Today, Stuart and I travelled to Fowey for the annual Fowey Harbour Swim. This is a non-competitive charity event that was raising money for the RNLI. We took part last year and really enjoyed it, so decided to enter again this year. Last year’s course was cross the harbour and was fairly short (advertised as 1200m, it was probably not much over 800m last year). This year, the route had changed, with the swim being down the harbour from Fowey slipway to Readymoney and back, which was thought to be 1400m. There was also a shore route on offer of 800m. Unfortunately, the swim was held on the same day as the Inn-to-Inn swim near to Falmouth, which may have affected some people’s decision about whether or not to take part.
Before the event, there were quite a few people milling around and it was difficult to work out who was swimming and who was there to watch. There was also a cruise ship moored in the harbour so I imagine that quite a few of the smartly dressed older people were passengers. The event attracts a wide variety of people from young children through to seasoned wild swimmers, many of whom decided to forgo wetsuits in favour of frilly swimming costumes and novelty hats.
Last year, I was terrified before the swim as I had never swum that far before, but after my recent sea-swimming exploits at Weymouth, I was feeling much more confident… although the lithe physiques of most of the women under the age of forty meant that I was under no illusion that I would compare particularly favourably with others.
There was a short briefing where the new course was explained and then we lined up to go down the steps. Stu and I were near the front of the queue. There was a little bit of sand at the bottom of the steps and several people were lingering there, uncertain as to whether they should just get in and start swimming, or whether there were would be a more official start. I knew the water would feel cool as the sun had been beating down on us, but I didn’t expect it to feel as chilly as it was.
I waded in a few steps and then set off. The water felt cold on my face, and I was grateful that I had used my inhaler before the start. I could feel the icy water gradually seeping down the zip of my wetsuit, but forced myself to ignore it and continue swimming. I felt quite relaxing, possibly for three reasons: I knew that I should be able to swim 1400m without any problems; the sea was beautifully calm (the swim is timed to coincide with slack water, so it starts half an hour before the tide turns); there had been no mention of jellyfish in the briefing, unlike last year.
I wasn’t exactly sure which point we were swimming to (other than the fact that it would be marked with a yacht called ‘Ratty’ – I’m assuming that it was named in homage to Kenneth Grahame who was married in the local church), so I thought that as long as I was following other people, I must be going in the right direction.
A few people passed me in the first two or three minutes and then after that, only the odd person went past. We had to navigate through a few small boats that were moored in the harbour and then we swam over some kelp beds. The dark coloured seaweed and the relatively low tide meant that in places the water was much warmer. I saw quite a large fish swimming in amongst the seaweed – I’m not sure what kind of fish it was – it looked like a pilchard to me, but I’m no ichthyologist!
Quite a large chap swam past with a fluorescent buoy attached to him. He was moving at an amazing pace for someone doing breaststroke – I was very impressed. For most of the swim out, I kept pace with a chap who had on a light blue swimming hat. Every now and again, he would veer off course and ten do some breaststroke, so it wasn’t too difficult to keep up with him.
I was trying to think about swimming with good technique (or at least to think about using my legs every now and again), but the surroundings kept distracting me. We were swimming along the coast and every time I breathed to my right, I could see steps in the cliffs, secret doorways and the remains of old buildings. It is easy to see how the coastline could have inspired writers such as Daphne Du Maurier.
Finally, the man in the blue hat started to turn. As I got closer to the small boat, I could read the name, ‘Ratty’ on its prow, so I started to swim around it. Unfortunately, the boat didn’t seem to want to let me pass – the more I swam across the harbour, the further out the boat drifted. I must have swum at least a dozen strokes before deciding to give up and swim back the way I came around the boat. I could hear the kayakers laughing, but I felt a little frustrated. By the time I finally got past the yacht, the man in the blue had had a definite lead.
I was a bit tempted to look at my watch to see how far I’d swum and what pace I was swimming at, but I didn’t want to break my rhythm. As I hadn’t been passed by many swimmers, I expected to see quite a few people as I was on my return journey, but there were not many people in the water. I saw a couple of men breaststroking on their outward journey – they could have only done a few hundred metres when I passed them. The lack of swimmers makes me wonder whether most people opted to do the shorter swim.
I think I was swimming closer to the cliffs on my return journey. The water looked very shallow – as if I could stand up – but I’ve learned that it is often much deeper than it looks. I was also having a few problems with my goggles. They weren’t letting in water, but my right eye felt like it was full of salt-water and I was struggling to open it, which wasn’t comfortable, so I decided to tread water for a bit to try to adjust my goggles.
I had to negotiate my way amongst lots of small boats on the way back and I also saw another fish. A kayaker spoke to me, but I didn’t understand what he said. I thought it might be a warning about the ferry or one of the other boats, so I stopped and asked him to repeat what he’d said. It turned out to be: “Well done! You’re nearly there – not far now!”
I could see children on the sand at the water’s edge and think I was swimming in very shallow water, but I didn’t want to stop swimming. Eventually, I could see people standing on the beach, so I stood up and waded over. I was congratulated on my swim and given a medal, before I walked back up the steps.
I glanced at my watch – 1822m… so quite a bit longer than the suggested 1400m and not far off the 1900m that I have to swim in two weeks time. I wondered whether it was because of my dodgy sighting, but everyone I spoke to who had measured it made it over 1800m. I completed the swim in 45 minutes, which I was quite pleased with. I could have gone faster, but I was not treating it as a race. Stu was one of the first two people to finish – he did it in about 29 minutes.
There was some lovely tomato and butterbean soup on offer with a large freshly baked roll. I ate the roll and some of the soup before going to get changed. After putting on some warm clothes, I finished off the soup and had a lovely sticky toffee muffin whilst watching some of the last swimmers finishing.
Overall, I really enjoyed the event and hope that Stu and I can take part again next year. The organisation is excellent, and the number of boats and kayakers out on the water meant that swimmers of all ability feel safe at all times. The medal at the end and the fantastic catering mean that this event is great value for money… and it’s even better knowing that the money raised is going to support Fowey’s lifeboat.