me in the Channel. I am also bloody-minded so unless my body stopped being able to move forward through the water, I really was not getting out unless I needed to be pulled out."
"I had no idea how long it would take me, I really wasn't bothered about time. Freda Streeter, aka 'The General', told me just to swim 'until your t*ts hit the sand'. Once I'd stopped laughing, I told her I would do exactly that. I had deliberately kept the news quiet as I worried about whether I was being a little reckless making such a late decision, but I took this thought with me - it's from Hugh Laurie, that well-known 'philosopher':"
"'It's a terrible thing I think in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.' I was going to give it a go."
"I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now..."
"Once at Dover, my support crew - my cousin Jenny who can organise for Britain, and 2 successful Channel swimmers - Simon, the owner of SwimTrek, and James, the aforementioned newbie Channel swimmer - went through my feeding plan and more importantly the crew food box! The time spent waiting to board the boat was when I felt absolutely sick with nerves, but once we were on it, I switched off and tried not to think about what was about to happen. I got ready, stuck my light on my goggles and had another light attached to the back of my costume and got vaselined-up. I sat on the edge of the boat, took a deep breath, jumped in and swam into Shakespeare Beach. Once there and clear of the water, the boat's horn sounded and I was off at 3.30am with the team shouting 'Allez, allez, allez, Kate's swimming to Calais' ringing in my ears."
"I then readied myself for panic to set in - it was dark, I couldn't see anything in the water, I was in the water alone and it was a long long way to France. But it didn't. I settled in quite quickly in the dark although for a period between hour 2-3, I had a wobble. My left shoulder was already making itself felt and one of my legs felt like it was on the verge of cramping up and the lights from the English coast still looked very close. But shortly after, the sun slowly started coming up and I again settled down. For the following 5 hours or so, I enjoyed being among container ships, seeing ferries, thanked the weather gods for calm weather and watched the team leap into action every half an hour for feeds."
"I enjoyed being among container ships, seeing ferries..."
"I knew once I came out of the NE shipping lane, I was on the last stretch but what I didn't know is that for me, it would be the hardest part of the swim. Firstly, France has a terrible habit of looking closer than it really is. Secondly by this time I was aware of the sun slowly lowering and I started to worry about swimming in the dark again being tired and not as able to handle the cold as well. Thirdly, my under-training showed and I wasn't as useful through the water. And fourthly, I was struggling on my feeding plan. The carb feeds were making me feel sick and I felt very bloated and quite queasy. By this stage, I'd also stopped having any solid food as I didn't actually want to be sick and for a while the team gave me tea with fruit sugar, hot chocolate and flat coke - anything to keep me moving... I was feeling demoralised now as France didn't seem to be getting any closer despite the team saying it was. I had started to go quiet at feeds which the team weren't expecting (and wasn’t normal for me) and then I was asked to put a hard half hour in to make the most of the slack tide (also my stroke rate had dropped over the last hour). So I did, only because I really really didn't want to be out for another 6hours. And then I went to the boat for the next feed and was asked to do it again. By this time I had worked out what was happening/about to happen as France wasn't getting closer and when about half an hour ago, the lighthouse at Cap Gris Nez was on my left, it was now straight ahead..."
"Anyway, I plugged away, watched the sun sinking and just kept moving my arms in a swimming fashion and then suddenly I saw a bit of commotion on the boat and I saw Simon waving his trunks at me. The next thing I heard was the official observer shouting just go into the beach, you’re out of the tidal flow. Simon jumped into the water and a few minutes later, just as the sun was setting 15 hours and 26 mins after I started, and when my hands touched the sand, I finally stood up and staggered onto French soil, cleared the water and hugged Simon..."
"I'm so glad I did."
