After a one week hiatus, we're back with Part Two of our global feature series, following international entries and aquatic tales from our favourite open water swimmers. We'll share updates every Thursday! Whisking you off to the world's most unique swim locations around the world, throwing in a healthy selection of rare wildlife encounters, gruelling feats and life-changing moments!
- Marie Corley (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
- Rosemary Lewis (Sardinia, Italy)
- Jack Hudson (Saltstraumen, Norway)
- Jessica Greenbaum (Tonto National Forest, Arizona)
- Kate Matwychuk (London Lido Crawl, England)
- Jessi Harewicz (Georgia Strait, Canada)
- Greg Hincks (Milos, Greece)
- Lewis Pugh (Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland)
- Lucy Petrie (Migjorn Marine Reserve, Mallorca)
- Simon Murie (Polyaegos, Greek Cyclades)
- Katie Frew (Outer Hebrides, Scotland)
- Kate Rew (Sonoran Desert, Arizona)
- Joanne (Mallorca, Spain)
- Rachel Ryder (Lycian Way, Turkey)
- Alex Lester (Lake District, England)
- André (Lake Bled, Slovenia)
- Trish (Kas, Turkey)
- Dan Abel (Cook Strait, New Zealand)
- Adrian Sarchet (Mallorca, Spain)
- Bronwen Puleston-Jones (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
21. Marie Corley (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
“'I will never swim in the ocean!' Those were the words I pretty much said as a kid as I watched my mermaid mom jump in the ocean and fretted over every scary story in my head, watching her. Not sure how I got from there to here, because I absolutely love swimming in the big blue, chasing sunbeams as they bounce from the ocean floor."
"Two of my life pleasures are traveling and being active; I would gladly live out of a backpack to circle the globe tasting my curiosity. Zipping through the Adriatic Sea on an itty bitty water taxi with our luggage piled high, our final destination, Prvic Luka didn’t disappoint my global taste buds. Breathtaking and beautiful aren’t strong enough words to describe the turquoise waters and crystal clear sea. The terra cotta and stone buildings added a beautiful medieval backdrop and the views were something out of a fairy tale."
"This very intimate island is a stopping point for many sailors and our home for the next 7 days with a group of wonderful swimmers from all around the globe – France, New Zealand, Isle of Man, England, Ireland, USA."
"Each morning we fuelled with a magnificent breakfast with figs the size of your palms, before boarding Lucce – our vessel for the day. Diving into the chilled sea took your breath away, but after a couple of strokes the warmth settled in. Our swims ranged from coastal to channel crossings, each with droplets of islands in your sight that thoughts would just get lost and you were just gloriously happy. The first swim of this trip always has me shocked because I can’t believe I so willingly jump into a big body of water without a big panic. I owe it a lot to SwimTrek for helping me fall in love with open water swimming and letting whatever fear dissolve."
"I’ve never considered myself the fastest of swimmers, and I am always looking for tips to help me be more efficient. Pick Apples. 'Pick apples and put them in your basket,' our friend from New Zealand gave us a 2 second tip that worked, and all of us were picking apples all week. After the mornings swim of apple picking, we explored Dragon Island, Zmajan, napped or learned about Parisian fashion – thanks to our friend from Paris."
"As the week started to come to an end, I look back at not only this trip but the other SwimTrek holidays I’ve been on – and I am so thankful to be able to travel, swim in beautiful waters, and thankful that I grew out of my fear as a kid because swimming has taken me to some amazing destinations. I walked away from this trip learning how to apple pick, new pants from France, and new friends around the globe."
''I will never swim in the ocean!' Those were the words I pretty much said as a kid...'
22. Rosemary Lewis (Sardinia, Italy)
"Holidays, swimming, the great outdoors and a sense of adventure. Too good to be true, I hear you say. Someone moans.. Insufficient time to organise it.. Someone quips... Can't afford it.. For someone like me, I think... The perfect assortment of words that combine to make a terrific break away with SwimTrek."
"I first laid eyes on SwimTrek in 2013 after completing my first UK open water swim in the bluest of blue waters of London's Rotherhithe Quay, an urban oasis abounding with tropical fish and palm trees.. Ok so just a slight exaggeration there but at the end the glimpse of this imagined paradise caught my eye on what was a poster for SwimTrek, with the now ubiquitous bright orange neon t-shirt clad swimmers selling the dream of an adventurous holiday swimming in the great outdoors."
"I spent the next summer wishing I too had booked one of their sell out trips and spending a week with friends sailing around Croatia whereby I just wished to be swimming during the day. With more research I decided upon my first trip, to a place I had already visited and found so beautiful that the chance to swim there seemed practically perfect: Sardinia."
'...a place I had already visited and found so beautiful that the chance to swim there seemed practically perfect: Sardinia.'
"So a holiday to sunny Sardinia awaited me in July 2015, a week promising cultural charm, great gelato, beautiful boats and astonishingly Aqua-coloured water - and Swimming! Never before had my samsonite accompanied me on a holiday containing so many goggles, and speedos! We were in for a treat, I could just tell. Our days were spent in the water swimming and onboard the boat and our evenings back on shore (goodbye sealegs!) unwinding over great food and wine, savouring the fine food for which Sardinia is so renowned. The sense of accomplishment at day end having swum around islands and over crossings, balanced by a gentle lunchtime siesta in the Sardinian sun was surreal. A true holiday which happened to feature around 4-6km of idyllic swimming per day. Guilt free gelato, day after day."
"Swimming and more swimming awaited me having so thoroughly enjoyed Sardinia, to be followed by later that summer completing my inaugural Dart 10k swim in Devon. The Sardinian SwimTrek proved excellent for my training and the encouragement and technical guidance from the so very charismatic guides Ricky and Francesco set me on good stead. Suddenly my eyes were wide open to the brightly coloured SwimTrek hats bobbing around the London lidos promoting the many other swimming holiday destinations. Before I knew it, I had booked Greece for July 2016!"
23. Jack Hudson (Saltstraumen, Norway)
The Saltstraumen maelstrom swirls in a narrow gulf south-east of Bodø. Its currents are often glimpsed by cars that tear over the highway, crossing the sloping cantilever bridge that overarches the water. If you were to look down from the peak of that bridge you’d see the criss-crossing currents forming odd, spiked waves. You’d also see scattered eddies swirling through the white-frothed water. By all accounts that is the heart of the maelstrom, packed into a narrow strait that creates a rugged, rock-strewn funnel beneath the surface...
"I felt great affection for Norway as we bombed it along the coastline and swerved into a strait flanked by farmland. There was something welcoming about the isolation and the relaxed, retiring locals who enjoyed it together. After four years living in Newcastle I’d seen my share of bile-spitting EDL demonstrations and derby day chant-offs. It was settling to be somewhere quieter with open untamed spaces and less people. I’d warmed quickly to this far-flung world, although sadly that warmth faded when we rounded an outcrop and bounded towards the scariest thing under a bridge since the Three Billy Goats Gruff..."
