I’ve just sat down for the first time since reaching John O’Groats over a week ago. It’s been a whirlwind back in real life after 4 1/2 months supporting Sean Conway, who became the first person EVER to swim the length of Britain. What a nutter.
If you read my one and only blog from the depths of Scotland, you will know that the expedition wasn’t exactly plain sailing (excuse the pun). And the end felt so far the whole time. Even a few days before the end, we thought we might not finish until December. It wasn’t until we sailed, kayaked and swam through the harbour walls of John O’Groats that we realised we were actually going to make it.
Having signed up for two months to live at sea with three boys (and then one cool chick) on a very small boat, we ended up being away for 4 1/2 months. It was cold, tough, wet, hard, scary, exhausting, claustrophobic. Did I say wet? But boy was it worth it.
We had the most amazing team. We met the most wonderful people along the way. We ate fresh fish. We saw the entire British coastline from the water. We were supported by everyone on social media and back home. I attempted (and failed) to conquer my fear of water. We saw phosphorescence, seals, puffins, dolphins, porpoises. We explored deserted beaches. We dreamt about rare steak. We got to witness Sean achieve something no one has ever done before. And I managed to kayak a very long way. It was incredible. And we couldn’t have done it without everyone that supported us. After a bit of time at home, I’m ready for the next challenge. So watch this space…
This is a guest post by Megan Harris. Megan is an outdoor enthusiast with a particular passion for kayaking. She contributes to multiple blogs on outdoor activities and sports.
For those of us who do a lot of travelling and adventuring in rough (or chilly… or both!) waters, there’s a kind of natural ruggedness that we grow to accept. We love the challenge of battling choppy waters with kayak paddles, and we embrace the slight sting of sea spray when sailing through a cold water channel. These are the aspects that make these kinds of adventures unique and interesting… well, at least they contribute!
But to those embarking on these types of trips and adventures for the first time, it’s pretty easy to get uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. So we thought we’d share a few tips from experience in outdoor adventures, particularly on the water. So here are a few general tips that can keep you comfortable.
* Keep Hydrating – Okay, so this is about the most basic sporting/adventure tip ever – but when you’re surrounded by water, it’s strangely easy to forget to hydrate. However, particularly on the sea, the atmosphere of ocean travel – particularly if you’re exerting yourself – can dehydrate you pretty quickly. One good tip is to go ahead and invest in a CAMELBAK. When water’s always at your lips, it’s easy to hydrate even when you don’t feel thirsty.
* Accept The Wetness – Basic tip #2: you’re going to get wet! You’d be shocked how many beginners forget this little detail. Wear clothes that don’t bother you too much when soaked, and get yourself in a fun-loving mindset that accepts the wetness – you’re guaranteed to have more fun.
* Consider Gloves – Personally, I don’t like gloves for any of my boating/water adventure activities, but there are those who find them more comfortable. They can help with grip when sailing and when paddling (depending on your mode and specific adventure), and if you’re not used to these activities and you’re on a long trip, they may prevent blisters.
* Consider Your Eyecare – Before you set out on an outdoor adventure, it might be worth your time to check with ACUVUE for valuable information on contact lenses designed for sport and athletic activity. Obviously, you’ll want to see clearly while out and about, and in many cases contact lenses are the best way to do so. Simply put, glasses can be a disaster out on the water – they limit your peripheral vision, slip and slide if you perspire or get wet, and can even become clouded and smeared with water droplets or vapour. Learning more about contacts designed for athletic activity can leave you with a comfortable and convenient corrective vision setup for your trip.
So there you have it! The truth is, every trip and every adventure is different, and if you keep an open mind, they’re all fun! But as an enthusiast for all things that involve conquering the seas (yes, that’s how I think of it… guilty) and getting a bit wet in the process, I thought I’d pass on a few tips to help you enjoy the same activities. Happy travels!
