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Trip Blog

My time on the inaugural trip in the Outer Hebrides

By John Dunwoody , 20 September, 2016

As this trip was so different to the SwimTrek trips I have previously been on, it threw up some new, pre-trip anxieties – a week living on a tall ship, sharing a tiny cabin, my snoring, Outer Hebrides weather, wet kit staying wet and slapping me in the face constantly, washing facilities, unnecessary gadgets recharging facilities, small hours visits to the communal toilet after a few sociable glasses of wine – you know, the normal concerns.

Once all the swimmers had gathered on the first evening, it was soon apparent that I was not alone in these concerns (apart from possibly the last one). What also became apparent was that, despite these concerns, once we had received the email advertising the trip, the average time to booking a place seemed to be less than 48 hours.

So, what was it like? I want to give an impression of the trip rather than a detailed outline so the following are either my observations or those I heard from fellow travellers;

  • Arriving the night before and looking out at the stunning Lady of Avenel moored in Castle Bay Harbour, thinking “that will be my home for a week”.

  • The crew creating that feeling of ‘home’ with their efficiency, kindness, good humour and flexibility.

  • The normal camaraderie created by participating in a challenging activity magnified by learning quickly to live, and enjoy living, in a confined space.

  • Realising early in the trip that we were at the mercy of the winds and tides. No swim could definitely happen until the guides had seen the conditions and were confident that, as a group, we were capable of dealing with them. The key to enjoying the trip was flexibility and living as a group on the boat helped us all to appreciate that.

  • The endearing human quality of being in a very unfamiliar environment but soon developing our own routines, our own regular habits before and after each swim.

  • Sarah, the first mate, possibly thinking we were all mad, helping us all into the water and then back out, congratulating us and, along with the guides, ensuring we were all present and correct.

  • The skipper, Ernst’s, quiet, relaxed control of the Lady of Avenel.

  • Walking back into the living quarters of the boat after a swim to see everyone wrapped up, warming up and tucking into whichever delicacy had been laid out for us by Jules (co-owner and cook).

  • On a shallow swim, one swimmer picking up and releasing a starfish so that it landed upside down. Four swimmers then bobbing up and down waiting for the starfish to right itself. Discussing this later on the boat, Stephan, the co-owner of the boat, overhearing us and asking, “Have you been turning starfish upside down?”, “Yes” ……. pause ……. “Bastards”.

  • Informal quiz nights after dinner – camaraderie briefly suspended as competitiveness takes over.

  • Time to relax as the boat motored/sailed between swims and overnight anchorages – reading, chatting, dozing, staring out to sea, staring into the sea (for those elusive dolphins) and, I can only speak for myself, feeling at peace.

  • Relishing shore leave – arriving on a beautiful, deserted white beach and wandering up a hill or into the dunes, then looking back out at the Lady of Avenel awaiting our return, thinking “that is my home”.

For those interested in the details of the swims, then the variable conditions meant that they were, well, varied. Crossings mixed with coastal, challenging mixed with leisurely. As I waved goodbye on my last morning, both from the rib taking me to Castle Bay Harbour and from the Oban ferry as it passed The Lady of Avenel, I didn’t feel sad but, instead, felt that I had had a wonderful holiday and was delighted to have spent it with great people - swimmers, guides and crew.

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I was on the same trip the following week but I recognise everything John says here. The camaraderie on board between all the swimmers, crew and guides was unlike anything on a land-based trip in my experience. This felt like an expedition, at the mercy of the winds and waves and much the better for it. I have to say a word about Jules' ability to keep us all fed and watered at the right times - and plenty of it too. Just what was needed. Delicious stuff. A favoured memory is discovering that we had drunk all the red wine, only to ransack the place and find plenty more under the seats in the saloon. And did I mention our dolphin escort whilst swimming to Mingulay on day one? An unforgettable experience. Book me on the next trip with The Lady. I don't care where it is - I'm going!

posted over 5 years ago