I can never manage to stay away from the Scillies. A few months after the last time I was there I’ve been back again, to once again help out with safety cover on the Scilly Swim Challenge. Once again, about 180 mad swimmers attempted to swim between and walk across 5 (6 if we count a brief walk across Samson) of the islands, starting from St. Mary’s. This is a total of 15 km of swimming in waters several degrees colder than those around the mainland.
As before our job was to escort the swimmers, keep them going in the right direction and help them if they got into trouble. Things were a little different this year. The swimmers were divided into different pods depending on their swimming speed. I was at the back right of the red pod, which contained the fastest swimmers. We also weren’t quite so luck with the weather. There was a fair amount of wind and not quite so much sun. Nevertheless the swim went ahead.
Despite the wind the first few legs were fine, with the wind dropping for the first leg to St Martin’s and various islands providing shelter for the next few legs. We were well fed at every stop, with more cake than the mind can comfortably comprehend.
As with the previous year, it was the leg from Bryher to St. Agnes that proved tricky. As before, the swimmers became more and more spread out over this long stretch. The other kayakers at the back of my pod fell back to keep an eye on stragglers, leaving me alone. Large swell was also coming in from the Atlantic, as well as rolling up the main channel between the islands, resulting in a messy sea that made it difficult to keep track of swimmers. The swimmers were having trouble seeing where they were going when being lifted up and down by the waves. These conditions were tricky to hold position or paddle slowly in and I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it was to swim in.
The sea became calmer as we got closer to St. Agnes and a large number of our pod successfully swam the entire way. Nevertheless some of the stragglers had to be pulled out and the decision was made to cancel this leg for the slowest pod. The final swim of the day (St. Agnes to St. Mary’s) was postponed to the following morning.
The conditions the next day couldn’t have been more different. The sun was shining and the wind had decreased significantly, making the final leg significantly easier. Last year the tide had adversely affected this leg, leading to swimmers clambering up rocks to escape the strong current. This year the tide helped the swimmers, who got to finish on a sunny beach instead of climbing out early and jogging along a coast path.
Some of us then took the opportunity to paddle around St Mary’s in the sunshine, before heading back to prepare for the party that night.
It was great to see and paddle with many of the same kayak support team from last year again, as well as several new faces. The swimmers were once again fantastic, remaining cheerful in the face of all the potentially tricky conditions and chilly weather Thanks to all the organisers, swimmers and fellow kayakers for another fantastic weekend.