This weekend (8/5/11) I took part in the inaugural event of adventure racing company Endurancelife’s Wild Swim Series. The swim took place in the stunning Erme Estuary, about 10 miles east of Plymouth.
An early start to catch the tide meant overnight camping. The wind howled throughout the night, nearly blowing my tent flat, and the rain drummed incessantly. It seemed a fair bet the swim would have to be cancelled.
However, by the time registration opened at 6.30 a.m. the rain had slowed to a drizzle and a blue patch in the sky on the horizon gave us hope. The organisers decided to shorten the route and cut out the section of the swim that would have taken us out into the ocean.
About 100 swimmers made their way down to the start to brave the 11.3 degree water. By now the sun had come out but the wind was still gusting strongly. The instructions were clear: swim across the estuary towards the flag on the far side then turn left and follow the river upstream until you find a ladder, which marks the finish.
We started on the beach with a somewhat cautious charge into the water due to the odd sharp stone. The cold was enough to take your breath away, even with a (compulsory) wetsuit. A significant swell, as well as a choppy water surface, made finding any rhythm to swimming difficult. Similarly, drafting wasn’t easy as a wave could suddenly shift you several metres from anyone’s feet you tried to follow. This was certainly wild swimming.
At some point the lead kayak turned inland and we duly followed. Now, instead of swimming across the waves they came from behind us, which changed the feel of the swim, and they soon disappeared completely as we entered the more sheltered part of the river.
We were now caught on the incoming tide and raced upriver at a fantastic pace, much faster than normal swimming speed. The lead kayak zigzagged from one side of the river to the other, and as we had no other instructions, we followed. We flew past a small harbour and a collection of sailing boats and continued inland.
Because of the last minute change the course and the speed of the current affecting our distance perceptions we had no real idea of how far to go. The finish, when it came, was sudden and disappointingly soon. We’d only been in the water a little over 20 minutes, had got used to it and were enjoying speeding through the beautiful wooded valley.
Still, there was some compensation in the form a hot mug of soup, a slice of buttered (wholemeal) bread and a biscuit; something, I think, we should campaign to have at the end of every swim.
Endurance Life have two other events in their Wild Swim Series this year: Helford Estuary on 11 June and the Dart Estuary on 17 July. These are both point-to-point swims of 4 and 5 miles respectively. If the organisation, atmosphere and scenery are as good as this swim, they’ll be well worth doing. See www.endurancelife.com for details.