OA GIANTS Keith Garry, John McElroy, Colin Lindsay, Dominic Mudge, Chris Judge and Bill Donnelly
Pilot: Pádraig Mallon
Co-Pilot: Adrian Poucher
Crew: Milo McCourt, Jacqueline McClelland
OA Giants an open water swimming relay team recently completed a hattrick of challenging relay, cross channel swims. 17:25 on Sunday, 6th June 2021 the team touched land near St Davids RNLI lifeboat Station on the Pembrokshire Coast, Wales having left the shores of Ireland (Carne Pier, Co Wexford) 7am Saturday morning. The team covered 116kms in 34 hours and 25 minutes, swimming through the night to cross the St Georges Channel encountering many challenges enroute.
In 2020 this powerful team completed two world records firstly a pioneering Oa Channel Scotland (Islay) to N.Ireland (Giants Causeway) and secondly North Channel (N.Ireland to Scotland).
infinity Channel swimming directors Pádraig Mallon and Jacqueline McClelland masterminds of these hair brain swims have had their sights set on St. George’s channel for a number of years. Local knowledge is essential to any swim and whilst we are familiar with swim pace, tidal flows and progression of a swim there is nothing more valuable than the knowledge of the locals. Fishermen in Wexford and RNLI at St. David’s were paramount in providing information on the challenging waters to assist in the successful crossing.
Winter training for the OA GIANTS was essential as they acclimatised to sub 5 degrees waters advancing to warmer waters in the early spring months with both sea and lake swimming. Continued aerobic training by way of mountain climbing, running, strength and conditioning training and good nutritional regimes gave this team the holistic wellbeing and focus required of such an immensely demanding swim. Despite lockdown they continued to remain focused on a June goal.
With dates of June 5th looming each of the team members on their individual training journeys checked in with each other to ensure they were ready to take on the challenge that lay ahead. To ensure swim readiness each team member was tasked with completing the Battle of Carlingford Lough swim a – a 7.3K swim from Omeath to Carlingford two weeks before their swim date. Under usual channel swimming rule one sim cap, one pair of goggles one pair of togs. On this day the water was 11.2C and each of the OA GIANTS completed the swim. Jacqueline and Pádraig pleased that their success and pacing in readiness for the St Georges channel date now looming.
Constant weather checks and updates with the team pinpointed the as planned date of 4-6th June as a go. Keith leading on team logistics gave everyone a focus on what to bring to ensure all had sufficient food, fluids etc. for the swim.
infinity’s latest fleet addition ĀNANTYA was transported to Wexford by a low-loaded lorry and slipped at Wexford harbour. The team travelled by car on Friday afternoon with instructions that the swim would commence at 21:00. Unfortunately, mother nature had her own plans and the wind was stronger than expected. The swim was postponed to a 00:00 start and then an eventual 07:00hrs start 5.06.2021. The team grabbed what sleep they could in the cars, and crew on the boat.
Saturday 5th June at 05:00 brought a grey and blustery start with the team ever ready Pádraig took a short trip out to Tuskar Rock to look at the seas state. Sea conditions were still not ideal but the wind was due to calm during the course of the day. The call was made to start the swim and make a judgement call in 3-5 hours to proceed or not.
Chris Judge was first up, swimming back to the breakwater rocks of Carne Pier, Wexford, just south of Rosslare Harbour.
At 70 strokes per minute and 4k per hour pace tidal forces and wind would give Chris a 3.4K advance as Keith Garry took over. The swim direction southerly with the tidal flow. Again, resolute no matter what the conditions Keith was clocked at 80 strokes per minute with tides and wind reducing his usual 4.2KPH distance to 3.1K relentless all the same. Dominic Mudge was next to take over as the sun appeared and the water temperature increased slightly to 12.4 with 15C air temperature. Dominic gave a further 2.8K again a drastic reduction in his usual 4KPH pace. Accepting of the impact of wind and tidal pushback each team member remained positive that bigger distances would be gained with the incoming flood. Bill Donnelly took over the swim with 3.1K followed by Colin Lindsay who with improved technique elegantly finished the first rotation. By the end of the first rotation wind and seas were calming somewhat and the call was made to proceed.
By noon on Saturday 5th June, the sun was out and spirits where high. Communications with those at home were initially fast and furious however as the swim progressed mid sea communications became very limited and erratic due to poor phone service, difficult for the waiting families at home but with their understanding that for approximately 24 hours there would be limited or no updates. Radio contact via VHF was continuous with Dublin Coast, Rosslare Coastguard and St. David’s Coastguard and passing fishing vessels and ferries were familiar with our presence and goal adjusting their position to complement our swim passage.
Rotation by rotation the team continued their one-hour slots, returning to the boat, recovering from near hypothermia, eating, resting and assisting their team mates, encouraging every stroke. Mid sea life was blissful and calmer waters were appearing giving the lads increased opportunity to show their swim speed and class.
As nightfall approached the swimmers were briefed on the requirements for night swimming. ĀNANTYA was prepared with nightlights and navigation lights. Each swimmer wore an adventure light clipped to their goggle strap. There is no doubt that night swimming is one of the most challenging parts of channel swimming. Sea-life was abundant. Keith entered the water for his 4th rotation at 2am on Sunday morning. After the initial shock of large sea life darting underneath him he soon relaxed into the 1 hour swim chaperoned by a pod of approximately 15 dolphins some swimming belly to belly with Keith. Albeit with some fear in his mind he swam all the faster and tried to enjoy the spectacle as they played in and around him in the sea. There arrival to Pádraig and Jacqueline was that of good fortune and a successful passage. Dominic was next to take to the water and he too was accompanied by the dolphins hearing their high frequency whistles and clicks. The ever-present Milo kept guard of our swimmers all night and was a welcoming set of eyes in the darkness.
