Mermaids Attempting to be the First Female Team to Swim the Bristol Channel

The Henley Mermaids who swam the English Channel in a relay last July have decided to take on another challenge of swimming the Bristol Channel on the same day (22 July) this year.

The five middle-aged women who love to swim in the outdoors are Laura Reineke, Fiona Print, Joan Fennelly, Jo Robb and Susan Barry.  If they complete the Bristol Channel they will be the first all woman relay team to do this.  They plan to swim the longest route from Ilfracombe in Devon to Swansea in Wales (40km).

Last year the Mermaids raised £35K for Henley Music School, which Laura is the founder and Principal of.  This year Joan, originally from Ireland has chosen Sunrise for Brain Conditions which is a not for profit organisation which provides a platform for events and fundraising for four charities in Ireland which supports Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Huntington’s Disease.  The team have also partnered with four sister charities in the UK that support these brain conditions  – The Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation, Cure Parkinson’s, The MND Association and The MS International Federation.

Fiona is organising this year’s swim.  She said, “On the back of doing the Channel which we really enjoyed, we absolutely love to swim and love a challenge so we looked for another one to do.  There are lots of challenges out there including Alcatraz but that’s a long way away and the Irish North Channel is full of jellyfish!  The Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal reach in the world after one in Canada. We’re determined so hopefully we’ll do it. It will be a brilliant thing to do. It will be really nice especially in these gloomy times and something positive to aim for, even if a little bit daunting!”

Talking about the chosen charities, Joan said, “I have friends and family members in Ireland with both MS and Parkinson’s.  The facilities, support services and access to specialist medical consultants etc is a lot further behind in Ireland than it is here in the UK.  I have known some of the founders of Sunrise for Brain Conditions for 20+ years – I love their passion, determination and most of all I trust them implicitly that all funds raised will be going directly to the frontline to support sufferers of these conditions, and their families. Mermaid Fiona, is a nurse who has delivered outreach support services to individuals who have suffered from these conditions, so it is also a cause that’s also close to Fiona’s heart.”

John Kelly who founded said, “I set up the organisation in 2015 after my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease.  There are three aims which we are trying to achieve and that is to raise awareness of these brain conditions, raise funds to help fund care and support for the patients and families, and raise funds to help to find cures.”  The other charities got added after John’s Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and his Mum with Motor Neurone Disease.  The organisation’s main annual event is a climb up Croagh Patrick mountain in the West of Ireland and is supported by many of John’s former Uni friends and current work colleagues.  John added, “On hearing that Joan had chosen Sunrise for Brain Conditions,  I felt delighted, grateful, and somewhat relieved from the anticipation that it all came together. I was amazed at what the five ladies achieved last year thanks to the help of fabulous Henley community.  It’s a great testament of working together. It’s like a lot of dots connecting to create a powerful prospect.  We’re delighted to be working with the Henley Mermaids on what is a first for us too – having a dual country event.”

The Mermaids have been really restricted with their training for this challenge with lockdown. Laura explains, “We are all training by cycling, running, bootcamps, pilates etc, and all swimming in the very cold river.  Sadly we can’t get to the sea, which we will REALLY need to do as soon as we are allowed, and we can’t get the mileage in the pools either.  As soon as the river warms up we will start our long distance swims. It is far more about strength of mind than of fitness, we are all determined women who wouldn’t let each other down.  At least now we sort of know what to expect.  I, for one need to get much more used to swimming in the sea.”

Joan was the Mermaid to reach French soil on the English Channel swim.  Joan added, “I’m excited about the fact that whichever of the Mermaids makes land in Wales for us, that we will all have family and friends on the shores at Swansea.  Perhaps this time around, all five of us can get to swim to shore and share the moment.  I think this could be really special for us all.”

To donate to the charities, please go to