American swimmer baits Nessie

Today the Wild Highlanders met Gary Walters and John Raboin from Brianerd, Minnesota USA who are in the area for a whacky challenge.  Gary is here to swim across Loch Ness while John tries to entice the Loch Ness monster, our Nessie, to come and taste the brave American – all in the name of charity of course.

Gary has a facebook page titled ‘Walters Wacky Adventures’ and snippets of film, photos and text tell the expedition story.  He is raising awareness and money for Kinship Partners (www.kinshippartners.org) who run a youth mentoring programme in his home area and he has undertaken a number of very impressive physical challenges over the past 10 years.

Sadly the weather has not been kind and high winds have created significant waves on the loch which are delaying Gary’s big swim.  However, Gary was courageous enough to swim with us this morning during our regular 10am Saturday morning swim from Dores beach.  We made up a group of at least 16 swimmers, a mix of ages and abilities, wetsuited and non-wetsuited: Karen, Pat, Di, Laura, Douglas, Frances, Sandra, Fiona, Jen, Helen, Martin, Jonathan, Ruth, Hilary, Helen B and Gary (apologies if I have forgotton anyone!) who all enjoyed the waves.  The Wild Highlanders can be found in Loch Ness all year round and enjoy the variable conditions we experience.  I’m hoping we will be able to further assist Gary and John to complete their quest before they have to return to the USA.

During our usual post-swim coffee and cakes at the Dores Inn we tossed around some ideas to get this swim done and hope to have some positive news soon.  In the meanwhile – many thanks to John and Gary for picking up the tab for the drinks and cakes. What an absolute treat.  You are a fantastic pair of gentlemen and the Wild Highlanders wish you evey success for the swim and fundraising.

Of course we all know that Nessie is a vegetarian so Gary will be safe enough even if she decides to delight him with an appearance.

Wild Highlanders with Gary Walters 31 August 2013 John Raboin and Gary Walters in Dores Inn with Wild Highlanders 31 August 2013

UPDATE:

Gary completed his Walters Wacky Challenge for 2013 by successfully swimming the width of Loch Ness, twice!, on the first of September.  John accompanied Gary in a kayak with Ian and Martin providing the safety support. I was honoured to accompany Gary in the water. Conditions were wavy but Gary coped well, even surviving a brush with an unknown and unseen creature below the surface, and deserves his success.

 

 

 

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Just for the sheer pleasure of it

No photos to share, but the beauty, peace and pleasure of my swim in Loch Moy yesterday with Morag, another Wild Highlander, is etched in my mind.  We swam for the sheer pleasure of swimming and exploring outdoors.

The loch is surrounded by woodland and we had a short walk through the trees to reach the shore. The sound of the nearby A9 trunk road was still audible but soon was lost to us as we entered the silky smooth water and stroked towards the islands and Moy Hall.  As with many of the Highland lochs, the waters are a deep peaty black and made our arms appear ghostly white despite being fairly tanned from the recent weeks of strong sun and outdoor swims.  The swim comprised some stretches of sustained front crawl interspersed with some chatty breaststroke and some freestyle twirls to take in the scenery and just delight in the feel of the warm water and the sun on our backs.

Loch Moy has an interesting history (information from the Gazetteer for Scotland) as the main island in the centre of the loch was once inhabited by the chiefs of clan Mackintosh and is said to have had a castle dating from around 1337 and inhabited until 1665.  The island is also reputed to have had a garrison of 400 men and been witness to several clan battles in the area (hard to believe such a small island, about 3-400m in length and less in width, could accommodate such a population).  The ruins of the castle are apparently still to be found although Morag and I saw no sign of any ruins, not roads nor buildings nor castle, that are supposed to be present during our sojourn onto the island to visit the obelisk.

The obelisk, a 70ft high needle-like construction of granite block in the centre of the island, was reputedly erected in 1824 in honour of Sir Aeneas Mackintosh, the 23rd clan chief who died in 1820. The two of us, having worn wetshoes to protect our feet from the stones when entering/exiting the loch, were able to navigate the vegetation of the island and walk around the obelisk.  A brass plaque is to be found high up on one side of the structure, but the script is too small to be read from the ground.  A tree sprouts from the highest point of the structure and another tree seems to have gained a root hold a few metres above ground level.  Both are visibly forcing the granite blocks apart and decay is inevitable.  We saw no signs of the deer resident on the island, but there was plenty of long vegetation and trees for them to hide within.  We largely avoided the nettles, but each caught a sting on the legs as we returned down the bank to the water.  I then yelped as my feet sank into some deep soft sediment and I was forced to flop forwards to escape.  It all added to sense of the adventure.

