I did it, I swam the Solent! It was an incredible experience, I’m still on a high a few days later.
For those who are not regular readers, I’ve been training to swim from mainland England to the Isle of Wight as my main challenge for the year. The big day came around on Saturday and we were incredibly lucky with the weather. There was bright sunshine, a gentle breeze and flat sea- we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.
Here’s how the day went..
The Aspire swimmers met in Haslar Marina, Gosport at 11.30am, where we were issued with a number and coloured swimming cap. The 12 swimmers had been split into 3 groups, based on our mile swim time. The idea was that the slower swimmers would set off first, followed by the medium then fast swimmers- we would eventually meet up and come into Ryde as group. I’d been allocated to the fast swim group based on a predicted mile time of 32-33 minutes. I hoped I hadn’t overestimated myself! There were only two women in the group… #thisgirlcan
Next, we were given a Tupperware box to hold any mid-swim snacks and other items. I packed a bag of Jelly Babies and a spare pair of goggles. These would be kept on the kayak, incase we needed to access them during the swim. We were also given a dry-bag to hold our clothes to change into after the swim. It was soon time to slip on our wetsuits and listen to the safety briefing. Glen headed off to board the spectators boat. Things were starting to get very real!
The swimmers were then loaded onto RIB boat which would transport us to the starting point at Fort Gilkicker. Having to wear a life jacket on the boat was quite ironic, given what we were about to do! The boat sped out of the marina and into the Solent creating waves- suddenly the water didn’t seem so calm! The Isle of Wight, our final destination was clearly visible across the water although it did seem quite a distance away. There was a nervous atmosphere on the boat as we all questioned what we were about to let ourselves in for. There were jokes about borrowing the outboard motor to give us a helping hand!
The RIB brought us close to the shore as possible, then we were transferred onto another smaller boat which moved us to onto the beach. Here, we were introduced to our kayakers (I think mine was called Pete). My dry-bag was loaded into the hold beneath the kayak and my Tupperware box and drink bottle were placed on top. I asked my kayaker to stay to my right and slightly ahead of me. He would be guiding me and keeping me on course for Ryde beach. I wouldn’t need to worry about sighting- just keep following the kayak. It was quite nice to have my own personal navigator!
Wetsuit zipped up, final adjustments made and a short dip in the sea. Just after 1pm, the slower swimmers slid into the water, shortly followed by the medium group. Finally it was time for my group to begin our swim. I hit start on my Garmin and took my first stroke. I felt as though I set off quite quickly as I was excited to be moving- I tried to slow down and pace myself.
Turning to breathe, I could see the white sails of the yachts on the water. Below, all I could see was a turquoise haze. I sensed the spectator boat on my left with Glen snapping photos, but I was breathing to the right so I couldn’t see him. Occasionally, my kayaker would tell me that we were turning slightly right. I kept the yellow point of the kayak in my sight and tried not to drift too far away. Later I found out that the swimmers ahead had been stopped to let a tanker and container ship pass, but fortunately I had been guided away from that.
I wondered if I had caught up with the other swimmers or whether I was at the back of the pack. It was difficult to tell where I was in relation to others. Occasionally, I’d look at my Garmin under the water. I passed the 1 mile in around 32 minutes- at least my predicated pace was correct!
I didn’t think about too much as I swam. I just focused on turning my arms over and pulling as strongly as I could. The water wasn’t choppy, but there were waves moving me up and down. I felt as though I was swimming diagonally, which I actually was as the path of the swim forms a curve. The weather really was gorgeous- the suns rays shone through the water and bubbles trailed from my arms like glitter.
I’ve visited the Isle of Wight for school trips as a child and again for a wedding in 2011. I’ve always gone on the ferry like a normal person, so it seemed very bizarre to be swimming across the Solent. It’s something I never would have considered when I started swimming lessons four years ago, but I’ve really fallen in love with open water challenges.
After some time, my kayaker told me that I’d reached halfway. He pointed out a buoy but I couldn’t see it! I stopped for a quick glug of my drink, then carried on.
Sometimes I would feel seaweed brush against my hands and feet. Fortunately I didn’t come across any jellyfish, but later my kayaker told me he had spotted them although they didn’t come near me. My hands started to go numb and my goggles felt tight against my face, I was looking forward to taking them off. I felt like I needed to sneeze as the salty water was irritating my nose.
Meanwhile, Glen was having great fun on the RIB. Every time a boat came in the direction of the swimmers, the RIB would speed away to warn them of our presence. He felt like he was in Miami Vice! It was the jetskiiers who were the biggest worry as they were driving erratically. I must admit I was totally oblivious to any traffic in the Solent, I just kept on swimming.
Sometimes I would look up towards the island. There are two church spires and we were aiming between those. I saw 4km pass on my watch and wondered how much further it would be. The swim was starting to feel very long! I swam through some very warm patches of water and almost wondered if someone had just pee’d there.
More seaweed appeared in the water and I swam through big clumps. Suddenly sand appeared below me, I had almost made it! The sandbank comes out a long way from the beach at Ryde, so it’s possible to walk the rest of the way in. I stood up and thanked my kayaker as I waded through the shallow water to the Aspire flag on the beach. I hit stop on my Garmin, making it 4.6km in 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Several swimmers were already on the beach, but more were still out in the water. It turned out I had caught and overtaken some of the slow and medium paced swimmers. I unzipped my wetsuit, ate some Jelly Babies and sat down in the shallow water. I looked back at where I’d just swam from, it felt surreal. I saw hovercraft launching from the port beside the beach, gliding over the sand and into the water.
Before long, it was time to get back on the smaller boat which took us to the RIB. We congratulated each other on our successful swims- everyone had done amazingly well. We held on tight as the boat bounced across the water at top speed, taking only around 10 minutes to get back to the marina. That was the most fun part of the day!
Aspire had organised a celebratory meal back in Gosport Marina. Unfortunately only two swimmers were able to attend, which meant we got double-helpings of the chicken curry.
I must admit I’m now quite tempted by a channel relay. Definitely something to target in the future. Aspire were a great charity to swim for, everything was perfectly organised and ran smoothly. I’m delighted to have raised nearly £1300 for people with spinal cord injuries, everyone had donated so generously. There’s still time to add to my fundraising via my Just Giving page.
Have you even been to the Isle of Wight?