"Climbing into the Saltstraumen... I shimmied down the rocks and dove forward over the kelp forest. I wasn’t going to waste any time. I crawled like a lizard through the shallows and clambered over large rocks, until I was deep enough to kick forward and start swimming. No sooner had I formed my first strokes than I was enveloped by and in awe of the lucid water. I glimpsed shoals of fish darting beyond my extended fingers and patches of cold water coral, clothed in a greenish veil. I could also see Robbie and Calum as they came up on either side of me. Then the boat swerved and headed out towards the island and we all began to gather speed and tighten our formation. Bubbles coiled around my goggles as I pulled my leading hand through the water and slid over the sinking seabed, watching my shadow and noting the shape of each stroke. Whenever I came up for air I was met by the sight of Robbie on my left, digging hard into the water and kicking quickly. Over his shoulder, I could also see the boat easing forward and shepherding us across the channel."
'...sadly that warmth faded when we rounded an outcrop and bounded towards the scariest thing under a bridge since the Three Billy Goats Gruff.'
"As we’d predicted, the first currents gave us little resistance and we soon found our rhythm and began to enjoy ourselves. The cold faded and our bodies loosened. Then I pulled my head up to see where the island was and found the underside of the bridge towering over us. Coupled with the mountains behind it, the sight reminded me how small we were, and where we were. The tiered rocks of the island cradled us as we drew closer and threaded a happy course into the still water. We’d come further than I thought and so far the currents were weaker than we’d felt during our swims at Bodo harbour, near our hotel. More confidence drifted in and we held our formation, lulled into a relaxed state, briefly forgetting what was around the corner..."
"[When] we passed the island and a strong current ploughed into our strokes and at once we slowed to an agonising halt. The defensive wall of the rocks were behind us, but, as much as we willed them to, they just wouldn’t recede into the distance. Instead we seemed to be moving backwards, groping at ranks of waves as they span into a frenzy and began to encircle us. We’d hit the heart of the maelstrom. I could hear myself releasing pained sighs as I came up to breathe. I tried to keep a steady rhythm, for fear of losing my strength. At the same time I was becoming frustrated. I dug in again and again. I kicked hard beneath the water. Still I couldn’t put enough behind my strokes to beat the current. I went on and I pulled my gloved hands back and grasped bubbling handfuls of water and threw them behind me. I kicked harder still, but while the boat was inching forward, we were slipping backwards and rapidly losing energy in the process..."
"'Just a little further. You’ll make ground soon…' I told myself and went on grappling with the greenish water and rocked my hips and rolled my shoulders enough to keep my breathes above the salty waves. At one point I span back underwater and sighted the silvery woollen thread of a vortex as it spiralled past me. My eyes instinctively followed it down into the deep and for a second I spotted a bloom of splayed jellyfish pulsing far below me..."
"...I looked back and sighted Robbie as he crawled towards us. He was making painstaking inches against the current. Behind him the island had finally retreated into the distance and, I daresay, it looked like we were going to make it. Uplifted, I watched as Robbie kept his pace and struggled through the chop. You could tell that he was starting to tire. He kept poking his head up to see how far away we were. But he didn’t stop."
"'Keep going Rob,' Luke called from the boat, 'That’s it – good man Robbie. There we go.'”
"The strokes kept coming, one after another, and Robbie slowly shortened the gap between us... Before long I was swimming at full speed and I pulled away from Calum, who was close behind me, and threw all my strength into the remaining distance and abandoned my form and wound up battling awkwardly with a barrage of waves. It was a mad scramble for escape, although eventually I did glide into the glassy shallows. Then the rippling weed and kelp rose from the murk below and I grinned as I saw the seabed. My momentum carried me to the shore and finally I gripped a rock with both hands and pushed my dripping body up through the water."
"That moment when I stood up, wobbling slightly, and looked over at Calum as he clambered onto the shore, is one I won’t forget."
24. Jessica Greenbaum (Tonto National Forest, Arizona)
The SwimTrek Arizona Canyons trip took Jessica on a jaw-dropping Wild West adventure into the lakeside canyons of Tonto National Park!
"I've had a long time hankering to see the desert, but, like 99.9% of you reading this I had one little problem: I have to swim when I'm warm or it's trouble all around. And voila! SwimTrek's canyons trip traversing three of the Salt River's dammed lakes in Tonto National Forest in Arizona was designed as if SwimTrek guys were reading my mail."
"It's hot, sunny, we are surrounded by spectacular cliff faces and desert landscapes, and we are swimming within the light-catching walls of these canyons, along changing configurations of rock, cacti and flora - often literally without any other swimmers, or boats! One day I thought: 'Is SwimTrek paying someone off so we are the only swimmers in this spectacular place???' (They're not: Arizonans think 90 degree weather too chilly for swimming.)"
"I'm in the slow poke group - aka 'Orange Blossoms' - so-named after our lovely orange caps. And even within this group I am challenged by the delighted fortitude of my comrades. Goodness! I am swimming between 2 and 3 hours a day for which I believe I deserve a medal, yet most of everyone swims longer than I do! So if I wasn't feeling humbled by the landscape, I am happily, and humbly stretching my own sense of endurance. One key to this trip has been to have my handy shortie wetsuit - you won't regret bringing it just in case!"
"A little shout out to trip leaders Marlys and Mark who have helped oblige me for special arrangements around three very disparate agendas: watching the second presidential debate; a meditation on the history of Native Americans in this place; and scheduling so I could be somewhere for the Jewish Holidays."
"Is there nothing these people can't do?"
'We are swimming within the light-catching walls of these canyons, along changing configurations of rock....'
25. Kate Matwychuk (London Lido Crawl, England)
"From my tropical perch, I used to shake my head in disbelief when scanning through the pictures and posts UK swimmers contributed to the popular (among swimmers) Facebook group 'Did You Swim Today?' How could people be smiling while swimming in "skins" in water that regularly dipped well below 16 C (about 60 F)? Posts would continue all throughout the winter, and I'd marvel at folks who replaced woolly hats and scarves with swim caps and bathing suits to wade into the icy waters all throughout the UK. Beyond the novelty of it, I wondered what kept these swimmers returning to the water when curling up in front of the fire with a pot of tea seemed much more appealing?"
"This past weekend, I dipped my toe into the joys of swimming in colder temperatures, giving me a better understanding of the appeal of winter swimming (Yes, I know it's not quite winter yet!). Having just finished another great season of guiding for Swim Trek (I spent some weeks in the Greek Sporades, then ended the season in Croatia, on the island of Prvic Luka), I was excited to be included in a 'London Lido crawl' organized by my friend Catherine Mack. I first met Catherine when she was a guest on a Swim Trek in Croatia in 2006. I was grateful to be able to end my season with her and a few of her friends and celebrate swimming throughout London. You don't need to live on a tropical island or in the Mediterranean to enjoy the water."
"We eased into the day at the London Oasis, a heated outdoor pool in the heart of the city (Holburn or Covent Gardens tube). Though I knew the water was heated (I saw the steam rising from the water as proof), the chilly air made me reluctant to get in. Feeling like a wimp before the day had even started, I curled my hands around my tea telling myself to buck up."