I mentioned islands, plural.  The second island, maybe 100m from the main island, is a clutch of boulders about 3m across and jutting barely a couple of feet clear of the water.  Apparently this island was used as a prison with the captive being chained to a stone in the centre. A gallows reportedly stood on the island until the end of the last century and the prisoners were either set free or executed within 24 hours.  Hard to believe those few rocks have such a macabre past.

As we swam back towards the shore whence we began our journey there was still time to appreciate the shafts of sunlight dancing on my skin through the water and keep a watch out for the resident ospreys.

As ever, the swim was at an end all too soon.

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2013 BLDSA Champion of Champions

Phew what a weekend and Saturday 15 June in particular. It was always going to be a challenging event, but I guess I didn’t appreciate the curve-balls and the changing conditions that could throw the best mental preparations into disarray.

It all started so well, after a late arrival in Dover on the Friday evening, I slept quite well and arrived at Dover beach with Amanda in good time to register, settle into a spot out of the wind and prepare for the swims ahead. I was a bit nervous, but excited too. My brother, Steve, arrived shortly afterwards with chair and food and blankets to support us and look after me. His key duties were to apply the vaseline, to make sure my crocs and robbie were waiting for me at the waters edge as I finished each swim, to help me get changed if required, to have a hot drink available and to take some pictures for posterity. It was his first time witnessing a mass gathering of long distance cold water swimmers and I think it made a lasting impression 😉 He’s always known I was a bit odd, but I’m not sure he realised there were so many others like me!

I think there were three briefings for the first 5-mile swim..I may have missed one when I walked down the beach after being told we were ready to go. The masses gathered at the top of the steep pebble bank, stood looking out to the course for a good few minutes…and then walked back to the sheltered area behind the watersports centre. Muggings here had surfed the pebbles all the way down to the waters edge and was keen to get started. I really didn’t want to walk up the beach again. I hate Dover beach – its one step up the slope and two-thirds slide back down. My legs start to get crampy and I run out of puff. Still, with all the swimmers putting a jacket on it didn’t look like the start was imminent any more and the wind was starting to chill me so I had no choice but to plough my way back up the beach. At least my big bro was there to help 🙂

Another briefing. The course was being adjusted. No longer a rectangle with five one-mile laps, we were going to swim 10 triangular laps, each to be 800m in distance. That’s disappointing but at least it really is time to go now. This time all the swimmers proceeded down the beach and prepared to enter the water. The water was around 12C and the wind was causing some movement on the surface..oh yes, waves, big ones! No one looked keen to be first in. I took the plunge with a very few others and swam out to the start boat. Others hesitated and gathered together at the waters edge. There seemed to be some discussion. The water was nippy and hanging about waiting for everyone to get in was starting to frustrate. After about 10 minutes where a few of us waited in the water, the rest finally surged forwards and arrived at the start point. This time I had definitely missed another briefing. Confusion reigned as the arriving swimmers insisted the laps had been amended but the start boat said they hadn’t. What was the course? Round the bouys or round the start boat? It seemed yet another age had passed before the instruction came back and it was as per the 3rd (or was it the 4th?) briefing where I had been present. Finally we were off and I could start to generate some warmth through movement. Mentally I was now confused..where was I heading, how many circuits did I need to do?..and also a bit cold.  It took me a few laps to start to loosen up and feel energised.  Boy was it a battle on the long side of each triangle.  Heading into wind and rising tide I was slapped in the face by the waves too many times to mention. I had earplugs in for the first time and was so glad I did.  There’s nothing worse than air being compressed into my eardrum by the waves as I turn my head to breathe.