Read Kate's full blog: I did it! I swam from England to France
52. Simon Emm (Oman Fjords, Oman)
I finished my 2019 season with a couple of weeks in Oman. I met my fellow guide, John, at Heathrow before we flew to Dubai and then drove across UAE to the Musandam region of Oman, the most northerly point of the country. We arrived at the hotel just outside the town of Khasab and once checked in, got straight to work. John had worked in Oman for the last four years so knew everyone and everything that was required to get up and running. He even speaks a bit of Arabic which goes a long way in getting things sorted. First stop was a trip to the harbour to meet the team we would be working with and check over the dhow, a traditional Omani boat, and the support boats. Next stop, to the tour operator to make sure everything was in place for the transfer of guests arriving in the next few days, a quick bite to eat and back to check out Bassa beach for the acclimatisation swim.
The following morning, we were up before sunrise to climb the mountain behind the hotel – a very rugged and harsh environment but one I wouldn’t have missed for the world. The views along the way were breath-taking, mountain ranges changing colour as we climbed, isolated trees growing in the rocks. We finally reached the top and looked over Khasab town, we could see the entrance to Khor Ash Sham, the body of water we’d be swimming in over the week and the harbour as the sun burst over the mountain; wow! We completed the walk every week with the guests. Back to the hotel for breakfast and we headed straight out again to meet Badir, one of the support crew and now a friend, to take us out in one of the support boats to check out the swims in the khor. As we entered into the Khor, the sheer scale of the surrounding mountains was something else and then before I knew it, we had humpback dolphins surfing and jumping on the wake alongside the boat, my mind was now truly blown. As we went deeper into the Khor, John was pointing out all the swims and locations and I took it all in and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale and beauty of the place. I had so many wow moments that day and every subsequent day.
"...I took it all in and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale and beauty of the place."
Our first guests arrived the next afternoon, so I was up for an early morning run with John and then into Khasab to explore. It was amazing walking around when there was the Call for Prayer at midday echoing around the valley.
In the afternoon the guests arrived from UK, Switzerland, Germany and the US. The welcome meeting took place and shortly after we were all in the water for the acclimatisation swim. The days after were filled with hiking in the mountains; journeying further each day into the khor on the dhow; catching daily sightings of dolphins; enjoying peaceful yet amazing swims and staying close to the guests on the swims from the kayak. There were colourful fish, turtles, rays and even black tip reef sharks (nothing to be afraid of). The awe-inspiring mountains, scrumptious lunches and the sheer beauty and tranquillity of the place was just breath-taking beyond words. I met so many wonderful and interesting people during my short time in Oman. The guests certainly made the most of their days and were a delight to guide.
I feel so fortunate and privileged to be a Swim Guide for SwimTrek. It allows me to spend time with many interesting and lovely people in beautiful parts of the world who all share my passion of being in, on and around water.
53. Ricky & Sian (Corfu to Sivota Bay Retreat)
"[Back in 2015] SwimTrek were running Adventure Swimming Holidays at the Sivota Bay Retreat. They were aware that Neilson support Sail4Cancer and hoped to help contribute. The plan was to swim a crossing from Corfu back to the resort on the mainland. On Wednesday 28th November that year, a team of 5 swimmers attempted the crossing. Ali, David and Matt - SwimTrek and Neilson guests, Steph - a Neilson Yacht Crew Member and SwimTrek Guide, Ricky. Conditions were perfect with barely any current or wind. They began at around 14:30 by touching the sand near Kavos."
"This was the furthest a few of the guys had swum by a considerable margin. None had been training for this specifically but were confident they could make it."
"1km through... two curious Chinooks passed by overhead. At around the half way mark even the seagulls were taking an interest in the feat and came within inches of the swimmers. SwimTrek guide Sian kept them motivated and hydrated along the way with constant updates on progress, and tactically replaced energy drinks with hot chocolate. The local skipper James navigated the path and kept them safe from a few ferries. An expectant Resort Manager kept phoning and demanding updates. 'Sian! Where are you, and what is taking so long?' As the swimmers neared the uninhabited Mavros Oros archipelago the sun was setting, and light fading. The green flashing beacons on the swimmers’ heads were in view for all hotel guests to see. Kayaks and a Ski boat met them with over a km to go to safely escort them for the last bit home - 'aim for the red lights of hotel.'"
"This was the furthest a few of the guys had swum by a considerable margin. None had been training for this specifically but were confident they could make it..."