"It was remarkable being able to swim outside in October, and the water was a comfortable 25 C. There were a few other people sharing lanes in the pool, but the four of us were able to claim one lane for a 45 minute session. Keeping our eye on the time (we had two more places to visit), we reluctantly got out of the water to prepare for our next swim."
"We hopped aboard a city bus and, probably for my benefit, sat on the top floor and watched the busy streets of London whiz by as we headed to Hackney, the location of our second swim at London Fields Lido. Here, we were treated to a 50 m heated pool and a deck lined by colourful changing rooms reminiscent of a beachfront. The sky was beginning to clear, and the sun poked through the clouds. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and many families and single swimmers were enjoying the pool. We jumped in for another 45 min session, and I enjoyed the feel of the sun warming me as I swam."
Once dried and dressed, we headed back across the park and hopped on an Overground train to Hampstead Heath in search of the Ladies Pond, our final stop. We knew the pond closed at 4:30, so we aimed to get there just before 4pm. The Heath was glorious; the sun was now fully out and there were people scattered all over the rolling hills enjoying the good day. I felt lucky to be sharing the afternoon with some good friends and grateful there were so many outdoor swimming options scattered around the city."
"To my surprise, the chalkboard outside the pond indicated the water temperature was 13 C. Are people even allowed to enter the water in a public pond when it's that cold? There must be some mistake. The salty lifeguard assured me the temperature was correct. A few old-timers who had just climbed out of the water also confirmed the water was quite chilly. Still, I noted the smiles on their faces when delivering this news. After delaying as long as possible, all four of us peeled off our warm layers, put on the dry suits we had saved for this final swim, and stood looking at the water, wondering who would go first."
'To my surprise, the chalkboard outside the pond indicated the water temperature was 13 C...'
"My three companions eased themselves in, and after a few screeches and gulps, happily started breast stroking down to the far end of the pond. I remained stuck halfway down the ladder, the bottom half of my legs quickly losing all feeling. The lifeguard, eyeing my bikini and tanned skin, rightly pegged me for a cold-water softie and recommended I stay close to the ladder for an easier exit strategy. I finally managed to ease my entire body into the water and joined my friends breast-stroking close to the ladders. It was glorious!"
26. Jessi Harewicz (Georgia Strait, Canada)
"I never would've thought that I was tough enough to swim with stinging jellyfish for six hours and then get right back in the same ocean the next day and get stung again for two more hours. Especially when there’s no real reason for it. I do want to quit - all the time. But I don’t. That’s when I know I am doing the right thing - when I want to get out."
"I’m in my 30's and have just begun my career in adventure swimming. I swam across the Georgia Strait on June 25th, which is from mainland BC to Vancouver Island. It’s 30.5km across and I did it unassisted, according to International Marathon Swimming Rules. I had 1 swimsuit, 1 cap, 1 set of goggles and 2 lights. The water temperature averages 16° and one thing that’s not required, but always useful, is a boat with a crew of superheroes on-board."
"They say channel swimming is 80% mental 20% the rest. No matter how fast or slow you swim, it’s your ability to adapt to tough conditions. To pull out is always a touch away - your boat. There aren’t many sports like that where simply a fingertip is the difference between fighting on and being done."
'That’s when I know I am doing the right thing - when I want to get out...'
"This mindset has been a lifesaver for me while out in the ocean. I was lucky enough to be mentored by a few channel swimmers. They have given me the physical tools. They don't know me well, but they believed in me."
27. Greg Hincks (Milos, Greece)
"A week after our grand adventure up Loch Tay, it was time for some relaxing swimming in warm water. Four of us ventured out to Greece to swim on a SwimTrek trip around the island of Milos. The island is located in the Aegean Sea between Athens and Crete. After making it through the delights of a Scottish summer we were looking forward to a week of sun and warm water. The island is famous for the Venus de Milo statue which stands in the Louvre in Paris. This statue was found on the island in the early 1800s and the locals call it Aphrodite which is the Greek name of the Roman god Venus."
"Now, I have swum in some amazing places around the world, including the golden beaches of Australia, coral reefs in Vanuatu, the pristine waters of Croatia, the stunning lochs of Scotland, and in and around New York City. However, I have never swum in a place like this. We swam over sunken cities, into sea caves, around sea stacks, through sea tunnels, down and through underwater arches, over sulphur vents and volcanic rock piles that heated the water. Each day there were objects to explore and amazing things to see. I even set a new personal worst for the slowest 400m swim with fins of 25 minutes as I drifted in and around the incredible formations around the volcanic island. To swim with a warm sun on my back in warm water, having left the wetsuit behind was fantastic. Sure there were times we had some swell to deal with as the wind blew from the north, but I really loved the challenge of bouncing around in the sea once more, which is something I do not get to do often enough. However, we mostly were able to find places out of the wind due to the local knowledge of the crew."
'The island is famous for the Venus de Milo statue which stands in the Louvre in Paris...'
"Over the week I swam 25 km with the longest swim just under 3.5 km. But this trip was not about getting the distance up - more about exploring and finishing the summer swim season with a bang! The guides were fantastic, the local boat crew were incredible, and all the swimmers were great company."
"If you want a swimming holiday with lots to explore, on an island with so much history that you can reach out and touch it, with great weather and good food, then I would suggest this one. But shhh do not tell anyone else…"
28. Lewis Pugh (Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland)
All photos © Olle Nordell
The Human Polar Bear has been at it again! This time, UN Patron of the Oceans/ice swimming ocean advocate, Lewis Pugh, made what he called his ‘Last Stand’ – a stage swim in Greenland divided into 14 sessions across 12 gruelling days. During these Arctic Circle swims, Lewis faced constant iceberg traffic, flowing down the icefjord, while swimming a total 7.8km in mind-numbing waters that dropped between 0-3C. He swam every day, dodging the detritus of the 1km tall Ilulissat Glacier – the world’s fastest moving glacier (in fact, it moves an average 40 metres each day). Supposedly, in 1912, an iceberg was shed from this very same glacier, which sailed off southward and sank the Titanic.
Lewis (now 51) is no stranger to challenges in extremis though. He is the only person in history who has swum across the North Pole. He also swam an Ice Km at a 5,200 metre altitude on Mount Everest and was the first to swim the 528km length of the English Channel, starting at Land’s End and ending with a firm hand-slap against Dover harbour wall. Yet this latest endeavour was arguably his toughest so far. To complete his swim across the 7.8km mouth of Ilulissat Icefjord, Lewis climbed into these freezing waters on 14 separate occasions. He also braved the gauntlet of floating icebergs – like an aquatic Frogger – and battled through 12 consecutive days, faced with an ever-growing risk of hypothermia.
"This was an extremely challenging swim,” said Lewis, “Not only because of the cold, and not just because I had to swim in freezing water day after day, without a chance to let my body recover. But because the conditions were also very treacherous… The water was colder, air temperatures plummeted, and I had to deal with the sharp edges of brash ice.”