Pretty rough swim conditions

Pretty rough swim conditions

After a few laps it became apparent that either I was swimming particularly slow (always possible) or that the course was a good bit longer than the 800m it was supposed to be. I probably shouldn’t have worn my watch, but I kindof like to keep a check on progress. So now my mind began calculating how long it was going to take me to complete the 10 laps and wondering what the true distance of the swim would work out to be.

About lap 6 I decided I was slowing down a bit and should take the gel I had stashed in my cossie for an energy boost. I rounded the buoy where we had to shout our numbers up to the recorders on the pier 20 feet above the water (no mean feat in the conditions), took a few strokes to be clear of anyone behind me/lapping me and paused to tread water while I ripped open the gel and forced the content into my mouth. Ughh. It doesn’t taste great in my salty mouth. I tuck the wrapper back into my cossie and then OUCH! as cramp sets in. Not just a little bit in my toes, but full on in my quads and calves. I start to swim again.  I’ve swum through cramp before and I came to complete all three swims in this event.  I don’t like to quit.  A 100m later and both legs are locked solid with cramp, the worst I have ever experienced.  Any movement to try and stretch out caused another muscle to tighten and more waves of pain.  My arms are barely turning over now as I try and cope with the pain in my rigid legs and keep focused on staying afloat. Where are the kayakers? Nowhere to be seen (not that I can see much with the waves about).  The beach is close and I could reach that if necessary.  Stubborn as ever, I keep pulling and eventually reach the next buoy.  Is the tightness easing off? A little maybe..so I keep swimming, now moving away from the beach. Wave after wave of pain washes over me as every muscle in my legs tries to contract simultaneously, ankles locked and feet twisted with the pain I was grimacing big time, sobbing into my goggles.  Still no kayakers.  By this time if someone had been about I would have reached for them.

Is it worth carrying on?  It’s not a pleasant swim; the waves are slapping me about, the jellies are threatening me in growing numbers, the cramp is killing me, the laps are long, I’m barely moving forward, the cold is starting to bite and there are still four laps to complete.

Oh yes, I definitely considered bailing out, about as close as I have ever got to giving up. Instead, as I battled into the head on section of the course, I tried to find that place in my head where I can zone out, the place where I lose time and the swimming just happens. I guess I found it as the next few laps pass in a blur.  I remember overtaking a few swimmers, but for the most part I felt alone.  The pain in my legs receded over time and I found I could move them a bit and was not not dragging them about in the same way.  I queried the last lap – unsure whether I had another lap to go or not.  I was reassured by the recorders and a kayaker who relayed their message to me that I have completed 10 laps and can now head for the shore. Relief washes over me and I sight on the flags on the shore.

The swim into the beach seemed to take forever, but not as long as it took me to crawl on all fours over the pebbles to touch the finish buoy.  The cramp came back with avengence. My brother looked concerned and helped me along as I made my way painfully up the beach to shelter and food and hot drinks.

That was the five mile(!) swim complete. I was lucky to get through it and I found out later that a few did not.

An hour maybe until the 3 mile swim commences.  Who knows.  The schedule seems to be way off kilter already. Steve holds out a hot cuppa for me as I writhe around inside my DryRobe trying to discard the wet cossie and pull up a dry one – always pretty darned impossible with wet skin and chilled fingers. The talk on the beach was all about the distance we just swam.  As ever speculation was rife with some vivid imaginations suggesting we had just swum over 8 miles in one go.  Well, pardon me..but I must have turned into superswimmer if I can now manage 8+ miles in under four hours especially given those conditions and that cramp affected me for a good bit of the distance.  Long I can believe, but not that long.  I think the organisers agreed that the laps were 1000m rather than 800m.  So it was a 10k swim, a mile and a bit over the plan.  Normally I would be looking to have feeds every 30-45 minutes.  It was tough going the distance without feeds, but good for my body to know it can.

As we waited for the 3-mile briefing I introduced Amanda and Mark to Pip.  We would all be swimming together in a relay of Loch Ness in late July.  I am the common link for the team and hope it all goes to plan, unlike this CoC seems to be.

Good news. We will be doing just four laps of the course for the 3 mile swim. I reckon that is 4k instead of 4.8k. Then the one mile swim will be a 1000m sprint lap. It doesn’t really matter. I just need to complete what is asked of me. The cramp has largely gone now, just leaving me with a general ache in my legs. Bruises are starting to appear from crawling over the stones. I am good to go.

