Lewis Pugh is taking on a huge challenge by swimming the length of the Channel – around 350 miles (560km) – from Cornwall to Dover.
The swim, which he hopes to complete within 50 days, is part of the worldwide Action for Oceans campaign, which calls on governments to fully protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
As well as raising awareness about ocean health, Pugh’s swim will seek to highlight the positive impact marine conservation zones have on marine life.
Check back here every day as Lewis sends in his thoughts, photos and updates on exactly how far he has managed to swim.
Pinch and zoom into the map below, and click on each point to see where he finishes every day.
Here’s the latest from his daily blog…
11.3 miles (18.21km) – Total 273 miles (439.53km)
Day 40 – This was a momentous swim
Today felt like it was two days long and had the two most significant milestones.
My alarm went off at 1am and my crew and I climbed out of the warmth of our beds and quietly set off into the darkness.
It was far too early for the chatter that normally goes on – most of us had only had three or four hours sleep.
Mercifully, the wind had finally died down to a level that we could operate in, but tonight’s swim was necessary to make up for the lost kilometres of yesterday.
This middle-of-the-night neaps tide is the one that we usually ignore as there are often only marginal gains to be made from it.
Right now, though, we need all the marginal gains we can get.
We had a Sky News team on board to record the drama of the swim – we haven’t swum through the night since the middle of Lyme Bay weeks ago. The problems that we had then were jellyfish and total lack of visibility. Fortunately, the jellyfish are no longer an issue, but the inkiness of the water and the sky was.
When I dived in at 03.30, the moon was blocked out by the heavy cloud cover, so the horizon and even the end of the boat were invisible.
My crew had collected every torch we have on board to shine on me and in front of me. They needed to be able to see me in the water and I needed to be able to see where I was swimming.
They had attached an LED dynamo light to the back of my goggles strap and – to their amusement – a 15cm long glow stick to the back of my Speedo swimming trunks with a safety pin.
The two-hour swim felt endless, I lost all sense of time, speed and direction. The only thing that gave me any orientation was the small glitter of bioluminescence as my hands cut through the water every few strokes. It was mesmerizing to watch, and I found myself getting lost in it.
Eight kilometres later, I clambered out, exhausted, to learn that we had crossed the Meridian line – we had passed Greenwich and were now in the Eastern hemisphere!
Comforted by the knowledge, we motored back to Brighton to nap until this afternoon’s swim.
After only a few hours rest, Skipper turned on the engine and we were off again.
Twelve hours exactly after today’s first swim, I was in the water again. This was a much easier swim, with little wind and almost no swell. The sun occasionally even broke through the cloud.
Towards the end of the swim, we reached the end of the seven sisters and finally rounded the iconic lighthouse at Beachy Head. The rock now looks very much like the chalky white cliffs of Dover.
This was also a momentous swim – there was now only 100km to go! Breaking this swim down into small, more manageable chunks was paying off and the rest of the swim now feels within my grasp.
Time to bring the message home.
No swimming done – Total 261.79 miles (421.32km)
Day 39 – Drastic action on board
Yet another bad weather day with no swims due to Storm Ernesto.
This has been our third non-swim day in little over a week – August has not been kind to us.
We no longer have a buffer of distance, in fact, we are now nearly 10km behind and have a smaller and smaller chance to catch up.
This has resorted to drastic action on board – I will try to catch a current in the middle of the night, one that we would ordinarily sleep through.
The weather is meant to improve in the next few hours, so the hope is that by the time we head out at 01.30am tomorrow we will safely be able to swim.
Finger’s crossed, hey.
6 miles (9.72km) – Total 261.79 miles (421.32km)
Day 38 – Rough conditions after a colourful show swim
Today was a busy, bumpy day.
Leaving the boat early this morning, I headed into Brighton and got my brain into gear for an interview with BBC Sussex.
I then met my crew and we headed down to the beach for a clean-up run by Speedo and Surfers Against Sewage.
The is the first beach clean-up I’ve done on this swim where the type of pollution on the beach hasn’t been fishing line and more general small plastic shards, but instead was building materials and drugs paraphernalia.
To think that this is a beach used by thousands of people every day is incredibly disturbing and so I have to ask why more isn’t being done.
It was then time to go live with Sky News from the beach with a group of swimmers from SwimTrek. We ran into the sea and swam right under the iconic Brighton Pier in a colourful array of swimwear, hats and goggles – it was a great example of how welcoming the open water swimming community is.
Show swim complete, I had to find a way to get my crew and I from Brighton Pier to our catamaran, which was waiting 500m off-shore in rough conditions.
The Royal Navy to the rescue! A unit’s rib was waiting for us a few meters away and we were invited to hop on for the short ride to our boat.
This afternoon’s swim was a rough one, with the boat crashing up and down in a foul storm. There were many green faces among the crew.
While the waves and wind were going in the right direction, the size of the swell made swimming a real challenge. I completed 9.72km, much less than I’ve been doing in the past couple of weeks, but still enough to keep me a little ahead of schedule.
Conditions are due to worsen overnight, though, and we don’t yet know whether we’ll be able to swim tomorrow.
9.2 miles (14.8km) – Total 255.8 miles (411.6km)
Day 37 – A diplomat comes aboard
For today’s swim, we were joined by Sir Simon McDonald, the head of the UK Diplomatic Service.
I first met Sir Simon earlier this year on his tour of South Africa. We spent an afternoon walking along a beach in Cape Town, where I explained the enormous changes I have seen in our oceans over the past 30 years, especially from plastic pollution.
I am now finding it all over the world, even in the most remote parts of our planet. And it is having a devastating impact on life in our oceans.
On his return to the London, Sir Simon immediately ordered an audit of all the single use plastic in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). When you think that the UK has embassies and high commissions in almost every country of the world, and hosts many functions, you’ll appreciate the extent of the problem.
