Swim from Arran to Troon on Saturday, 1st October 2016 by the ArranTrooNautics.
Successful, dressed and ready for a party, swimmers left to right:
Back row: Whirly Marshall, Lorna Laidlaw, Barbara Johnston, Joanna Clapton, Annie Howie, Mark Johnston
Middle row: Team Doctor: Emily Farquhar, Vanessa Lawrence, Rhona Quarm, Caoimhe Hunter-Blair, Bea Bound
Front row (kneeling): Lucy Johnston, Katherine Self, Alice Vernon
Out of shot: Jade Perry who joined to be a coach for the other team but in true star fashion, also took to the water herself.
To see individuals' own perspectives of the swim please click on their names above to be taken to their write up.
So how on earth did a group of (in some cases really quite) amateur swimmers come together to swim 17 miles from Arran to Troon on the 1st of October? Well, like so many of the best things in life, one good thing inspired another: Annie Howie heard about the Peacock Salt charity row from Arran to Ayr in 2015, and thought she’d like to swim the same piece of water. She mentioned it to Lucy Johnston who had discussed open water swimming with a few other friends shortly beforehand, and quite quickly we found we had a team of 13 people who were all willing to give it a go. With ages ranging from 24 to 67, 12 women and 1 man, we were a diverse, but enthusiastic, bunch.
We then spent the following year practising! The things we each needed to practice were pretty much as diverse as the team. Some of the team were not particularly strong swimmers so spent a lot of time training in the pool to try to improve technique and fitness, making full use of the super sessions the Ayrodynamic triathlon club run in Troon every week. Others were (perhaps rightly!) more apprehensive about the cold. Again this is something that can be ‘practised’ as the body can learn to adjust to the cold, though it takes a lot of willpower to keep practising this. Others had fears of jellyfish and the deep water to overcome, not so much fun practising these.
Over the year, the team really started to come together. It was difficult, as with the team all trying to juggle jobs, small children, and one living in Northern Ireland, it was hard to make the time to all get together. We had many late night training sessions.
As the chosen week approached, however, the focus moved onto logistics. Our coach, Chris Sifleet from Swim4Miles, had informed us that each team would need a support boat, and that we would need 4 kayakers to paddle beside the swimmers, and a rib to provide an emergency support. We also needed somewhere to stay the night before on Arran. As the precise day on which we’d do the swim wasn’t known until the week itself, it was a big ask to anyone offering help to keep a whole week free. However, in the end we found some terrific people who offered their expertise, equipment and time to help us achieve our goal, and it was with them that on the 30th of September, after a anxious week of waiting through the gales, the 13 of us set off, on various vessels, to Arran.
After a brief night’s sleep, we were woken at 03.30 a.m to be on a bus at 0400 that the very helpful team from the Arran Outdoor Centre sent to collect us in Brodick and get us to Lamlash. Mark Johnston and Annie Howie were taking the first shift, and they kicked off from the beach in Lamlash bay at 05.18, in the dark, swimming through phosphorescence. From then, the swimmers rotated on the hour, and slowly we started to make progress across the sea.
The day itself was great fun. It was a glorious sunny day, though we were hampered by the swell that was left over from the gales of the preceding week. This made the sea pretty choppy, slowing down the swimmers, and causing them to swallow more water than they’d have liked. Everyone managed to maintain extremely high spirits throughout the entire day though, helped enormously by the superb catering provided by Alice Vernon and Rhona Quarm. The kayakers, skippers and rib drivers were so positive, and enthusiastic, and the team was really buoyed by the visits from supporters, and seeing the well wishes of people on social media. This support became increasingly important for keeping up morale as our hopes of finishing before dark evaporated when we got caught by the tide off Lady Isle, and essentially went nowhere for a couple of hours. This meant that several swimmers had to do a third hour in the water, in the dark, something we hadn’t really had a chance to practise. However, everyone continued to push incredibly hard, and all the swimmers jumped in the water at the end when it became too shallow for the boats and swam the final few hundred meters together in their teams.
