Mission Accomplished

Nearly 24 hours ago my alarm went off, and i find myself back at the computer typing a brief report. I will write a further report in more detail over the coming days, but tout i would post that at 21.40 on the 27th July 2014, Chris McGrenary and myself pulled ourself out of the loch in front of friends and family after swimming approx 24 miles, the full length of Loch Lomond.

Why am i awake at 3.30 am writing this?

a- my body thermostat is all over the place i can’t find the norm again after this length of time in the water

b- i needed a middle of the night feast!!

I’ll be posting images and a full report soon, but thanks for taking the interest in my journey

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An Encounter with a Merman

Another training swim was completed on Saturday 12th July, 8 miles from Balloch up to Luss. another 8 miles under the belt and i believe both Chris and I are confident that we will complete the longest day of our lives at some stage over the next 6 weeks.
I have to say that i was honoured and demoralised yesterday during our swim as we were accompanied by James Leitch AKA merman, we are targeting the time of 14-16 hours for our 24 mile swim, he holds the World Record in just over 9 hours.

The next text was written the main man Captain and Chef (Dave) Stark who steers us through our swims, it is important to read the following story of the day first before clicking on the link at the end, Mike, Dave’s son accompanied us with his broadcast ready camera and edited some exceptional footage.

Enjoy the story and then enjoy the clip and the music (this can’t be players on Smart phones only Laptop’s and PC’s, so get the sound turned up!!

Over to Dave Stark to talk you through this awesome day on the Loch………

I have just returned from a truly amazing time at the loch today and know I will struggle to find the descriptive words to do it justice.
Last night I was in bed by 8pm with the alarm set for 2.50am.
At 3.30am Mike Stark and I left for Balloch to fetch Jame’s boat from the Marina. We were to meet Warren, Big Chris and Fee.at our normal slip for 5am. We were there at 4.30am – I always like to be early !!
All but Fee made it, unfortunately Fee had a rotten night and decided to sleep on. Hope your feeling better Fee.
The boys didn’t waist any time and were in the water for 5.10am, heading out towards the point off Inchmurrin island.
It was a very overcast morning but warm. Fog was heavy particularly in the distance hiding all the normally visible transit points.
A reading from one of the boats instruments told us the water temperature was 18.4 degrees. Probably our warmest this year.
Our journey in the boat was to be a wet one for Mike and me. There was a slight drizzle descending on and off for most of the way to Luss.
However we decided to keep the boats canopy off for a clearer all round visibility.

The water was flat calm with not a breath of wind. The boys were gliding nicely through the water at a steady pace, matching each other stroke for stroke. At 5.40am – 30 minutes in to our swim, I received a phone call from James (World Record holder) who was in his car and just passing Costa !
We carried on regardless knowing that at some point this machine will ultimately catch us.
The wind picked up with a welcomed Southerly breeze and the water started to move in our direction making the swim easier than the previous week. However it did confuse us by changing infrequently as seen from our A Flag dancing to its every command.
We reached our first stop off the point of Inchmurrin at 6.34am where the lads enjoyed a relaxing 8 minute break and wondered where James would be. Looking through his camera lens, Mike could make out the bare arms of James powering towards us, incredibly,some 600/700 meters away. It was just a matter of time.
I decided to let the swimmers go on and waited for James who it turned out had used his paddles all the way from Balloch giving him a time of roughly 55 minutes ! James refused any nourishment and casting off his paddles carried on.
By the time James drew up to our two swimmers, we were half way across this vast expanse of water which represents the widest part of Loch Lomond.

From the start, Mike had been steadily filming away capturing the day’s swim, which I am sure will bare witness to today’s extraordinary event. Warren and Chis continued at their distance pace whilst James scooted off ahead. He was frequently seen swimming back and forth and at times diving under the water for several long seconds before emerging with that cheeky grin we all know so well.
All swimmers met up again for a brief stop opposite the Golf Course. We couldn’t believe our eyes as James disappeared once more under the dark water. When he eventually surfaced, he produced golf balls from within his trunks and passed them over to Mike for safe keeping. Not one or two but 21 GOLF BALLS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Only James.
At one point Warren stated that on the one hand it was an honour to be in the same water as James but when he passed you at speed with such ease it was indeed a tad demoralising and ultimately caused the lads a bit of distraction.
Just after we set off, Warren stopped to shout at Mike to prepare a Pot Noodle which hopefully would cool down before the next break.

