My North Channel Swim experience started at 8am, Tuesday AUG-9, on a rocky outcrop in Donaghadee, NI. After elegantly waving to the sendoff party I entered the water and immediately smashed into some rocks, not a great start for a marathon swim!
However the first 3hrs was a sight of both terror and of beauty, as I swam above numerous jellyfish, of different shapes and sizes, suspended like chandeliers in the night sky. Crew member Milo earnt himself at least 3 pints of Guinness as he sat at the front of the boat and whistle blowed if there was a jellyfish directly in my path. But this environment is not good for a smooth swim, and I constantly cranked my neck searching for the next head on collision.
The following 3hrs I managed to relax as the jellyfish dissipated and the water remained calm and smooth. By this time I was 6-7 hours in and I was halfway across the channel, I felt on target for a finish time of 12 to 14hrs and I was positive. Just at this point the wind picked up, creating choppy seas and constantly blowing the boat away from me. The only saving grace was that choppy water meant fewer jellyfish, for which I was incredibly grateful.
At the 11th hour mark and with the wind still high I was hit by some jellies on my forearms, ironically across the wording “Per Ardua ad Astra,” latin for “through adversity to the stars“, the motto of the RAF. I write this on my arm so that I can carry my late father with me in spirit. The pain I was suffering actually gave me strength, as I reminded myself that during the last year of my Fathers life he struggled for every single breath and he couldn’t just jump onto a boat (like I could) and escape the situation. He never complained, he never grumbled, and he fought until the end!
It was about this time that a white light flashed underneath me. I looked up and shouted to the boat “there’s a shark in the water”, to which they replied “DOLPHINS!!” They circled underneath me at high speed which was both a marvel and terrifying at the same time, and then they dashed off! A truly magical moment!
As the 12 hour mark passed I realised I wasn’t going to hit land, and as the 13 hour mark passed, the sun set and the jellyfish returned. Milo was once again on patrol with his flashlight blowing his whistle and enabling me to dodge them as best I could. During this time the currents were unkind to me, they pushed me back and back and back some more, so I was swimming but simply moving nowhere. I got very despondent, I told my crew I was struggling and by this point it was pitch black. The pilot and crew were flabbergasted by my determination to push on. And then it hit me! I received a full body impact from a lion mane jellyfish! As it wrapped it’s long hair like tentacles around both arms and legs I let out in a enormous scream as the pain was simply agonising! But I was so close to Scotland and I was not giving up now! By the time I fought my way into land, I let out the loudest scream of defiance that you have ever heard!
I swam back to the boat and couldn’t resist I finish photo, but that was my only snapshot of happiness. As the blood pumping around my heart went out the peripheries and circulated the jellyfish toxins around my body, …. pain that I had never experienced before. During the hour and a half journey back to Northern Ireland, I don’t think I once opened my eyes, I just screamed and hollered, gasping for every breath. This pain lasted for a subsequent 6hrs and only after my sixth dip in a steaming hot bath did the pain start to dissipate and reveal all the scars from the jellyfish. I think its safe to say I will never swim the north channel again, and the way I feel right now I never want to swim any channel ever again! LOL!
It’s unofficial but I believe I have become the 7th person ever to complete the Original (British) Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, which consists of the English Channel, the Bristol Channel, and the North Channel. This challenge was first completed in the 1970s and until 4 wks ago had never been done by a woman. I’m proud to stand behind Sian Clements and Elaine Burrows, and I know that there are a handful of women closely behind me, a real inspiration for womens sport !!
Today (AUG-10) I got to meet Jessi the Canadian woman that was in the water at the same time as me. We were both commended for our endurance in difficult conditions towards the end of our swim and it was heartwarming to hear that she stayed in the water knowing that I was also battling my way through.
Sarah Philpott UK 🇬🇧
09.08.2022 – 10.08.2022
‘Original Triple Crown’**