The finish was incredibly moving, with many of us in tears as we waded from the sea. It was fantastic that so many of our supporters had hung on in the dark for us to finish, and it was wonderful seeing the children still there on the beach too. Finesse Marquees had extremely kindly put up a marquee on the dunes beside the beach where we finished, and By Alice catering provided delicious food for the swimmers and supporters. Bread & Butter Marketing sponsored some liquid refreshment so a party was had, and it's fair to say it went on for considerably longer than you might expect from a team of people who had swum so hard and been up so long.
What was extremely clear as we got to know each other and discussed how we had changed through the experience of the swim was that every swimmer grew in different ways from doing the swim, but it is safe to say that we all feel absolutely thrilled to have completed it successfully.
This swim would definitely not have been possible without an enormous amount of help from a collection of really wonderful people:
- Coach & support coach: Chris Sifleet and Jade Perry. Chris was fundamental to the entire project's success, providing her wealth of experience, qualifications and invaluable support and good humour from the very start of the project. She gave us the faith in ourselves that we could do the swim, and made it all seem possible. Jade came along at very short notice to support the team on Trumble Too, adding her knowledge, experience and huge energy to the team, even taking to the water and swimming so hard she earned the nickname 'Billy the Fish'.
- Skippers and support boats: Gavin Taylor with his boat Papa Westray and David Scott with his yacht Trumble Too who, at incredibly short notice, offered their boats and their own time to be support boats for the swimmers. This involved a very early start and long day, but both Gavin and David were absolutely brilliant, as were their lovely boats, providing endless patience, senses of humour and admirable spirits of adventure.
- Rib Drivers: Jonathan Laidlaw and Jamie Mason who drove Annie's rib, Pumpkin, toing and froing between the teams, always there in case of emergecny and even summoning up the Coastguard helicopter to buzz Katherine and Whirly while they swam. Huge thanks too to Gordon MacIntyre who used his own amazing ribs to bring various friends and family out to see the swimmers, something that really boosted morale.
- Kayakers: the team from the Arran Outdoor Centre and John from the Outward Bound Trust were completely brilliant, joining in the spirit of the swim with gusto, and providing a competent, effective and reassuring presence to each swimmer. We are indebted to all of them for providing such superb support, and would also like to thank the Arran Outdoor Centre for their help with transportation logistics and general advice which was invaluable.
- Team Doctor: Emily Farquhar provided a lot of reassurance as team doctor, and as she was fortunately not required for any major medical emergencies, she also provided a lot of practical help as domestic goddess on Papa Westray. Thank you Emily!
- PR: Tracey O'Sullivan extremely kindly volunteered to help the team with 'a little PR'. Little did we know that this would result in photos of the swimmers in their swimsuits appearing in the Daily Record! She did a phenomenal job, using her impressive PR knowledge to make sure people who were interested were able to find out more about the swim, liaising with everyone from the RNLI to the local, national and open water swimming press, and making sure the copy was ready to go to the press after the swim. This really helped with the fundraising and we are very grateful to Tracey for lending us her expertise.
The swim was not initially a fundraising exercise, but started off rather as a challenge for a team of people without any particular athletic aspirations, to do something a bit different, making use of the glorious coastline we are fortunate enough to live beside. Throughout the training, however, it turned into so much more than that as we realised how much our adventure was resonating with people. For those of us who knew Jo we were absolutely certain she would thoroguhly have approved of such a venture, and felt she was with us the whole way (perhaps laughing just a little?). Thanks to the huge amount of support the story of the swim garnered (see links below), the team has now raised more than £22,000 for the RNLI and the Jo Walters Trust. Some of the money raised for the Jo Walters Trust will be spent sending a group of young carers from Ayr on an outward bound course with the Outward Bound Trust. Fittingly, they had kindly sent one of their senior kayak instructors to help with the swim. The entire team is incredibly grateful for the support we received, both monetary and otherwise. It really did help to spur us on through the hard bits, thank you! If anyone would still like to donate, our fundraising page will be open for a while longer, you can find it here:
Laying down a marker:
Since the swim we have had confirmation from the British Long Distance Swimming Association that the swim qualified as one of their 'Recognised Swims' and they have listed it as an 'inaugural record'.
Social Media & Press Coverage:
If you'd like to see how the swim unfolded, the group had a Facebook page which is full of pictures and videos which we feel give a great flavour of what it was like, and you can see this here:
There was also quite a bit of press about the swim, some of which you can read at the links below (the group is quite proud of the Open Water Swimming one!)