"By this point swimmers were fatigued, maintaining a straight line was proving tricky. Swimmers beached themselves at 18:15 in unison. Awaiting them was a welcome party with pop-up bar, music, smoking flares and applause from staff and guests, creating an unforgettable atmosphere and fitting finale. They swam 10.5km and 420EUR was raised on this occasion. Thanks for all the support especially from Andreas for making it all happen and chucking together the bonanza on their ski pontoon. The whole experience was a real success and an absolute highlight of our trip so thanks to all that pitched in!"
54. Kate Matwychuk (Sea of Cortez, Baja California)
"Throughout my seasons of guiding, many guests have looked enviously at my job. They are on holiday from their own jobs and imagine that being a guide must be like being on holiday, too. Not quite, though admittedly there are some fantastic perks to being a guide. [A few years ago], having just finished a season of guiding in Greece and Croatia, I suddenly had a chance to switch roles: I booked onto the Baja trip as a guest."
"I landed on this trip as a fluke. On sabbatical from my teaching job in Hawaii, after the SwimTrek season, I moved to a small Mexican fishing village north of Puerto Vallarta to live for about 6 months. This convenient location, the fact that I'm not busy teaching, and a last minute cancellation on the last Baja week enabled me to sign on as a guest. I looked forward to a week of swimming, eating good food I didn't have to prepare, and lounging around, activities I was more used to facilitating than actually enjoying first hand."
"The week did not disappoint. It was surprisingly easy for me to turn off my guiding tendencies and instead enjoy the luxuries of swimming safely in a friendly pod of people. This was made especially easy knowing I was being watched over by trained and experienced guides. I quickly stopped thinking about all the preparation I knew went into each swim, the long checklist of things to get done and account for before gathering the swimmers for the daily briefings. Gone were thoughts about special diets, various allergies and other notable health conditions. Guest safety and comfort was no longer my concern. Once I stepped off the main boat and onto the beach at the camp on the island, my mind became preoccupied with thoughts of sea lions and mobula rays, of schools of fish and diving pelicans, of anticipation for cocktail hour and 'I wonder what's for dinner?'"
"Go hungry we did not!"
"Not only was the food plentiful, it was also delicious. This became clear to me on the first morning while enjoying First Breakfast (cold) and anticipating Second Breakfast (hot), based on the delicious smells wafting my way from the kitchen tent. The menu changed daily, but for hot breakfast we could always count on beans, eggs, fresh tortillas, fruit, even a delicious porridge that, according to the Brits on the tour, was the best they'd ever had. My favourite lunch were the fish tacos, and my favourite dinner included a large, beautifully stuffed and steamed fish that one of the chefs caught off our beach that morning. In true Baja style, fresh fish was plentiful and delicious, making a few appearances as ceviche for cocktail hour, accompanied by margaritas, sangria or the richest, thickest, most delicious add-your-own-run pina coladas I've ever had. Go hungry we did not!"
"Turns out that the elements of guiding that have the least to do with swimming, for example providing tea, coffee and snacks post swim and prepping and providing lunch, became the very things I looked forward to and appreciated the most as a guest. Gone was any thought to the inconvenience (and improbability) of having refreshments and snacks on hand on a boat in the middle of the sea. One morning, I looked gleefully onto the plate of fresh brownies that appeared for First Breakfast and wondered only briefly how on earth the crew baked them in their magic mess tent. I don't normally eat sweet things in the morning, but I happily tucked into a few brownies that day."
"Depending on the location, swimming time is limited for the guides. Even on theodd occasion when it's safe for me to jump into the water and accompany the guests on a swim, I'm always counting the swimmers and popping my head up to look out for potential hazards. It's not a time to relax. Swimming as a guest in Baja was fantastic. I toggled among the groups and enjoyed swimming at various speeds depending on my mood or the distance of the swim. I could lose myself in the swim and enjoy the meditative qualities of the water without much concern for anything. I didn't even need to spend much time sighting as I simply followed those I knew would not lead our pod astray. There was another woman in my group who shared my long, lazy stroke, and we often naturally drifted together, arms moving in slow unison. It was a treat to be able to swim comfortably next to another person who enjoys the water as much as I do. I found myself thinking I could go on forever when the guides announced we had come to the finish line of a swim. When guiding, I remember well that look of disappointment on some swimmer's faces when it was time to get back on the boat."
