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Double Forth: is Sheila first?

The swim across the Forth River from Hawes Pier at South Queensferry to the pier at North Queensferry, and the other way, is popular.  There are several group swims, solo swims and a Scottish Amateur Swimming Association race each year. Whether you are racing, raising money for charity or just making the crossing for your own reasons, this swim in the shadow of the Forth Railway Bridge is an amazing experience. As you swim and look up at it you get a unique view. I have crossed the bridge many times on a train and looked down at the water but I am one of the few to have looked up at the trains from below.

Since I was five and until eight years ago I have lived in Edinburgh, where every day I would see the River Forth.  I now live above Grangemouth and still see the river every day. Once I got into open water swimming I decided I was going to swim in it.  I have done two one-way crossings and last winter decided I wanted to do a two-way crossing as I did not think anyone had done that before. In April I started planning and got a date to swim – 29 September.  Just about the end of the open water season in Scotland (except for the really cold-water hardened).

The 29 September came and I set off to South Queensferry for a 9.30am start, 9.45 came and no safety boat had arrived.  I tried to phone Port Edgar, whom I had arranged and paid for the supply of a safety boat, but got no reply. My son-in-law and granddaughter arrived but still no safety boat. To cut a long story short, Port Edgar had got it wrong and had forgotten about my booking.  You can imagine how I felt. I was all psyched up to swim and now I was not going to.  I felt exhausted.
The next morning I was on the phone again to Port Edgar and after expressing my disappointment they agreed to give me cover when I arranged another date. 

Booking a time to swim takes at least two weeks as notice to mariners has to be issued.  The first suitable date for me was 16 October.

By the time the day came the air temperature had dropped to 10 degrees Celsius. The water temp was 11 degrees. This time I was to start the swim at 12.45pm.  As soon as the boat arrived I got into a wetsuit and made ready to swim. After a short delay to let a couple of tugs pass I was off. The temperature didn’t feel too bad but I found the supposed slight 0.6m swell quite rough. I crossed to North Queensferry pier without any problem, made sure I touched it and started back. I thought all was ok but I should have noticed I wasn’t feeling any colder, I wasn’t getting cramp and I thought I was going at my usual speed. As I approached Hawes Pier again I stopped to check where the marker for the pier was and then the problem hit. My stomach was churning. I got my head down and carried on but a few strokes later my stomach took over and I stopped again. After polluting the Forth I continued and finished the swim. I was just out the water when I lost my balance and if my son and daughter had not caught me I might have been face down on the pier. After that I have practically no memory of events. My family got me back to the Hawes Inn and my daughter got me out of the wetsuit and dressed without me knowing how. The first thing I remember was sitting in the cosy bar and being told to drink some hot sweet tea.

I thought at first I was suffering from seasickness but I now think I was hypothermic.

Now fully recovered I plan to do the swim again next year but in August. I want to have the photo of myself, with arms up in the air in celebration, with the Railway Bridge in the background.  I have learned that although I prepared for this swim I will need to do more sea swimming and try to up my time in the water to two hours before I do this swim again.

If anyone knows of anyone else who has done this two way crossing I would like to know. I have called it Kelly’s Crossing – but that will have to change if I’m not the first to do it.

Thanks for reading this
Sheila Kelly

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.