The purpose of these swims was to highlight the Climate Crisis in time for any significant decisions made at the UN Climate Conference, in Glasgow. Using his trademark method of Speedo Diplomacy, Lewis now hopes to urge world leaders to make braver decisions, sometimes going against the current of popular methodology, in order to begin urgent action and protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. The UK already became the first major economy to commit to this target. Now, 86 other nations have joined and answered Lewis’ clarion call – it is therefore the largest single conservation drive in human history.
Looking back on his recent undertaking, Lewis offered this poignant reflection in his recent blog, 'A World of Difference':
“When it comes to our heating planet, we don’t have a three-degree margin. Scientists tell us that a 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures will push us past a point of no return. The latest IPCC report suggests that we have already exceeded 1.5°C.”
“Our Earth evolved as a complex living system in delicate balance. In the same way that I need to make adjustments to my body to deal with the extreme cold, we need to make serious changes to stop our planet from heating up any further.”
“I’m freezing here, to remind world leaders that if we push our planet too far, all our lives are at risk...”
29. Lucy Petrie (Migjorn Marine Reserve, Mallorca)
“I went on an open water swim trip last year that a friend and I organised ourselves. It was fun and full of water-based challenges, but there is nothing to replace the company of others when on holiday. Sharing a swimming experience with others who have the same water driven passion is irreplaceable and bonding.”
‘Sharing a swimming experience with others who have the same water driven passion is irreplaceable and bonding.’
“This year we booked onto SwimTrek’s Mallorca Escape mid-week four day trip at the beginning of October – their penultimate Mallorca Escape of the season. I think the weather starts to change and the sea cool as October gets underway. However, stepping off the plane at Palma we had the welcome wall of heat as we crossed the plane’s threshold. Then it was a quick easy taxi ride to Blau Hotel, our home for the next few days – a German owned hotel where you could book in for yoga classes in German (as a non-speaker it did wonders for my international sign language).” “We had a glass of champagne at reception then tottered to a kart that drove us across the sprawling site to our hotel room that overlooked a beautiful rocky bay.”
“We soon met our fellow swimmers, flown in from Israel, Paris, Nottingham and Pembroke and two charming guides, Huseyin and John. They bought us all drinks and covered the next few days, including the important health and safety briefing. They had also booked a local restaurant with pimientos, calamari and all good garlic infused foods. A wonderful start.”
“I don’t want to go on too much as you’ll only get envious, but the swim days I felt like a millionaire, being greeted at the harbour by Sebastian, owner of our charter, sitting at the front of the boat while we sail out of the cove and along Mallorca’s southernmost coast of golden cliffs and blue water. Our group of swimmers were split into two groups according to ability and we were guided and observed by Huseyin and John, who would stop to give us welcome bottles of juice. The water temperature was perfect, around 22C, and its clarity was extraordinary too – where silver whirlpools of tiny fish would spin around you as you investigated the coves, arches and depths of the coast. So, yes, that millionaire feeling, again, as we are served lunch on the boat and look over at another beautiful bay Sebastian has moored up in…”
‘…silver whirlpools of tiny fish would spin around you as you investigated the coves, arches and depths of the coast.’
30. Simon Murie, Polyaegos, Greek Cyclades
The strangest things can happen on SwimTreks - this week proved that fact again, when our founder Simon led a group of SwimTrekkers out to Polyaigos (the largest uninhabited island in the Aegean Sea) and happened upon a very unexpected creature in distress...
"Yesterday - on the southern coast of Polyaegos in Milos - our orange-capped swimmers came across a very tired and skinny goat, which was trapped on a ledge just above the sea."
"The goat wasn’t able to get off the ledge and was obviously weak. Carefully, so as not to spook the animal, I approached in the RIB boat and lassoed the goat's horns. I was a little concerned the goat might puncture the inflatable RIB! However, the goat was very compliant - probably due to the fact it was so exhausted."
"The SwimTrek swimmers all played their part as well, with one jumping in the RIB to care for the goat, while we all guided the boat around the corner and worked together to release the goat onto a nearby beach, where we watched as it scurried off to safety."
'[We] worked together to release the goat onto a nearby beach, where we watched as it scurried off to safety.'
31. Katie Frew, Outer Hebrides
"Following months of anticipation I finally set off on the SwimTrek Outer Hebrides trip in August, 2016, having made an impulsive decision to book some 8 months earlier. I was full of both excitement and trepidation: excitement at the prospect of spending a week doing my favourite activity in my favourite place in the world (probably); trepidation because it was to be spent on board a ship. As someone who has never spent more than a few hours at most on a ship, spending 6 nights was to be a make or break type of experience!"
"After an exhilarating flight across from Glasgow to Barra, taking in the sights of the Inner Hebrides from the air and a beach landing, we took a bus down to Castlebay where ‘The Lady of Avenel’ greeted us. We met our guides Pete and Tim, and were fortunate too to have Simon Murie with us on the maiden trip in the outer Hebrides. We couldn't have asked for better guides, with great knowledge of the sea and all things tidal, and plenty of experience of ‘wind over tide’ (to be avoided apparently). They found the best swims possible in Hebridean weather conditions and gave great variety as well as challenge to the swims. I couldn't have felt in better hands, with not a moment of anxiety at any point on the trip, even when facing (for me) huge swells and strong tides – it was fun because quite clearly our guides knew what they were doing, or at least gave a confident impression!"
"The Hebrides brought all that I expected and more. Swimming was a fabulous mix of challenging crossings, explorations of huge sea-lochs and magnificent coastal swims with plenty of fish, marine flora and seals to spot. Wonderful long white sand beaches and turquoise waters greeted us in the moorings which our skipper Ernst managed to find, allowing for some paddle boarding or land based explorations, while our captain Stephan took the opportunity to take to the skies on his Paramotor. From the ship deck we could spot plenty of seals, cormorants and gannets, as well as eagles, and a basking whale was even spotted. A gin and tonic watching a west coast sunset just finished off a perfect day of Hebridean swimming."
"As for staying on board a ship for 6 nights… It was wonderful! We were impeccably taken care of by Ernst, chef Jules and first mate Sarah, while captain Stephan added to the breath of our experience through his sailing knowledge, and talking us through the history of the ‘Lady of Avenel’ and all of the work he has put into the ship. While there wasn't a lot of time to sail without engine, we did experience the glory of getting the sails up and cruising through the waters on the east coast of South Uist – a taster of an experience for another time. Food was simply amazing, and plentiful – calorific intake well exceeded expenditure, but it was irresistible. Sarah kept us in check, showing us the ropes (literally), and keeping us all happy with warm towels after a swim! In addition, being on board as a group for a week made for much more of an experience than previous SwimTreks'. There was great camaraderie within the group and being cut off, to a large degree, from outside connections made for a very rich and unique experience. We were fortunate to have a number of people with vast swimming experience in the group and benefited from this. 1 of our group even swam without wetsuit all week – in water temperatures of 12 degrees this earned much respect from the rest of the group. Quite simply, this was a fantastic experience, and I for one will be responding to the bidding ‘haste ye back’!"