"As a guide, I'm constantly trying to balance safety and fun and revising plans according to dynamic weather conditions and the abilities and general enthusiasm of the swimmers. Being a good guide requires one to be nimble, able to respond to a host of unexpected events and changing conditions, as well as accommodate a diverse range of personalities, swimming abilities and expectations. Guiding has allowed me travel the world, to visit tiny islands in Greece and Croatia, small coastal towns in Turkey, and remote parts of Scotland. I've immersed in landscapes I'd only read about in the poetry of the Romantics, and I've met a diverse range of people and made friends from all over the globe who share a love of the water. At one point during an afternoon swim along one rocky coast of Isla Espiratu, Pedro, one of the guides, casually rolled over onto his back to check in with the rest of the group he was leading. I stopped alongside him and flashed a big smile. Still on his back and looking up at the sky he said to no one in particular, I love my job. It's true; guiding for SwimTrek is unlike so many other 'jobs' out there. That's never lost on me, even on the most difficult of days. However, this past week I learned that being a guest is pretty darn magical, too. In the words of Trish, our other leader, guiding can sometimes feel like a working holiday. Some weeks it's more work, and other weeks it's more holiday. Exchanging my white guiding swim cap for a pink or orange one was decidedly all holiday."
55. Marie Corley (Lycian Way, Turkey)
"Kaş, Turkey was never on my wanderlust list mainly because I’ve never heard of Kaş. Swimming for a week in the deep turquoise blue, island-to-island, coast-to-coast, with soon to be friends, wasn’t the usual way I travelled - it was different. When my boyfriend and I just started dating, in 2014, he told me he was going to Kaş, Turkey to swim. We both are passionate about swimming given he was a collegiate swimmer, and my mermaid abilities came from triathlons. I already had other travel plans, but as the ocean has a way of changing the course, SwimTrek had an opening and I changed my plans - happy that I did!"
"The moment we landed in Dalaman Airport I was already giddy with the sights and sounds around me. It was a small bustling airport, the weather was hot, air dry, and there was a huge amount of people zipping in different ways. Once we met our driver to take us to Kaş, the landscape slowly transformed from a sandy countryside to sweeping cliffs, with the most beautiful turquoise and emerald waters. Just staring at the water would send you beyond meditation – it was wondrous."
"I didn’t know what to expect once we got settled, met our guides, and our soon to be close friends. I didn’t know what to expect about swimming in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea either. I’ve done three Ironmans, many triathlons and only 4 of them have been in an ocean, but those were different - the shore is so close and you are surrounded by thousands of people. I knew I could swim 2.4 miles, but the Turkey Lycian Swim had us swimming twice per day (a total of about 5+ miles per day), sometimes channel crossings, including a 5k swim from Greece to Turkey... Um, I was a bit intimidated."
"The group that ended up being my pod, were in a simple word 'fun'. I was a bit worried that these swims would be competitive, and I didn’t want that – I wanted this to be an exploration, and it was every stroke of that."
"Just staring at the water would send you beyond meditation – it was wondrous."
"The moment I dove into the Mediterranean all my nerves, anxiety and intimidation just drifted away like the small water curls in the blue and turquoise waters. I’ve never seen water as beautiful as the Mediterranean - it was as if I was swimming in sparkling jewels. My eyes could see miles down, miles straight and everything in my view was a distraction from real life. The most amazing memory I have is that each day during each swim, you would see the sun beams shoot straight from the ocean floor to the sky – it was a stream of light that guided your way. Part of this swim is swimming through history, swimming through ruins of the Lycian’s with a small hike on the Lycian Way. It was fascinating learning a bit of history through the lens of the open water, and it was every bit better than reading a history book."
