An article by Andrew Suggitt that was published in Canoe Focus magazine.
So, well into whatever summer we are going to get and training should be at its peak. Ferry tickets and accommodation sorted, it's time to think about what not to forget. An event like this, where you will be toting your kit means careful planning and packing.
This month, use every opportunity to pack a kit bag and walk to your swim; get used to packing with exiting the water in mind. Easy access to initial towel and warm kit- thermal base layers are good, but can you manage to get them on when you're slightly damp? Layers take up lots of room. Will you pack dry costume for each swim, or live in just the one? Will you keep your wetsuit on half mast for the walk or change and carry it? Everyone has a different take on it and it's really up to you, but here are a few pointers for varying options and some tips of what not to leave out.
Skins swimmers- if you are going to keep your one cozzie on for the duration (my personal plan) I roll it to my waist to ensure my chest is dry and warm between swims- chaps, you have the ease of skimpy amounts of wet fabric here. BUT, don't forget Vaseline or some such for the groin area. Salt water is abrasive and the walks in damp cozzie can catch you out. You'll need to reapply at least once at lunch time.
Also, getting warm and staying warm between swims is key particularly for those not using a wetsuit. Many skins swimmers relied on dry robes last year and that meant they kept warm right up until they got into the water for the next leg. Some ended up wearing theirs for the walks too. A robie type thing would suffice, or a hoody that you wear until entry into the water will make a big difference. For post swim I opt for lightweight sports towel to rough dry myself and ESKEEZ thermals that are scotch guarded and designed to get wet and deal really well with drying out of the walks. Whatever route you choose to take, practice lightly damp and also when your hands are cold and less effective.
For the wetsuit wearers, chafing is obviously something to avoid. Glide or Vaseline will help. Decide if you're going to take the whole lot off or go half mast. Practice a swim walk swim of at least 1km each leg. You'll have to carry your wetsuit if you're taking it off.
Think about your foot wear. It's not mountain hiking, but sore feet can really put you off your stride..... Damp feet and salt water softened tootsie are delicate, blisters are not fun. Dry your feet well, think comfy shoes, spare socks and some even used talc to keep fresh footed.
There will be snacks and hot drinks available but there are a lot of us all wanting sustenance. Have supplementary food stashes and a water bottle. I brought gel sachets for the longest swim too, tuck it under your goggle strap and give yourself a boost en route. You might consider a flask if you feel you can carry it and know you suffer with the cold so you don't have to wait- but it is an early start so ensure you can fill it with hot stuff where you stay. The various catering stations did a miraculous job, but don't rely totally on them to have your favourite thing. Make sure the event organisers know of any serious food issues you have and take back ups.
Our beloved weather is a force to be reckoned with- sunscreen will need to be waterproof, you may want to bring a hat to the islands and decide whether your fragile skin needs it. Pack a waterproof too- you need not take it on the swims but if there are showers, you might end up feeling sorry for yourself. If it's blissful sunshine all day, the walks may catch you out so don't forget to protect yourself and hydrate well.
If you react to bee stings badly, let the event organisers know this and pack some antihistamine tablets in case of jelly fish. No one was badly hurt last year, but if you know you have problems with stinging things, better safe than sorry.
Most importantly, bring your smiles, enthusiasm and sense of adventure: this is a challenging event for all levels of swimmers. It's a festival of open water swimming with skins and wetsuit wearers enjoying the water side by side. As it should be.
Just a quickie, really. Come September, the Isles of Scilly will be welcoming all us adventurers, ready to tackle this challenge. It's an amazing experience and a real treat to get to see a broad view of what the Scilly Isles has to offer. Truly gin clear water allows for sea grass watching between islands as fresh Atlantic water sweeps through narrow little gullies.
What kit to pack will be a topic of a later post, but one of the main choices for some will be whether or not to don a wetsuit.
If you think it's daft swimming without a wetsuit, wear a wetsuit.
If you think it's daft swimming in the winter without a wetsuit, wear a wetsuit.
If you think it's daft getting in the open water at all in the winter, wear a wetsuit.
If 'should I wear a wetsuit?' is a question you are asking yourself, bring a wetsuit. Expect to wear it.
If you've never swum in the sea without a wetsuit before getting on the ferry in September, wear a wetsuit.
I'm not an advocate of wetsuits, by the way. I swim skins through the year. If you swim through the winter without a wetsuit, you'll probably be fine, if you do your distance training.
That gin like quality of the water that is breath taking in it's own right is also going to be around 14℃. If that sounds cold, WEAR A WETSUIT! If it sounds balmy, you won't be alone. This event is a glorious festival of lone water swim types in all their glory. It's not competitive, we swim with and for each other, gather and stroll across islands together and self regulate setting off in waves.
The choice is ultimately yours whether you start in a wetsuit. If in doubt, bring one with you and decide after the acclimatisation swim. Wetsuit or not, warm kit will be a topic of discussion as will transitions and tips for what not to forget.
The sea in the south is a clement 8.8℃ at the mo, so it's a perfect temp for testing your mettle. Wonderfully, there was massive mutual respect between skins and wetsuit wearers last year- we neither group could figure out how the others managed! Each to there own. And enormous kudos to Nick and Dewi for creating an event for us to enjoy shoulder to shoulder.
Congratulations to all who managed to beat the rush and get their places secured for this year's
Scilly Swim Challenge. You're going to love it. The islands and waters are simply stunning, the team are super friendly and knowledgeable and you're going to meet more of your tribe: explorers, athletes, swimmers all.
I'm honoured to have been asked back for the second year to ambassador this incredible event and I'd like to introduce myself. Last year I became the first person to swim from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. I completed the swim in 17 1/2 hrs without a wetsuit- following English Channel rules. It was an absolute pleasure to return to the islands for the inaugural Scilly Swim Challenge that saw 136 people of all shapes, sizes, speeds and experience tackle this unique event. It was truly awe inspiring and I look forward to meeting many of you in the days surrounding the biggy! The ferry journey back to penzance was a real party boat, with so many new friends catching up on their version of events.
Over the next few months,I'll be writing blogs and posting articles with a variety of hints and tips on anything from what not to forget on the day and fuel does and don'ts to cold water acclimatisation advice. If you have any questions, feel free to post them up and I'll do my best to answer them all.
For now, congratulate yourself on being part of an amazing adventure you'll never forget and enjoy your swimming.