All images from our recent Outer Hebrides trip by SwimTrekker Valentina McCoy
32. Kate Rew (Sonoran Desert, Arizona)
"The final night is “gala night”, where mutual praise and certificates are given. If we find our ranch hosts unusual, with their spiders and way of orientating where we live in England via Gravesend, they find us just as extraordinary: the ranch manager John can’t believe we came to Arizona to swim. “We don’t understand this fascination with water and what you do to relax,” he says, admiringly."
"Swimmers are just the latest in a long line of pioneers to make a home here, and for a split second we feel a bit like each other’s opposite doubles, each set admiring each other for the same qualities: maverick, courageous, self-sufficient or tough. John has made us all trophies: some of those precious river worn pebbles, with the swimmer in the SwimTrek logo cut out of steel and stuck on. It’s the kind of thing my father would make."
"On the last day my friends and I get up before dawn to climb the hill behind the ranch and watch the sun come up – the first miraculous day where this is possible. Each cabin has a decking, and some of the chairs are strung with impromptu washing lines, dangling bright coloured costumes. We sit on the top of the ridge and wait in an acoustic frizz of birds and insects. And then it comes up, scattering sunbeams as wide and perfect as the sun rays on the Arizonan flag."
"A few hours later and we’re in the water again. The mood has changed on the water – it’s Friday and around the jetty and on the water you can feel the weekenders coming. It already feels more recreational, less austere. We’re back in Saguaro Lake, the most accessible of the three, with the most recreation on it. For the first time we do not have the water to ourselves. Underwater I can hear the high whine of speed boats in the water, and see wake surfers. Earlier in the week I fear being too close to canyon walls in case some rock fell from it, now I hug them. 'You’ve got to imagine it’s a zoo at weekends,' says Mark."
"Our lunch beach is already occupied: the riders of two jet skis are sat on camping chairs having a beer and a smoke, chilling their feet in the shallows. On the opposite bank there are people jumping off rocks. A little way upstream Foreigner, White Snake and Def Leppard are being played on a boat with an American flag. We are part of the beach trash: a funfair of neon costumes and bright orange, yellow and pink hats. After food we head across to a cave full of reflections, and hover there via a rock with huge finger holds. The sun is out and I breaststroke down the river with my head turned sideways, water as my pillow, looking under the water so I can see my arm in the green with the light shafts coming through to it. We float on our backs and look up, for the last time, at the canyon walls."
'A little way upstream Foreigner, White Snake and Def Leppard are being played on a boat with an American flag. We are part of the beach trash: a funfair of neon costumes and bright orange, yellow and pink hats.'
"Waiting for our pick up I look around the group. On welcome night the guides gave out grey wife beater vest tops with two different iterations of the SwimTrek logo on them. ‘Who,’ a few eyebrows had seemed to question, ‘is ever going to wear those?’"
"As it turns out, almost all of us: there are seven grey vests and a few SwimTrek t-shirts being worn right now, a family uniform. You could argue it’s because they’re so easy to put over wet swim gear, or because no one cares if they get covered in sun cream. But I think it’s deeper than that: I think we end up wearing the tops because swimming connects you to your fashion-unfussy feral under-self. We’re not striving to be anyone, there is no effort, no front and no ‘show’. We’re experiencing, as a group, the kind of barrier-free, pretence-free relaxation more commonly felt at home with your family."
"And that’s when we get back to the ranch and walk down to the river the mustangs visit for one final swim, swirling around in the eddy, going upstream and downstream."
"After the swim we trail back, dripping and drying simultaneously in the heat, flip-flopping back to the ranch. Then it’s one last step into what we’ve come to know as the ‘kidnap van’ (big, black, smoked windows) and we’re off the airport and heading for home. There’s a lot of hugging and kissing. This is the SwimTrek effect. The magic that they create but that it’s impossible to manufacture: the alchemy of groups of people when you let them roam in water."
"At the start of the trip we were a random group of people. But now we are bonded. 14 swimmers with one common heart: a deep love of the water, and a shared experience so good and so vivid that wherever we go, we’ll always have Arizona."
Images taken by Michael Turek and excerpts from Kate's article 'Swimming with Saguaros' on the Outdoor Swimming Society website
33. Joanne (Mallorca, Spain)
"The sea, and water in general, have been something I have feared for most of my life. One of my earliest memories is of being frightened of the sea and what it holds beneath the surface. To me, the ocean was something to avoid, to fear and to mistrust. It was too deep, too vast, too unknown - too uncontrollable and uncertain for a person like me. Similarly, the swimming pool was an uncomfortable experience which was basically a life or death experience every time. Regardless, I had always admired swimmers and their ability to cruise through the water with ease, but I was a runner, not a swimmer and I didn’t think that would change."
'The sea, and water in general, have been something I have feared for most of my life...'
"Years later, following an injury which left me unable to run, I decided to participate in some local swimming lessons. My inability to run was one factor but it was mainly because my sister was learning to swim ‘properly’, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her being able to do something I couldn’t, so along I went. I didn’t like the pool; I didn’t like my head being submerged and I didn’t like being out of my depth. I didn’t like the goggles or breathing air out of my nose. I hated it - the water, the chlorine, the enormous effort it took to drag my body across the width of the pool… There was a long list of things I didn’t like, but I kept turning up to those lessons because I couldn’t lose to my little (30 year old) sister. Eventually, it became easier, I was breathing and I wasn’t drowning, my arms were moving me through the water and it all made some sense. I had my first flash of satisfaction and a feeling of enjoyment from swimming, I was presented with my first swimming badge of 400M at the end of the course and off I went."
"Fast forward a couple of years, many additional lessons and tumble turns later, and I was the proud owner of a vast array of funky swimming costumes, lots of goggles (to my husband’s dismay) and a TYR swim bag. I felt so proud of my swimming journey, but I had begun to get restless and I wanted to learn more. I wondered if I should try something different. I cannot remember exactly how I came across SwimTrek, but I did and I over the course of a year I watched lots of videos about the different holidays on offer. I felt like I knew Glen Walker, the guide from the Introduction to Open Water in Mallorca video, and in a moment of bloody-mindedness, I just booked it! Sweet Jesus, I was going to learn to swim in the sea! What had I done? What was going to happen to me? Would I survive? Would I be eaten by sharks or jellyfish? There was after all, going to be deep water, salt water, boats and marine life involved! Oh. My. Goodness. After reading the itinerary notes (post booking, of course) I consoled myself that I would make it through the first three days at least and if I had to throw the towel in at least I could sunbathe for the remaining two days."
"So, how did it all turn out? Well, I am alive! I didn’t drown or get eaten by sharks or anything else for that matter. The Introduction to Open Water was INCREDIBLE. Although I didn’t get to meet Glen, our guides John and Anna were a great replacement!"
"So, what was so incredible about SwimTrek and the course?"
