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Tom Chapman

Porthcawl to Glenthorne 16-9-2021

Swim time:  11hrs 57minutes

Start: Sandy Bay Porthcawl (Coney Beach)

Finish: Approx 1mile west of Glenthorne Bay, Devon.

Observer:      Ros Edmonds

Swim Crew:   Colin Hughes

Pilot:              Ceri Davies

Pending ratification by the MSF.

Swimmers report:

Ive lived in Porthcawl for the last ten years, swum the English Channel and have been planning on swimming the Bristol Channel for the last few years. Last year I observed a swim For Kamil Resa going the other way on this route, this was the first swim for many many years, that kickstarted my plans!

I wanted to swim all four previously swum routes across in one season. The first two swims, Penarth to Weston and Penarth to Clevedon where fairly straightforward. This swim, is very difficult. I was trying to replicate Kevin Murphy and Ted Keenans swims from the 70’s, they swam from Glenthorne just inside Devon to Porthcawl to BLDSA rules which means you need to land within 800m!

The tide at Porthcawl runs almost NW to SE due to the shape of the coast and with the second highest tidal range in the world, it runs very quickly!! You need to be in the right place when the tide turns to catch the run to Porthcawl. I first attempted the swim 6 weeks ago back in July but the boat essentially took me up and back down the channel rather than across it so after 8 hours, I was no where near catching the tide and would not have made Porthcawl, so I abandoned. Fast forward to September and the 16th was the first chance I got after the first attempt. This time I opted to go North to South, this means it’s a lot less critical where you are when the tide turns and just by swimming South I should always be able to land as the tide runs due E-W on the Devon side. 

In the time between the first attempt and the second, I did very little training as I needed to recover from the first swim and was also constantly on standby. When I finally got the slot, I had a small doubt in my mind I was capable of swimming for 12 hours but as soon as I got in the water, that went totally out of my mind! Almost straight after leaving Porthcawl the wind started to get up. It wasn’t bad but the sea was a little bit choppy and I could feel myself being pushed around.

The first two feeds I didn’t seem to be making any progress down the coast, it looked to me I was still directly out from Ogmore by Sea. On the third or fourth feed I could see Witches point at Southern Down and the cliffs of Monk Nash where Kamil landed so I knew the tide was starting to push HARD!

A few more feeds and I could see the lighthouse of Nash Point behind me. I knew now it was 10 or so miles of open sea to the other side. I expected the boat to push me due south which would probably land us in Somerset. As it was the wind was starting to get up and the boat was really starting to struggle holding a position next to me. One driver was pointing it due south, the wind blew the bow away, they would drift off 50 feet then motor back. The second driver was pointing the nose 45 degrees into the wind.

I settled for picking a spot on England I thought was the closest and just keeping the sun at the same. I had a few chats with the boat on feeds but they told me to carry on doing what I was doing. As I started to get to Devon, the wind seemed to get stronger and the sun started to go in, and then to go down. Navigating was becoming harder and harder. I was told there was 4.5 miles to go which should have been about 2 hours…but 7 (45 minute) feeds later I was still 2 miles out! As the sun went down the boat finally came along side me and started pushing my direction. It felt to me like they were trying to direct me back up the channel but the track shows we were now going straight in as a pose to swimming down the channel, I should have been going this way all along!!

As night fell the water flattened out as I came into the shadow of Foreland point and finally the boat left me to swim in. I landed in a large boulder field, picking a line between some large boulders and just about managing to climb out and clear the water after 11 hours and 57 minutes.

I never intended this swim to be a point to point, landing at Glenthorne, I just wanted to get across but the difficulty in navigating with the wind meant I got in just past Glenthorne house! Finally, the swim I had been planning for the last few years was done.

I live in Porthcawl and now everytime I look out to see, on a clear day I can see the lighthouse on Foreland Point. There. That’s where I swam to!  Third Bristol Channel swim complete!

Observers report:

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