St. Michael’s Mount Swim
July 19, 2015
Back in January, Stuart and I signed up for a 2.5km swim around St. Michael’s Mount in aid of the Chestnut Appeal, a local cancer charity. We thought it would be a good step towards the Scilly Swim Challenge and also an opportunity to go home to Cornwall for the weekend. We chose this event because the Chestnut Appeal is a men’s cancer charity that supports men in the south-west – Stu’s dad is a cancer survivor and my dad died of cancer.
The day of the swim finally arrived and after a morning in St. Ives, we headed into Penzance for a bit of shopping before travelling back to Marazion. We registered for the swim and got our numbers written on our hands: 26 for me and 27 for Stuart. We then had an hour or so to wait before the event, so we went to the Godolphin Arms, a nearby pub, to have a (non-alcoholic) drink.
The race briefing was at 5:30pm. It was relatively informal and we were asked to be considerate of swimmers of other abilities. Fast/competitive swimmers were asked to line up at the water’s edge, with slower swimmers a couple of steps back and the slowest swimmers a bit further back on the beach.
Last week there has been some concern about how rough the sea was, but it looked very calm and still as we were waiting, which helped to calm my nerves a little.
St. Michael’s Mount is a tiny Cornish version of France’s famous Mont St. Michel. On the island there is a historic property that used to be a monastery and is no home to the St. Aubyn family. It’s managed by the National Trust and is a beautiful place to visit. At low tide, it’s possible to walk across a stone causeway to the mount, but it is cut off when the tide comes in.
There was a bit of time to acclimatise to the water and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite warm. Most swimmers had wetsuits on, but there were a few brave skins swimmers, including one lady who was sporting a fetching red polka dot number with matching lipstick!
At 6pm, we went and lined up – Stu at the water’s edge and me a bit further back. The horn sounded and we were off. Marazion looks deceptively flat, but I was only able to wade about 5-10m before I had to start swimming. It wasn’t the usual rough triathlon start, but quite a few people ahead of me were doing breast stroke, so I had to watch out for feet, which is tough when you are also watching out for stray clumps of seaweed. Farmers regularly gather seaweed from the beach here to fertilise their fields – there are large beds of bladder wrack and my enemy, oar wrack, which seems determined to strangle me.
After the group had thinned out a bit, I really started to enjoy my swim. The water was calm and clear and there was a lot to look at underwater, including the cobbled causeway that can be used to walk to the Mount at low tide. I found that I was swimming a group with quite a few others, which was reassuring.
As we got towards the rear of the mount, the water started getting really choppy, and it was hard to see which way to go. We had been warned not to go too close as there are a lot of dangerous rocks, but I couldn’t see any of the safety kayakers who were meant to be guiding us away from the rocks.
I did a couple of strokes of breaststroke to get my bearings and felt a stinging sensation in my foot. I put my face back in the water and realised that I had swum into a smack of moon jellyfish 🙁 They were quite small (7-8cm diameter) and very pretty, but I didn’t want to touch any more of them.
There were some very large waves, which made sighting hard and my stroke became quite erratic. I was really glad when we finally rounded the corner and I could see the long harbour wall along the side of the Mount. I managed to catch up with a group of three local swimmers and although I thought I could pass them, I decided to save some energy and draft them for a bit. The sea is much deeper on this side of the mount, and although there was still quite a lot of seaweed it wasn’t possible to see the bottom. There was a schooner anchored just off the mount, which was interesting to see.
We had been told to head back to the slipway to finish the swim, but high tide was at 7pm and so it was really hard to see the slipway, so I decided to follow the others… But then I realised that their sighting was worse than mine, so I struck out on my own. After a few minutes, a kayaker pointed out to the others that they were going in the wrong direction, so they started following me.
Soon we could hear the cheers of the supporters on the slipway and beach wall. I got out of the water in 57 minutes and was handed a medal by a young lad, before collecting a bottle of water and a delicious Philps pasty – why aren’t pasties given out at the end of every race?!
I really enjoyed this event and would strongly recommend it to others.