The Dál Raita Channel is the narrowest part of the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Because of the relative narrowing of the sea, the tides create strong currents and powerful eddies. The water is often rough, it is always cool and swimmers face tough conditions, fast flowing water and possible marine life encounters including the notorious lion’s mane jellyfish.
For years it was considered impossible to swim across at this point. Mercedes Gleitze attempted it in 1928 but couldn’t find a way through, despite sponsorship from Rolex and access to the best navigation available at the time. The preferred route therefore became the longer, more southerly crossing between Donaghadee and Portpatrick where the currents are a little less vicious.
Back in 2012, Wayne Soutter convinced himself that with sufficient knowledge of the tides, the swim could be done. After months spent plotting and planning, he succeeded – and his efforts have now been turned into a stage drama, but that’s another story.
Since then, two relay teams (one four-person in 2015 and one three-person this year) have completed the swim. Then, on 29 June this year, Swiss swimmer Sabrina Wiedmer crossed in 8 hours and 30 minutes, starting on Mull of Kintyre and finishing between Cushendun and Cushendal Bay, under the guidance Padraig Mallon of Infinity Channel Swimming.
Soutter was delighted that another swimmer had followed in his arm-strokes although he confessed to being slightly embarrassed about his time of 12 hours and 15 minutes, compared to Sabrina’s. He added: “it’s a wonderful place to swim. The water is so clear with imposing black granite cliffs plunging into it.”
He didn’t, however, mention the temperature, which at between 10 and 11 degrees Celsius is seriously cold for long distance swimming.
Speaking to a Swiss newspaper, Wiedmer said the water was colder than she expected. “When I felt how, after five hours, the cold was creeping ever deeper into my body, I had a bit of a panic.”
However, she praised her team and a ready supply of hot drinks that helped her pull through.
Wiedmer is no stranger to the Irish Sea having previously made the more southerly crossing in 2014 (and at the time being the fourth fastest person ever to do so). This swim therefore makes her the first person to cross the North Channel in two different locations.
Clearly enjoying the connection to Scotland, Wiedmer’s next challenge will be the 35km length of Loch Lomond.