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Tom Chapman

Minehead to Lavernock 16-6-2023

Swim time:  9hrs 10 minutes 39 seconds

Start: Minehead

Finish: Lavernock

Observer:      Sophie Smith

Swim Crew:   Christopher Hill

Pilot:              Meuryn Hughes

Subject to ratification by the BCSA.

Swimmers report:

The one with the Dutch Submarine!!!


So this swim was something I drempt up primarily to fill a gap between the Penarth swims and the Porthcawl swims on my map. It was supposed to be on the next neap...but a lot of stars aligned. I had organised a Bristol Channel Swim camp the week before and with the prep for that, I was 'tapered' (aka hadn't had time to swim), the weather looked ace, the boat was available....I had to take the shot.


This route had never been done before (or certainly not recorded and ratified) so it was make a plan and see what happens! The tide absolutely charges through that section of the channel so we knew it would be pushing all day and I suspected a battle at Lavernock would need to be fought too.

Forecast was 7knot easterly to start, easterlies are usually not good in the BC but it was forecast to drop to 3 or 4knts southerly. It pretty much delivered! The start was on one of Englands much loved barnacle encrusted boulder fields, so the least dignified entry ever trying to avoid a scrape. It got me in a couple of places which stung in the cool water but nothing too bad luckily. Once away it was warm...but choppy. First two hours were a bit of a battle...but it eventually calmed. Next few hours were a big battle of the mind; the huge English cliffs were not getting any further away and I couldn't even see Wales. Combination of the Welsh cliffs being small and a bit of mist I think!

Half way in, England started getting smaller and Wales came into sight. Flat calm water; ace. At the next feed my crew were all super excited about the Dutch submarine. Seriously? A Dutch sub in the BC?! Yeah right!!

As the day went in, Wales got gently closer, and the sun faded into the mist. The battle for Lavernock was edging closer. I kinda figured in my head with an estimate of my swim time the tide should have already turned...but yet we were still heading toward it. With the crew urging me on I put the hammer down...and still only crawled forward. Breathing to my left I could see sully island. I was nearly there. With no warning we whipped a 90 degree turn and began to fly the channel between the mainland and the island. Guess it had turned but we were forcing the swim into the channel!

After about ten mins of full gas, I looked behind me and saw the beach to sully, about 10metres behind me. This was impossible!! With the crew hollering at me, I gave everything I had left and crept across the channel to finish on the mainland by the pub. 9hours 10mins. New route completed. gap on my map filled. Happy swimmer!

Huge thanks to my crew Chris Hill and observer Sophie Smith and a big thanks to Meuryn at one ocean for figuring out the plot and piloting. Massive thanks to so many other people; until the next one!!

Observers report:

Tom is an experienced marathon swimmer, which was evident on arrival at port. All the feeds were in order, crew notified of the feed plan and there were no complications, save that it was difficult to heat some feeds properly due to the hot water flask cooling faster than expected.

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 him. Suncream and grease were applied. The swim was completed in the spirit of marathon swimming, with nothing to question the validity of the swim.

This was an exploratory swim of sorts, not done before (as far as anybody knows). It was thus pioneering. Thorough planning had been done by the pilot for the passage, and the swimmer had clearly done his homework too and knew where the challenging parts of the swim might be. It was thought that the swim might take 7-8 hours. We arrived at Minehead, the starting point, an hour early and so the swim began nearly an hour earlier than planned at 10.23am. The first two hours or so saw conditions that were challenging, with wind driven swell and chop. This did not appear to affect the swimmer. As this passed, and tidal conditions turned in the swimmer’s favour, conditions became excellent for swimming. Particularly off the Welsh coast, the sea shimmered in the late afternoon/early evening sun and was silky.

The swim was not without excitement. It appeared to be a busy day in the channel on the Welsh side, with multiple tankers, large ships, two warships, small yachts, the Waverley and later on jetskis. The highlight was certainly the unexpected surfacing of a large Dutch submarine (possibly “The Dolphin”) – surely a first for Bristol Channel swimming? The swimmer merely remarked: “As long as it isn’t Russian” and swum on. A police helicopter was dispatched to photograph the submarine as it conducted its exercises. The swim finished to the west of the landing site originally planned (Lavernock) and at Sully, as a result of changing tides. The final hour or so of the swim was a feat of endurance in very tough tidal conditions. The swimmer had to fight extremely hard to continue to making progress and land the swim, even as close as 150m from shore. He emerged victorious, to loud cheers from several directions. The swim ended after 9 hours and 10 minutes, at 7.33pm.

It was a pleasure to observe the swim.

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