I don’t usually do organised swims, but it’s really not possible to swim from the Breakwater to Plymouth Hoe without some serious official planning, thanks to the ships, cross-channel ferries and submarines which regularly pass through. This swim was in aid of the Chestnut Appeal for Prostate Cancer and Children’s Hospice South West. We left by boat from the Mayflower Steps, and motored out in sunshine over dead calm seas. You could practically smell the testosterone from the serious swimmers, who flexed their muscles and discussed their planned split times. I swim on a different planet! We jumped ship close to the Breakwater, above which peeped the Mewstone, some 2.25 miles from the finish point next to Tinside Lido.
I meant to stick with my little pod, but felt quite claustrophobic among the melee of swimmers so I sped off to find some space and lost them almost immediately. In the end I stopped looking and decided I’d better swim properly since there was no longer anyone to chat to, so I concentrated on my stroke and kept going at a nice steady pace. Despite the official notice from the Queen’s Harbour Master, boats sailed through the swimmers a few times, including one large yacht whose crew completely ignored the shouts of the safety team.
The sea was balmy and opaque with mashed seaweed from the recent storm. I got into the zone, aware only of the bubbling sound of my exhalation and flashes of landmarks as I inhaled. The sun warmed the left side of my face. Every so often I pulled my head up to see my spotting points of Smeaton’s Tower and the big wheel. They seemed to stay as tiny dots for ages before suddenly growing as I neared the Hoe.
Approaching the yellow buoy I realised my line was off, and felt the current pushing me to the east. I adjusted my course and swam harder, but was being swept fast away from the finish towards the Plym. I was forced to swim the last 20 minutes in top gear. I noticed the previously yogic, steady bubbling of my exhalations had become walrus-type snorting echoing through the water. I imagined other swimmers panicking and wondering what horrible sea-monster was approaching as the sound hit them. Finally, I felt the bottom grow nearer and my hands brushed the sand. I looked up to see a packed beach, and staggered ashore. We were all wearing facial algae which resembled five o’clock shadows in gingery brown, and my voice had dropped an octave thanks to a sore throat from the salt water; I could easily have secreted myself among the bewhiskered Folk singers on the terrace.