Island Hopping

Updated: Mar 1

Overcast, temp 17°c wind 5 mph.

After a heavy downpour during the early hours of dawn, the morning air is mild and humid. Bryher is settled under a blanket of Sunday morning stillness and cosy slumber.

A small yacht lays stranded on a sand bar mid channel, between Bryher and Tresco, leaning alarmingly to its starboard side. It is waiting with enforced patience for the tide to return and lift it afloat.

There is an overcast, silvery light, billowing grey clouds with swathes of purple sweeping rain banking the horizon. The sea is silky smooth, a liquid form of silvery green.

Today is going to be my longest sea swim to date. I am no longer feeling the nerves of anxiety but instead the fluttery feeling of anticipation of the adventure, the unknown, the unpredictability of the challenge.

With a small group of swimmers from St Mary’s, a host of kayaks as support, Sam being one of them, we gather at Appletree bay on Tresco. Appletree is a long sweeping beach of soft white sand, banked by tall rushes. It faces westward towards Bryher, Samson, the rocks of Mincarlo and the Atlantic beyond.

Looking across to Samson

My plan is to swim with the group to Samson and then head on to Rushy Bay with Sam. We set off in a flurried haze of arms, feet and silver bubbles. Soon each has found their swimming stroke, their space and their own thoughts and watery world to be emersed within.

Scribbled map of swim

The sea between Appletree and Puffin Island is fairly shallow, the sandy seabed dotted with occasional clumps of bladderwrack where shoals of tiny fish hide within.

A compass jellyfish floats by and I momentarily break my rhythm to watch as it’s creamy coloured body, marked with brown points like a compass, glides past me.

I notice the water’s surface is bouncing and rippled, the sky above me a lead grey colour and it is raining heavily again. The kayakers pull up their hoods and hunch their shoulders but it makes no difference to me and I swim on happily.

The seabed darkens as I approach the rocky island of Puffin. Beds of kelp cover the sand, a hermit crab scuttles for cover. Shadows of dark fish dart beneath me, a shoal of tiny fish flow quickly in front of me like a ribbon of silver.

Around into the channel between Puffin and Samson, long golden strands of thong weed trail in the tide, I think of mermaids with beautiful flowing locks and lions manes. The light and colours create a fantasy underwater world.

The rain has stopped, the water calms again, my feet barely brush the sand of Samson and I decide to turn and head for Rushy before the chill sets in.

Out once again into the deeper channel between Samson and Rushy. I am swimming against the incoming tide and there is a slight swell that lifts and rolls me gently….do I really feel a little sea sick? My tongue is feeling numb and rough with all the salt.

The north end of Samson disappears and is replaced by open ocean. As we pass Yellow Rock the swell subsides and I can once again find those long, rythmical strokes where your movement, breath and sea feel all at one.

The sand appears again and gradually gets closer as we reach the shallows of Rushy Bay, we’ve made it, I’ve made it! Three islands in one day.

Home, yellow rock and samson


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