The results of the audit made it clear that he needed to act quickly to end single use plastics in the FCO, including in every UK embassy around the world and in all their supply chains. This single decision is now having a major impact both within government and with suppliers around the world.
When Sir Simon came on board Aquila this morning, it was the sunniest and calmest weather day we have had in weeks, so we picked up from where we had left off. We grappled with what further action the UK could take on single use plastics, and the other two major issues of climate change and over-fishing.
I urged him to accelerate the protection of the waters around British Overseas Territories, especially those around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which are one of the most important biodiversity hot spots on the planet. Currently less than 2% of this area is fully protected.
When I did finally start today’s swim, I was acutely aware of Sir Simon watching me so I managed to swim nearly 15km. That made up for the distance lost due to yesterday’s bad weather! There were also two milestones crossed with today’s swim – I’ve now swum over 400km and done the equivalent of 12 back-to-back Channel crossings.
On the motor back into Brighton, Sir Simon and I discussed how change doesn’t always start with meeting the heads of government departments.
We each have our own personal networks of friends, family, colleagues and our local community that we can urge to stop using single use plastics and think about how we can reduce our own impact on climate change.
Every single one of us is a multiplier. If you can convince just a few people to stop using single use plastics, for example, they can each convince another few in turn – so the message spreads and real change begins.
We owe it to our blue planet – and to our children.
No swimming done – Total 246.56 miles (396.8km)
Day 36 – Violent winds prevent progress
The Long Swim came seconds away from ending today.
When I woke up early this morning, the wind was whistling and there was a deafeningly loud rain squall.
I climbed up the steps from my cabin and into the galley. Stephen just looked at me and shook his head. He didn’t need to say anything, it was obvious. Aquila was rocking violently, and we hadn’t even left the marina.
We wouldn’t be swimming today.
It was incredibly frustrating to break the flow of daily swims again, especially knowing how much distance we’d been consistently covering over the past few days. We are getting so close now.
I knew an enforced rest day would be good for my shoulder, and it would allow the team to have a day of shore leave to catch up on things like doing laundry.
But I found it hard not to be a little grumpy. I was itching to get back in the ocean and to get the job done.
It did allow time for the chief of staff, David, and I to get to grips with the planning for the rest of the swim. There is an awful lot happening over the next week and a half in terms of guests, events and logistics.
I am giving a speech to the public in Brighton tomorrow night on why I decided to swim from Land’s End to Dover. All of this takes some organising!
As we were sitting at the galley table talking all this through, over David’s shoulder I spotted a yacht coming straight towards us with no sign of stopping. We were berthed right at the entrance to Brighton Marina and were the first boat that any entering vessels would see.
It was the middle of one of the day’s heaviest squalls and was raining so hard that I could only just make out the approaching yacht. From what I could make out, it was clearly in distress and had lost control – it was careering straight towards our starboard side. It was metres away from T-boning our catamaran.
Leaping up, we grabbed the nearest roving fender and threw it over the starboard side, just managing to tie it on in the right place as a clap of thunder ripped across the sky.
We managed it just in time, as the yacht bounced off it and miraculously changed course slightly.
If we hadn’t happened to have been working right there at that moment, our support boat would have been completely destroyed – the whole expedition would have been over in seconds. I dread to think about it.
It was a stark reminder of how many different and unpredictable reasons there could be for us not finishing the expedition, even when we are so close to the end.
All the more reason to get to Dover as quickly as possible – we start swimming again tomorrow morning.
8.34 miles (13.43km) – Total 246.56 miles (396.8km)
Day 35 – Heart-shaped balloon a ‘stark reminder’
The wind was picking up again, making the swell grow.
Almost as soon as I dived in to start swimming, I felt a stabbing pain in the left side of my back.
I shouted up to Nicola, my trainer, to ask what was going on. She said that it was likely that I was compensating for the pain in my shoulder by over-twisting my back in the rougher waters.
This was going to be a long, sore day of swimming.
It made me realise that nothing is certain about this swim; it isn’t over until I touch the white cliffs of Dover.
The longest swim I have ever completed prior to this was 203km (126 miles) down a Norwegian fjord where I benefited from the protection of the mountains on either side, which is far from the case with the English Channel.
I still have an awfully long way to go, and 135km is far from a fait accompli.
When I reached one and a half hours, my back was in substantial pain, so I shouted up to the skipper how far we had gone.
It wasn’t quite far enough, I was going to have to swim another 30 minutes to reach the target distance for today. I gritted my teeth.
The wind started to pick up even more, every time I took a breath I could see our FXTM banners flapping along the side of the boat.
We were approaching one of the south coast’s largest windfarms, and when I breathed to the left, I could see the turbines whipping around with Brighton a small spec in the background. I started to count the windmills to try and distract myself from the pain.
That last half an hour felt like three full hours, I managed 26 minutes before calling it quits for the day. I covered 13.43km (8.34 miles).
I thought I’d been imagining the pleasant smells wafting over from the boat, but as I got out, Denise presented me with a plate of homemade flapjacks and a buttery, cheesy jacket potato.
The stress of today’s swim began to melt away, even if my back was still sore.
As I was finishing up and starting to stretch out, a red object bobbing away to the port side caught my eye. It looked like a helium balloon.
Our first mate, Rowan, turned the boat around and we started chasing it through the waves.
After a few minutes, it was close enough for me to dive in and grab it out of the water. I was right – it was heart shaped, helium balloon.
It was a stark reminder that what goes up, must come down. Just because it doesn’t come back down in your garden where you can recycle it responsibly, doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. It becomes someone else’s issue.
Or something else’s – a seabird, a fish or a dolphin. It becomes their issue, because as that heart-shaped balloon begins to break down into smaller pieces of plastic, it starts to look very appetising to sea creatures who can’t tell the difference.
It blocks their stomachs and the string attached to the balloon strangles or chokes them – horrible ways for any animal to die.