"The athletic highlight of this whole trip was the 5k swim from Greece to Turkey. First of all, I’ve never swam a 5k straight and our guides did a great job building us up to this point as this was day 3 or 4 of our trip. By this point, we all were comfortable in the water and could swim for miles now. The boat dropped us off at a rock in the middle of the sea, this rock was in Greece. We had to touch it, and then swim back to Turkey. The journey took us through those many sunbeams, some deep blue, and at the end we were greeted by sea turtles. What better way to end a 5k journey through the sea but by sea turtles! After touching the rocks in Turkey to make it an official crossing, our group played for what seemed like a hour looking for turtles and joking with our fellow merman about being 5k Ray. The energy of accomplishment, giddiness, happiness was infectious."
"Since then we’ve gone on the SwimTrek Greek Cyclades, will be in Croatia in 2016, reuniting with one of the couples we met during the Turkey Lycian Way trip, and looking forward to planning more swimming adventures."
56. Benjamin McIvor (Baltic Lakes, Lithuania)
"When any of my family members or friends question me about my experience to Lithuania, I don’t think any of them expect me to tell them that the Baltic Lakes was an unforgettable experience and one that I will remember for a lifetime."
"This trip was truly magical and no matter what type of swimmer you are this is a must do when adding any trip to that bucket list! As you read through the SwimTrek page it mentions how we are based in the Aukštaitija National Park surrounded by the hundreds of 200-year-old pine trees. Let me tell you now, this does not give justice to how diverse and unique this location is. These forests are unbelievably humbling and really give you an indication of how small you are! The bonus though is the fact you’re surrounded by an astonishing amount of rare species of flowers and wildlife alike too!"
"Being an ex-pool swimmer I have to admit I was a little reserved into what all of this open water swimming malarkey was all about..."
"Being an ex-pool swimmer I have to admit I was a little reserved into what all of this open water swimming malarkey was all about. Needless to say I soon enough fell in love with the sport quickly after my initial swim across Lake Lūšiai. (An easy 1km ‘dash’ the guide told me…) After this the swims became more and more enjoyable, the guides were great at making us feel relaxed in the water and were able to really test my limits when it came to things like pacing and sighting. It was great to also see that it didn’t matter whether you were a fast swimmer or a slower swimmer; the itinerary and knowledge of the guides meant that all swimmers got something out of the trip without feeling they were too fast or too slow for the entire group."
"The really inspiring thing for me, was being part of a group of swimmers all from different countries, all with completely different swimming backgrounds coming together for four special days of swimming. Never before had I thought about how much I would enjoy the concept of swimming through remote fresh water lakes with like-minded individuals side by side. I can’t begin to explain or express the feeling of being set free from tumble turns too! The bane of my swimming career for so many years! It’s safe to say too, in becoming a ‘SwimTrekker' it completely changed my perception of swimming and I soon realised the sense of community SwimTrek captures. After every swim, everyone encouraged each other and if anyone needed support or advice on their technique the entire group was happy to give help."
"And then there was the Tiki Inn… This will always hold a special place in my memories due to the hosting and friendly service of the staff there; they really made you feel like a family member not a holiday maker. The Inn is nestled between the trees and on the banks of the Lake Lusiai, and is a dream house - Not only does Matthew (the owner) provide a unique Lithuanian experience and massive breakfast and dinner, the extra activities you can get up to after the swims. My down time consisted of hikes, paddle-boarding, additional swimming and chilling in traditional Swedish hot tubs."
"If I had to sum up my time in the Baltic Lakes in three words I think they would be spectacular, inspiring and refuelling for the soul."
57. Olivia Weatherill (Musandam Peninsula, Oman)
“There is something about Middle Eastern countries that have a real charm to me - the culture, the art, the temples and the starkness of all of this against the dry landscape. I’ve visited several places in this part of the world, so having the chance to explore another country in the Middle East and getting to swim there made the Oman Fjords a trip that had been on my wish list for years.”