The four laps passed without much trouble. As ever it took me a while to feel settled, but after a couple of laps I caught up with a few swimmers and passed them, maintaining a pace until the finish.  I got zapped by one of the jelly fish, but it was minor. I’ve swum through much worse.  This time there was no cramp, no mental turmoil (OK, not much) and no thoughts of quitting.  Sorted.  Nice to see my bro waiting with robie and crocs.  I struggle again with the costume exchange and collapse into his chair while he offers me soup, sandwiches and loads of other food. I manage a couple of milky ways.  Not great nutrition, but it’ll do. Only one more lap to swim.

Kevin Murphy came over and said hello after completing his own four hour swim in the harbour.  At the Mallorca training week Kevin had been a big influence in my decision to take on the Channel this year.  Not too much time to chat. It was time to go again. The gap between swims had not, for me, been long enough to get properly warm.  I was still a little cold and, if I’m honest, a little bit tired too.

Just 1-lap, a sprint.  I know I will be last.  It takes me several laps to get going, but just one is OK.  I can do this.  They count us in while still clothed at the top of the beach to minimise the waiting at the shore and prevent us becoming more chilled that we already are.

I am cold still.  I do want to get in and swim, but I don’t want to get in at all.  I want to have a hot chocolate and sit in some shelter all wrapped up in my warm things.  No I want to complete what I came to do.  Mental battles.  It’s just one lap.  I’ve already swum fourteen laps.  Come on girl, lift your game.

We’re at the waters edge and start entering the water, but are called back.  They are going to count us in. What! So why waste our time at the top there then?  I think organisers of this event need to have a long look at it and work out some proper communications.  I was a high number so stood and shivered waiting for everyone else to respond.  Lots of gaps in the numbers sequence now.

As predicted I was last, actually next to last, for the one lap swim.  It was tougher than I thought it should have been, but I completed it.  My shoulder is sore again and I was worrying about all the swims I had planned for the summer being jeopardised.  In the end I just gritted my teeth and blanked my mind.  It’s over.  I doubt I’ll be back next year!

Desperately sighting for the finish!

Desperately sighting for the finish!

Of the 49 competitors entered for the CoC, the results show that only 25 completed all three swims. About a 50% drop out rate. That’s an indicator of how tough it was out there. My fellow Loch Ness relay swimmers, Amanda, Mark and Pip all succeeded.  After the presentations I say hello to some swimmers, John, Jeremy and Philip, who were only known to me on fb previously.  Well done everyone!

Amanda, Mark and I after sucessfully completing CoC 2013.

Amanda, Mark and I after sucessfully completing CoC 2013.

I walked away from the event pleased to have finished what I set out to do and with enhanced experience at dealing with the unexpected and challenging aspects of long distance cold water swims.  I was bruised and aching, but still positive about it being what I love to do.  Wierd or what?

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2013 Monster Swim Launch

Monster swim launch 2013

Swimtrek’s Simon Murie joined the Wild Highlanders and a few new faces in our swimming pool, aka Loch Ness, this evening as a way to launch the 2013 Monster Swim event.  The Highlands were not being shown off to their sunny best as the weather was intermittently showery and hailstones, but about 14 swimmers agreed it was a lovely evening swim.  One or two dipping for the first time managed impressive times in the water and left with smiles on their faces, encouraged to swim again soon.  That’s what we like to see.

My hydrotracker GPS recorded a swim of 1200m and I was in the water for 30 minutes.  It was a chatty swim with a number of stops to socialise.  The water felt so much warmer than it had last saturday and we tried to analyse why..is it because it was an evening swim rather than morning? or maybe the lack of a biting wind made the biggest difference.  Despite the strong winds during the day, the loch was fairly calm and the water definitely felt over 6C, perhaps even 7C .  I must remember to take my thermometer out with me on Saturday instead of leaving it in the pocket of my DryRobe on the shore.

