Solent Swim

4,000 metres, Calshot Beach, the Solent

On Sunday 20 July at 12.30pm Solent Swimming Club held the annual Solent 4,000 and 2,000 metre race at Stanswood Rescue Base, Calshot Beach, New Forest Hampshire.

After a recommendation from stalwart member Jeff Tanner that the race was an ideal event for a fresher like me, new to cold water long distance swimming, I decided to sign up for the race. Soon after that I met Dick Garnish an early morning swimmer and long-term member of the club who was also to take part. It. quickly became apparent that Dick had vast experience in long distance swimming. He kindly offered to accompany me to the race so we arranged to go together.

It was a comfortably warm morning as we headed down the A3. We arrived a couple of hours early which gave me time to meet the organisers of the race, Peter Collett and his wife Mary. They were very friendly and welcoming to me especially since it was my first ever event. I then mingled with other competitors and spectators to whom Dick introduced me. It quickly became apparent how friendly, welcoming and inclusive they all were: Quite the antithesis of a clique.

After eating the (obligatory!) chocolate bar and then attending a briefing for the 60 or so competitors we were soon in the water listening to the final instructions for the race. We were to swim parallel to a very straight section of beach roughly 500 metres east up to a buoy then back west towards the start before swimming the same distance the other way to another buoy and then returning to the start. The 4,000-metre race was two laps and the men’s, women’s and 2,000 metre races all ran concurrently. The water was comfortably warm (about 18C) to any Tooting Bec regular.

I decided to stay back from the starting tape like an outsider in the Grand National. The start was a bit frantic but I quickly settled down about 3/4 of the way back. Unlike the Grand National the favourites sped off from the start! The water was really calm and the current, though slight noticeably helped the westbound return. Fortunately the Sun quickly came out and my back soon doubled up as a solar panel.

Towards the end of the first lap I started to make up a little ground. I resolutely called out, my number 56 as instructed at the start of the second lap (the number had been printed onto each upper arm). After the first lap I looked back and noticed that most of the stragglers had finished after 2,000 metres so I most definitely was now towards the back of the field. During the second lap one swimmer (who I assumed must have been a late starter) flew by me and most of the rest of the second half of the field! I ended up having a duel with one swimmer who I thought was about my age (45). I took the last buoy too widely and lost ground but managed to overtake him in the finishing stages.

I finally finished in a time of 1hr 31mins. I was well back from Dick Garnish. I knew in advance my approximate time because I had seen several swimmers finishing when passed the starting point about a kilometre from the end of the race. Though well towards the back I wasn’t last to finish by any means.

After the race it became apparent that the ‘45 year-old’ was actually 69 years old! He was a good friend of Dick’s and a fellow seasoned veteran. I was soon mixing with the other swimmers and spectators. There was a barbecue available and an ice cream and the refreshment hut provided plenty of fare.

An hour or so later every swimmer was presented with a certificate. Safe to say the winners finished the 4,000 metres in just over the hour! They were all experienced open water swimmers – though it very much suited me as a first event.

Many thanks to the organisers Peter Collett and his wife Mary for doing such a fine job. Also thanks to Dick Garnish for being the perfect mentor and to Jeff Tanner for his sound advice. If any of you are thinking of doing a first outdoor long distance swimming event then this would be an ideal starting point.

By Jim Jackson