"First, there are the people you meet. The brave, open-minded souls who are a bit like you - willing to take a chance, willing to learn and grow regardless of how frightened they may be feeling. These strangers swiftly become your friends, your support and most importantly your team. You will laugh. You will laugh so much, even underwater! Even when you’re so tired you can’t even see the yellow buoy John is telling you to swim to for the fourth time! You will laugh about the day over wine and food before falling, exhausted, into bed. You will laugh at a Franco-Anglo version of “Bubble, Bubble, Breathe” until your sides hurt. You will laugh at Bridget Jones ‘diving’ into the pool. You will laugh at the ‘Allo Allo’ style translations going on when drills are being explained. You will laugh at the Virgin Mary and Lady Di who just so happen to join you on the trip. You are just going to laugh at yourself and each other a lot."
"Then there are the guides, Anna and John, who have the patience of saints. You can ask “Where?” and “When?” and “Which one?” and “What colour?” as much as you like - it won’t bother John! In fact, John loves questions which are repeated over and over. Seriously though, Anna and John have an incredible wealth of experience; the trust and belief you develop in them is astounding, in fact, what you can learn from them is incredible. It was the challenge and development I had been craving."
"John and Anna took great care of our team and even though we were split into three groups (Pinkies, Orangies and Yellow Perils) I never felt far away from them. They took care to make us feel safe and informed of the day ahead and, for me personally, they reassured and cared yet encouraged and challenged me when I needed it. I couldn’t have asked for more. The days were varied as were the distances and by the end of the trip I had gone from being genuinely afraid and struggling mentally on the first proper swim to not even thinking about being in the sea. The final 4km swim I completed in the open sea on Day 5 didn’t faze me, I’d come so far from my mental barriers at the beginning of the week, I didn’t even care when I realised I still had 2km to go! I also brushed past a jellyfish on the final morning swim and didn’t give it a thought! Progress!"
'I also brushed past a jellyfish on the final morning swim and didn’t give it a thought! Progress!'
34. Rachel Ryder (Lycian Way, Turkey)
"I had booked my SwimTrek holiday to Turkey back in April. I had no intention of going on it after [a recent suicide attempt], as my attitude was that I’d be the worst swimmer there, everyone would be awful: what was the point? My parents, however, were keen for me to go and put me off cancelling a day at a time, so that before I knew it, the departure date had come."
"When I arrived, I knew no-one. It was my first SwimTrek and I was very nervous, but guides John and Eoin were very welcoming, as were the rest of the group. The next morning was the beginning of what I think is going to be a new chapter for me. It just so happened that the rest of my group were very competent swimmers (one chap was number 2 in the whole of the USA for his age division at Masters!) and actually, I was the weakest swimmer there – but to my surprise it didn’t matter! I was given SO much encouragement by not only my pink-capped swimming group, but by the rest of the group too. Coming from a work environment where I had been routinely belittled, ignored and picked on, at first, I just didn’t understand this, but it finally sank in that they just wanted to help. There was nothing in it for them. They were just kind, decent people – but I believe that the atmosphere of mutual support and inclusivity was also fostered and encouraged by the SwimTrek guides and seemed to be very much part of the company ethos."
"My only experience of open water swimming until that point was swimming in Hampstead Ponds and in the Serpentine. I had also swum in the sea at Nice, but always within the roped-off area. The rest of my swimming experience was pool-based, and I only knew breaststroke. To be suddenly swimming in the open sea was quite a big step up, and in addition, everyone else swam crawl. I found myself being left behind – and although no-one else minded, I felt stupid. But then John came up with a solution that was to change everything. During our lunchbreak that day, he gave me a crash course in crawl. Someone else from the group lent me a pair of fins and I was off!"
"On day two, I wasn’t just coping with sea swimming; I was now beginning to enjoy it too. By days three and four, I couldn’t wait to get in the water and was very proud to be able to keep up with my group. On day five, we had the ‘big’ swim – a crossing from Greece to Turkey. Even though my confidence was growing by that point, I was still worried about how I was going to manage it."
"But this was the turning point. I did it. I kept up with the group for most of the swim and when I didn’t, one of the yellow capped swimmers came to swim next to me, urging me on and telling me that I could do it. Not only did I make the crossing, but I did most of it in crawl – a stroke that I had only learnt three days previously. I didn’t complete all the coastal swim following the crossing, but I swam over 4km that day – more than I’ve ever swum before, and certainly more than I’ve ever done in the sea. Something fundamentally changed for me at that point. Suddenly I felt what I hadn’t felt for the previous couple of years – a sense of achievement, a sense of self-worth and a new confidence. I left Turkey a different person, having been awarded the certificate for “Most Improved” on the last day. I laughed and joked with my fellow swimmers and the guides. I didn’t feel self-conscious and threw myself into our last two swims with an enthusiasm that would have shocked anyone who has met me over the last two years."
"Although the group, Eoin and the SwimTrek “ethos” all played a big part in helping me to regain my confidence, I must place the praise squarely at the door of one man – John Lester. In his quiet, rather bluff way, he took an extremely vulnerable and frightened woman, who thoroughly expected to fail, and literally rebuilt her, brick by brick. John’s kindness to me over the week cannot be overstated. He went way, way above his professional obligations - to teach me a new stroke; to help me improve it every day; to quietly tell me I could do things when I believed I couldn’t and to be calm when I was getting flustered. Such kindness was completely unlooked for and he did not have to give me the help that he did. Although I have said this to John, in his modest and self-effacing way, I don’t think he realised just how much of an impact he has had on my swimming and on my confidence and sense of self-worth. I hope these words go some way to expressing my gratitude..."
'John’s kindness to me over the week cannot be overstated.'
35. Alex Lester (Lake District, England)
"The swim took place on October 15th. The weather was calm but cool, with a light mist hovering above the lake as we set out to our starting point at 09:00. By 09:30 I was in the water, turning 180 degrees from Glenridding at the southern tip of the lake before heading north toward Norfolk Island. While those first few strokes were easily the coldest of the entire swim, I couldn’t help but notice a big grin taking over my face."
"In just over an hour we reached the first turning point. Here I enjoyed a feed - warm lucozade with jelly beans - before turning north east, bringing the middle section of the lake into full view."
"On the horizon I spotted a small boat house and remembered what Robbie had told me about breaking the swim into bite sized chunks. In my mind I determined the next challenge was to reach that boat house, trying to forget that even in the event of me reaching it, I’d still have a third of the swim left to do."
'...I couldn’t help but notice a big grin taking over my face.'
"In hindsight, setting the boat house as my next marker had been an error. Duped by the steady progress I’d made since setting off, it soon became apparent that despite looking only a few hundred meters away, the boat house was in fact roughly 2 miles away, situated at the furthermost point of the middle section of lake."
"For those unfamiliar with the geography of Ullswater, try to imagine a zig-zag shaped body of water broken into three sizeable sections. When swimming away from the southern tip of the lake, the first stretch runs for approximately 1.5 miles in a northerly direction. From here, the middle section runs for 3 miles from west to east, before a third and final section heads northbound for a further 2.5 miles. At this point, roughly halfway across the middle section, the enormity of the challenge I was undertaking sank in. With my hands crippled by the cold, progress felt slow, with even the slightest undercurrent throwing me off my rhythm. My ankles were swollen and my legs ached. And I still had 3.5 miles to go."