“I was so excited to finally go! Most people were surprised that I would be going to Oman to swim, as the idea of stripping down to your costume and finding somewhere suitable to swim in a largely Muslim, conservative and dry area, just seemed implausible to most. Some hadn’t even heard of the country, as was the case with the person I sat next to on the plane journey over to Dubai. Still, always one for trying something different, I met my fellow SwimTrekkers in arrivals and we headed off to the Omani border in search of adventure.”
“The swim location is certainly remote. The winding coastal roads that lead up to our home for the week of Khasab in the Musandam Peninsula means it takes a long time to reach the town, making it feel much farther away, though if you swam the distance between the point where you first see the hotel to the hotel itself it would be shorter than driving! You’ll also feel the openness of this area in the view out over the Strait of Hormuz from the hotel. 60km separates this last stretch of Oman from the next landmass of Iran, with very little on the horizon except for local boats usually fishing or crabbing. On our last night we had a great view of a faraway storm, with lightning striking far in the distance. The purple haze of this one cloudier evening was lighting up the distant mountains, the entrance to our swimming playground for the week – the Khor Ash Sham.”
“Heading out into the khor has this unusual feel of intimacy within the closing walls of the mountains either side of you, yet it feels so vast and open at the same time, with peaks reaching up to 2000m high. The excitement of wondering what marine life you would see that day would be the talk of the breakfast table, with many of us hoping to be joined by dolphins in the water. On our trip we were lucky enough to see dolphins every day, often jumping in the small bow waves alongside the boat as we entered and left the khor each day. We also saw turtles, rays and crabs on our swims, and we were almost always surrounded by a bunch of colourful fish on each swim.”
“Every day we explored more of the khor, enjoying coastal swims alongside circumnavigations of some small islands and crossings between the unusual shape of the khor the further we went into it. Most days enjoyed perfect sunshine and flat calms waters. Without a cloud in the sky and water temperatures of around 28°C, these were ideal swimming conditions and no worry of getting cold from not moving around enough. This left us able to swim slower to enjoy what was on the seabed and take our time floating on lunchtime breaks. Storm clouds rolled in or our final morning swim, giving a little chop to lour last long route of the week and some of the thrill that I love about sea swimming the most. By lunchtime, we’d headed up the side of one of the mountains to reach the view along the isthmus between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Making the short climb to this view, we could see the last of the clouds rolling over the tips of one of the highest peaks, Mount Seebi. The clouds cleared quickly, and we were lucky to see the moody and misty mountains, as well as clear blue skies out over this incredibly beautiful natural sight.”
"This trip is full of delightful surprises, ones that kept you guessing and kept you hopeful every morning when the dhow left the port.”
“The biggest appeals to me about this trip is the chance to see such beauty that many others will never even hear of. It feels remote and is remote but is actually relatively straightforward to reach. On the map it looks very small, but the farthest point of the khor took over an hour to reach on the boat. One of the best parts of this trip was what would surprise you in the water, making each swim unique. This trip is full of delightful surprises, ones that kept you guessing and kept you hopeful every morning when the dhow left the port.”
58. Simon Murie (Oulujoki River, Finland)
“On January 2005, we arrived into Oulu. The scene was something that none of us had witnessed before. In temperatures hovering around 10°C, workmen were busily cutting into the ice and extricating large chunks of it over a metre thick from the River Oulujoki. Over 3 days, a 25 metre ‘pool’ was meticulously created, even resplendent with lane ropes, ladders and starter blocks! Add to this, the water pumps arranged intermittently along the side of the pool to stop the ice from reforming and this was a seriously advanced pool.”
“The events back in these championships were relatively simple. There was the 25m head up breaststroke event, with fancy head gear distinctly encouraged. The international relay competition of teams of 4, the long distance breaststroke race of 200m and the synchronised swimming event, dominated historically by the Russians, much to the chagrin of the local Finns.”
“Competitors numbered close to the thousands and spectators were housed in a grandstand that was able to accommodate hundreds! This brought much amazement to us whose own experience of winter swimming constituted a Sunday morning race in front of a few sleepy lifeguards and not much else.” “Swimmers prior to their race were housed in a heated room and when called forward, got changed quickly on ‘pool side’ and their clothes were transported to the far end where they were retrieved by the chilly swimmer where they had the option of diving into either a hot tub or sauna, both just a few metres away from the finish!”
