top of page

Sophie Smith

Ilfracombe to Swansea 9-10/9/23

Swim time: 21 hours 3 minutes 40 seconds

Start: Ilfracombe

Finish: Oxwich Point Swansea

Observer:     Phil Warren

Pilot:             Aston Grindrod

Ratified by the BCSA.

Swimmers report:



Sophie Smith – Ilfracombe to Swansea, 9th-10th of September 2023
I haven’t always been an open water swimmer. In fact, the first time I swum in the sea was in July
2020 in Greece, and I resolved to come home, buy a wetsuit, and join a group of open water
swimmers in the UK. Since then, things have progressed quickly and following an English Channel
relay in 2021, I did an EC solo in 2022 and Jersey to France two weeks later. As a Swansea girl, and a
friend of Sian Clement, I thought of her inspirational and pioneering swim from Ilfracombe to
Swansea and wondered if I might – just might – be able to do it too one day. I threw caution to the
wind and booked it with Bristol Channel Swimming in 2022, thinking of Glenthorne to Porthcawl as a
potential back up.
Originally, I was due to attempt this swim in July of 2023 but being one of the most miserable Julys in
recent memory, it was no great surprise when I got blown out. I then spent many weeks with the new
date – 9th September – in mind but without really getting my hopes up. And then the weather gods
decided that not only would I have suitable conditions, but excellent ones at that. I was profoundly
intimidated by the scale of the challenge, knowing it to be a harder swim than the English Channel,
but I dearly wanted to swim home, to waters and coastline that is familiar to me. I had done an
Ilfracombe to Swansea relay in 2022 and absolutely loved it. I yearned to go back to those waters and
to Ilfracombe, and to the statue Verity, and try it as a solo.
The build up to the swim wasn’t great. I lost my mojo a bit after being blown out in July, I was on
holiday for two weeks until five days before the swim and unable to train there, and I had a very
heavy cold in the week leading up to the swim, which was so bad I wondered if I would recover in
time to do it at all. But I did. I was fortunate enough to have Phil Warren as observer and took
inspiration from his epic conquering of the same route the previous year.
The swim itself was hard. The conditions were nigh on perfect – flat calm, silky water for the most
part and a beautiful hazy and warm day with enough cloud cover to not suffer from too much sun. I
couldn’t have asked for better. We started at dead on 11am on the 9th, from Tunnel Beach. I had
expected to complete the swim in around 18 hours but as the day wore on, it became clear this was
going to be a meatier task than that, and yet I still lived in hope! I struggled at certain stages,
particularly around the 5/6 hour mark and towards the end, as various doubts crept in. I was astounded
that I was still going at sunrise the following morning, and asked myself what on earth I was doing as
I spent an hour and a half swimming diagonally across the tide at Three Cliffs and then Oxwich,
drifting around with the tide to eventually land the swim at Oxwich Point. I knew what the pilot was
doing – I understood it rationally – but the emotional me really struggled with it after 20 hours of
swimming and suddenly feeling really strong pangs of hunger, despite the point edging ever closer.
There were some interesting moments on the swim. The sunset was gorgeous, but most of the action
came during the long, dark night. I came in for a feed at some point during the middle of the night,
only for my crew to shout that there were dolphins circling me, which there were! What a magical
moment! The stuff of dreams. Then there was a colossal, brightly lit up tanker at the anchorage off
Pwll Du that I had swimming towards for several hours. Finally, I got close, and asked for pictures,
and was content with that. Except my tanker excitement wasn’t over. While I was swimming, the
there was suddenly a deafening horn, which startled me out of my peaceful night swimming, and I
was told by the crew that the tanker had raised its anchor and was about to move. Suddenly I felt
petrified. It was huge and within a few hundred yards of us, and there was a certain amount of
consternation as the crew made radio contact with the vessel to ask its intentions. I wasn’t sure if these
were possibly my last minutes or if my swim might get pulled if we had to move out of the way
suddenly, but in the end the tanker moved off with no further issues for us. Phew! A closer call than I
would have liked!

The end of the swim was really quite torturous mentally. We had hoped to possibly land at Pwll Du
and though the land looked really close in the clear dark night, it was actually still a fair distance
away. Having worked pretty hard for at least an hour and a half thinking I was finishing the swim at
Pwll Du, a bay I often swim to from Caswell, I was pretty devastated to learn that actually, we would
have to move on and aim for Oxwich instead. The hours seemed to drag on with, it felt to me, little to
show for it. By the time I got to Oxwich, I will admit I felt crushed physically and even that close, I
seriously thought I couldn’t go on. But somehow I did, and was determined to climb up a barnacle-
covered rock to clear the water, remove my goggles and have a quick cry before returning to the boat.
This is hands down the hardest swim I am ever likely to do. Certainly far harder than anything I have
done so far, but I am bursting with pride over it. To swim home through such beautiful water, and to
land at the beach where I spent most of my summer holidays as a child and where I often train now,
was really fitting.
I am humbled and moved by the immense support I had, both on the boat and on land. I am beyond
proud and these are memories – the good and the bad – that I will cherish forever. I want to say a
special thank you to my observer, my crew and the two pilots on the boat – Aston and Steve – and
Ceri Davies on land. All were superb, with me 100% the entire way, and I could not have done it
without them. As I have said before, ultra marathon swimming is the loneliest of team sports but a
team sport it is, and I am grateful to all those who pushed me onwards with their support, helping me
to land this absolute beast of a swim.

