The alarm went off at 05:00 and on a Saturday too! Ouch! Before I could think too much about it I was up, breakfasted and on my way to Penarth Marina to meet the three swimmers who were going to swim from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island.
The preparation had begun a good few months beforehand with a shore meeting with Bryce in the warmth of a coffee shop, where the plan for the day was made. The idea was for me to passage from Cardiff barrage to Lavernock Point with the swimmers, and on arrival at the destination they would disembark, swim to shore and then begin the swim from the Point to Flatholm Island. The distance is not great; a mere 2.5 Nautical Miles in a straight line.
But this is the Bristol Channel, the second highest tidal range in the world, and packs a mighty punch with its huge tidal range and breathtaking currents.
Swimming the channel between the mainland and the island has to be done around neap tides, when the moon and sun are 90º to the earth, and tides are less powerful. That said, it is still a very challenging exercise with meticulous planning and chartwork undertaken to make sure timings are exact. One error and the tide will take charge and the passage is over.
The weather was perfect. Considering the appalling weather the previous two days I was amazed that the swim was going to take place. The wind on the prvious Thursday was reaching F8 with relentless rain. This eased on the Friday but it was still challenging. The prediction was that the wind would ease to a F2 with gentle airs of around 4knots initially from the SSE veering to WSW in the morning before another Low Pressure would canter in during the afternoon and evening.
The prediction proved to be accurate and on Saturday morning the sea was flat and smooth with only a breath of wind.
I met the swimmers at the marina at 0730 and I went through the safety briefing. Crew included one of the swimmers’ sons, Osian, and George, a BBC Cameraman who was there to film the swim for a TV programme about the island of Flatholm. A full boat.
We departed from the marina at 08:15 in order to be ready for a lock out from Cardiff Barrage for the 08:30 lock.
We locked out for 08:30 and proceeded south towards Lavernock Point which is approximately 2Nm from Cardiff Barrage. On arrival the three swimmers disembarked in 3m of water and swam ashore in order to begin their transit.
At 09:15 Bryce, Tom and Nick started their swim, on a heading of 140ºM utilising the last of the ebb to take us as far south and west of Flatholm Island so that the swimmers would be in an ideal position for when the tide turned and began to flood north.
They settled in to a rhythm in a calm and benevolent sea.
Within 30 minutes I set a new heading of 153ºM as the tide was now in slack, if there is ever such a thing in the Bristol Channel.
This heading placed the swimmers a good 0.5Nm South west of Flatholm Island.
At 10:15 the flood was beginning to show with the current now moving a full 90º in direction from the previous hour yet I still kept my heading south to get the swimmers in to the best position for their final approach to Flatholm.
Tom did look up and ask “Are we going to Steepholm today?” as my heading put us straight in line with Flatholm’s sister island Steepholm Islnd which is further south and west.
Bryce also was wondering which island was our destination!!
We had to keep heading in that direction otherwise we would be too far north when the tide turned and they would miss Flatholm lsland completely.
At 10:30 I altered course with a heading of 042ºM running parallel to Flatholm.
The three swimmers were on my starboard side, on the island side, so that I could gently usher them towards the chosen point for landing.
Initially, when we met all those months ago, the landing point was to be the north side of the island, where the jetty is situated.
I did a reconnaissance a month ago and was concerned about the tides around the headlands leading up to this area so we opted for landfall on the west facing beach.
It was rugged and rocky with several reefs protruding out to sea, making landfall very challenging. They pressed ahead and overcame the challenging currents that are prevalent near to the island.
Finally, at approximately 11:00 hrs they made landfall on a rocky inlet which lent itself to a safe egress. A success!
After much back slapping and congratulations they all swam back to the vessel and were disembarked a the north of the island by the jetty.
A superb swim, a truly exceptional achievement.
After the swimmers disembarked on to the island for a birthday weekend I made my way back to Cardiff Barrage for a 12:45 lock in.
The first swim pilotage of 2023 completed successfully.
This was a truly memorable day.