6 September 2019
A team of intrepid swimmers have completed the first ever Cardigan Bay Challenge and in doing so have raised around £3,095 for charity with donations still coming in.
Derbyshire PC Karl Jackson was joined by retired PC Clint Profitt and friend Dan Brook-Sutton to swim a 22.6-mile relay across the bay.
They had hoped to swim from Barmouth to Abersoch in 12 hours but were nevertheless pleased to complete the challenge in 14 hours.
“As we approached the beach at Abersoch, the RNLI crew joined us as all three swimmers swam the last leg together,” says Karl, “A crowd of people still stood on the beach now in the rain as we arrived two hours behind schedule.
“We stood up out of the sea and onto the sand where the crowd cheered and clapped as the RNLI set off a flare. Strangers, friends and family gathered around to thank us and shake our hands.
“It was over, we had done it and what an amazing feeling; it’s hard to put into words but it's a moment in our lives we will never forget. Our aim was to raise money for the RNLI, Derbyshire Air Ambulance and Plastic Oceans charities and all the effort was worth it for that reason.”
While the swim itself was a challenge, the fund-raisers have admitted that it was even quite difficult to plan the relay since they had no experience of putting together such an event.
With the help of friends of family and friends, they managed to get help from an RNLI volunteer who is known to everyone as Andy Boatman. With a knowledge of Cardigan Bay, Andy and his RNLI colleagues were able to offer advice on a start date and time for a favourable tide.
Andy also offered his boat as the support boat for the swimmers to use as a base in between their swims and a tender boat to ride alongside each swimmer on the day. Other support was offered by friends and family to help captain the tender boat and be on Abersoch beach for the finish.
The original date set was 10 August while all the planning was taking place the swimmers were training hard.
Dan lives on the Welsh coast so had the luxury of training in the sea as often as possible but during the colder months he took to an indoor pool. Karl and Clint, who both live in Derbyshire, had to train mainly in a leisure centre pool or open water lakes when the weather was warm enough.
“As August approached, the weather was looking good but the forecast for the 10th began to change. Despite this, we remained optimistic and made our way to Abersoch packed with all our kit ready to get in the water at Barmouth on the 10th for a 4am start,” says Karl.
“But sadly things went wrong due to the weather - 50mph plus winds were forecast for the 10th and the forecast was right. The RNLI made the decision to cancel saying it was not safe and we would not make it across alive in those conditions. This was a real low point for all of us all our plans affected by the only thing we couldn’t control, the weather.
“The next challenge was arranging a new date. This sounds simple but it’s far from it. It’s not only a date the swimmers can get together when they are not at work, but a day the volunteers are available to help again as without their help it wouldn't be possible. The new date also needed to be planned around the tides in order to have a suitable start and finish time.”
Finally, the new date was set – 27 August. Andy could captain the support boat as before but the friends and family who were going to do shifts on the tender boat were not all available. This meant that the swimmers would need to finish their swim leg then leap into the tender for a stint in that riding alongside the new swimmer.
The only family member able to help with this now was Clint’s wife, Sue, who had never taken charge of a tender boat before but would soon be learning fast.
The original relay plan was for each swimmer to swim for an hour and cover two miles in that time. During training, this distance was achieved but, at a meeting the day before the challenge, it was decided to reduce the swim time to 30 minutes each, giving an hour each out of the water before starting the next swim.
An added potential difficulty was that there were so many jellyfish in the bay that it was being described as ‘jellyfish soup’.
“This added to the nerves we already had but we wouldn’t let it stop us,” Karl recalls.
Getting up at 3am on 27 August, after struggling to get any sleep, was the start of the challenge.
Andy’s boat was loaded up with all the swimmers’ kit and nutrition, including Cliff bars and cans of Erdinger from the team’s sponsors. Then with a sense of adventure and feelings of excitement and nervousness, they sailed off into the dark heading for the beach at Barmouth.
The journey out did not offer a good start with the sea having some rolling waves making the boat rock back and forth. Everyone, except Andy, started to feel sea sick which was not the best start. But they carried on, determined to complete the challenge.
Karl describes how it went: “First in the water was Dan. We attached lights to him as it was still dark, we planned to set off at 5am but by the time Dan was tendered to the beach it was 5.25am when Dan bravely entered the dark water and started the Cardigan Bay Challenge.
“First tender was done by Karl keeping close to Dan in the dark trying to keep him heading in the direction of Andy’s boat. After dodging jellyfish in the darkness, Dan completed his first swim and made it safely back to the support boat. While Dan was still in the water, Clint made his way down the ladder at the back of the boat and got in the still dark waters.
“Clint started his first swim in the rolling sea while Karl swapped with Sue for her first ever attempt at working the outboard motor on the tender. As she set off to get alongside Clint, Andy shouted ‘Don't worry you will work it out as you go’.
“Karl, now back on the support boat, got ready for his turn in the sea. Andy had sailed his boat a mile ahead so Clint could swim towards it. While waiting for Clint, the support boat rocked in the sea backwards and forwards making Karl sick minutes before he was due to swim.
“Clint finished his first swim and Karl got in, now in lighter conditions. Clint mentioned the first issue, ‘I can’t see the support boat, you will need to be closer’. Andy simply did this, sailed out about half a mile away and, as the swimmer approached, moved away another half mile. This just made it easier for the swimmer to sight the boat and stay straight.
“Our first target was to reach the cardinal buoy at the end of St Patrick’s Causeway. This was 13 miles from Barmouth and a point we were all desperate to reach. From here, we would turn to head towards Abersoch, which was nine miles away.
“Every swim involved dodging 100s of jellyfish to avoid a nasty sting. Each swimmer had a story about how big they were and how many times we hit them while swimming. The most amazing part of this challenge was the dolphins that joined us as we swam towards the cardinal buoy. Jumping and playing around the swimmers, it was an experience like no other and a moment none of us will forget.
“Early on, we were on schedule for a 12-hour swim but as time went on we started to lose distance on some of the swims. We wanted to cover a mile each 30 minutes which we achieved to start but struggled with later on. The tides were not always kind and most of the time were pushing us off course meaning instead of swimming in a straight line we swam in a curve, fighting the tide all the time, adding distance and time.
“As we approached the cardinal buoy we swam into the tide head on, meaning it took a lot of effort and strong swimming just to go forward. Due to this, we quickly realised we would not make it to Abersoch in 12 hours.
“Reaching the cardinal buoy was a moment of joy, we were over halfway and felt the hardest part must have been done. We even climbed onto the buoy for a unique photo opportunity.
“We then continued the swim. All of us now feeling every painful stroke. All of us continued to swim doing our relay time after time. Sue and Andy were living every swim stroke with us as they both motored along in the boats. Neither one of them complained and both deserve a medal for their efforts.
“While Andy anchored and waited for the swimmer to complete his relay, he even found time to catch a few mackerel which he then cooked on his BBQ to feed us all. The freshest fish I think we will ever eat.
“As we approached the beach at Abersoch the RNLI crew joined us as all three swimmer's swam the last leg together.”
You can still donate to the fund-raising appeal by visiting the team’s Crowdfunder page.