If a smaller fish eats the smaller pieces of balloon, that plastic will just go up the food chain until it lands, hidden, on your plate. Then you eat it too, because it doesn’t fully biodegrade.
The long-term impact of microplastics in humans isn’t yet known, but I very much doubt it would be a good thing for us. What we do know is the impact that it’s having on our oceans.
Single-use plastics must end.
Every plastic straw, every plastic water bottle, every plastic bag, every piece of plastic cutlery and crockery, every piece of plastic packaging – and every plastic balloon.
There are better ways to show your love for somebody than this.
9.37 miles (15.08 km) – Total 238.2 miles (383.37 km)
Day 34 – My entry into ‘urban’ waters
This morning was another early start, with a long motor from Portsmouth to our start point.
The current and conditions are still in our favour and I was able to make quick progress on the swim.
The tides are beginning to tail off now, though, as we move towards neaps and are rapidly losing the boost we had from the Isle of Wight. We are ahead by around 4 miles (7km) compared to where we predicted that I would be on day 34, so we have a buffer at least.
Knowing the UK, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose another day to bad weather in these last two weeks too.
When I got out, just over two hours later, I wiped my face in one of the waiting towels. To my disgust, I saw that I’d left a brown smudge on the white, fluffy side. My speedo swimming trunks had also gone from a deep blue to a muddy colour.
There has been a slow change in the water over the past few days, so slow that I had barely noticed it until it had dirtied my face.
The water has gone from a transparent blue with visibility of ten meters off the coast of Cornwall, to a murky, chalky green colour with limited visibility in Sussex.
There is little life to see near the surface.
I haven’t seen a single dolphin or fish for days. There aren’t even any jellyfish.
As the English Channel gets narrower, the coast is also becoming increasingly urban and there is much more shipping traffic to contend with.
This is the busiest shipping lane in the world by tonnage – our biggest threat now is not from jellyfish, but from being run over.
12 miles (19.26km) – Total 228.8 miles (368.29km)
Day 33 – Picking up the pace as conditions settle down
This morning we left Gosport early – the sun was barely over the horizon.
With the strong currents recently, I had already swum past Gosport so it would take a while to get to the start point. We also had to factor in time to stop for a rather exciting interview. Late last night, I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
At 7am, the search began for a strong spot for phone signal so that I could do the interview on a clear line. Something easier said than done out to sea.
We spent the next 15 minutes frantically motoring around in circles until we finally found a spot that seemed reliable.
Concerned we’d lose signal just by drifting, the skipper decided to drop the anchor to fix us to the location. The interview was a success, even if there was only time for a five minute slot – there was so much more that I had to say about our campaign.
Time to get in the water instead, though. Conditions had finally settled down, with little wind or swell, but with a strong current.
I swam 12 miles (19.26km) in two and a half hours, still riding high on the tide. If I could keep this pace up, I’d be in Dover in no time.
This afternoon was time for events. I was introduced to the Solent Oyster Rewilding project run by the Blue Marine Foundation, and gave an interview to Sky News.
I then gave a speech to the Royal Navy about the work that I’m doing and how the armed forces can play a vital role in marine protection.
Tomorrow, it’s on to Brighton!
11.3 miles (18.15km) – Total 216 miles (349km)
Day 32 – some of the worst conditions in my 30 years of swimming
There really was no water left on board by yesterday evening.
It was our fifth day without access to a marina to refill our water tanks and by yesterday evening we had completely exhausted our supplies – even the emergency rations.
The only water we could find was a few two litre bottles stashed secretly away by a visitor a few days before, who had not wanted us to know he had brought single-use plastic onto the expedition.
We will be sure to recycle the bottles, but in this case, they provided much needed drinking and cooking water to get the crew and me through the long night of stormy weather.
The swim itself was a success. While I did not quite make my 15km target, I did manage 11.67km (7.25 miles) in rough, windy conditions as I rounded St Catherine’s Point in the dark.
Yesterday was the longest I have been in the water on any day and the furthest distance I have covered.
As I was pushed onto the stern of Aquila, with the help of a well-timed wave, my exhaustion was tinged with excitement at this knowledge.
By the time we moored in Gosport, it was 1am – my team and I crashed, not wanting to think about an early start.
Three and a half hours later, though, our alarms started buzzing and it was time to set sail again, water tanks refilled.
Conditions were foul yet again when I dived in early this morning, with the sea turbulent from days of stormy weather.
The current was still fantastically fast, and I had to exert a huge amount of extra energy to keep my body in the right position for swimming front crawl.
The swell mercilessly twisted my torso and limbs, like I was a towel being wrung out.
My mind was made up, though. I was going to cover the distance that I needed to today, even if I that meant spending two hours battling in some of the worst conditions I’ve experienced in my 30 years of swimming.
In the end, I completed 18km (11.18 miles).
Last week we made the decision to go around the south of the Isle of Wight. It was a gamble with the tides, but we won – I swam just shy of 50km (31 miles) in 36 hours and completed that section of the swim.
Time for a well-deserved rest, with no more swimming until tomorrow morning.
12 miles (19.2 km) – Total 198 miles (319km)
Day 31 – recouping my losses in a log flume current
Today was a day of recouping our losses.
After the atrocious weather yesterday, the skies and seas had finally settled down. There was a calm wind and very little swell.
On diving in, it quickly became clear that I was swimming in the fastest current we have experienced so far. The combination of one of the strongest days of the spring tide and the pull around the south side of the Isle of Wight meant that the swim felt more like going down a log flume – I barely needed to move to be pulled half a kilometre in the right direction.
After two hours and 34 minutes, I had managed a 19.26km swim. I hauled myself up the ladder and onto Aquila, blinking in disbelief at the speed and distance of the swim. This was going to make up for all the kilometres that I’d missed yesterday.
Before I had time to dry off, it was time for a live Sky interview on Freshwater Bay beach. As a swimmer, I could hardly motor all the way over to the beach in our little tender, so I dived off Aquila, which was anchored in the middle of the bay, and swam to the beach – launching myself straight into live TV.