Keith’s cuisine was always welcomed with homecooked and flavoursome soup, stew and bacon egg butties all prepped on the gas stove supplied by Colm and Emma.
As daybreak appeared around 05:00 John could see the break in the night sky as he advanced forwards, this a sign that water air temperatures were ahead. Bill was next to swim with a stunning sunrise and the first sightings of land albeit the islands Maen Rhoson, Moelyn, Llech Uchaf, Llech Isaf ‘the bishops and clerks’. Behind this Ramsey Island and behind this St. Davids which would be the cherished goal – the finish line mainland Wales.
With the rising sun rotation after rotation each of the OA GIANTS never faltered in their push forwards. The weather had improved and calmer water and winds were replaced with a wind on our stern help push the swimmers along. This help considerably as the swimmers were now consistently swimming at 4k plus per hour despite now being on rotation 5. Adrian as always calming and supporting the swimmers in their recovery with motivational playlists and encouragement..
As we neared the end of rotation 5 there was much excitement with approx. 10km to shore we were overly optimistic that 2-3 swimmers would take us home. Everyone was swimming out of their skins to make the end line. To our dismay we were soon stopped in our tracks by a tidal stream heading south and it was taking us with it. Our excitement was dampened but not our spirits, as the update from Jacqueline was to prepare for another 6 hours at least.
Constant reconfiguration of headings by skilful pilot Pádraig were required. For many hours South Rock Lighthouse was on are starboard side however with tidal pressure this resulted often in each swimmer being on swim treadmill per se swimming on the spot. Challenging in respect of the headspace for each of them but they knew that they must hold their space in the water until the mother nature will allow this passage. After another hour South Rock Lighthouse remained close but now was on our port side. Again, continued reconfiguration and navigation with a change in heading to make passage albeit slow towards the group of islands Bishop and clerks west of the Welsh mainland. Credit to Colin and Chris and Keith for their efforts in maintaining the swims position relentlessly. Ramsey Island came into view and Dominic was tasked with getting as close to the island and swimming against the tide pushing his limits. Breaking through very taxing waters the decision was made to turn and travel with the flow around Ramsey head. Communications again with Mike at St. David’s RNLI were crucial as he briefed us on what would face us around the next corner. At 16:00 John took over from an exhausted and exhilarated Dominic taking advantage of fast tidal flow and even got to enjoy the beauty around us as we passed one of the nature reserves of Ramsey Island.
At 17:00 Bill Donnelly was next to swim and he was briefed visually auditorily and mentally prepared himself for the task that he would face. An extreme and testing section of water known as ‘The Bitches’. A reef situated between Ramsey Island and the mainland. The water was similar to that of a Whitewater river moving just as fast with standing waves, whirlpools and a boiling pot of water directions. He would need to swim against the tide, push back with the force of the water and swim against it for three occasions to each rocky outcrop, before the last stretch to the mainland and St David’s.
As network communications returned it was an opportunity to offer a live feed through social media which was highly viewed encouraging for each of the team members who were each exhausted but each new that they could give something more. Faces with the potentials of more swim rotations Chris said ‘my arms may be exhausted but my heart is strong and I will give what’s needed’ and each of the OA GIANTS concurred with this response. No better a man than the Dolphin Donnelly to carry out the task imposed on him. As in the luck of the draw it was his rotation, he listened and acted accordingly as rough waters disorientated him, turned him over and with fast flow we joked as we thought he would even break in to his favourite butterfly stroke.
With the heading as St David RNLI station at St Justinian’s the eventual landing was approximately 800 m due North of this point with applause and celebration from the team on board. Bill in his emerald green jammers and yellow ‘limits and beyond’ infinity swim cap clambered up on the rocks raising his left left-hand to finish shouting ‘riser’. Swim complete at 17:25 hrs on 6.06.2021, 34 hours and 25 minutes total. Bill returned to board ĀNANTYA and passage back to St Justinian’s and were welcomed by Mike for a team photograph before returning to Wexford.
Glory comes from daring to begin as infinity’s strapline again proven - the great determination and hard grind of the OA GIANTS achieving another successful and pioneering channel crossing. There are adventures in the bag and there are many other opportunities in this beautiful Ireland to achieve pioneering swims in the waters around us.
This pioneering swim will be submitted for ratification with ILDSA and with Guinness World Records
Thanks you to St David’s RNLI supporting the swim.
Start Time: 07:00, 05.06.2021 Carne Pier, Wexford, Ireland
Finish time: 17:25, 06.06.2021 Due North of St Justinian’s at St David’s, Wales
Total time: 34 hours 25 minutes
Total distance 116 kilometres *
Our thanks and appreciation to
Wexford Harbour Master
St David’s RNLI at St. Justinian’s (Mike)
Clemack Plant Ltd
Warrenpoint Port Authority
|Swim #||Relay Team #||Date||Name||Origin||Direction||Time|
|1||1||5-6/06/21||OA GIANTS||Ireland||IRELAND - WALES||34.25.05|