It’s 4am. “DA-DA-DA-DA-DA!!!!!!!!!” The slow banging sound of the single cylinder 10HP yacht engine starts and reverberates around my brain. I am knackered. We anchored as best we could but it was a rocky sleep with the anchor chain dragging and banging all night. Annoyingly we are 9 miles from the GPS point where I stopped swimming the night before. Although it’s 9 miles it will take us at least 3 hours to get there. 3 hours of DA-DA-DA-DA-DA!!!!!!!!! I can’t sleep! I just have to lie in bed waiting for my 1-hour call from the skipper. I really should have gone with a bigger engine but my budget was already stretched with this 50-year-old classic wooden yacht so we have no choice but to plod along at 3mph.(if we are lucky)
“1 hour!” I hear from skipper and start putting on my freezing cold wetsuit, which got soaked on deck overnight. The support boat has no space at all for drying things. It’s pretty cramped with 4 of us on board so I leave my wetsuit and thermals out on deck at night. This wasn’t too bad in July/August but its getting quite cold in Scotland now.
After the slow painful process of putting on wet kit I get in and start swimming. It’s cold but I’ve worked out a good system. Sprint in the water for a minute to warm up, drinking warm fluids from a thermos, and eat every 90 minutes. I manage a good 4 hours in the water in a 5-6 hour tide and then get out and get into my dry clothes after wiping all the pee off my body with a cold towel. I could have done with a shower on the boat but that’s WAY out of budget. A cold towel works fine . . . ish!!!
The northerly tide then turns to a southerly but our best anchorage is 4 miles north of where I stopped. Although 4 miles, we only manage 2mph into the tide. It’s agony. DA-DA-DA-DA-DA!!!!!!!!! Again for 2 hours. We finally reach the anchorage and if the weather is nice we get to explore the coastline. Exploring during ‘downtime’ was very important for me. I didn’t what this to be an ‘endurance’ only adventure. I wanted to balance it with a flare of exploration as we find beaches and coves only accessible from the sea. It’s been amazing.
We explore a bit and then have to get back in the boat to get the southerly tide back to the start to get it when it changes to a northerly again. I then do another session in the water and make the most of the tide and the light. After my session I’ve passed the anchorage we stopped for lunch and made good progress north with the tide. After my session we take the southerly tide back to the same anchorage, which is fast. Job done for the day. Time to eat and sleep.
The next day is much of the same but we have to make a decision. It would take 4 hours to get to the start point against a southerly tide so that we reach the start point at the beginning of the northerly, or we lose some of the northerly which we’ll use to get us to the start in 2 hours, with the bonus of extra sleep. I’m feeling weak so decided to miss a bit of the northerly tide so only manage 3 hours in the water before the southerly starts again. After the session skipper tells me we are running out of water on the boat so have to cut my session even shorter to make 15 mile round trip to restock water and fresh food. It’s only a 26ft yacht with a 100-litre water tank. (And we carry a spare 25-liter jerrycan) We can only carry enough stock for a week at the most. After our restocking, and now a tide behind, we track back to my GPS point and get back in the water and repeat the process.
This is all well and good when the weather is good. However when the wind picks up, we have to run for cover. I can swim in ‘almost’ all conditions (albeit very slowly) but keeping the boat and crew safe is more important and if the wind is stopping us getting to our anchorage then I have to stop. It’s so frustrating because I really want to get the miles in. It got so bad in Northern Ireland that it once took us 5 hours to get to an anchorage with a good tailwind and two days, yes, two whole days, to get back to the start point. I was going mad up in the fore cabin.
So there it is. I wish it was as simple as get in and swim. I’m very much making it up as I go along as I’ve had no one to ask for help but still making progress.
Just the small issue of the Hebrides now.