The swimmers gather with their groups. Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.
I feel like I am standing still in cement while I watch my swimming friends fly off without me. I barely make it to the pool more than twice a week lately–and I’ve had to start completely over this year due to knee surgery.
Meanwhile, my Piranha Swim Team Masters’ friends are getting faster, stronger and swimming longer workouts. Not only that, they are taking on challenging open water swims like the Tiki Swim in Oceanside and the Scilly Swim Challenge in the United Kingdom, 35 miles off the coast of Cornwall.
My friends Linda and Karl, who were former Piranha and St. Theresa parents with me, swam the Scilly Swim Challenge for their second straight year. This swim challenge is a 15k swim combined with a 10k walk.
Event organizer Dewi Winkle said, “We are on year five now and 10th Challenge just completed. Nick Lishman and I came up with the idea in 2013 and we thought the islands are so beautiful and the attraction of swimming between them would be well received. We started in 2014 and have now built to three events a year with up to 150 people per event.”
Dewi said their plans include a race around St Mary’s as a relay event and a test event in Croatia in October. Currently, they have a two-day and one-day swim in September and a Spring Swim in May.
A map of the Isles of Scilly and route courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.
From the Scilly Swim Challenge website:
Swim and Walk the Islands over one or two days
6 swims averaging 2.5 km (total 15km) and 6 walks averaging 1.7 km (total 10km) completed as a group with full safety and logistical support.
Whether you choose to complete in one or two days you will experience the amazing swimming and beautiful scenery Scilly has to offer.
The event will start and finish on St. Mary’s, the main island, visiting St. Martins, Tresco, Bryher, Samson and St. Agnes.
It’s not a race and the emphasis is on everyone getting round safely.
While you’re swimming we will transport a bag for you which will be available at the next island. You will then carry it to the start of the next swim.
Full safety support is included.
There are food stops at the end of each swim.
The Kestrel, Linda and Karl’s ride for two days, at Hugh Town. Photo courtesy of Karl Siffleet.
According to Linda, her second year was easier than the first. “Coming out early to get used to the water was helpful,” she said. The water temperature was 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). In contrast, we swim in a pool with a temperature of around 80 degrees! Yes, she wore a wetsuit the entire time.
Linda and Karl signed up for the one-day swim but arrived several days early and volunteered to help out or “crew” for the two-day swim. The two-day swim allows a more leisurely pace than the one-day challenge. Linda and Karl checked swimmers in and out of the water and helped with the baggage boat. Linda said the support staff is incredible and includes “30 kayakers—they were awesome! Five safety boats (power cats) and a baggage boat.”
Swimmers can swim as much or little as they want. If they need a break they can hang onto a kayak or climb aboard a boat and go to the next island. In between, they are fed snacks and drinks.
Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.
“There was tea, coffee, other hot drinks. Cakes, soup, salads, rolls, candy bars. Diet Coke, homemade pastry and Cornish pasty,” she said.
Hot tea after a cold swim! Photo from Linda Burns.
The swimmers pick which one of three groups they want to swim with according to their speed. “We swam in different groups and nobody keeps time. You can swim as much or as little as you want.” She said the groups are “Red, amber, green. Swimmers self-select which pod to swim with. Red is fastest. Karl swam amber and I swam green. I was much happier swimming in the front of the green than the middle of the amber.”
I’m sure a lot of the appeal on taking on a challenge like this is the camaraderie. The swimmers must feel so much accomplishment and bond together after their swims. I know it motivates Linda and Karl to keep swimming year round and a goal to work towards in their practices.
Like I said, my friends have been getting stronger and faster. Linda said she felt great swimming. “I felt good. I got into a good rhythm for sighting and really enjoyed it—except the several times a wave broke over me as I inhaled and I thought I was going to cough up my lungs.”
Photo from Linda Burns.
Someday, I’d like to take this challenge, too. I don’t think I’ll be strong enough yet in May, but perhaps in a year or two. In the very least I’d like to travel to the Isles of Scilly and see this quaint, quiet and beautiful area for myself.
What motivates you to get out of your comfort zone and try something incredibly challenging?
Photo courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.