Henley Mermaids’ attempt to be the first female relay team to swim the Bristol Channel is just a week away now (22 July) and even though they swam the English Channel last July they know that sea swimming is a real challenge and they’ve seen two groups of their swimming friends abandon their challenges for health reasons recently. Added to that Mermaid Laura has this week cut her foot badly whilst paddle boarding.
The Thames Marvels, a group of exceptional woman, spent more than 9 hours in force 4 winds and very lumpy conditions in the English Channel before their pilot cancelled the swim on safety grounds. The Henley River Rats were hoping to become the first team to swim the Bristol Channel from Ilfracombe to Swansea, but were forced to head home after one of the team succumbed to severe seasickness and dehydration.
Henley Mermaids, Laura Reineke, Jo Rob, Susan Barry, Joan Fennelly and Fiona Print will attempting the Bristol Channel swimming the same route the River Rats attempted and are raising money for 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.
Mermaid Jo said, “We all dread seasickness. The nausea, the inability to keep any fluids or food down, the sheer life-sapping misery that’s almost impossible to shift. We are packing our Stugeron and Kwells and hoping for calm seas. Both disappointments served as a reminder of how tough these challenges are and how, no matter how good the training and preparation, ultimately whether we succeed or fail is down to elements outside of our control. As one friend said, “if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
With the river warming up, the Mermaids have enjoyed magnificent swims from the tree-lined peaceful 6km stretch between Day’s Lock and Benson and the much busier, boatier stretch between Shiplake and Marsh Lock. Another favourite is from Aston to Hurley. Jo comments, “Swimming long stretches of a river gives a unique perspective on geography: where most people know the river by slipways or pubs, or speeding along with a drink in hand (nothing wrong with that!) we get to enjoy the bits in between, slowly, eye to eye with the ducks. On a drizzly Sunday morning we have only the swans and the kingfishers for company.”
The team have also swum at Dover Harbour in the drizzle, cold and the diesel-slicked water which turned their swimming costumes brown. In Mudeford, they swam in the sunshine had fish and chips on the beach. No matter the conditions, Mermaid Fiona, an NHS nurse who is used to looking on the bright side, will be heard to say brightly, “Isn’t this gorgeous girls?”
The English Channel is the best-known swimming challenge in the world. It has, in recent years, become a major industry and on a fine day in August you can expect to see eight or more boats escorting swimmers through the cold jelly-fish infested waters. The Bristol Channel, by contrast, is an unknown entity. Mermaid Susan said, “Our pilot is familiar with the waters from years working as a leisure boat operator but he has only piloted two swimmers on the 30 mile stretch from Ilfracombe to Swansea – they are the only two people in history who have ever made the swim. If we succeed, we will become the first ever relay team to have managed it.”
Laura adds, “Our support boat – our home for 20 hours or so – is an inflatable rib with no shelter, no kitchen and no toilet. We are brutally editing our kit list to preserve precious space on the boat. Sleeping bags? Check. Dry robes? Check. Biscuits? Chocolate? Tinned peaches for salt-mouth? Check, check, check. Anything to avoid thinking about the lack of toilet and the endless hours trying to avoid seasickness.”
As the big day approaches, the Mermaids are beginning to taper off their training. From three training swims and one long swim a week, they’re now reducing their workload and focusing on sleep and eating to make sure they have plenty in the tank for the big day. Jo concludes, “Laura tells us to visualise. Visualise ourselves after we’ve finished the swim, imagine the feeling of euphoria. I think more about the feeling of safety I have in this group of women. The feeling that when one of us loses heart, the others are there to lend their courage. That we are in it together, quite literally. The weather forecast is looking good. All we can do now is rest up, eat up and pray for calm seas and sunshine. And try not to think about the lack of toilet!”
If you would to donate go to www.henleymermaids.com. There will also be a “Happy Hour Auction” at 6pm on the 22 July, while the Mermaids are battling their way to Wales, to see the amazing prizes visit www.henleymermaids.com/auction
If you’d like to follow their progress on the day of the swim, there will be a tracker for you to follow which will be added to website nearer the time. You can join the Mermaid Bristol Channel WhatsApp group by scanning this QR Code below to also keep up-to-date, or join with this link: https://chat.whatsapp.com/LOTqjjOxo6q3OOILm0ub6k