As I walked through the breaking surf on the sand, I was told by the Sky News presenter that this was my Daniel Craig moment. I don’t remember James Bond being covered in jellyfish stings, having an uneven back tan and dodgy shoulders, but I’ll graciously take the compliment! I like my martinis straight up with a twist, if anyone is wondering.
After the interview, I got straight back in the water and swam back to Aquila to have a bit of a rest before the evening’s swim.
En route, I spotted our 1st mate, Rowan, in the tender waving at me. Confused, I started to swim over as he was only 100m or so from Aquila. He had been taking another crew member ashore, and on the return the tender had run out of fuel and he was stranded. I swam back to report to Skipper.
Ever the hero, Kelvin grabbed a jerry can and dived straight in on hearing the problem, saving the day. The man is more fish than human – I have never seen anyone move so naturally through the water, he puts me to shame!
The plan this evening was to add another 15km. In a late evening dip, we put another 11.67km on, taking the total to 30.93km today.
Now we anchor in Gosport for the night, where I spent some of my childhood.
0 miles – Total 186.38miles (299.95km)
Day 30 – A total write-off due to unswimmable waters
After a restless night hearing the wind whip over my portholes, I got out of bed at 5am to see if Skipper thought it would be safe to swim this morning given the weather conditions.
Bleary eyed, he was already poring over the charts and forecast on the navigation table.
“It’s a close call, boss,” he said.
Not exactly the good news I was going for, especially with my shoulder.
Ultimately though, we’re here to swim and so if there is any chance that we can get out then we should take it, especially in spring tides.
We settled on heading out to see what the swell was really like and make a decision based on our own observations of conditions.
A nervous hour of motoring began.
It became increasingly clear, though, that it was unswimmable. If the swells had been monstrous last night, they were worse now. We couldn’t safely do this – it was time to be sensible.
Tails between our legs, we motored back to Swanage as the sun began to peak over the horizon. Maybe the weather would settle by the evening.
The crew spent the day catching up on sleep and Netflix, and exploring the cafés and shops of our home for the day, avoiding the violent bursts of rain. I even had time to get a haircut.
Skipper and I reconvened mid-afternoon. Things weren’t any better than this morning, we couldn’t swim. The day was a total write-off.
It was infuriating. I should have swum 15km today and I had done precisely zero. Conditions look questionable over the next few days too.
The whole point of the swim is to advocate for better protected oceans. To get this across, in the best way I know how, I need to be in the water, swimming.
For now though, at least it’s a chance to rest my shoulder.
Time for an injury update.
This morning, my trainer Nicola and I paid a visit to the medical team at AFC Bournemouth.
The team were fantastic, seeing me immediately and giving my shoulders an ultrasound. The left was clearly much more inflamed than the right, with strong evidence of tendonitis along my bicep leading up to my shoulder.
The physiotherapist then gave me a sports massage to try and ease the pain. In the short term, it definitely hurt more – it was the hardest massage I’ve ever been given!
After two hours with the team, I came away with a treatment and medication plan to help get me through the last three weeks of the swim.
We are hoping to be able to link up with physiotherapists every four or five days along the coast as we get further east.
I am so grateful to AFC Bournemouth for patching me back together, I’m determined to get to Dover.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank all of my well-wishers for their support on social media – I read every message you send me and they really do keep me going.
When we finally did make it back to the boat, it was time for some serious decision-making. We have been debating for a week whether to go through the Solent or around the south side of the Isle of Wight, which we are fast approaching.
We have been advised against swimming through the Solent in stronger and stronger terms, which was the original plan, because of the sheer heavy traffic through the waters.
Up until now, we had still been planning to swim along that route though, so that we could more easily access Bournemouth and Portsmouth.
However, with my injury now needing regular treatment combined with the safety warnings, it was time to make a sensible judgement call – south of the Isle of Wight it was.
One of the unforeseen benefits of this, Skipper soon worked out, was that my route would be 30km shorter and there would potentially be stronger currents than through the Solent.
The Long Swim is now 530km, not 560km.
Tonight, the sea wasn’t happy with me for it. A storm is building and it is going to hit tomorrow, when we are about to start going to two swims a day for the spring tides.
I managed my 10km, despite my shoulder, but had to battle against a swell so mountainous that it tore our drogue in half (we will be having a memorial service in the morning). My crew are exhausted and many have been seasick.
The question for tomorrow, is if this big storm will hit our morning swim, or the evening one.
6.2 miles (10km) – Total 180 miles (289.65km)
Day 28 – In pain but the sea takes pity
This morning I woke in one of the most iconic parts of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast – Lulworth Cove.
We were bobbing right in the middle of the cove, where we had anchored after sunset the night before.
I wandered up on to the bow and started to stretch out my neck, back and shoulders.
My shoulder, particularly, has been stiff for days. But, this morning, my left was far beyond stiff – it was now acutely painful.
I asked my trainer, Nicola, to have a look. Tendonitis, she thinks.
I needed to see a physiotherapist as soon as possible. I wouldn’t be able to keep up my distances every day when I’m in so much pain.
By a stroke of luck, the head doctor at Premier League football club AFC Bournemouth has offered to see me tomorrow morning with one of his physiotherapists. I just had to get through today’s swim.
By midday, the cloud had burned off and we headed out of the protection of the cove and into the open ocean.
The wind and swell looked like they were ready to spit me out. There was a force five wind and moderate to rough seas.
But, unlike recent days, they were behind me, pushing me in the right direction. For once, the sea was taking pity on me.
If it felt like I was swimming uphill a few days ago, today felt like I was swimming downhill.
Even with the stabbing pain in my shoulder, I managed to swim the fastest 10km I have ever swum, in 1 hour 25 minutes.
For every stroke I took, I was pushed 30m, 40m, 50m east. Just by treading water, I was moving 10 extra metres towards Dover.
