On 12 September, Worthing-based triathlete Nikki Gatland completed an epic challenge: swimming 19 miles to the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm and back again. The feat has never been attempted before and required months of training, planning and coordination with local authorities.
Nikki started the challenge with her team mate Jon Cassell at 5am from Worthing beach. The duo set off in the dark and followed the support boat which navigated the route from Worthing beach to the turbines. The weather conditions were a lot worse than expected, which meant battling 18-knot winds and 4ft waves.
Safety boat captain, Alastair Carlow (an experienced seaman) along with his brother Charlie (a professional forecaster & sailor) plotted a route which considered the changing tides and conditions. It soon became apparent that the original distance of 16 miles would increase as conditions worsened. Their expertise was indispensable when it came to guiding the swimmers to the turbines in the shortest route possible.
Spirits were high for the first three hours and the pair even had time to sing the safety boat captain Happy Birthday. Remaining in the water for all ten fuel stops, the swimmers enjoyed a buffet of protein drinks and salty jam sandwiches.
4.5 hours into the swim Jon’s body gave up, and unable to continue he reluctantly asked to be pulled into the boat to rest. Jon’s amazing efforts are only testament to how hard the challenge is, and after a few hours of recovery, he returned to the water for the home straight.
Reaching the fourth turbine in an astonishing time of 5 hours 30 minutes, Nikki took a short rest and refuelled before swimming back again. Keeping a strong pace and averaging 28 strokes per minute and 36,000 strokes in total, she just kept on going.
After an incredible 11 hours of swimming, and despite being carried east of the intended landing beach by the strong current and wind, Nikki and Jon were joined by local swimmers for the final stretch and cheered back to land by friends and family. With their safe arrival, Nikki became the first person to swim to Rampion Wind Farm and back. Supporters on the beach followed current social distancing rules by keeping a safe distance.
Nikki and Jon are part of a team called “A SEE CHANGE” who have formed to complete a series of extreme challenges to raise money for project Op Surfwell and campaign for cleaner oceans. These challenges are a build up to the pinnacle event: to row the Atlantic ocean. The pair have set their eyes on being the fastest mix pair to complete the crossing as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Race.
Op Surfwell is a project that uses surfing to support and improve mental health and well-being within the police force and emergency services. The program aims to help staff to return to work and to support those who are in work but struggling to cope.
After recovering from this event, the pair will start to plan for their next challenge.
Words: Andrew Marshall
Images (c) Phil West