Alarms (anytime of day depending on tides)
Tidy away sleeping bag and pillow to prevent them getting wet as boat leaks
Brush teeth (occasionally)
Sea Sickness Tablets (maybe)
Wash up bowls and spoon if not done the night before
Make Sean’s breakfast
Offer breakfast to the rest of the crew while they motor to start point
Give Sean multi-vitamins and painkillers
Force Sean to drink lots of water with Vitamin C
Turn on paraffin heater we bought in Scotland to warm/dry clothes as much as possible
Prepare Sean’s kit:
Speedos (lucky us)
X3 Thermal Tops
Socks (that he cycled round the world in)
Goggles (either for night of day depending)
Gloves i(f his arms can handle them)
Music Headphones (if he wants)
Make Thermos – 4 scoops of multi dextrin, squash and hot water
Wash up breakfast if time
Get myself ready into kit mentioned here
Flippers and Canoe paddle into rib
Find out point to aim towards in water
Fix lights on myself if night session
Turn on radios and carry one in kayak (until it broke when I capsized)
Turn on spot tracker (third one lucky due to salt)
Five minute warning, Sean and I climb into rib
Empty kayak of excess water, put thermos in and get in
First feed after 1 1/2 hours in the water
Drinking thermos throughout
Second feed after 3 hours (if he can stomach it) hopefully in water to save time
After 4-5 hours we get out
Sean empties litres of pee (nice) from his suit and takes off excess kit
Turn on paraffin heater
Pour hot water on cloth for his to clean pee off himself
All clothes into a bucket
Remaining hot water into a pot noodle or snack
Swim Seal drops in Sean’s ear if water got in
Make shake with x2 scoots of protein, x2 scoops of multi dextrin, some BCCA and ??
Rinse all clothes in Fabric softener and sea water and ring out
Hang clothes in bathroom on hooks we put in (used to hang all clothes outside until Scotland but everything was SO wet and SO cold when we put everything on)
Blast paraffin heater with doors closed
Give Sean massage while preparing lunch for everyone
Wash up everything in bucket from day while Lou and Owain motor to anchor point
Rest hours where we eat, sleep, tidy boat (because I’m OCD) and explore
Then process above begins again for second tide of the day
Day ends with hopefully a proper supper of potatoes and freshly caught fish
Wash up everything for next day
Force as much food and water into Sean
Make sure Sean takes any medicine he needs
This doesn’t include any logistical nightmares and all the other odd events that occur. But just to give you an idea of a day for me on #SwimmingBritain. That’s it…
“Never count your chickens before they hatch”
Everyone knows this.
But I had a whole coop of chicks running around in my head as soon as we left Northern Ireland. What a non-existent group of chicks they were.
Once we made it up Ireland, I saw Scotland as the home stretch. Sean even said in an interview in Dublin that he felt like he’d almost made it. Oh how wrong were we. Scotland, although stunning, brought the coldest weather, the most rain, the biggest waves, the strongest winds, the worst logistical disasters. All in one full swoop. The Mull of Kintyre was not kind to us. Our arrival in Scotland gave us an enormous wakeup call. Firstly we hadn’t reached the end. And secondly we still had a massive country to go. Dammit. I always thought the scale on our map was wrong (the one that is blue-tacked to the loo door and we mark on daily with a bright red pen). But then again I was never good at geography.
The first days in Scotland were without a doubt the hardest days of the whole expedition for me. People talk about the wall you reach in a marathon and once you push through it you will get to the end. Well I seemed to be hitting this wall every day in Scotland. For several reasons, I just didn’t know if I could make it. And I’m meant to be a positive motivation for Sean. Trying to be positive when you are feeling so incredibly negative, is really tough. I had reached my limit of living on a tiny boat with three other people (thank goodness we all get on perfectly). I had reached my limit of being cold and wet. I had reached my limit of kayaking through the day and night. I had reached my limit of time away from friends and family. I had reached my limit. And had to fight daily to keep going. Especially with an ever-changing end date.
While I’m not swimming in the water (so I’m embarrassed to even complain), I am sitting in the water for five hours straight. My kit went from basic wetsuit gear to everything we could find on the boat. I now wear the following:
Speedo Swimming Costume
Simply Swim Thermals
O’Neil Wetsuit Booties
Socks (made from a space blanket my best friend, Rosie gave me in my expedition survival pack)
Waterproof Jacket + Hood
X2 Pairs of Gloves
And I’m still cold. Partly because the kit isn’t breathable and so the condensation inside just makes me colder. And dealing with ridiculous winds, huge waves, nightmare logistics (broken engine, kayak rope around the propellor, no tide, gale warnings) looking after Sean, cooking, cleaning and worrying about getting to the end, I just didn’t know how much longer I could do it. If we knew the day we would arrive/ that we would ever arrive, it would be a lot easier. You can tell yourself to man up and count down the days. But I counted down the days and we just seemed to be getting there later and later. End of August turned to end November. Why not spend Christmas together? Real life started trickling back – the need to earn some money, the gap in the CV growing, the absence of family and friends.