This is the first time I’ve experienced such a strong current on the Long Swim, and it couldn’t be better timed.
Despite the successful swim, I am physically exhausted.
Yesterday, we were celebrating reaching the halfway point. Yet, today, I’m in so much pain that I don’t know where we stand.
Tomorrow, I’ll find out what’s wrong with my shoulder and if there’s anything that can be done.
8 miles (12.96km) – Total 174 miles (279.65km)
Day 27 – Interviews and helpful tides
Today was a busy day!
We were joined by a Sky News team at 7.30am to record several rounds of interviews and to film for live TV. It was great to have a platform to speak about exactly why I’m swimming from Land’s End to Dover, as well as to talk about the highlights and the tougher parts of endurance open water swimming.
Sky also timed it very well, as we were still on a high from celebrating reaching the halfway mark. This was followed by interviews with Euro News and NBC via a video call.
After a morning of courting the media, it was finally time to say goodbye to Portland – our home for the past five days – and head out to sea for the day’s swim.
Yet again, we benefited from better conditions than we had ever dared to hope for on neap tides.
With a current of two and a half knots behind me, I covered my 10km in around an hour and a half. Conditions were so good that I kept swimming for another half an hour.
Having several days of unexpectedly good tides has meant that I am now 10km ahead of where I was meant to be by day 27.
This knowledge is a weight off my shoulders, as it means that if we have a day of bad weather – as is expected on the weekend – or if I am struggling with an injury, we have the flexibility to not swim for a day without getting behind.
We were joined by two more guests this afternoon; firstly, Ella Foote from Outdoors Swimming Magazine, who was sporting a fantastic swimming costume made from recycled ocean plastic and fishing nets.
It was heartening to see yet another example of the re-purposing of ocean pollution.
My other guest for the day was an old friend, Sal Loxley, who flew over from Haiti to support me. He too swam with me in a Channel crossing relay exactly 20 years ago today.
On the 20th anniversary, it was very special to be back in the water with him.
The crew decided to throw a proper celebration to mark the halfway point today too. They surprised me mid-swim with a banner and music for the occasion, with our 1st mate, Rowan, launching himself off the stern.
What an awesome team I have supporting me.
7.8 miles (12.5km) – Total 169.7 miles (266.7km)
Day 26 – The halfway mark
Today was the milestone of milestones – we passed the half way mark.
I now have one kilometre less to swim than I have already swum. Tomorrow will be 10 or 11km less.
From now on, it’s a countdown to the finish line.
I know that I can swim the same distance that I’ve already swum, so I know that I can get to the end.
Yes, I’m tired and my muscles are sore and aching, but knowing my goal is now within reach does a huge amount to spur me on. Mostly though, it’s sheer stubbornness.
Today was also the epitome of a perfect swim.
There was beautiful weather – a flat sea with no wind and one of the strongest currents I’ve ever come across on a neap tide.
This was because I am swimming around an area called The Shambles; a shallow section of the seabed that forces water around it at an accelerated speed.
Luckily, it’s going in the right direction for the swim, so I can piggyback off this natural phenomenon and cover distances that would ordinarily only be possible if I were an Olympic swimmer on a spring tide.
As the expedition yacht, Aquila, was being serviced this afternoon, we had arranged to hire a sport fisher – a smaller and faster boat – to zoom us out to the start point in less than quarter of the time it usually would.
We were joined by my friend, Cheong-Ann Png, who is a senior lawyer for the Asian Development Bank.
We swam across the Channel in a relay 20 years ago tomorrow and I hadn’t seen him since. It was wonderful to be supported by friends so generous with their time.
We also had surprise guests with us, Major General Tim Toyne Sewell and his wife, Jenny.
Tim was my expedition leader on many previous swims and they decided to pop on board for some moral support.
He swam behind me for part of the swim certainly kept me in line.
It was an absolute pleasure to host them and it was even more of a joy to watch Tim, 78, swallow dive off the very top of the boat.
As he dived off, he shouted: “There is still some life left in the old bugger!”
Today was an ode to those of us still young at heart.
7 miles (11.26km)
Today is the day that I am to finally reach the end of Lyme Bay and round Portland Bill.
I have been staring at this little dot of land for nearly a week and am relieved to be at the end of it. From now on, land will always be in sight.
On the motor out to the start point, we were surrounded by calm-looking seas.
After I dived in, though, it quickly became clear that what looked like an easy day from the side of the boat wasn’t the same as the reality in the water.
While there was a strong knot and a half of current pushing me forwards, the problem lay more in the force-4 wind blowing in the opposite direction.
This easterly wind was making the sea choppy, meaning I got saltwater in my mouth every time I took a breath.
To compensate, I had to lift myself further out of the water each time which pulled on my lower back, where I had surgery three years ago.
It was like swimming up hill.
After an hour of hard graft, I fully rounded Portland Bill and entered the stretch of water called The Shambles. Let’s hope there’s nothing in that name!
After exactly two hours of swimming, I climbed up the ladder and onto Aquila, having covered 11.26km.
Almost immediately I started to vomit down the side of the boat – I had swallowed so much sea water as a consequence of the cross wind.
On the motor back to port, the crew and I were taking it easy, half dosing in the Sunday afternoon sun. But a couple of miles off-shore, one of the propellers suddenly cut out.
An ever-heroic Kelvin (our photographer) dived in with a knife to see what the problem was.
A discarded fishing net had got caught around it, causing the propeller to stop turning.
We are seeing increasing amounts of plastic and fishing nets in the Channel the further along we go.
This doesn’t surprise me, as the coastline is becoming more densely populated as we get closer to Dover.
What is keeping me going after such a tough day is the knowledge that we are very nearly at the half way mark. This is reassuring – breaking this swim up into little chunks is getting me ever closer to those white cliffs.
8.2 miles (13.2km)
The wind was up again this morning, and Aquila had been rocking a little more strongly than I’d have liked all night long.