I think Simon must have felt a bit cold judging by the way he was running up and down Dores beach after his swim.  He unwittingly provided some entertainment for those of us still in the water.  He had posed for some photos with a Monster Swim banner while still in the water and no doubt this period of inactivity would allow the cold to creep in.  I’m assuming some of the photos will appear on the Monster Swim and Swimtrek social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the Monster Swim webpage.  Must look out for them and perhaps pinch one to add to this blog (now done!).  Simon looks quite tanned from all his overseas swims and I think this may look a little odd in the dull, cold Loch Ness waterscape.

We all left the swim armed with posters and postcards advertising the Monster Swim to put up on noticeboards throughout the area.  Many of the Wild Highlanders are already entered for the swim on 17 August, some are still contemplating whether to enter the ‘Wee Nessie’ 1/2 mile or the ‘Big Yin’ full mile.  I have entered the Big Yin swim for the past two years in the non-wetsuit category.  There are going to be a few more of us in that category this year.

As ever, the post-swim coffees/hot-chocolates on the sofas in the pub were a great opportunity to socialise and offer Swimtrek our opinions on how to improve the Monster Swim as an event.  I wonder how the event will be organised this year…join in and find out!

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Long Distance Swim Training

This week I have had the privilege of swimming amongst some of the greats and great-to-be’s of the long distance swimming world during one of Swimtrek’s Long Distance Training Weeks held in Mallorca.

To say some of the conditions were challenging would not be an understatement.  The first few days were stormy and we had lashing rain, washing machine sea conditions and jellyfish.  Indeed day 2 provided one very memorable 2 hour circular swim in jellyfish soup where I caught the small weed-like jellyfish with every stroke and could feel them bump and sting along my body as I swam and these were accompanied by a smattering of larger jellies which provided an occasional lash-type sting, a tough swim but a great test of mind over matter.  Despite the above, the water was a lovely temperature at somewhere between 15 and 16C and I enjoyed diving from the boat into the blue/green sea and being totally immersed in swimming, no family or work pressures to distract.  When the sun peeked out on day 4 we cheered.  The experience just got better.  What a difference a few rays of sun on the back make.

Of the 15 guests, two had already swum the English Channel and were training for a Gibraltar Straits crossing with a third guest.  Five are due to swim solo EC this year and all bar one had long distance swims planned. Me? well I have a 10.5 mile Windermere swim planned for August.  I was in the company of some very special people: (UK) Susan Taylor, Sue Croft, Tracy Robson, Barnaby Rudd, Kathy Batts, Chrissie Thirlwell, Rob Deakin, Andrew Robins, Robert; (Aus) Jackson Carroll; (Canada) Deborah Durbin; (SA) Otto Thaning; (Germany) Stella Pechmann. Jorg Buttner.

Our three guides, Kevin Murphy, Cliff Goulding and Fiona Southwell are all EC soloists and have many other marathon swims to their credit.  Kevin has completed an awesome 34 successful EC crossings.  I was prepared to listen to what they had to say and through the week I soaked up all the experience in the whole group.  Advice was offered freely and motivation was high.  Being a slower category swimmer I found it hard to believe the compliments about my stroke and hereby apologise for my scepticism during the week when the lovely comments were completely intended as said.  I have to trust experience and stop berating myself for being so slow and plodding.  I may be a tortoise, but I now know I am capable of getting there.

I started the week undertrained and uncertain about how I would cope with repeat long swims.  I have a Windermere swim (10.5 miles) booked for August 2013 and it felt like a real challenge, a big step up from my longest swim of 6.5 miles in 2012.  However, after comfortably swimming about 10 miles during the continuous 6-hour swim in reasonably challenging conditions I now feel confident that I can complete Windermere and I’m already thinking of the next step on the distance swimming ladder.

What a revelation…I am actually OK at this swimming lark and can definitely cope with long swims in cold water.  I’m not up there with the speedy folk, but I can hold my own when it comes to immersion time and consistency of pace over hours and hours.  Most importantly I am very happy pootling about inside my own head when all other senses are dulled by the water.

I finished the four big distance swim days (17 hours of swimming) in one piece and very positive.  I have found something I can do and that I love to do.  The feedback I got was amazing with all saying I was more than capable of an EC swim, something I have wondered about and hoped to discover during this year.  I left for my flight home with my head in a whirl and with friends keen to encourage my channel swimming ambitions and help bring them to fruition.