"With Helen and Colin cheering me on from the support boat, I tried to remember what Robbie had told me. I focused on my breathing and set myself small milestones - each no further than 200 meters from the last. Slowly but surely the boat house grew bigger and the final section of the lake opened up. Colin told me to aim for a white house on the horizon, roughly 2.5 miles away. At last, the end was in sight."
"By this point my body was screaming. My hands were now swollen to twice their normal size, while my legs had pretty much stopped working altogether. Needless to say progress was painfully slow, and I can only apologise to both Helen and Colin in the support boat for what must have been a frustrating experience to endure."
"As the hours limped by, so did my progress. I soon passed the hotel where Helen and I were staying and hovered by the boat for one last feed. With less than a mile to go, the sun set and the cold really started to bite. What was once a big grin was now replaced by a face of steely determination. Giving up was simply not an option."
"With only a few hundred meters to go I switched from breaststroke to front crawl in a bid to power over the line. On a nearby boat house, a kind couple called me over to congratulate me - gifting me £20 towards my JustGiving campaign moments after I’d been dragged into the support boat by Colin."
"Slumped on the deck of the boat, my hands and ankles bigger than ever, I sat for moment and tried to take stock of what I’d achieved. Congratulated by both Helen and Colin, I felt lost in my emotions."
"My mind racing and my body worn, I sat in silence listening to each breath. I had done it. And it felt good."
36. André (Lake Bled, Slovenia)
"Have you ever heard about Swimrun-racing? Me neither! Well, at least not three years ago. Back then, my future brother-in-law Wolfgang and I decided to take a break from our regular yearly hiking and climbing tours – and that we should try something new instead. A friend recommended the swimming adventures offered by SwimTrek. And so we had a plan."
"Our only problem: I was a very poor swimmer and Wolf could not do the crawl at all. Still we booked the trip and used the remaining weeks to practice for our very first swimming holiday. In the end we had a wonderful time down in Slovenia, because of the beautiful nature and all the cool people around us. Besides that we also realised that our swimming technique wasn’t that bad anymore – probably due to all the swimming sessions around Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, the emerald Soca river etc. Back in Germany, we added several swimming competitions to our 2013-list of planned marathons and trail runs. We also joined a triathlon association to improve and intensify our training. It was there when we first heard about ÖTILLÖ, a race that was ranked as one of the toughest endurance races in the world by CNN in 2012."
'...my future brother-in-law Wolfgang and I decided to take a break from our regular yearly hiking and climbing tours – and that we should try something new instead.'
"This Swimrun World Championship is a unique race in an unique environment. The race is structured so that teams of two complete the entire 65km of running and 10km of swimming together across a series of islands (Ö till Ö = “from island to island”) in the Swedish Archipelago. There are 23 islands to run across, 22 straights to swim through, 44 transitions. In order to have a hope of finishing, it’s virtually required that you swim in your shoes and run in your wetsuit. Wetsuits are also mandatory because of the water temperature, which can get down to 10C."
"Of course, we wanted to be part of this adventure. Still, it isn’t that easy to get on the list of entrants, since only 120 teams are allowed to participate in the race. First, we did not manage to get a spot via the official merit selection. Then, we were unlucky in the random ticket selection lottery. So our last chance was a series of qualifier races, mostly taking part in Scandinavia, where Swimrun-racing is already very popular."
"After months of intensive training we went to Sweden in June 2014 to participate in the Borå Swimrun. Of course, we did not win and therefore qualify right away – but still managed to come in as the first non-Swedish team, finishing up 7th place. Again, we practised hard. And one month later, taking part in the Engadin Swimrun in Switzerland, we finally managed to get hold of one of the three highly coveted qualifier spots for ÖTILLÖ 2014..."
37. Trish (Kas, Turkey)
Back in 2014, one of our most seasoned guides, Trish, celebrated her 50th SwimTrek trip - yes, 50! In a blog we released that year, she recalled a few of her happiest memories from the past 50 trips. Now, we've picked out 15 of our favourite Trish memories from classic locations like Turkey, Greece and Croatia, including a very special view of SwimTrekkers in Kas, Turkey, which is usually only reserved for our drones:
50 - "Parasailing in Kas and getting a bird’s eye view of the Turkey SwimTrek swims."
45 - "When Aki, the Greek pilot, turns off the engine, the wind fills the sails and we sail back to the hotel."
44 - Jadran collecting mussels from the rocks and cooking them with garlic for a Croatian lunch.
36 - "Swimming around the ancient Greek Potara at sunset."
35 - "Sorocos bar on the water’s edge with lanterns hanging from a tree, a full moon and a view of Keros."
30 - "Skinny alley: a 20m long channel between the land and a big rock in La Maddalena. It’s just 1m wide but 3m deep."
29 - "Vaseline-ing 5000 armpits."
27 - "The look of awe on people’s faces when they swim into the grotto cave in Pori bay, Koufonissi."
23 - "Finding the plastic snake under the water bottles and screaming the boat down."
22 - "A talk on plate tectonics and how it has shaped the Mexican SwimTrek island of Espiritu Santo - complemented with pictures in the sand on the floor of a cave."
18 - "Seeing shooting stars while star gazing in Mexico."
17 - "Spear fishing with Dimitris and Ricky."
11 - "Freediving 20m to touch the aeroplane in Kas."
5 - "Dolphins under the bow in Greece."
1 - "Coming home to my awesome family in Ireland."
'...Freediving 20m to touch the aeroplane in Kas.'
Read Trish's full blog: SwimTrek Guide Trish Reaches 50 Trips
38. Dan Abel (Cook Strait, New Zealand)
On Friday 22nd March, 2013, one of our coaches at Tooting Bec Lido became the fourth fastest person to swim the 26km Cook Strait in 6 hours 15 minutes. This swim is regarded as one of the world's toughest marathon swims out there. Thereby Dan became part of an elite group of swimmers (at that time he was among only 80 others) to complete this crossing...
"There are a few reasons [I wanted to swim Cook Strait] - I was looking to do one of the recognised challenging marathon swims in the world. I am a New Zealander and very few people have swum Cook Strait (including mine only 80 people have ever successfully swum it). Last year 12 people attempted it and only 3 were successful. I also know and respect the Cook Strait swim guide, Philip Rush (he has completed a triple English channel and a double Cook Strait swim) it was a great opportunity to complete a swim under his tutelage."
"Water temperature was mid 15C, very clear and very calm in the first 2/3 of the swim. That's not to say there weren't tides and currents to deal with. When I started the last 1/3 of the swim the tide/current met an opposing wind and it was like swimming in a washing machine."
"I have a huge swim experience behind me, I prepared well mentally and physically. That's not to say it was easy, standing on the shore looking at the other Island at the start is hard enough. I had an amazing crew of 6 providing encouragement and support on the day out of two boats."
"Conditions were ideal for the crossing. Philip Rush initially encouraged me to swim slightly faster than I had planned in order to beat the current. I achieved half way by 2.5 hours and my crew were quite excited. I explained that I was 37 years old not 27 and wasn't sure what was left in the tank. We decided I should push hard and see what kind of time I could achieve. At the 5 hour mark I was very fatigued and that's when I hit the tide and wind. That was physically the hardest part of the swim. I am a good swimmer so was able to work through the rough water in around 45 minutes and focused on keeping my stroke together for the last 30 minutes to the North Island."
