It’s been a strange week after two groups of swimming friends were forced to abandon their swimming challenges for health reasons.
The Thames Marvels, a group of exceptional woman, spent more than 9 hours in force 4 winds and very lumpy conditions in the English Channel before their pilot cancelled the swim on safety grounds.
The Henley River Rats were hoping to become the first team swim the Bristol Channel from Ilfracome to Swansea, but were forced to head home after one of the team succumbed to severe seasickness and dehydration.
We all dread seasickness. The nausea, the inability to keep any fluids or food down, the sheer life-sapping misery that’s almost impossible to shift. We are packing our Stugeron and Kwells and hoping for calm seas.
Both disappointments served as a reminder of how tough these challenges are and how, no matter how good the training and preparation, ultimately whether we succeed or fail is down to elements outside of our control.
As one friend said, “if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
With the river warming up, we’ve enjoyed magnificent swims from the tree-lined peaceful 6km stretch between Day’s Lock and Benson and the much busier, boatier stretch between Shiplake and Marsh Lock. Another favourite is from Aston to Hurley. Swimming long stretches of a river gives a unique perspective on geography: where most people know the river by slipways or pubs, or speeding along with a drink in hand (nothing wrong with that!) we get to enjoy the bits in between, slowly, eye to eye with the ducks. On a drizzly Sunday morning we have only the swans and the kingfishers for company.
We’ve swum at Dover Harbour in the drizzle and cold and the diesel-slicked water turned our swimming costumes brown. In Mudeford, we swam in the sunshine had fish and chips on the beach. No matter the conditions, Fiona, an NHS nurse who is used to looking on the bright side, will be heard to say brightly, “Isn’t this gorgeous girls?”
The English Channel is the best-known swimming challenge in the world. It has, in recent years, become a major industry and on a fine day in August you can expect to see eight or more boats escorting swimmers through the cold jelly-fish infested waters.
The Bristol Channel, by contrast, is an unknown entity. Our pilot is familiar with the waters from years working as a leisure boat operator but he has only piloted two swimmers on the 30 mile stretch from Ilfracombe to Swansea – they are the only two people in history who have ever made the swim. If we succeed, we will become the first ever relay team to have managed it.
Our support boat – our home for 20 hours or so - is an inflatable rib with no shelter, no kitchen and no toilet. We are brutally editing our kit list to preserve precious space on the boat. Sleeping bags? Check. Dry robes? Check. Biscuits? Chocolate? Tinned peaches for salt-mouth? Check, check, check. Anything to avoid thinking about the lack of toilet and the endless hours trying to avoid seasickness.
As the big day approaches, we are beginning to taper off our training. From three training swims and one long swim a week, we’re now reducing our workload and focusing on sleep and eating to make sure we have plenty in the tank for the big day. Laura tells us to visualise. Visualise ourselves after we’ve finished the swim, imagine the feeling of euphoria. I think more about the feeling of safety I have in this group of women. The feeling that when one of us loses heart, the others are there to lend their courage. That we are in it together, quite literally.
The weather forecast is looking good. All we can do now is rest up, eat up and pray for calm seas and sunshine. And try not to think about the lack of toilet.
If you'd like to follow our swim on 22nd July, please join the WhatsApp group by scanning this QR code, or via this link, we will update you on who is swimming, how far we are, and how we are getting on.
There will be a "Happy Hour Auction" at 18:00 on 22nd July, while we are battling our way to Wales. Please go to www.henleymermaids.com/auction to see the amazing prizes.
Please donate, and help us raise as much as possible for the much needed brain condition charities: Parkinson's, Huntington's, MS & Motor Neuron. www.henleymermaids.com