Penarth to Clevedon
Swim time: 8hours 7 minutes 30 seconds
Start: Penarth Slipway
Finish: Clevedon Slipway
Observer: Sophie Smith
Pilot: Ceri Davies
Ratified by the BCSA.
I have swum since childhood but I only started open water swimming in 2019. In the last 4 years I have successfully completed relay swims of the English Channel & Lake Geneva. I decided last year I wanted to challenge myself more so in a moment of madness/wine induced euphoria I pressed ‘Book now’ for a Bristol Channel solo. My original choice was the 9 miles Penarth to Weston Super Mare route as I am a Weston girl born and bred, however following discussion with Ceri ( my pilot) who calculated my swim speed verses the tides/currents I changed to Penarth to Clevedon route as more chance of success.
My training was hindered with poor sea conditions & family commitments and was mainly in the marine lake/swimming pool- I had begun to doubt I could be fit enough to complete the swim, however, attendance at the Tuska Rock swim training weekend saw me gain valuable information about nutrition, form great friendships with other swimmers & complete a 6 hour swim all of which was a huge confidence boost.
The day of the swim was a nasty 3.30am alarm clock start, where my partner & crew member Andrew drove us from Swansea to Penarth, collecting my observer Sophie en route. We met Ceri and John (pilot & copilot) at 5am and were given a safety talk & more importantly directions to the yacht club toilets!
We had an early lock out and motored round to Penarth slip while I had my lube applied to prevent my costume rubbing ( had to do my 6 hour swim topless as not applied enough lube and costume rubbed so lesson learnt!) & anti jellyfish sun cream!
I swam to the slip to start my swim and my exit and entry were equally as ungraceful as you can have – crawling on hands & knees- arse in the air- as it was had to stand on the pebbles! The first 1.5 hours swim was choppy with the winds coming straight at me- although I actually enjoyed this part- delaying my first feed by 15 mins as felt good- apparently causing tantrums from Andrew on the boat who was ready with my feed at scheduled 1.5hours. My feeds were scheduled at 1.5 hours then every 45 mins of maltodextrin/ fructose & flavouring 250mls.
The seas flattened and the sun was out – it was calm & mesmerising - I couldn’t remember if the sun out meant jellyfish went down lower or higher and as I have an irrational fear of them my crew were on jellyfish watch - none were seen though but the sea is brown so they would miss them anyway.
The crew were keeping me entertained with messages on a whiteboard- one message involved a naked Andrew with the whiteboard strategically positioned!! - & a car carrier gave a bit of chop from his bow wave otherwise the middle part of my swim was straightforward swimming from feed to feed adding some solids of cake, jelly babies and chocolate to complement my liquid feeds. I felt good but spent way too long on feeding having difficulty with the volume.
The water was warm – about 17-18 degrees but there were pockets of really cold water & when the sun went in you could feel the air temperature drop.
Around 6 hours in I felt my hamstring muscles in both thighs & extending into my bum were going to spasm and have full on cramp- I’ve never experienced it here before and if this happened I don’t know that I could’ve stayed afloat but i tried to bend and stretch & swim it out.
At approximately 6.5 hours Ceri started cleaning the boat & I was thinking he must be cleaning it so it looked good to be seen in Clevedon (only a women would think like this!) so I made the mistake of asking how far to go. I thought it was about 1km but it was 3.5km and I couldn’t even see Clevedon ( I didn’t know it was on the other side of the boat) but mentally I struggled from this point but I kept going but really had to focus. My arms were ok but I think I was lacking energy & needed nutrition & I knew my stroke rate was much slower. At the last feed I couldn’t swallow it all as I felt sick but could see the pier now so that was good. The land to the right wasn’t moving though and I felt like I was going backwards and kept asking how far away it was- the crew basically told me to keep going and man up.
Eventually the boat was behind me and I was almost at Clevedon Slip- Phil who has swam breaststroke across many routes of the Bristol Channel was there to meet me & Kate & Kev with many other onlookers. I cleared the water and heard the victory horn from the boat. The crew were cheering and hugs & a Union Jack flag were forthcoming on the slip.
Swimmer: Shelley Griffin – Penarth to Clevedon, 10th August 2023
Observer: Sophie Smith
Shelley is an experienced sea swimmer and had done an EC relay and more recently, a 77k Lake Geneva relay, prior to this swim. However, this was her first solo marathon swim. Originally, she had hoped to swim back to her hometown, Weston Super Mare, but in consultation with the pilot, had opted for the Penarth to Clevedon route. Clevedon is a town she knows well and she is often to be found in the sea pool there.
The crew met at around about 5:15am on the 10th at Penarth Pier. The crew boarded the boat, a briefing was given by the observer and then the boat crew. Shelley set about preparing herself and the swim began at dead on 6am to a beautiful sunrise.
Conditions for the first few hours were quite lively, with wind against tide. At one point, earlier in the swim, the pilot had difficulty in controlling the boat due to wind when stopped to feed the swimmer. This was communicated to the swimmer so that she knew it was the wind, not her, but she didn’t appear to care! The sea state began to calm as the tide turned and then became far more comfortable for Shelley. Nevertheless, only later in the day did wind drop to negligible levels.
Shelley had a very carefully thought-out feed plan, which was mostly 200ml of Maltodextrin delivered by a bottle tied to a rope. She also took a variety of solid feeds as well as this – cherry Bakewell tart, chocolate brownies – all delivered in a small Tupperware box attached to the feed bottle. She had intended on feeding every 45 minutes after her first feed at 90 minutes. On the whole, this was adhered to, though some feeds were delayed by 15 minutes at the swimmer’s request (and to the exasperation of her crew!).
The visibility on the day was good, and the two islands (Flatholm and Steepholm), both sides of the channel and several vessels were clearly visible all day. Shelley was graced by the company of the “Viking Amber” on its way to Bristol and had a bit of fun in its bow wave around mid-swim! Shelley is not a great fan of jellyfish and luckily for her, only one was spotted the entire day by someone on the boat. She was thus spared a wildlife encounter. There was, however, some ‘wild’ life on board the boat, the Shee Ann, with plenty of shenigans designed to amuse the swimmer and relieve her boredom. Nevertheless, the crew were unsure as to the success of their attempts because at one point, it was met with: “you’re so childish”. Shelley also did an impressive 360 degree twirl in the water, complete with erect middle-fingers at her crew at one point, proving that she has aquatic talents beyond long-distance swimming.
The swim finish at the planned landing site, which was just to the right of Clevedon Pier, in glorious sunshine. At the end of the swim, from around a mile out to the end, progress was slow due to the currents. At times, Shelley looked tired but her determination was never in doubt. She asked a number of times for assurance, stating “I am not going anywhere.” Assurance was given, she kept on swimming and eventually broke through and made swift progress towards the slipway. There, Shelley was greeted by a small crowd on arrival and handed a Union Jack. She received cheers, applause and hugs. It was a lovely scene to witness.
The swim ended after 8 hours and 7 minutes of swimming, at 2:08pm.
The swim was completed in accordance with accepted marathon swimming rules. The swimmer wore goggles and one suitable hat, with acceptable swim attire and no equipment to assist her. Vaseline was applied. The swim was completed in the spirit of marathon swimming, with nothing to question its validity. It was a very well planned swim, in which everything went to plan, and it was a very enjoyable day aboard the boat also with a great atmosphere and plenty of fun and support. Congratulations Shelley - it was a pleasure to observe the swim.