Motoring out of Portland Marina, I was anxious that we’d be in for a rough day.
For once, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The sun burnt off the early morning cloud and the minute we turned the corner around Portland Bill and headed towards our start position in Lyme Bay, the swell dropped entirely to reveal a flat ocean.
There was a knot of current in the right direction and the skipper put me in just as it started to build. The water was a gorgeous 19C (66F) and there was not a jellyfish in sight. I flew.
Lost in my own thoughts, the first two hours went by without me barely noticing it.
I was engrossed by a question of politics.
The former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, resigned from his post the day before I started this swim.
When he did, he failed to follow through on a promise he made to the British public – a promise to protect the waters of our overseas territories, starting with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
The waters around these islands are one of the world’s most important biodiversity hot spots and are home to iconic species like king penguins, humpback whales and elephant seals.
They desperately need our protection.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt can in one move create a marine protected area around these islands to future-proof these areas against the destruction we are seeing in many other parts of the Southern Ocean.
The importance cannot be underestimated – the proposed area around the South Sandwich Islands is more than double the size of the UK.
In almost all areas around the world there has been a dramatic decrease in penguin populations.
The largest king penguin population the in world, which was on the French islands of Ile aux Cochons, for example, has shrunk by nearly 90% in the past 30 years – from 500,000 to 60,000 pairs since the 1980s.
I have been fortunate to swim amongst king penguins, and I can tell you that there is nothing more humbling.
To see how these birds, who awkwardly hop over land and are unable to fly, are transformed when they enter the water into agile divers totally at home in their environment. They fly underwater.
We have the responsibility to protect species like this, both in overseas territories and for other species in domestic seas, but we have become complacent and arrogant.
We are not good stewards, but that could change – today.
7.2 miles (11.66km)
After the drama of last night, my team and I are exhausted and there was little conversation this morning.
Glazed-over stares were the main form of communication this morning, all of us silently pleading that there would be no jellyfish for my swim later this morning.
I spent the hour before my swim tensely looking overboard and into the blue. It was another day of perfect conditions, even hotter than yesterday and without a breath of wind.
Ten minutes before I was due to jump in, a white spec in the horizon started zooming towards us. In the middle of Lyme Bay, we were joined by three top open water swimmers from Taunton School.
Chris Coleman, their deputy head, was my very first guest swimmer weeks ago, and he had organised for his pupils to join us for this swim.
Thankfully, the jellyfish had sunk down to depths far below us and there was only the sporadic baby compass to be found. Safe swimming conditions.
I hit the water and felt exhausted and aching from the night before.
After 20 minutes, the first two girls started swimming behind me, along with one of their fathers. I was impressed by their strength and endurance.
The second group jumped in during my second hour and were right on my toes. Several of them were clearly stronger swimmers than I am.
It was a successful swim, I covered 11.66km in 2hr32m.
Chris later told me that the girls had recently completed a Channel relay swim against the Royal Marines. The teenagers won by six minutes. I couldn’t be prouder to have swum with them.
7 miles (11.26km)
Today we set sail from Dartmouth, which has been our home port for the past week, headed for the middle of Lyme Bay.
We plan to spend the next 36 hours at sea, doing an afternoon and a night swim today, drifting out to sea overnight, and then one more swim tomorrow afternoon.
We will be 50km out to sea, which will be too far for us to motor back to a port for the night.
On the journey out, we were once again joined by a small pod of dolphins who swam close alongside us, splashing and clicking. Their grace and agility spurred me on, welcoming us to Dorset as we crossed over the county line from Devon.
Conditions were perfect – after days of rough seas, rain and high winds, today the ocean was finally calm and inviting. There was no swell, no wind, no cloud. Just 180⁰ of beautifully flat water, joined at the horizon by 180⁰ of clear blue sky.
My midday swim was the fastest swim I’ve done yet, even quicker than yesterday. I covered 10km in under two hours helped by the strength of the current behind me.
Whilst we no longer have the full force of the spring tides with us, we aren’t quite into the stagnation of neaps yet, so the added boost of a knot and a half of current propelling me forward was both literally and emotionally uplifting.
After two hours and one minute, I got out to a welcome lunch of jacket potatoes covered in sea salt, melted butter, cheese and mayonnaise. Sometimes only comfort food will do to celebrate a success – the athlete’s diet be damned.
The plan was to spend the next 10 hours drifting with the engines off, so that we could pick up the same current at midnight and eek out the last of the added lift from the current.
We set up three hour shifts to keep an eye on our position and any other (non-existent) ocean traffic. There was no phone signal or internet and no electricity – just eight people bobbing about in the middle of the English Channel with nothing to do and time to while away.
For the first time, the eccentricities brought on by cabin fever became apparent. There were mass exercise classes led by my trainer, Nicola, along with shoulder massages for whoever was at the helm. There were trips up the mast.
There was the first Nail Clipping Distance Championships – I will not say who took part, or who won. There were many, many games of Uno with increasingly outrageous forfeits. Members of the crew found themselves having to do laps of the boat in increasingly bizarre swimwear.
As the sun finally bled away into the horizon, tiredness began to pull at us all – we had been up since before 6am and had many hours still to go. Even Uno began to get a little repetitive.
After ten hours of patience, it was finally time for the midnight swim. The current was even stronger than it had been this morning – I had a real chance to get ahead of schedule here and put an extra 10km behind me.
As before, I put glow sticks around my wrists and under my swimming cap so that the crew could find me in the dark.
They pulled out powerful torches to light my way, and switched them onto the water just as I was about to dive in.
To our collective horror, what the light revealed was the densest bloom of jellyfish I have ever seen in my 30 years of swimming.
It was endless in every direction. Not just the relatively harmless moon jellyfish we saw near Land’s End, but species we had never seen before, but which hardly looked like pacifists.
They were monstrous – thousands had bulbous heads larger than mine and were more than 2m long with their frothy tentacles trailing horizontally in the current.