"A pod of dolphins came for a look and many sea birds. Thankfully no sharks. Philip Rush advises that 1 in 6 swimmers in Cook Strait can expect a visit from a shark. He explains that they are well fed and are only coming for a look - I am not sure how reassuring that is."
"I am going to savor this swim for a while. There are plenty of great marathon swim opportunities in the world these days and I would be lying if I said I was not tempted. For now I will be finishing the Open water swimming / coaching season in New Zealand and preparing to return to London and the Tooting Bec Lido in time for the glorious rays of sunshine that will be appearing in May and June. I will be based at the Tooting Lido sharing my swim knowledge with open water swimmers and triathletes throughout the summer and look forward to enjoying some more social open water swim opportunities throughout the UK summer."
'...standing on the shore looking at the other Island at the start is hard enough.'
Read the full blog ‘Tanks are for Wimps!’
39. Adrian Sarchet (Mallorca, Spain)
“Five years ago I stepped outside my comfort zone for the first time in forever. I agreed to accompany two fabulous open water swimmer friends of mine (Roger Allsopp and Regina Luxon) on something called a ‘Swim Trek holiday’.”
“This particular Swim Trek holiday was a long distance training camp designed for those preparing for marathon swims. We were there because Roger was preparing for his attempt to become the (then) oldest person to swim the English Channel at over 70 years’ old.”
“It was only my second season in the open water and I found myself worrying about the training camp. Would I be able to keep up with everyone else? Would I be able to complete the distances we were expected to swim? Was I setting myself up for a fall?”
“My fears were completely unfounded. Rather than facing a competitive situation, I found myself an inclusive situation where everyone, from the Swim Trek guides, to the other Swim Trek holidaymakers, to the staff at the carefully selected hotel we were staying in, endeavoured to create a supportive learning environment.”
‘I was given a yellow swimming cap bearing the words ‘Ferries are for Wimps’. In a strange way that yellow cap became the embodiment of the empowerment I came away from the holiday with…’
“And it was in that supportive learning environment that I began to learn my marathon swimming tradecraft from the Swim Trek guides, Cliff Golding, Andy Williams and Mia Russell.”
“They provided tuition ranging from the administrative (i.e. the process for obtaining a channel swim slot), through the practical (i.e. swim technique, feed technique, swim kit, and crew selection and management) to the psychological (i.e. anticipating the tough points on a swim, how to deal with them) and the medical (i.e. hypothermia – how to recognise and deal with it).”
“This tuition was not academic, but borne from the often hard won experiences of the Swim Trek guides themselves.”
“Looking back now, with six of the Oceans Seven swims behind me, I realise just how accurate, and how valuable, that tuition was.”
“But it wasn’t just the Swim Trek tuition that stayed with me, because on that holiday I was given a yellow swimming cap bearing the words ‘Ferries are for Wimps’. In a strange way that yellow cap became the embodiment of the empowerment I came away from the holiday with. And an expression of how I would face the challenge I had set myself – the Oceans Seven.”
Read Adrian Sarchet’s full blog ‘Ferries Are For Wimps’ here…
40. Bronwen Puleston-Jones (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
Finally, we decided to end where we started, with another unforgettable swim in the waters of Prvic Luka, Croatia…
“I've just spent the morning swimming around Prvic Luka. There's an energy, or rather a peace that radiates from the island. No cars create a totally different pace of life here. It filters into the surrounding waters, my strokes become slower and the meditation begins."
"As I pause to look around, the scent of pines and wild fennel float across to meet me on the surface. The chorus of Cicadas singing fills the air instead of the hum of engines."
"Swimming out from the harbour I weave through little moored boats and locals slowly starting their day. The naked sun catchers are already bronzing themselves without strap marks as I head towards the favoured trip lunch spot."
"I'm anticipating about 9km and don't have a swim-bag to tow a drink with me. I haul myself up onto the concrete of the quay and go in search of a tap. There is a backyard opening towards me with a shower. I wonder if anyone is looking out at the random swimmer roaming in their private space. Workmen watch me as I tip toe in my bright pink swim cap; it's a bit of a beacon."
"Returning to the water I find some submerged stairs that are covered in nature's carpet, no need to worry about my spiky black friends scuppering my efforts after only a few kms. The water in the channel hasn't been whizzed up by daily boat traffic and as I weave through the shallows, thoughts and body drifting, clams close up tight as my shadow passes over them."
"Fishers wave and I wonder what they are catching, I decide they too must be meditating at the end of the line, as there are only small shimmering schools of tiny fish around this harbour. They suspend and swirl like underwater swallow clouds parting as I pass through."
"I round the corner and into a light breeze, the clarity of the water lifts. The sea floor is a mosaic of seagrass beds and chalky white sand. I turn to breath and glance out over aquamarine waters. I am surrounded by islands, the one I am circumnavigating and those about a kilometre away. They seem to float just on the surface of the sea, each circled by a slash of white sand and dotted with green... Houses take pride of place on the shoreline; small concrete jetties are prime sun baking spots. The island has woken up and lots of people are busy at rest and play. I am thinking a lot about drinking again, my tongue has that furry, salt-laden feeling and the high morning sun is warming the sea surface."
'...Fishers wave and I wonder what they are catching, I decide they too must be meditating at the end of the line, as there are only small shimmering schools of tiny fish around this harbour.'
"I swim into a mini harbour with a cluster of houses and people sitting looking out. I swim slowly to shore like an odd landing craft, wallowing over slippery stones and emerge to search for another tap. What I spotted from the water appears to be some other attachment to the external stone of a house. I ask and gesticulate and am pointed towards one of the jetties. I'm not quite sure what I'm heading towards but I wander over and hope that a wide smile will help. There's a shower and a man talking on his phone. I ask again and try the shower, a small trickle stops, teasing me, and I resign myself to continuing on. He says something and heads into his house and the shower springs to life. I take greedy handfuls feeling slightly guilty, but thankful. Still on the phone, we smile and I jump off the end of the jetty and start turning my arms over again."
"This harbour is busy and I paddle across like a water polo player, head high, watching for any ditzy charter boat drivers. I make it to the relative safety of another cluster of moored boats, swimming to each, one by one. I surprise a couple enjoying their Saturday morning, they can't see my expression behind the polarized lenses but I can see theirs."
"This side of the island is a little more rugged, the tree line meets the water in many places. Swimmers and sun bakers are randomly dotted among the trees and on the rocks. An elderly gentleman tugs on a hand line in the distance and I move out to avoid being snagged. He signals energetically as I pass and I realise his line is caught and he wants me to release it. I find the point it submerges and then try to sight it underwater. It's almost invisible and I need to hold the line and swim it's length downwards. It's caught a long way out but I manage to hold on and then to dislodge it, surfacing would have meant I'd have lost sight of it against the rocks on the bottom. He tips his hat to me as he reels in the hook threaded with an octopus tentacle."
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