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Tom Chapman

Penarth to Weston-Super-Mare 17-6-2021

Swim time:  6hrs 17minutes 21 seconds

Start: Penarth Slipway

Finish: Brean Down

Observer:      Ros Edmonds

Swim Crew:   Peter Foster

Pilot:              Ceri Davies

Pending ratification by the MSF.

Swimmers report:

I have lived on the Welsh coast for the last ten years, looking out over the Bristol Channel to Devon on the other side. In 2016 I was regularly competing in full distance Triathlons but picked up an injury that stopped me running or biking. My usual training was replaced with swimming. Lots of swimming! I started to swim with distance and marathon swimmers instead of triathletes, transitioning from wetsuit clad ironman to all year round, skin swimmer. Some of my new training partners were swimming things like the English Channel…and before long I too was signed up for a solo! Fast forward to 2019, I swam an English Channel solo and was looking for more challenges! One of my training partners had swum the Bristol Channel; a spark of an idea was ignited! With no commercial pilots, in 2020 we spent plotting and planning the route, Bristol Channel is the second largest tidal range in the world and currents can be phenomenal. With Corona Virus it never happened for me but I was asked to observe two other swims across (Penarth to Clevedon by Jo Jones) and Glenthorne to Porthcawl by Kamil Ressa. This was the first swim on this route since the 70s and the swim I really wanted, living in Porthcawl and it was the kick up the backside to get my plan in motion! The pilot for both Swims has a watersports business in the local area and was trying to establish a business taking swimmers. I really want the two long crossings Porthcawl Glenthorne and Swansea Ilfracombe….but the plan developed in my head to use the four previously swum routes as training swims, one building to the next to the next to the next. Only a handful of people have swum each route and no one has swum them all. It was decided. 2021 was to be an attempt at all four previously traversed routes. Lets go!

The prep for this swim was very tricky. Pools here were closed for several months due to covid and only had very short sessions when they did open. The sea this year also stayed incredibly cold; in Porthcawl it was still less than 11C only a few weeks before the swim. Luckily I had built myself an endless pool to help with the transition from triathlete to Channel swimmer; this was a godsend and allowed me to keep consistent training in water of the right temperature. Can you swim the channel by training in an endless pool?! We were about to find out! Luckily we had a warm spell a few week out from the swim and the sea temperature started to rise; longer swims were on the cards, but nothing over two hour, and really it was time to taper; I was just hoping consistent training would see me through. I was really looking at this swim as a marker to see where I was, how my body would cope with a 6 hour swim and a line in the sand for the rest of the challenge.

The swim itself was moved forward a couple of days, the morning of the swim we drove to the marina and met up with the boat, motored round to the start and just like that, it was go time! Weather was overcast and cool but not cold. I greased up with Ocean Lube, jumped off the boat and swam in where a friend was waiting to take some photos on the slipway. The water was super flat but the weather looked moody out over the channel and England beyond. The horn went and I dove in and started swimming. Every long swim I have to force myself to drop my stroke rate so spent the first few minutes getting settled. The first part of the swim was very uneventful, the water was very calm, the people on the boat were very calm, bar the odd bit of seaweed and a few navigational buoys, not a lot to see!

After a few feeds I was looking at the two islands in the channel, Flatholm and Steepholm. I never lost sight of them all day. The track pivots around them so we were probably a constant distance for several hours; slightly frustrating to not seem to make any progress!

I didn’t have a watch but knew the three hour feed would be where the tide turned, after this, from my perspective in the water, it was getting quite messy chop; the wind was clearly blowing over the tide. Nothing too challenging, just a little annoying…but nothing great is supposed to be easy! After a few more hours a huge car transporter ship appeared on my left fairly close behind us, I remember thinking it was weird I didn’t feel its wake but the water was very spikey by this point. I increased my stroke rate and settled in for a fight.

Another few feeds and I could see the coast in front of us; frustratingly again not getting any closer and sliding past. At this point the boat was almost broadside to me, 90 degrees on, it seemed to be holding station by just getting blown and pushed by the wind and the waves. I was just focusing on closing the gap, then watching it pull away and me closing the gap again. The chop was starting to get tedious. I asked the crew to drop to a 30 minute feed as I was pretty sure I was about to get asked to push.

Next feed that call came; push as hard as you can or we will miss the headland. I knew exactly where we were, what was round that headland, and what missing it would mean. I wasn’t about to miss it. All of a sudden the ache in the arms was gone, hammer was down, swimming as fast as I could and feeling great. It looked to me like the boat was going to miss the headland so I was trying to lead them harder in…I know it doesn’t work like that but I was trying anyway! I could see Peter my support starting to get his swimmers on so I figured it was pretty much done. Landing on rocks he was sent to follow me in although in the event the boat got pretty close!

I felt rock in front of me and could see a path out the water; I clambered up the rocks and it was done. The boat pointed up onto the cliff where I could see my dad with his camera, shooting some pics with his long lens.

Perfect, swim 1 complete. Body felt great, swim went well, big box ticked off and first skin swimmer across that route for quite a long time; well happy!

Observers report:

Pictures: