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Tom Chapman

Penarth to Clevedon 2-7-2021

Swim time:  6hrs 38minutes 53seconds

Start: Penarth Slipway

Finish: Clevedon Slipway

Observer:      Ros Edmonds

Swim Crew:   Colin Hughes

Pilot:              Ceri Davies

Pending ratification by the MSF.

Swimmers report:

In my report for swim 1, I outlined why I am trying to swim the four routes across the Bristol Chanel. This swim is to be swim 2, Penarth to Clevedon; a slightly longer route than the first but the same starting point. This one will be on opposite tides to the first so running south on the first leg on an outgoing tide then running up the channel to Clevedon on an incoming tide. Originally I was planning to swim three routes, short, medium and long…but I observed a Swim for Jo Jones on this route last year and it was a cracking day out, perfect weather and it just looked really nice so I booked onto it as well!


15 days before I’d swum the route from Penarth to Weston-Super-Mare; that one really was a pathfinding exercise into the currents and as it turned out we were into those currents for a lot of the day, which resulted in quite a long swim and therefore a good confidence booster for this one! Although this swim on paper is slightly longer, the run up to Clevedon should have the push of the incoming tide and with some more recent previous swims recorded, we had a much better idea of the currents. I was hoping for an easier day than the last swim!  


As with the previous swim, training had been a little patchy with no pool time at all this year due to the covid regs but confidence was pretty high based on the swim two weeks before; I knew if I was recovered I at least had a 6 hour swim in the shoulders and I felt this swim should be quicker. Again we moved forward a few days based on the forecast. For this swim that changed the start time from respectable to early!! A 2.45AM alarm saw us down at the boat for 4 and in the water for 4.45AM.  


When we met the boat dawn was just starting to break, the conditions were overcast and a little miserable, and a small doubt appeared in the back of mind which I did my best to ignore as we exited the barrage lock gates and motored round to the start. On the slip way the Methyr Mermaid Cath Pendleton and Kerri Hutchinson were waiting with their cameras; so nice of them to get up so early and boosted the spirits!  


The tide was quite low and off the end of the slipway so it was a bit of a scramble over the boulders to clear the water but I said my goodbyes and hobbled in, dropping to my belly and commando crawling out to deeper water; not the most dignified start but the easiest way over the rocks!!! I soon settled into my stroke, the water felt cool and a little bit spikey. I don’t tend to pay much mind to the weather forecasts but the one I had seen a few days before it looks like we had light wind over tide to start then wind and tide from behind after the turn with it settling off so I set in to ride it out for a few hours. Really noticeable on the first section I was having to swim quite hard left to stay with the boat, the current was pushing me away. The Bristol Channel is like a giant funnel and has the second highest range in the world so it’s no surprise with Clevedon having a 14.4m tidal range
the currents are pretty strong! After what was probably half an hour or so the current either changed or the boat changed heading and things got a bit easier.


We seemed to get very close to Flatholm Island very quickly but what was weird for me was I could only see one of the islands; the second one seemed to have disappeared! I was puzzling over it for quite a while….and also questioning if we were going to land on flatholm, I could see the lighthouse and the beach getting very very close! As we pushed forward, the second island started to emerge from behind the first one, the angle we had been approaching had lined them up and hidden it from view. It was alike a big car tanker emerging from behind the pilot boat.  


Think this was about the point where the sun started to rise and the clouds started to break, calming that doubt in the back of my mind and letting me relax a bit more into the swim. The tide was starting to turn and we were beginning to run away from Flatholm Island. With the current pushing us NE, before too long all I could see out the corner of my eye was the tower of the lighthouse on the island sticking up above the chop…and then nothing; open water. The weather by this point was starting to look good, a little bit hazy but broken blue sky with patches of sun. Ace.  


As the tide turned and we started the run up the channel, the water turned from a bit spikey to swell, the nice rolling type that’s lovely to swim in! I couldn’t see anything but the boat. Couldn’t see Wales, couldn’t see England, couldn’t see the Islands; just rolling swell and the boat. My absolute favourite swimming conditions; I was pretty comfortable and quite happy!  


A few more feeds and the headlands of England started to appear in the haze. I assumed the one in the very distance was Brean Down where we landed two weeks before. On one of the feeds I asked what the ‘near’ one was and was told it was the one just above Weston Super Mare. I don’t really know this end of the channel very well and wish I’d studied the map a bit more…cos that really didn’t help me trying to work out where we were!
Conditions now were ace, the swell was flattening further and the headlands of England seemed to be flashing past. With the calm demeanor on the boat I was fairly relaxed we were making good progress. This end of the channel is quite muddy. The tide goes out literally hundreds and hundreds of metres in places and exposes big mud banks. On the run towards Clevedon I hit patches the crew described as ‘gravy’. Head in the water everything suddenly went pitch black. Visibility hadn’t been great all day (I could barely see my arm in places) but here it was like someone had turned the lights out, bit crazy!   


As I was breathing I had been looking at England on my right for quite some time but on the next feed I finally got a glimpse of land in front of us. I was told it was 2.5 to 3 miles which I figured wasn’t as bad as it sounds as the tide should be helping! Head down swim on. The next clue was the crew looking forward, pointing and scanning the horizon with binoculars; I knew we were running it in to Clevedon and a few cheeky glimpses forward I could see the buildings and finally the people. I couldn’t see the pier….which again confused me somewhat as it’s a pretty big landmark with the landing point just to the side of it!! I think I’m just blind cos suddenly it was just there, a few hundred meters ahead. We looked like we were running straight for it. I was trying to swim right as I figured the current would run us past the slip…but arguing with the boat from the water obviously just leaves you swimming away and probably adding distance! I felt better with my silent protest either way!!


As we got inside the pier I knew it wasn’t going to be long, counting the arches down to the beach, trying to sight the slip….and….yes, it’s over to the right; we’d been pushed past! The last little push was back over to the right to feel the concrete under my hands and land on the slip.  


My parents and a few slightly bemused on lookers were on the slip; chatted to them for a few minutes then jumped back in, swam to the boat and headed back across the channel. Swim 2, Penarth to Clevedon, done. 2 from 2; Bristol Channel shallow end (as I like to call it!) complete and on to the bigger swims! 6hrs38; another long one…but great training looking forward to swim 3!  
 

Observers report:

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Pictures: