FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

Fighting swim in Firth of Forth

A handful of swimmers, mostly with connections to British Gas, decided to tackle one of the UK’s most famous estuaries on 11 Sept 2012. The crossing threw up a number of challenges, not least overcoming the anxiety of what wildlife the swimmers might encounter after wales were spotted in the river and someone allegedly found the tooth of a great white shark. And then of course, there were the nuclear submarines to contend with. Here are the stories of some of the swimmers (all pictures thanks to Daniel Seville):

Firth Of Forth 1

Craig Neilson

Once I had overcome the freezing cold water and adapted my stroke to contend with the waves, I thought I heard the sound of a whale, next stroke I heard it again, by the third stroke I realised… it was me. It must have been those stories circulating pre swim. I don’t know about everyone else but I had a really sore throat last night and this morning, must be been the gulps of water containing diesel in the shipping lane.

Steven Gray

My day started with a nervous drive over the Forth Road Bridge looking down on where we would be swimming. The water looked choppy and a strong wind was present. I’m not sure if that made me more nervous or relieved thinking there was a high chance of the challenge being cancelled. Instead of swimming, I’d get a full day off work. But that wasn’t to be.
After meeting everyone and having our safety briefing we still had another hurdle to get over. We had to call the coast guard 30 minutes prior to starting to make sure it was safe to start. We were advised there were 2 large ships passing but once they had gone we were free to start.
We all walked down the North pier together with nervous jokes being cracked whilst trying to acclimatise. To my surprise the water wasn’t as cold as I was expecting. I had a quick shout over to the safety boats to check they were ready for us to go, which they were. The next 10 seconds seems like an eternity with everyone waiting for someone to make the first move but as soon as the first person went we all went.

It didn’t take long for the “what am I doing” feeling to kick in. I had done a good amount of training for this but was it really going to prepare me for my first swim in the sea? Within minutes I could see no one, my goggles were steamed up and I was being thrown around in the waves with just the sight of the big red bridge to guide me. At times it really did feel like I was going nowhere and swimming on the spot, losing all sense of time, distance and direction. I just kept at it hoping I was actually making progress until…….boom, I had just swam into a bright red buoy in the middle of the Forth giving me the biggest fright because the week before there had been a pod of whales spotted here and this was what instantly came into my mind. I then saw it was a bright red buoy, so you would think this would put my mind at rest. No. I still felt I had to swim away from it as fast as I could in a panic!
After finishing we all felt a massive sense of achievement not just for the distance we had swam but in the conditions that we swam in and the fear of what lurks below you. Everyone congratulated each other at the finish line and there was a real buzz. We were all different levels of swimmers but no matter the time you took everyone felt it was a challenge and had a real sense of achievement. We did the swim to raise money for CCLASP so for us to go through this tough challenge it was every bit worth it to raise money for such a good cause.
Let’s see how many of us decide to do it again next year!

Nick Plank

I like a challenge and considered signing for the Forth swim last year but had too much on to commit to the training so when the email came round this year I decided to go for it. For the last couple of months we have swam once a week in a local reservoir to prepare for the Forth – it got me used to being freezing and improved my stroke but as I found out on the day nothing could have prepared me for the actual crossing!
Before I started training, the last time I swam any distance was in primary school for my 800m badge so this was well outside my comfort zone! On the day as I walked down towards the water I couldn’t help but think how far away the other side looked and I was still thinking that half way across! At one point I looked left and was beside one of the pillars that hold the bridge up, I swam for another ten minutes and looked again to see I had moved about 10 yards, this challenge was turning out to be as much mental as it was physical and I had to force myself to stop thinking I couldn’t do it and was going to fail – a quick look behind me and I realised I was making progress so I just had to keep going and not give up.
I have never swum in water like this with such a strong current and can remember reaching the finish and my hand touching the ground – I have never been so relieved to hit dry land. The feeling of relief outweighed the joy at completing the challenge at first but that soon changed as I came out to a great welcome from my 2 year old boy, my wife and the rest of the guys. It was hand shakes all round and I was relieved to hear the other more experienced guys saying they had found it tough too. We have raised a good amount for a local charity CCLASP (we’ve not stopped yet so no final total just now!) and it was fantastic to be a part of it, I have made many new friends and learnt a lot about myself.
Never again….till next time!!

Steve Worrell

Thanks for the opportunity to swim the Firth of Forth, the event didn’t let me down. It was as challenging and demanding as anticipated, the current and tides were difficult to navigate through and the waters were been whipped up by a cold westerly wind pushing us towards the Forth Rail Bridge.
At one point adjacent the Rail Bridge Central Pillar, I was convinced I was swimming stationary, making no headway, the pillar did not disappear out of view for an age. Then the negative thoughts came flooding in, “why am I here”, “never again”, “I must be mad”. Yep!
But when it was over the sense of achievement was fantastic and the camaraderie with the other swimmers all achieving their goal, I will never forget.
I went to support the charity, but also to support Isaac who at 13yrs old joined us seasoned swimmers and swam the Forth – and I only narrowly beat him! That’s amazing! I came away with a lot more memories and many more friends.

Firth Of Forth 3

Isaac Wass (aged 13. and third to finish)

Oh no my mum has done it again!

She has sent me off on some crazy mission to swim across the Firth of Forth.
The idea sounded good at first: two days off school and a quick splash in the sea.
Little did I know that once I had set off I would not see any of the other swimmers until I reached land and at times I doubted if I ever would and whoever said the safety boat would be nearby was not in the same bit of sea as me as as I never saw it. But to be honest I was too busy looking for the shark.
The current was really strong and was doing its very best to drag me off to the sea.
Head down just keep going was all I could think about only to realise that I had not made any progress at all. And for those of you who know my mum, she is scary but I have never been so relieved to see her shouting and cheering from the jetty and realise I must be nearly there.
I had a fantastic time and everyone was so supportive. I do not think if everyone had not been so supportive I would have had the courage to start.
Thanks for letting me join you and will see you all next year when the boy from Yorkshire that plays water polo will again smash it out in the Firth of the Forth and he will not be beaten again.

Kevin Black

I did the Firth of Forth swim in memory of and to raise money for a British Gas colleague called Jason Pollock and his family. Jason passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last year.
Also I want show that anyone can swim, no matter where they come from or what ethnic origin. I grew up in Africa for the first 9 years of my life and, contrary to popular belief, people with a darker skin colour can swim well .This conventional wisdom may or may not be true I have heard it a few times: supposedly black people have heavier bones which means we cannot swim very well. This sounds like a funny story but when you think about it I can’t name any famous or elite black swimmers. Anyway hopefully I have put that myth to bed by conquering the mighty Firth of Forth and all the other British Gas swims.
The swim was one the hardest things I have done as it lulls you in to a false sense of security. It looks so beautiful and calm, my first thoughts were this will be a doddle. I made my first error of the day in disregarding the advice of the safety crew to swim in an arc because of the current. Ha ha, not me I thought, they obviously don’t know how strong a swimmer I am. I’m just going to power across and take the shortest route which should be the quickest. Everything seemed to be going to plan as I set off in the sheltered harbour. A couple of minutes later as I left the safety of the harbour and powered out into the open current I knew I had made a serious mistake and wish I had listened to the safety boat people. The waves were massive and the current was immense. It kept sucking me towards the bridge. I spent most the crossing trying to swim away from the bridge not to where I was going. It seemed to take forever and that I was not making any headway – so much for my powering across plan! To make matters worse I could not see anyone or the boats as the waves were so big. My fatigued mind kept on playing tricks. I swear I saw a shark at least 5 times to add to my misery.

I was just glad to make it across in the end. The bridge although beautiful from a distance was too close for comfort for me. Although the swim was the most gruelling I have experienced I felt triumphant and elated to make it across. I have learnt my lesson and shall listen to the experts in future. The real hero and most impressive effort was the boy Issac, 13 years of age came in 3rd not long after me. He should keep up the swimming as he has a really bright future if he keeps it up. Well done to everyone who did the swim. A tremendous achievement and one I will not forget in a hurry. Tanks to the organisers and safety crew. Already look forward to next year’s!

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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.