Off they went again. This time Chris was level with James and couldn’t resist the challenge. He and James went head to head. Stroke for stroke they powered alongside each other leaving Warren and the boat in their wake. 200 odd meters later Chris came to a sudden stop and was clearly seen grinning away. He admitted that he fell for the bait but quickly “blew up.” Of course when James looked back he couldn’t help but smile……He loved the challenge and later, after the swim, told us how much he had loved leaving Balloch knowing he had the task to catch up as quickly as he could.
Guiding our way around the green and red channel buoys, we saw the blue pier at Inchtavannach which shall remain for all eternity, synonymous with our Cammie ! lol
The time was 8.25am. We were there for 5 minutes with no toilet break this time.
Finding out that James swam from Balloch to Inchmurrin with his paddles, Warren; in that lovely Geordie accent of his, laughed and declared James a cheat !! 6 miles now under their belt with 2 miles to Luss.

James continued to swim back and forth along the channel doing his own thing. The water movement was still with us helping the boys gently swim their final leg. All was going well until…..
Half way into the channel James disappeared under the water for some time and came up on Chris, frightening the bejeezus out of him. A thankful Warren was grateful he wasn’t the chosen victim for fear of a heart attack or filling his wetsuit !
Never a dull moment with James around.but on a serious note – it is an absolute privilege to witness this half man half fish in the water.
Once out of the channel, I guided our 3 swimmers around a small island that seemed overcrowded with seagulls. I quickly assumed that this must be the island swimmers from Luss refer to as “Bird Shit Island “
Half a mile or so to go and Luss was in our sight. With a few hundred meters to go, Chris and James were at it again – head to head.
And once again Chris crashed out after blowing out of his A___ for a 100 meters. Meanwhile James carried on with a 50 meter fly !!
Time to Luss 9.40am. Another great and worthwhile training swim today.
We left Warren and Chris to drive back from Luss whilst James came back in the boat which only took 80 minutes to reach Balloch Marina.
All of this and home for noon – what a day…..

You can now enjoy the clip so professionally put together by Mike Stark, it’s 8 minutes long but tells the story perfectly on our morning swim

Copy the above link for the video, but please note that it will NOT work on mobile phones or tablets…this is due to the music used in the edit, but it can be viewed on laptops, pc and macs.
When in youtube – go to settings (wee cog) and ensure it is on 720p for max result.

Midge and Pike!!

Another weekend and another long swim, yesterday saw us leaving Luss at 5.20am and setting off on the Balloch route as featured in the next image. It was a stunning morning that gave us another glimpse of the beauty of this part of the world.

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I thought today i would speak about the more negative side of OW swimming as everyone who reads my blogs must think that all i every do is promote my wonderful relationship with the Lady of the Loch. Don’t get me wrong i still believe that the positives totally out weight the negatives but i also prefer to give the other side of the coin with a few of the dangers and annoyances.

Fecking Midges!!! – You arrive at the Loch at 5am on the morning and the second you exhale one breathe as you head to the boot of the car for your wetsuit the midges are attacking you, i even think they have the ability to bite while we are swimming as i only ever get bites on my feet, hands, neck and face. Here’s a picture of my foot from last week, apologies that my pedicure was booked in prior to the photo

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“Surely you must be scared of the fish” – I’m not a specialist on fish, i love to eat them and i have to say in my 4 years of OW swimming i have only ever seen one and i swam into it, it was dead, and yes i needed to empty out the rear of my wetsuit! The only times i have ever heard about these Pikes biting anyone are the fishermen, and i believe i would do the same ALA Saurez if someone had just lanced my cheek with a one way spike. When you see what these Pikes look like they are an ugly creature with huge teeth, the fishermen are always asking us if we want to see the photo of the “one they caught in there last week” i decline graciously – ignorance is bliss

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The Cold – The temperature in the Loch’s varies depending on a few factors, predominantly (and all you geography experts out there please this isn’t a lesson!) depth of the Loch, recent rainfall, winds, currents and the time of the year. We went for a dip on Boxing day and the water temp was in the region of 3-4 degrees, during this weekend the temp was approx 17 degrees which i am hoping will be the temperature for the big swim, anything below 15, for the length of time we will be in the water may be an issue. 

Other water users – For many years us OW swimmers i believe have been quite ignorant about our use in the water and ultimately our own safety. Just because we wear brightly coloured hats doesn’t mean we are instantly visible. Lately we have all been buying these brightly coloured Buoy’s which you pull along behind you and are the size of a beach ball, many Loch users have been complimenting us on these inventions as they state they see us from further away. The only real danger now is the rowers, which i have mentioned previously who haven’t got the foggiest whats behind them.