“On the first day of activities, the Finns dominated the head up breaststroke placings while the second day featured a troupe of portly male Russian synchronised swimmers performing a gold medal winning Swan Lake in bitterly cold temperatures.”
“The night before at the event party, a call had gone out for entries for the international relay competition. All that was needed was 4 swimmers representing each country. Now I am Australian, so I wasn’t too hopeful of finding a team, but a trawl of the bar area (always a good place to find ready recruits) unearthed 2 fellow Aussies, one here for the championships and one strictly spectating! After a little bit of convincing we had a team of 3, now just 1 more was needed! Now my father, a dyed in the wool Antipodean was due to turn up later that evening, not planning on swimming at all, but partaking in a spot of cross country skiing the following week. After an explanation of the predicament and with not one bit of cold-water experience to his name, he manfully accepted the challenge. Our team was complete! Against undoubtedly more conventionally arranged sides, we managed a 3rd placing in the final, which was a wonderful result for our ragtag team.”
"The scene was something that none of us had witnessed before. In temperatures hovering around 10°C, workmen were busily cutting into the ice and extricating large chunks...”
“It was a wonderful weekend where friendships were made between swimmers of various nations. On the train back from Oulu, Margy Sullivan a stalwart of the SLSC and I had a conversation that why couldn’t we organise something similar back in the UK and bring Winter swimming “home!” so to speak. Well from that first chat and following much organisation, the 1st Cold Water Swimming Championships were born and in January 2006 we managed to host the first such event in the UK with over 300 competitors, a hot tub and even a grandstand, although somewhat smaller than the Finnish version! I’ve been proud to see that over the years, the championships are going from strength to strength.”
“Now only if they would add an International Relay event…”
This blog was originally published as an article in Outdoor Swimmer...
59. Dr Nick Murch (Long Distance Training Camp, Mallorca)
“My background is one of pool swimming and beach lifeguarding as a teenager. This was followed by 15 years playing water polo up to a national standard. In 2007, I was reintroduced to open water swimming via masters swimming friends who had signed up for a SwimTrek in Croatia. It was a game changer as a mix of crossings, coastal swims, river swims, stunning scenery, wildlife and some geeky history in the form of forts and submarine tunnels appealed to our very core. That and the comradery and ability to eat and drink as we wished to keep up energy of course! The 4 of us all agreed it was the best holiday we'd ever had.”
“Since then we've been on a SwimTrek to the British Virgin Islands where the scenery was stunning. Amazing wildlife and historical significance meant we saw turtles, sunken ships and a treasure island, and had the chance to swim from British to US waters in an afternoon.”
“In 2015, I entered a swim with the intention of doing it in a wetsuit but decided the night before to do without. I swam the 2015 10 mile Windermere one way swim in 4hrs 36, finishing first in the skins category which gave me the courage to sign up for an English channel solo attempt the following year. The key preparation for this was the excuse of going on another SwimTrek trip, namely the Long Distance Training Camp in Mallorca. I attended this in April 2016, working up to 6 hours of swimming in water below 15.5 degrees for my English Channel qualifier and learning invaluable titbits of information from guides Sian and the legendary Cliff Golding.”
"...a mix of crossings, coastal swims, river swims, stunning scenery, wildlife and some geeky history in the form of forts and submarine tunnels appealed to our very core.”
“It also connected me with a group of individuals from around the world (UK, Canada, US, Switzerland, Kazakhstan) who all had their own challenges lined up. They have remained a key source of support and friendship since and I have met up with some of them numerous times. Visiting some in the US, meeting a Canadian in the UK to swim Durdle Door and the Jurassic Coast and having one crew for my English Channel crossing and another for my lake Geneva swim. In fact, I can't seem to lose one of the chaps who keeps drinking my red wine...”