There was no way to find a clear path through, it was unswimmable without a wetsuit for protection. To swim by Channel Swimming Association rules, I could only wear my Speedo swimming trunks, a cap and goggles. There would be nothing to guard against their stings.
I was agonizingly torn. I had brought my crew 50km out to sea, they were sleep deprived and were on harsh water rations. After the sun had set, it got cold and they were groggily wrapped up in jumpers and woolly hats – and now I couldn’t swim.
I simply couldn’t do it to them. I decided we would wait another quarter of an hour to see if the bloom ended so that I could swim. The tension grew as the minutes ticked by. No fewer jellyfish.
Skipper and I had a hushed conversation on what I should do. Five stings, we decided. Any more than that and he would pull me out. Nicola would be at the ready with a bottle of vinegar on my exit.
Looking into the blackness of the sky above, I whispered a few words in the hope that someone might be listening, and dived in.
Immediately, I was hit. Again and again, they covered my body. This was lunacy. It was like taking a shortcut across a minefield. The progress I’d make in terms of distance from the strong current tonight would be lost tenfold tomorrow if my body was covered in stings.
I lasted eight minutes before crawling up the ladder and falling onto the stern. I didn’t even count the stings. I berated myself, even though I knew deep down there was nothing I could have done to predict this.
Still livid, I crawled into bed, weary from the physical and mental strain.
My crew took it in turns to keep watch over Aquila all night long, none of them sleeping more than two hours undisturbed.
This is the ugly reality of climate change on our English Channel, thousands and thousands of jellyfish streaming through our waters unchallenged by other species. My crew and I bore witness to it, my body bearing its marks.
And it outraged us.
6.83 miles (11km)
This morning was sunny again, finally, and the wind had dropped right down. I’m now back onto one swim a day as the spring tides are over and neap tides are back again.
It was a strong swim – I reached my goal of 11km in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Covering this distance in previous swims took me well over three hours. Moving back to one swim a day is certainly having a positive impact as it gives me so much more time to recover.
Today was also a major milestone as I have now crossed the 200km mark, and only have 360km to go. Mentally, this is a substantial boost and is propelling me forward.
My watch clicked over midnight and into the morning.
It was the first night swim I’ve done, and my crew were worried about losing sight of me.
The solution, they decided, was to tie neon glow-in-the-dark sticks around my wrists. They might not be able to see me clearly, but they could certainly see luminescent pink, orange and yellow.
Any other suggestions for making me appear more visible at night are welcome (without switching on any lights as they distract the skipper!).
We had our sponsors, FXTM, on board for the night so they could see what life is like behind the scenes.
However, whilst the wind had dropped compared to the past few days, there were still two-metre waves, which led to more than one casualty from seasickness.
Finally getting back to Dartmouth harbour in the middle of the night, I flopped into bed for a dreamless sleep that only comes with physical exhaustion.
I’m starting to lose weight rapidly now and can never seem to get enough sleep.
Tonight’s swim squeezed out energy from every last calorie I had, though I’ll be in the water again in six hours’ time.
The ocean wasn’t kind this morning.
The temperature dropped down to a chilly 14C (57F), with waves so high that the wind was whipping the water off their crests. I am thankful that I did my training in the Falkland Islands and around the Cape of Good Hope.
Almost every day, I enjoy being able to dive off the stern and into an inviting sea. So far, it has felt like a pleasant Friday afternoon swim in midsummer. This swim, however, was a 9am Monday morning slog in the rain and cold.
The size of the swell meant that our boat, Aquila, was lurching up and smashing down after every wave – even with our new and substantially improved drogue, made up of a cubic tonne dumpy sack.
I swam in constant fear that Aquila would accidentally smash down on top of me after a particularly large wave.
I also struggled to get my breathing right, for the first time. You only have a nanosecond to decide when to breathe when you are swimming in rough seas – when you get it wrong, you swallow a mouthful of seawater and start to choke.
Making the mistake once or twice is tolerable, but not 16 or 17 times.
The Long Swim has been a game of long snakes and short ladders; when I miss my target distance for a day, it is a big loss and it puts me far behind, taking me days to catch up.
When we do manage to get ahead, it is progress by marginal gains.
After the double disappointment of not being able to swim yesterday and therefore missing out on the fast spring tides, I was 7km (4.3 miles) behind schedule and still needed to cover today’s 10km (6.2 miles). That’s 17km (10.6 miles) in one day in a miserable, moaning sea.
She was making her unhappiness heard. I am listening to her protests.
This challenge started as a campaign for clean and healthy seas. It is quickly becoming a protest swim.
I am swimming 560km (348 miles) so that others will hear our calls and will stand up with us in defence of the dolphins, the seals and the puffins.
If it’s not us fighting this fight, then who will?
The fish have been replaced with plastic. Those fish that are left are eating microplastics. Once they enter the food chain, we eat them too. Plastic is slowly killing us all.
The public knows, they care deeply – yet successive government have not only failed to act but have made promises that they have failed to keep. It’s up to us to now hold them to account.
As I’ve said before, this is no longer a problem for our children’s generation. It is too late for that – it is our problem now.
We will not go quietly up the Channel.
Today has been a weather enforced rest day.
With 4m swells, 35+ knot winds and yellow weather warnings from the Met Office, Skipper and I have made the call to not swim this morning or afternoon as it just far too dangerous.
It would be easy to dive off the boat but virtually impossible to get back on safely.
Whilst frustrating, this will give the crew a chance to have their first day off in 18 days as well as giving my body some rest.
We hope to be able to swim first thing Monday morning.
This morning we rolled the dice.
At 5.30am, Skipper and I stood around the navigation table trying to decide if conditions were within the range of what we’d consider safe.
At this time in the morning, there were still a few unknowns as reports hadn’t yet come in. All we knew was that there would be strong winds that would cause large waves, but they’d be pushing me in the right direction. My trainer, Nicola, clicked her tongue in the background disapprovingly. She didn’t think it was worth it.