Please don’t let the above put you off, the slight issues are far outweighed by the stunning scenery, here’s a short video (1 min 36 secs)  taken last weekend of the over riding positive of OW swimming in Loch Lomond

 

The good, the bad and the Algae

We are now in the middle of what we must call summer, Scotland doesn’t often get the sunshine for any more than a nanosecond but we have been baked in glorious sunshine for the past 10 days and this can have a huge positives for us Open Water Swimmers but also many issues.

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As you can see from the image above the wet suit is still on but once i had banked the 4 miles training swim we ditched the suits and i have to say it was the warmest i have ever felt Loch Lomond for a suites swim, it was the equivalent of the swimming pool on holiday, chilly at first but once swimming for enjoyable.

With the sunshine also brings the negatives, we were swimming in Castle Semple Loch earlier in the week, this is the shallow loch that we used at the start of the year which is a very shallow Loch and holds the temperature well. We went for a swim on tuesday night and the Loch’s water quality had changed, it was like soup, i hadn’t witnessed the Blue Green Algae bloom previously but you just knew it was present. Rightly so, the local parks authority issued the warning the following day.

I mentioned last week that there are dangers and we met a few then with Jet skies, speed boats and even Water Planes. Yesterday we met what i consider to be the biggest danger- the rowers. All other water users no matter how fast they are travelling are facing towards you and we make ourselves as noticeable as possible, rowers are oblivious to what is going on behind and in Loch Lomond there isn’t any rowing lanes so we need to mind read.

I’m always courteous to them all and try to engage in a chat, coaches and younger rowers seem pleasant but we met an older couple on Saturday who were far too superior in their rowing boats, when i asked the question what part of the Loch will they be rowing in so we can stay out of their way the answer was firm “Don’t know”

I need to thank my swimming partner this weekend, Robert Heron, without him i would have been on my own and for safety reasons wouldn’t have managed to get a decent swim in. He’s another fish, we headed out to the green and red buoys without the wetsuits on the way back in he breaks into 50M of Butterfly and flies past my plod of a front crawl. Previously i would have been very annoyed that he was able to pass me so easily, now i just have to watch and admire!

So here i am sat at the computer tapping away with 6 weeks to go until the planned big day. How do i feel? I actually feel good, I am aware that we have only done a few larger swims at 4, 5 and 8 miles but we have certainly trained the strength into our shoulders.

Onwards an upwards!

Luss to Balloch Swim -Sunday 15th June 2014

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“Do you fancy giving the Luss to Balloch swim a try on Sunday big man?” were the words that came out of my mouth as i spoke to Big Chris on the phone, he didn’t answer but i could sense the smile rowing across his face.

Last year as i have written in one of my first blogs (Blind leading the Blind) we attempted the Luss to Balloch swim, we were successful but for some reason we went the wrong way and had a slight detour the wrong side of the island of Inchmurrin, it was agreed that Chris and i would meet at Balloch Car Park at 5.40am and leave a car there before taking the other one up to Luss.

We arrived at Luss to a peaceful, calm but damp morning, we were on our own apart from the midgies who came out in their millions to send us off, I am a magnet for midges and at this moment i am covered in bites form this 10 minutes exposed.

Wet suits on, my orange Buoy filled with food and into the water we went, not before the mandatory selfies featured above with Luss pier on the background.

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The swim was broken down into 3 legs, Luss to Loch Lomond Golf Course (3 mile), LLGC over to the point at Inchmurrin (2 mile) and then all the way home (3 mile)

The first leg was like being the first person of the day to enter the swimming pool, the water was so calm, the shelter that is given by the Islands around Luss (please note that the Mapmyrun image above doesn’t show these islands, but if you check on googlemaps you will see a number of smaller islands around this area) is brilliant for swimming, the first 3 miles were so peaceful, not having to worry about balancing against any waves, just relaxing into autopilot to ease through the water. The Big Man and I got into our usual mode of approx 3kph, just under the pace of 2mph and glided through the calm waters taking in the scenery, a truly stunning part of the world.

Once we reached the Golf Course when met with the Loch as we more regularly experience her, the geography of the Loch changes, no more shelter from the islands, the Loch open up as we spot out next target point – the most southerly tip of Inchmurrin. Once the Loch opens up you can always expect choppier waters and the Lady of the Loch obliged. This chop wasn’t as bad as the week before but the angle of these waves was a challenge. I find it easier swimming directly into the waves, however these were side on and when you get side on waves its the equivalent of a decent core session at the gym as you fight to stay balanced in your stroke.

Once we reached the point at Inchurrin, we took the pre planned break 5 miles into the swim. Within the highly visible orange Buoy that i volunteered Big Chris to pull today we fuelled up with energy bars and flat coke. I was noticeably shivering and we probably cut short this view point to get moving again before my chill became any worse. Looking back the coldest part of the swim that day was the preceding leg over to this point, and i also feel as though i learnt that we should have had another gel before we commenced that leg.