But then I pulled myself together. At the end of this, Sean will be the first person EVER to swim the length of Britain. And I will be the first girl to kayak it. How could I not be excited to achieve this. And give me a few days in London, I would be gagging to be back on the ocean or in the countryside. I love being outside. Scotland is blooming beautiful. We have visited small communities on islands, discovered deserted beaches, lived on fresh fish and spent everyday outside. And I don’t want the adventure, the exploring, the daily routine of the team, the team bond and everything about #SwimmingBritain to end. Despite the mental and physical challenge it brings, we will be involved in helping Sean be the first person to do something. And I don’t think I could have said that if I stayed at my desk in my headhunting job I hated all those years ago.
After the joys of Kenton’s visit and filming with the BBC One Show, we were all on a high. And John O’Groats felt like a next-door-neighbour. But we weren’t quite there. Not quite.
We were catching two tides a day. One in the early morning. Resting in the middle. One in the evening. The problem was that we were crossing an enormous bay in between Dublin and Newcastle (in Ireland not England) and it was totally slack, without current. Sean was feeling pretty flu-like and sick. Jellyfish were in their hundreds in the evening. We weren’t sleeping very well. Things weren’t too easy. Why hadn’t Kenton experienced this?! And on top of that, we had to be in Newcastle to do a live broadcast to the BBC One Show. And we were days away. So we made the decision to motor there, just to make sure we didn’t miss it. But that meant we would have to go backwards once it was all over.
Newcastle. Newcastle. Newcastle. Not only did we do an Outside Broadcast with the BBC One Show which went spectacularly. (Conway pulled it out the bag. Even David Walliams said ‘It’s actually quite annoying’ in response to Sean’s challenge). We were also put up in the Slieve Donard Hotel. In the big dog suites. With use of the spa, pool and all. We went out for curries to celebrate and things were looking up again.
It was good we had lots of energy because we then had to attempt the journey backwards to the bay of doom. Jez fought against strong currents to get there but we just didn’t make it so anchored at Kilkeel for the night. On day 47 we finally made it after 5pm. Jez had barely left the captain seat for two days. And the ginger started getting the miles in. Just our luck, gale warnings were issued on the radio. So we had to hide in Kilkeel, attached to the immense fishing boats (I quite fancy the fishermen) (Jez quite fancies the boats).
While we hid from the storms, which didn’t seem to come, I decided to cause some extra drama and dropped our team wallet in the harbour. I was angelically climbing up the ladder to go and buy breakfast and I heard a little splash. No louder than a goldfish. After nearly squashing myself in between the boats and using every contraption around, a very kind man got into full diving gear and went hunting for it. No luck. I was in the bad books. I’ve decided I will be known on this trip for getting sea sick and losing the wallet. Oh dear. On the plus side we were given beautiful fresh fish, which was filleted for us. And our laundry was done. And we were given lifts to the shops. God people are nice.
The next few days were my favourite explorations over this side of the Irish Sea. With the discovery of brown lemonade with Jez in Annalong. I swam with Sean and phosphorescene (terrified) at 2am in the freezing cold. Finally crossed the slack bay. Visited Killough where some kids thought we were pirates. They raised flags to scare us away. And we left at the same time. So they sent letters to their town informing everyone of their triumph. Brilliant. We made friends in Annalong.
On day 53 we saw Scotland. At around the same time, the yacht battery went bust. And then amazing Simon and Simon came to the rescue. The only two people in the water (on SUP and kayak) and the only car on the beach, had a battery, jump leads and all. Legends. The next few days we raced to get to Scotland. We started crossing over to mainland early. With jellyfish stings up Sean’s nose. Cold cold cold water. Porpoises all around us. Strange eddys in the water and random rushes of waves. We made it 12 miles from Scotland. We could practically touch it.
But ten forced rest days arrived. The expedition was meant to be finished by now. So Jez had to go to London to start his new job in the school as the nutty professor. Owain had some days off with his family and then went home to work from there. I had two days off in Cumbria and then back to Glenarm for admin, walks, sleep and food with the ginger.
We are two thirds of the way through Swimming Britain in distance. And time. Bring on Scotland.
My only idea of Ireland was four leaf clovers, leprechauns, Guinness and ‘top of the morning to you’. I would advise you not to mention some of these things to your Irish friends when you first meet them.
Rosslare was my first Irish experience. And it is essentially a ferry terminal. After the crossing from Wales, we spent a couple of days drinking Guinness, washing our clothes, sleeping, eating, trying to show our ID to the local police and attempting to speak in an Irish accent. We also spent an extra day hiding from tornadoes that were expected, after we attempted to get back in the water.