What a lot I have learnt about myself and almost all positive.  A couple of things I still have to do are: 1) learn how to accept a compliment, and 2) learn to listen more before jumping into defensive mode.  It was pointed out that I tend to deflect compliments to someone else or play it down in some way or reject it altogether.  I’m working on that.  It’s partly a confidence thing and perhaps a lack of self-value or self-belief.  There will be plenty of thinking time in the long training swims to come to mull this aspect over.  And I’ll work on speed sets too.

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36 seconds of TV fame

Apparently the romanticism of Loch Ness with the added draw of a resident monster is something of interest to the NBC television audience in the USA.  Add in a wild swimmer and a celebrity presenter and hey presto! a short TV clip is created.  I had the privilege of being the wild swimmer and experienced an interesting insight into the world of the TV presenter.

NBC came to Scotland in April 2012, a year ago today, to create a short three-minute clip of Ben Fogle indulging in all things Scottish – buying a kilt in Edinburgh, caber tossing in Perthshire and wild swimming in the Highlands.  http://www.today.com/video/today/48118747#48118747

The day Ben (or rather his film crew) chose to visit Loch Ness the weather forecast was overcast with a biting wind and sudden showers.  And so it was.  We met in the Dores Inn car park at 7am on the 25 April where it was decided to head to Urquhart castle to be able to get the best backdrop.

A really friendly man with a comfortable RIB was waiting to whisk the three film crew, Ben and I the seven miles across Loch Ness to the spectacular castle ruins.  It was a nice easy boat ride with an unusual following wind to the boat jetty alongside Urquhart Castle.

Once there Ben pulled out his wetsuit and asked if I was wearing one.  He looked quite surprised when I said I don’t wear one.  Still, being the consummate professional he was, Ben put the wetsuit to one side and stripped to his blue swim shorts.  The film crew wanted to show Ben jumping into the water off the jetty as it would make for a great shot.  Ben turned to me for advice and I had to say, in a water temperature of just 5C (41F), it might not be the best idea unless he felt himself to be sufficiently acclimatised.  I did add that as an adventurer and explorer who has completed a race to the south pole and rowed across the Atlantic, he would likely know his own limitations.

By Urquhart Castle

Ben took the sensible option.  He entered the water from the beach at a most impressive pace and with the cheeriest exclamations on cold water entry I have ever heard.  I was already swimming and, for the benefit of the camera, waved to him saying “Come on in, the water’s lovely”. Turned away from the camera Ben’s face told a different story.  He was definitely feeling pain from the cold.  It didn’t help that the wind had increased and the water was getting quite lively.

Chatting while swimming in choppy water and with a significant wind was hard enough.  Trying to speak in a voice clear and loud enough to be picked up by the microphone in a boat a few metres away whilst attempting an elegant breaststroke with waves breaking over your face was fairly challenging.  After a few minutes in the water the film crew decided they needed us a bit further from shore to get the castle ruins in the same shot so we swam out into the loch….would Nessie pay us a visit?

Ben was starting to shake.  Again, his professionalism as a presenter kicked in and he turned on the charm sufficiently for the cameraman to get his shot.  He then took the offer of boat assistance to get back to shore.  I put my head down and switched to front crawl.  The head-up swim had been different for me and I needed to stretch my neck.  At the shore we climbed out and went for the towels.  As Ben put some clothes on the producer asked if I would mind returning to the water to re-record my opening line ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely.’  I was more than happy to do so and felt a little sad the overall swim had been so short.

Once dressed (isn’t the Robie a wonderfully useful item for a wild swimmer?) we were back onto the boat to be returned to Dores.  What a different journey.  We bumped along, heading directly into the wind and the waves and it was raining.  The skipper offered Ben some big thermal waterproof overalls which he accepted gladly and tucked his head down to endure the return trip.  I put on my flourescent work jacket and was toasty enough to enjoy a chat with the skipper.  Acclimatisation was the key.  I had been swimming in Loch Ness on a weekly basis all winter.  Ben had not.

Sadly the Dores Inn was not open for business on our arrival back to the village.  Instead we attempted to celebrate the swim with a wee dram of whisky on the beach, clinking the glasses at several different angles to please the film crew.  It was a token gesture and the scene got left on the cutting room floor, or whatever the equivalent digital analogy is.  I enjoyed the filming more than I had expected.  It was interesting to see the team working together in some trying conditions.  Life as a TV presenter isn’t as glamorous as you might expect.