“In 2016 I successfully completed an English Channel crossing in 11hrs 40minutes and in arduous conditions. Whilst training for it I decided to also attempt the Lake Geneva Signature 70 solo and was the fifth person to complete officially in 32 hrs 46minutes, earning my membership to the '24 hour club'. Completing it in conditions described as 'un-swimmable,' I had the award for most courageous swim of the season named after me.”
“This had been a life changing year for me. I'd gone from a novice to an experienced open water swimmer and was looking to give back to the community that had helped me so greatly. Selkie swim brand approached me about being an ambassador and member of Team Selkie in return for some blogs, which was a perfect site to host content I wanted to share of my experiences with nutrition, learning from failure etc... I also helped with the Dover channel training crew who I'd trained with from May to my swim in July 2016. This was my way of giving back to a community that seriously changes peoples' lives!”
60. Reggie Lang (Bosphorus Cross Continental Race)
Swim from one continent to another? Erm, sure, why not...
My first Swimming Event
"My first venture into open water swim eventing saw me in a Turkish Bosphorus Baptism. The Bosphorus river funnels the Black sea to the Aegean through the bustling city of Istanbul. An incredible setting for such an iconic event. The current assisted 6.5km course sees you thread through the body of the Bosphorus, traversing the continental shelf you’re shouldered with Asia on one side and Europe on the other. With Istanbul as your backdrop, the city and culture are as much of a melting pot as the Bosphorus’ itself. Holding such a diverse history, Istanbul is the perfect setting for a cross-continental swim, from being colonised by the Greek empire, to the Roman and the Ottoman the number of religious and archaeological sites to visit is astounding."
"The event draws one of the world’s busiest shipping channels to a close as boats are halted on either side whilst we swimmers take our plunge, giving both us and the resident pods of dolphins a clear path. The Turkish Olympic committee take ownership of the event and are proud to champion the swim linking the Asian and European continents. Either side of the river you’ll swim past stunning mosques and intricately adorned churches. The 15th Century Rumelian Castle stands out as one of your first sighting points on the course, reminding you of the grandeur of the event you’re taking part in."
"The day before the event you have a chance to recce the route on board with the other swimmers – with commentary explaining the route, some historical points of interest and your sighting points, the excitement of the other participants around you is palpable. As we competitors beamed in the Turkish sun and at the location we were in, we watched dolphins making the same journey that we’re going to attempt the following day. On race day the same boat journey comes with a very different feel. Two and a half thousand people wearing nothing but their swimsuits and smiles (and copious amounts of Vaseline) enjoy that same boat ride to the starting pontoon. As I looked around, some are dancing with excitement, some in quiet contemplation of what’s to come. Me – a combination of the two. Then I see the resident hero in this story – Levent Aksut who has completed the course every year bar one since its inception in 1989, he’s sporting a grin that’s enough to give any nervous swimmer some courage. That first bridge"
"Shuffling through the boat exit into the beaming Turkish sun, you cross the matt that begins your timer chip and leap with hundreds of others into the Bosphorus itself, a river you’re about to become very well acquainted with. Taking a moment to look up and see the Turkish flag fluttering on the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge above, you wholeheartedly feel immersed in the city and the challenge as you look either side at each swimmer taking on their own personal adventure. Whether you’re swimming for speed, for simply completing the event, or for the commendable bragging rights of swimming from one continent to another (as I was), everyone is united in their drive to that finishing pontoon."
Cross Continental Swimmer
"As I neared the finish I found myself sighting more and more, looking for the little isle of Galatasary Adasi which would be my signal to start bearing to the European side and the finish line. Classic foolhardy confidence hits and I allow myself to relax into the rhythm, I make the turn too late. Now the gentle current that until now I had been politely appreciative of was against me. The race was back on as I fought back at the Bosphorus to bring myself home and to that pontoon. Climbing the ladder there was nothing but smiles and backslaps with strangers as every swimmer was caught up in the atmosphere of taking stock of what we’d achieved I walked through the exit point to have a cross continental swimming towel draped over me."
"The race was back on as I fought back at the Bosphorus to bring myself home and to that pontoon...”
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