A Wet Weekend On Windemere


“You’ve got a place!” It’s Monday evening, some one’s dropped out of the Windemere swim on Saturday and I’m next on the waiting list. Sønnøve, the Norwegian girl staying with us, has confirmed her Channel attempt for tonight and I’m on her support crew. I’m doing a bit of last minute shopping, bananas, seasickness pills, ginger biscuits. I don’t have a crew, Owen can’t get the weekend off. No time to think about it now, I’ve got Sønnøve to think of. Owen assures me he’ll sort it out, somehow…. Zac and Eddie agree to cover. Owen can crew, bless him, bless them! I’m in! Oh dear…

Friday morning, I’m still recovering from Sønnøve’s successful but difficult crossing, 14 hours 42 minutes, rough all the way, difficult for her, difficult for her support crew on possibly the most uncomfortable of Channel boats. Everything still aches, I need more sleep, it’s a long journey to the Lakes, I’ll sleep in the car. Unfortunately its Friday traffic and its stop, start all the way. I’m far too anxious about being late for the briefing, the BLDSA are notoriously strict about such things, they may not let me swim. I can’t sleep.

We arrive just in time, the room is full of familiar faces from the lido, from other swim events. There’s a buzz of excitement, anticipation. There are even some hopefuls from the waiting list in case some one drops out and they can get a place. Clara Caravelli is amongst them. If she doesn’t get in she’ll do it on Sunday. We listen attentively to the briefing, but useful information seems scarce, like where the start is, or what the route is, or where the finish is. Leslie Du Cane from the Serpentine has a map of the lake with the route marked on it. It’s not straight forward. Every one pours over it, studying it, asking questions. Owen and Egg take no notice. Never mind. To the pub for a good solid dinner, great! We find a shop selling maps, that’ll help, then it’s off to bed for an early night.

Saturday morning dawns drizzling. We make our way to the start along the East coast of the lake, it’s such a long way, we’re going to have to swim all the way back! It seems slightly unreal. There’s the usual disorder, rowers looking for boats, finding flags, whistles, dragging boats to the water. The swimmers are nervous, edgy. I feel very calm, detached. But I have to pee a lot. Sønnøve says that’s my way of being anxious, but I don’t feel it. It’s time to go. Boats are loaded, the rowers are on the water, well, most of them. Chantal’s crew are in a field somewhere looking for a boat. The swimmers strip off, grease up and wait in the rain, getting colder. They are counted into the water, hugs and good wishes all round. I hang back, don’t want to wait in the water too long. A marshal wishes me luck. She knows I got the last place, she would have been next, but everyone showed.

And now we’re off, through all the moored boats, eventually finding our rowers. Water seeps in under my goggles, must be the sun block I put on my face. I adjust my goggles and swim on, the water seeps in again. After a while I realise I can open my eyes and look through the water, it’s soft and doesn’t sting, not like the Lido. I’m cold. They said the water was 18C, but I’m cold. Maybe I’m too tired, not good to be cold so early. I remember Lough Erne, it took a few hours to get as cold as this. Soon my crew are waving my drinking bottle at me. The first 45 minutes are up, time for a feed. I ask for another set of goggles. Its worse, they don’t leak, but I can’t see a thing. The sky is dark grey, the rain falls steadily, the crew are already very wet and the wind is blowing them forward making it difficult to stay with me. I swap goggles again and swim on. Moments later I can see Egg waving the bottle. Already! Another 45 minutes has passed. I’m no longer cold. I change my mind about feeding intervals; I’ll keep it to 45 minutes. I swim on, comfortable now, enjoying the swim. My crew aren’t, they’re crouching miserably in the rain, every now and then bailing water out of the boat. The big green and purple umbrella is easy to see, even though visibility is poor. Another feed, and another. Its 3 hours, I’ve overtaken the girl from Durham, it’s the ferry just in front, the halfway mark. And there’s Stuart. He’s surprised to see me, he’s cold, not happy. Come on! Keep going!

Next stop the islands, its shallow there, you can put your feet down I’ve been told, I’ll have a hot drink and a banana. I’m looking forward to it, lunch.