Into the final 3 miles to Balloch and we both felt brilliant at this stage, this stretch of water is usually notorious for the chop as you need to fight the waves for the first 1.5 mile to more sheltered waters however not only did we find calm waters we also found much warmer waters. This is difficult to explain and maybe someone scan explain it to me but across the whole swim we must have experience changes of 2-3 degrees, if not more.

Increases in temperatures for a short period of time can often be alarming especially when you are following someone!!!

Half way home and we started to notice more traffic on the Loch and this is the main concern for safety. Luckily enough the big man and me are OK at spotting these potential issues and some of them are a pleasure. What a pleasure it is to say that were were swimming in Loch Lomond when the sea plane took off (then landed 30 minutes later) right next to us giving us a perspective not may people are able to enjoy.

A bit further down the Loch and busier still, we notice a speedboat and a jet ski heading straight for us, this is where we know that the orange buoy that we drag along works well, however these two were having a race in the distance. We stopped and started waving the orange Buoy in the air and they noticed us just in time and came for a chat.

So we made it home to the Car Park at Balloch, cheshire cat grins all over our faces, 7.79 miles and 4.5 hours in the bag, we glided up to the car where there was a couple who Chris knew and they asked “Where did you swim to? Loch Lomond?” we had great pleasure in telling them

The Lady of the Loch – Mood swings

What a morning, after heading to bed in the early hours of the mornings the alarm went off at 5.50, normally this is too early for me especially with only 4 hours kip. However with the sun shining in the windows and my velux it was a pleasure to roll out of bed and head downstairs for my mandatory bowl of porridge and coffee.

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(The image above was from last year but we visited this spot twice today and i wanted to take my iPhone out of the bag and copy the shot, however the waves wouldn’t let me even get my balance to even attempt the selfie)

Big Chris and I had organised to meet at the Car Park at the Maid of the Loch at 6.50 to ensure we were in the water for 7am. What greeted us was one of the mornings we dream of, calm waters, bright blue sky and warm in the air; however what we were about to experience over the next 3 hours was a roller coaster.

We headed into the water and set the ‘Mapmyrun’ on my iPhone (If you are wondering how i swim with my phone – I have one of the water sealed orange buoys which drag behind us when swimming, great for not getting hit by boats!!) and were straight to the first yellow buoy. As stated earlier the water was crystal clear, calm with the sun glistening on every breathe, at this yellow buoy the first mention of Inchmurrin arose and we totally believe “The Lady of the Loch” heard this conversation, as we headed off due North and into the open waters you could feel the air pressure changing and the swell of the water beginning. The land geography in a nutshell is shelter for the first mile then the Loch opens up and at this stage we felt the changes.

Call me a coward, i call it sensible, as soon as we felt the swell and the change in conditions we both made the decision to turn and swim the distance required in more sheltered waters, the lady didn’t think we were ready to bridge the return journey to Inchmurrin (6 miles) so we duly accepted her opinion and turned due west toward Duck Bay. I have taken on the female species for most of my life and usually end up losing the argument. Therefore when the Lady of the Loch informed us that she didn’t want us to proceed we duly obliged.

Once we were back into the more sheltered waters the Loch changed again back into the tranquil place that we all love, however that only lasted for about 30 minutes as what can only be described as a temper tantrum raged through the Loch once again – the swell returned

Now i have to let you know a secret about Big Chris “Shoulders” McGrenary, he is an absolute powerhouse through the water, that is the flat calm swimming pool water but in the chop he struggles and this makes me feel a far better swimmer than i actually am, as he struggles and i feel great! bonus.

2 and a half hours into the swim and about 4.5 miles done we notice another group of swimmers heading back towards us at the well known stopping point “The Witches Hat”. As we hadn’t seen anyone since we left we stopped to have a chat an they were proud to tell us they had been to Cameron House and back and had been in the water for 40 minutes and heading back pretty tired. Its moments like these that have made me embarrassed previously by blurting out our morning achievement, so i decided to keep quiet. However “Shoulders” responded in a way that i may have done a few years ago “we got in at 7am and are approx 4 miles into our swim”

Needless to say both groups headed off in different directions thereafter and later in Costa for cake and coffee, the big man asked if that sounded a bit big headed? “Not at all big man” was my response

So there you have the first long distance LL swim of the year in the bag, 3 hours and 5 minutes with a distance of 4.98 miles. Very pleased with that until you realise only another 19.02 miles to go!!