Observers report:

Sophie and I along with Sophie’s swim crew arrived at Swansea marina at 06.45am on
Saturday 9th September 2023, we met with Ceri from Swansea watersports and his
boat crew Aston and Steve. All kit was loaded aboard “Shee Ann”, our home for the
next 24hrs.
Leaving our mooring at 07.05am aiming for a swift passage through the lock and over to
Ilfracombe, unfortunately there was a problem with the lock gates so we sat in the
marina from 07.20am until eventual lock out at 07.45am.
Weather was flat calm but unfortunately the mist and fog was low and progress to
Devon slow, a maximum of 5 knots, time to chill and rest, it is gonna be a long trip!!!
During the trip discussions were had that if the fog continued into the night part of the
swim then we may have to abort!!! “ Do not tell Sophie was the consensus “
Two thirds of the way across the fog started to lift and speed increased, it was decided
that Sophie was to start the swim as soon as we arrived, we were now on the edge of
the best tide window.
Sky now blue and winds light we arrived in Ilfracombe10.50am, Sophie ready to go, she
entered the water after a few mins of “I am not ready to do this, I can’t do this and
general moaning” wearing a standard swim costume, silicone hat and pair of goggles,
greased with a mixture of lanolin and vaseline.
Sophie swam to her start point and cleared the the water on the sands of Tunnel Beach,
signalled to the boat that she was ready and the horn sounded for her to begin her
swim, 11am start time.
She swam back to the boat and onwards towards wales, immediately indicating to her
crew “I have forgotten my earplugs”, she continued swimming whilst the crew frantically
searched for the illusive ear plugs, they were eventually passed to her via feeding cup
and line.
Sophie settled into her rhythm reasonably quickly maintaining a stroke rate of
approximately 48-52 per min.
Water temp was around 18-20, flat calm and perfect conditions, first feed after 2 hours
went well and she continued towards wales.
First hiccup of the swim was at 4 hours, sophie announcing to her crew that she hated it
and wanted to stop, her crew calmly advised her “Just get on with it”
Still perfect weather, warm and calm, zero wildlife to see and Ilfracombe becoming
smaller with every stroke...
Sophie was feeding well at every hour, eventually we had some wildlife, a fly past of 2 x
heron gulls and also sighting of boat traffic a long way away...

Now heading into the evening phase of the swim, sundown was due around 9pm,
Sophie still feeding well but negative thoughts were creeping back in, her crew were
being positive and willing her on.
At this point we did not think advising Sophie that there was sighting of a very big seal
quite close behind her was a very good idea!
A couple of hours pass and swimming into a beautiful sunset Sophie advises that her
negative thoughts had now passed, Crew advises Sophie that she is now over halfway.
Into the night now, Sophie requests a change of goggle from tinted to clear, the wind
speed has increased marginally with a little bit of wind over tide, Sophie is swimming
strongly and the crew watching her flashing lights hour after hour.
A tanker has now been sighted, Sophie is heading straight for it, her crew tells Sophie
that no sight seeing photo opportunities are allowed with the tanker....
We get between 300m-500m from the tanker when it retracts its anchor and moves
At 01.15hrs, Sophie is informed by her crew that she has now surpassed her personal
best of 14hrs....positive boost for Sophie.
At 0200hrs, the moaning returns, “I have had a tits full now”, crew advises her to “Put
your head down and crack on”
Feeds have now been switched to every 45min, Sophie continues to feed well and
maintaining a constant stroke rate of 48 strokes per min, She can now sense the end as
the dawn begins to break.
It looks like from the boat crews track that she will be landing somewhere around
She has now said she has had enough and is severely lacking energy, the boat pilots
and crew are now willing her to carry on.
0600hrs 1km to go, Sophie keeps asking how much longer.
We are now within Oxwich bay aiming to land Sophie somewhere on Oxwich point.
The boat crew turn Shee Ann towards the point, Landing can now be seen, 300m to
0803hrs 10-09-2023, Sophie Smith Clears Water and lands, 0.4NM inside Oxwich point
in a time of 21hrs 03mins 40Secs.
Congratulations Sophie!!!



bottom of page