I have signed myself up for the Scilly 360° swim next September. This is a course that circumnavigates St Mary’s, the largest of the Isles of Scilly, it is approximately ten miles of open water sea swimming.
What has caused me to make this commitment I’m not entirely sure. I like to challenge myself, the validation of a swimming achievement would be nice, but I also have in my mind, eating away at my brain, the desire to swim around Bryher, my home island. This is not a swim to take on lightly. The North and West coast of Bryher is wild, exposed Atlantic waters, where swells, currents, seals and rocks will all be there to challenge me. I am frightened of this swim but it taunts me, each time I look out towards the Norrad Rocks the sea is like a siren calling .
My plan, therefore, is to use the challenges of the 360° as a learning curve, a training session in itself. To try to conquer unknown waters, distance, the cold and the mind games the will no doubt plague my head. To use the experience in the hope that one day I may satisfy my wish to swim Bryher’ s coast.
I plan my swims with this challenge in mind, today’s swim sees me leaving Rushy Bay in the late afternoon, incoming tide essential to be able to navigate the Brow. A much larger swell than I expected meets me at the shoreline, big boisterous waves crash in, full of chopped weed and disturbed sand.
For the first time I am doing this swim without a support boat, I do have Graham and Sam (my long suffering minders) walking the coast and they have strict instructions to keep eyes on me until the boat yard…if I wave I am in trouble.
I tell myself to ride with the swell, keep swimming, breathe when able and that once we are around the headland of Samson Hill it will be calm.
All I can see are deep blue waves crashing over me, lifting me up like a cork and trying to swallow me. The noise and force of the water against my head and body is relentless. My mind starts to imagine creatures of the sea circling under and behind me, I try to squash these thoughts and concentrate on swimming.
The swell doesn’t let up and it is a constant battle along the coast towards the boat yard. To the sea I am no more than a stray piece of seaweed or an unrecognizable plastic object. It does not feel me as I feel it. It’s surface doesn’t prickle and chill as it touches my skin, it doesn’t peer in frightened curiosity or enchanted wander as this floundering body makes it’s way through it’s very being. It would stand by and let me drown, relentless in its quest, with no thought or feeling for the soul it had just claimed.
This soulless entity has the power to move people to tears, cause them to stare for endless minutes, to smile, to gasp, to breathe, to relent and to die. Yet it knows nothing of this power.
As I swim in in this exhusting swell of water, I am committed to getting myself through this. I have no choice but to keep going. I remember writing once that I have a relationship with the sea. Now I can understand that we have no relationship, it is a romantic, naive notion that this entity would have a relationship with anything. What the sea does is enable me to have a deeper relationship with myself, a better understanding of myself.
I make it to the boat yard and now the water eases, I find a smoother stroke and so I continue on towards the quay. Relief is there as I reach the shore, contentment at achieving my goal and a realisation that ten miles is going to be a bloomin long way!