I have been back to the Scillies recently, but this time I was not attempting to find rafts of shags. I was far too busy keeping an eye on all the humans in the water!
Myself and fellow PhD student/kayaker Matt Silk were over in the islands helping with kayak safety cover on the first Scilly Swim challenge. The plan was for 150 swimmers to swim between and walk across 5 of the islands, starting from St. Mary’s. This would involve a total of 15 km of swimming and 10 km of walking.
Due to being out in the Atlantic, the sea temperatures in the Isles of Scilly are somewhat lower than those on the mainland. Despite this, a fair few of the more mad swimmers still swam without wetsuits!
Our job was to escort the swimmers, making sure they kept going in the right direction and to provide (literal) support if they got into trouble.
We started at about 5:30 in the morning, stumbling out of our tent in the dark and attempting to climb into paddling gear. The first swim started at the other end of St Mary’s and we needed to paddle over to meet the swimmers. As the sun came up, a chilly mist hung over the completely still water. By the end of the second swim however, the sun was blazing down, causing us to scramble out of our waterproofs and fleeces and hunt for the suncream.
The day was ridiculously perfect for the swim. We even had time to scoot around the northern side of Tresco and visit the castle while we waited for swimmers to cross the island after lunch.
It was during the longest swim, between Bryher and St. Agnes that life became difficult. The swimmers became quite spread out, and there weren’t quite enough kayakers. We were forced to run up and down the line trying to keep an eye on the various groups of swimmers. Eventually we made it to St. Agnes. After a short break it was time for the final swim, which was meant to be a simple straight line back to St Mary’s.
However, in the middle of the channel the tide suddenly increased in strength dramatically. Chaos ensued with some swimmers being unable to progress no matter how hard they swam, and others being pulled off course. After much dashing about,all remaining swimmers in he water got picked up by safety boats. The challenge finally finished at 19:45, twelve hours after the challenge started.
The swimmers were incredible, even the slowest just kept on going in the face of all adversity. What an absolutely incredible achievement! I was tired enough simply having kayaked the distance. For a first time event everything went very smoothly, and it can’t be overemphasised how lucky we were with the weather. Thanks to all the organisers, swimmers and fellow kayakers for a fantastic weekend.
Also, I like to think we helped with this.