Unfortunately we were still 18 miles off the coast. The current was pulling us further north and so we had kept going away from land. We experienced every type of wave. With huge rollers. Small choppy waves. Side waves. Big waves. Medium waves. Small waves. And with no land marks. I was getting irritated with being away from land. But by Arklow, we were in sight of Ireland itself. And boy was I happy.
We were swimming two tides a day with phosphoresce and jellyfish all around us at night. The weather was cold. Sean was feeling tired and demotivated after days at sea. The yacht got caught on a lobster pot. We anchored out at sea and spent most of the night sleeping on the floor. We were wearing cold, damp wetsuits. We were feeling pretty tired.
And then. Sean’s friend/ professional swimmer, Kent Kirkwood arrived. And gave the ginger a real nudge up the bottom. We were on day 38 of the expedition and the next few days were idyllic. Strong currents. Beautiful weather. Perfectly flat. Calm anchorage. It was almost embarrassing. Kent is going to go back to South Africa and tell all his friends how easy it was?! But it was amazing to have a new burst of energy for Sean and we did our biggest miles on these days. All while being tourists in Ireland with Dublin and Hauth en route. Kent slept on a wee-covered floor and became part of the team. I became a mother to two children. And Kent was my favourite. Sorry Sean.
Just so we wouldn’t get post-visitor blues after Kent’s visit, Owain (PR god) had arranged for the BBC One Show to spend the morning with us. I managed to head butt the boat, get wiped out by waves and sound posher than I normally do. We were all buzzing. Little did we know the days ahead we going to be quite so tough. Obviously we didn’t know. But you’ll just have to find out from my next blog what happened next…
I actually think I understand what Christopher Columbus felt the first time he spotted America. Ok. Well that is a slight exaggeration but crossing the Irish Sea made me feel on the same level somewhat.
Ocean crossings have been the toughest part of this trip for me. No sight of land. Constant sailing as you’re unable to anchor, which means shifts through the night to make sure you don’t crash into a ship. Considering I left my glasses at home, my watch was slightly unnerving. Especially considering I’m scared of the water, things are splashing around, it’s cold and raining, and I can’t actually see what direction the monster ferry is going (these ferries take 7 1/2 miles to stop after that press the emergency stop button just to give you some scale on their enormity). On top of that, I seem to have no in-built compass. Maybe that’s because I’m a girl. But when I’m heading north and the tide is pulling me south and I can’t tell whether I’m going round in circles, the whole process can get quite irritating.
We experienced days at sea with no sleep, huge waves, dreaded hair, torrential rain and steaming ships while dolphins jumped around us, phosphorescence glowed in the night and all the while, I could have been paddling in circles. Once we were 18 miles from Irish land, we decided to try and motor to shore for some sleep and food. Jez settled in for a eight hour sail and the Irish Sea decided to show us what she was made of. The wind picked up. The boat was flying. And all the stuff in it. As were we. The kayak capsized off the back and stared sinking. ‘Friday While’ started flooding. Water was filling up from the bottom of the boat. The wind tore the sail slightly. The table fell off. The bit of wood that holds the mast snapped (Jez will love my technical chat). So by the time we reached Ireland we were tired, wet and covered in bruises.
But we made it.
I had been planning a trip to Ireland in November this year. I was going to fly to Dublin. Eat and drink my way round the city. Fly home. And say I had been to Ireland. Instead I kayaked here with one crazy eyed skipper at the helm, one bearded PR guru and one ginger weirdo. And we were about to kayak up the whole coast. Hello Ireland.
Over a year ago, I started bonding with ginger adventurer, Dave Cornthwaite. This started a life-changing chain of events. From reviewing his book, Date. To stand-up paddle boarding 1001 miles down the Missouri River as the blogger on his support team as he swam it. To being crew captain on fellow ginger, Sean Conway‘s Lands End to John O’Groats swim.
And in that space of time, Cornthwaite has completed the Missouri swim, whizzed around Europe on an Eliptigo and whacked out yet another book.
Six years after quitting a job in order to chase his passions, Dave Cornthwaite hit a crossroads: one way, consistency, and the other, adventure. Driven by a promise never to get caught up in the rat race again, his life became a resolution to travelling slow, appreciating life by moments, welcoming the kindness of strangers and embracing as many new opportunities as possible.
From the relative solitude of a 3000 mile sailing voyage across the Pacific to a dangerous yet soul-enriching ride through the American South on a unique four-wheeled Bikecar, Dave’s determination, grit and indomitable humour is matched by candid storytelling that will have you selling all your stuff and rethinking your priorities before heading out in search of a life changing adventure.
And this is all wrapped up in a damn cute love story. I am even in love with the super lovely Emily Penn. So if you’re a sucker for a happy ending in the world of adventure and love, then get your mitts on his book here.