Post-swim dram

I arrived into my office by 8.35am and no one had any idea of the adventure I’d already had that morning.  I chose not to share the information and slipped straight into work mode.

The aim of the film clip was to attract Americans to venture north of the border when visiting London for the 2012 Olympics. Did it work? I’m sure Visit Scotland has the figures somewhere.  The full clip can be seen at:  http://www.today.com/video/today/48118747#48118747  You have to endure the adverts first but can then skip forward to the swimming bit which is about 1:14 to 1:50 – my 36 seconds of TV fame.

I used to wonder how many viewers saw the clip, but I don’t really mind.  It was a rather interesting experience and I did my bit for the Olympic cause.  It also earned £150 for my channel relay charity, Aspire.  A nice boost to my sponsorship total.

The day must have been memorable for Ben too as our swim was the topic of his Country Diary column in the Sunday Telegraph that week.  A very interesting read, just click on the picture below and it becomes a readable size.Sun Telegraph Article 29 April 2012

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Escaping Alcatraz

Beautiful morningOn 4 December 2012 I met Gary Emich, an intriguing man who will record his 1000th swim from Alcatraz on 11 June 2013, at the entrance to Pier 39 in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco.  It was our first morning in the city and the family had been hauled out of their beds to have a private boat ride across the famous San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz.  It was to be a much slower ride back with an opportunity to see the infamous island up close, see the sun rise over the Bay bridge, view the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning fug and have panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline.  As an added extra they got to watch me escape from Alcatraz by swimming the 1.5 miles from the rock to the mainland in 43 minutes.  The water was unseasonably warm at around 13C and the weather was kind with little wind and some warmth even in the early daylight hours.  Perfect swim conditions for a December day in the northern hemisphere.  24 hours later it was raining hard and much cooler!

It all felt a bit odd  – meeting a stranger at dawn, handing over some cash, getting on a boat, stripping off and then jumping overboard and leaving the family behind.  The swim itself was surreal.  Used to dark peaty water of the Highland lochs or the clean clear seawater of the Moray Firth, the waters of San Francisco Bay were a murky cloudy grey; bright but with zero visibility.  A shark could have been within inches of me and I would never have known.

What the underwater visibility failed to provide, the views above the waterline delivered – the stern rocky outcrop of Alcatraz behind me (although once I started swimming this was only visible during a swift couple of backstrokes), the impressive skyline of San Francisco to the front and the iconic Golden Gate bridge to my right, my predominant breathing side and visible with virtually every breath.  The boat and the family were to my left and so I did remember to turn my head towards them occasionally if only to see what they were up to.

The swim itself was straightforward and just a case of sighting on the twin tower blocks pointed out to me before the start.  I could feel the current taking me out towards the Golden Gate bridge, but it wasn’t with such force I risked being swept offline significantly.  It was just a factor to work into the sighting adjustments.  Since there was no particular rush, I took time to enjoy the private swim in such iconic surroundings.  Who knows when, if, I will ever have the opportunity to visit SF again.

Getting close to the city shoreline there was an increasing smell of fish but I didn’t dwell too much on whether it was a waft from shore or from debris in the water with me.  As I approached the end of the swim I was so comfortable in the water that I was wishing I had had the courage to swim a two-way.  Ah well. There will have to be a next time!

I hadn’t been taken as far west with the current as Gary had expected and found myself not far from the Aquatic Park entrance.  In the end I landed at an old disused pier and it was only on my return to the boat that Gary pointed out my choice of finish was the point from where prisoners used to be shipped out to Alcatraz.  It seemed a fitting location to complete the swim, but it wouldn’t have been a good exit point for any prisoners that were trying to make good their escape.

I must revisit SF one day to actually see inside Alcatraz itself – and maybe I could swim there and back when I do.

Almost ready to jump shipAlcatraz Escape Sausalito in the backgroundTime to appreciate the Golden Gate SF City skylineFamily SF Harbour boat tripApproaching SF shoreline  A rare left sided breathSwim completed at prisoners wharf

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