Having done the Inner Hebrides trip in 2011 the lure of the Outer Hebrides was irresistible. Staying on a boat, a brigantine in full sail, swimming from island to island, north to south. I had to do it.
A skins swimmer for three years I was a little nervous as recent summer swimming had been in lakes and seas of around 20 degrees. I decided to dust off my wetsuit just in case and also take lots of warm stuff, big down jacket, dry robe and tons of warm clothes, huge spare towels, enough for three months in the Arctic. Cabin space for storage was somewhat tight!
We met our leaders Pete and Tim and were introduced to the pilot Ernst, the boat owners Stefan and Jules, also the chef, and Sarah the ship's mate. On the first evening we discussed our expectations for the week and, after a short swim round Kisimul Castle in Castlebay, were divided into two groups, fast and not so fast. Water temperatures were around 12 to 13 degrees.
Each day before our swims Pete and Tim would come up with a plan based on theirs and Ernst's study of tides, winds and sea conditions and put it to us. Hence, on day one we sailed south and did our first crossing from Berneray to Mingulay and from Mingulay to Pabbay with a bit of a walk on Mingulay. Stunning!
Conditions always make a set itinerary impossible to follow exactly. We did several more crossings, one that got particularly choppy at the end when I and others were hauled unglamorously into a rib like beached whales but also a number of coastal and loch swims. Possibly my favourite was cruising around Lochboisdale, spotting starfish and seals, marine life, fish and (harmless) jellyfish. Jaunts onto the islands made us feel like intrepid explorers as we saw not a living human but many a sea bird, more seals, golden and sea eagles.
Was I disappointed not to do all the crossings? Not a bit! The pleasure was in the wonderful medley of swims we had and the feel we got from this beautiful part of the country.
Swimming apart we were incredibly well treated by all involved and the group gelled well, swimmers and crew, like one big week-long family. Sarah recognised every swimmer's towel and had it to hand, warm and dry, after each swim. Jules kept us all fed and watered well beyond the call of duty: snacks abounded between very tasty and plentiful meals, nothing was ever too much trouble, coffee and tea were on drip feed and the first alcoholic drink of the evening was included. All of this made staying on the beautiful Lady of Avenel a hugely memorable experience.
And I did it all sans wetsuit!