Back with a bang. Blurry from the weekend. Jez was up at 2am to get us back to Hartland Quay to dump the ginger in the water and start the crossing to Lundy. This was going to be a week in the open ocean, where we wouldn’t be able to anchor; so that means constant sailing through the night. We had barely started and I was already falling asleep in the kayak. I actually started sleep talking. I know. Worrying.
We were being pushed in every single direction. This was one of my most irritating days on the expedition. I was navigating using a compass but we were almost going round in circles. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could aim for. I just had to follow Jez but we were being drifted so far away from him. The tide then changed and we hadn’t made the point we needed to so that we could use it. We finally called it a day and head for Lundy. An island with only 28 residents, filled with puffins and seals, that has been owned by Kings and pirates, costs £5 to step onto, with a little local tavern that we settled into.
The next few days were filled with tankers, odd tides, the open ocean, boiling hot weather, seals, sailing the boat through the night, lots of custard creams, puffins, calm seas and the sighting of Wales. On day 21 of the expedition, we were finally whizzing along the Welsh headland. And after a day of headlands we were suddenly crossing Milford Haven shipping channel. At this moment, 100′s of birds flew around Sean and me as we paddled across. Previously before that, Sean and I got uncontrollable hysterics. And previously before that we had put my paddle in the sky for a feed. Jez was livid. The one moment on the whole trip we just needed to keep going, Sean was being slow. Luckily Jez has immaculately timed it and while Owain peered through a set of binoculars, we missed two tankers with perfect timing.
We celebrated the Welsh arrival with cake and bubbly. The following days saw caves, ship wrecks and rumours of a Maco shark in the area. And then Jack Sound. A perilous channel with strong currents and rocky obstacles. This was our final task before steak in St. David’s. Bring on two days of rest. Rare meat. Onion rings. Beers. Interviews with Simply Swim. Cathedrals. Ice cream. Errands. Shopping. And Haribo re-stock.
And a major route change. We would now be leaving the Welsh coast and heading for… Ireland. Bring on the Lucky Charms, leprechauns and four leaf clovers. So we are now sitting above ‘Friday While’, waiting to board and to venture back to Jack Sound. And the next leg of our journey.
We will be in the open ocean for the next five days. And will report back on the other end.
Let the journey continue.
Everyone in the world loves kittens, cookies and dolphins. Well actually everyone but me. Kittens kind of freak me out. And dolphins terrify me. Yup they actually terrify me. I know. I guess it’s the fin like presence that reminds me of a shark. It’s the sudden appearance on the water that scares the shit out of me. So I am still getting used to their presence in the water. Anyway back to the point.
From Newquay, the expedition changed. We were all getting into a routine and actually eating a normal amount. When you are supporting someone, their needs are first. You forget to eat and drink and the team were starting to actually look after themselves as well.
From this point on, we were on an endurance adventure. The perfect balance between endurance and adventure with an early and late tide. We moored in idyllic coves, cooked marshmallows on campfires, filmed, swam, photographed, kayaked, visited King Arthur’s castle, caught fish, built campfires, fixed the rib, played crazy golf, swam more, explored secret coves, collected items for the hoarder, swam in private pools.
On day 12, we reached Hartland Quay from Welcome Mouth (yes it is actually called that?!). After some cider and pork scratchings in a very cool fisherman’s pub, we headed to the beach to cook our fish and marshmallows on a fire. After we were full and ready for bed, we got ready to leave and realised, we were going nowhere. Camping on a beach sounds idyllic and it is when you have more than some netting to use as a blanket. Owain’s shoes melted underneath. My jacket was covered in burn holes as we practically slept in the fire. But while I was freezing, I loved it. How often do city slickers get to eat their freshly caught fish on the fire, washed down with some wine and marshmallows and then curl up in front of the fire with Medusa’s hair for a blanket? Not often. And that’s exactly what we did.
After our beach antics, we reached Clovelly. A pedestrian only village. The perfect location for a cult. Privately owned, this little cobbled place is perched on a hill and can only be reached by foot or boat. And it was the perfect end point before a weekend off. What we were going to do without each other for three days, was a scary thought. But off we went. Filled with cream teas and cider.
We are getting into the swing of things. Getting the ‘child’ ready at every moment of the day is a full-time job. I feel like a mother in training. He bleets when he wants something. I pick up after him. I wash his urine covered clothes. I’m joking. (sort of) He’s a very well behaved child but I am in training. And I kept the baby monitor with me at all times over the weekend.