I’m swimming through islands, its not getting shallow, a cold patch, quick, get through it. Another cold patch, longer. More islands, which one do we stop at? Egg waves the bottle, another 45 minutes, I haven’t seen a shallow bit and we’re near the end of the islands. Ok I’ll have some hot chocolate and a banana anyway. I’m disappointed, disgruntled. It’s not what I expected. I try to remember the map, what they said. Focus, swim on, it’s cold. There’s a boat up front, girl with a pink hat, I’m catching her, I pass her, going strong. I notice my right shoulder beginning to ache, damn, I should have asked for Nurofen at my next feed. A pain shoots down my left arm. That’s not right, that’s been my good arm for the last couple of years. I try to stretch and relax to ease it, but the pain goes up into my head. Just a bit longer it must be nearly time for a feed. No, I need Nurofen, now! It’s 40 minutes, ok, not much too early. Egg can’t find the Nurofen, he questions whether I gave it to him, I lose my temper, I’m cross now. So’s he. He’s wet, very wet and cold. They’ve been rowing in the rain for 4 and a half hours, dragging their hands in the water to keep them warm. It’s warmer in the lake. “Shut up, swim, don’t complain. We’re all having a hard time.” I’m miserable, disheartened, my arm hurts, everything hurts. I want to get out. Owen says he hasn’t rowed for hours in the pouring rain for me to get out now, swim! I swim on, unhappy now, I can’t do this. We haven’t even reached the end of the West side where we start to head across the lake, we should be past that point by now, surely. Do they know where they are going?

“How far” I ask, “Don’t know, I can’t see a thing, its raining too hard and its foggy” replies Egg. Check the map, they can’t find it. Idiots! They’re lost! They’re going the wrong way, They’re taking me all around the edge, making me swim further. I don’t want to do this, My shoulders hurt, I need to know how long so I can break it down into doable swims. They can see a boat up front but they don’t know how far. The wind is blowing up, it’s getting choppy, I need to know how far so I can make it work. I can’t do it if I don’t know. The crew are really fed up now. “Come on, just swim.” I need to know so I can focus. A boat passes, “How far?” They say 3 miles! No, that’s too long I can’t swim that far. Owen’s voice “It’s an hour, you can do it”. It’s getting choppier, there’s a huge building on the coast. It’s not moving. I’m getting seasick, the boat is being blown sideways and pushing me into the bay. Don’t go into the bay, they said. It’s raining, hard. The life boat comes by, a mile and three quarters. “Stay with your boat, conditions are bad!” She sounds angry. Keep going, I can see the headland, its getting bigger, the end is not far from that, where is it? I think of Sønnøve battling through the waves only 3 days before, it gives me strength. I reach the headland. Sally’s voice, “Stop looking and swim!” Jane Murphy is swimming next to me, Sally is shouting. I’m swimming, but it feels so slow. Sally points out where the end is, from a swimmers perspective. Ok, now I know, now I can do it. Past the jetty, the purple coat, I’m there! Jane stands up, I stand up, we’ve made it! We hug. Egg stands up and the boat capsizes. Oh well, they couldn’t get any wetter. Sønnøve and Sarah Jane are there, they’re hugging me, its still raining, Simon Murie strolls up, looking for all the world like he’s had a relaxing, if rather wet afternoon. No one else around, are they in? Yes, Finbarr and Chantal, no one’s seen Stuart, must still be out there…

Sunday morning I open my eyes, its 8 o’clock, its raining. We have to be in the car park in 15 minutes, no time for breakfast. There’s no tea, the landlady hasn’t replenished it. I can’t lift my left arm.

We’re helping Simon Murie at a charity swim at the other end of the lake. Egg, Andrew, Carly, Lou and Hallam are swimming, a reward for Saturday’s hard work. Seems like everyone from yesterday’s swim is there. Ben from St George’s OWSC hands me a cup of tea. What an angel! Owen is put in charge of the lifeguards. Chantal’s giving out T-shirts, Sally’s dishing out hot drinks. Everyone is doing something. Jane and Kevin Murphy (King of the Channel), Finbarr and I are encouraging newbie outdoor swimmers into the 2.5km swim. They are in waves of 20 and go in trepidation, worried about the cold, about the water, will they manage. We talk to them, ease their fears we hope. I meet them as they finish their swim with fluffy towels and hot chocolate. They’re elated, proud, no one’s cold, some are dizzy, but glad. They’ve done it! I greet over 100 swimmers, its heart warming, they are mostly new to open water and they love it! Finally the last swimmers are in, its time to go, the long drive back to London. Later we hear Clara Caravelli made it, she swam on Sunday with Ed and Daphne rowing for her.

By Margy Sullivan

SLSC swimmers in the 50th BLDSA 10.5 mile Championships on Lake Windemere were:

Simon Murie 5h.35m, Finbarr Martin 5h.49m, Chantal Bohren 5h.55m, Margy Sullivan 6h.41m, Clara Caravelli 7h.38m, Stuart Palmer retired after 5h.40m too cold to continue.

Our sterling rowers were: Egg Sullivan, Owen Reilly, Carly Newman, Andrew Ingamells, Ed Jeffries, Daphne, Ben Beare, Natasha Mosely, Lou Houston, Steve Burrows, Hallam Smallpiece, Rachael Forest and Sally Goble rowed for Jane Murphy