Skip wore his decades of experience at sea in the lines on his forehead and around his eyes, and I trust those lines absolutely.
After all, without his direction and guidance I won’t be getting to Dover.
Wherever he steers the boat, I swim. It’s that simple.
It was borderline, he said, but on the right side of that line.
It was lifejackets on and tethers at the ready, just in case things got really rough.
At 6am, we left the mouth of the River Dart and ventured out into the open sea.
The closer to the GPS location we got, the more the swell grew, and the wind howled. Breathing deeply, I went to get changed.
The sea state was moderate to rough, and had turned a seething, fetid green colour.
We were all tense as Skip bellowed out over the wind: “100m to go, 50m, 30m. Swimmer ready?”
Perched in my Speedo swimming trunks on the bottom step of the stern, I screamed back: “YES”.
“In three, two one. GO.”
The testosterone from shouting at each other in a drill sergeant tone, combined with the adrenaline already pulsing through me was a powerful enough combination of hormones to leave me in no doubt of what to do next.
I dived in.
My body instantly started corkscrewing from the pressure of the waves. Large swells were pushing me in directions I had no control over.
At the helm, Skip was battling to keep our boat, Aquila, within a few meters of me. Aquila was moving much faster than I was, and in opposite directions.
The crew threw two drogues overboard – buckets attached to rope – to try and create some drag to slow her down and give some stability. It wasn’t working.
Every time I looked up to take a breath, all I could see was a wall of water heading straight towards me.
Caught by surprise, a rogue wave washed over me and I swallowed a mouthful of seawater. I could feel hot, yellow bile burning my throat as I tried to stop myself from vomiting.
I was getting tired. This wasn’t going well.
If I carried on now, it would only be a Pyrrhic victory – I’d win this battle but would be so thoroughly exhausted that I’d lose the war.
After a 45-minute battle and 3.7km, I retreated onto Aquila and decided to leave the fight for another day.
Nicola was right, it wasn’t worth it for the distance we covered.
With conditions worsening, Skip and I decided that there would be no second swim today and no swims at all tomorrow.
My team need a break – I need a break.
This morning was race day. With Start Point in sight, at six minutes past six this morning, I dived straight into the grey ocean. It was bitter and uninviting in the weak post-dawn light.
Our skipper, now just ‘skip’, had lined us up just right.
I hit the current just as it was building, with 3.5 knots behind me. Gradually, it built up to 3.75 knots, then 4. For every stroke I took, I was pushed forward the distance of another stroke. The ocean was giving me a helping hand, pushing me onwards, alongside and then around the imposing lighthouse at Start Point.
In an hour, I covered over 6km. In the poor currents of last week, it had taken me two and a half hours to cover the same distance. I was flying, pivoting perfectly around the headland and then, finally, out into the open water of Lyme Bay.
The current was taking me offshore – Start Point is the last land I’ll see for nearly two weeks, until I reach Portland Bill near Weymouth, 122km away. For scale, Dover to Calais is 33km.
That’s a lot of empty sea; there will be nowhere to hide.
Beneath the waves, though, will be the country’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) – a marine reserve which is a biodiversity hot spot for rare species. One of the core reasons I am undertaking this swim is to highlight the need for more and better protected MPAs, so swimming through Lyme Bay will be a chance for me to see the positive impact that it’s having.
An hour and 35 minutes into the swim, the cold was starting to numb my fingers and toes, so I made the decision to exit the water. Skip was jubilant, telling me that I’d swum a full 10km.
We motored into our hub for the next week – the idyllic naval town of Dartmouth. Like yesterday, I spent much of the day resting in an attempt to recover for the evening swim.
When I next woke, we were at sea again with waves hitting the dual hulls of our catamaran side on.
Swallowing my nausea, I peeked up into the galley from my cabin to ask what conditions were like. There was a wind force of 4, and it was building. It was time to batten down the hatches.
All the portholes needed to be closed and any loose items needed to be lashed down or stashed away. We’ve been so lucky with bluebird weather from day one, it was bound to break at some point and was starting to now.
As we motored further away from land, I could see clouds billowing as they hit the sea, being forced vertically upwards by the changing pressure. They blocked out the sun and gave the light a sinister silvery hue.
Skip judged it as plenty safe enough to swim still, and taking his word for it, I jumped off the bow. I just wanted to manage another 90-minute swim.
My head was down – I blocked out my swirling concerns and to focus only on counting strokes. At least there would be no jellyfish to worry about in these conditions.
I could feel that the current wasn’t as strong as this morning, but it was still giving me a boost that I’d have been deeply grateful for only a couple of days ago.
When I looked up for the first time after 45 minutes, Skip shouted down that I was going like a train. I felt fast, forceful, effective. The weather was working in my favour, not against me. If she’d have wanted to turn on me and swallow me whole, though, I could tell that I’d have no choice but to submit.
This was not a force that could be conquered, only one which allowed you to pass through.
After an hour and half, I managed 6.5km.
We gingerly motored home – the weather looked to be getting worse.
Even now, as we are safely moored in Dartmouth harbour while I write this, my team and I can hear the sharp plinging of metal on metal as the wires of the sails are repeatedly forced onto the mast and the wind whistling down the River Dart.
Skip has yet to make the call on if we will swim at all tomorrow, with a predicted wind of 30+ knots.
With our oceans at such risk, though, I wonder how much I’m prepared to risk in this swim to make this message heard.
9.9 miles (15.96km)
We left Salcombe at 4am to catch the morning tide on the approach to Start Point, joined by the Sky News team, for the first swim of the day.
It was much cooler weather than it seems the rest of the country is experiencing, so much so that I had a puffer jacket and beanie on as we pulled out into open ocean.
Diving in, I quickly warmed up and had a current building behind me, pushing me forwards. By the end of the first hour, I’d swum 4km. At an hour and a half, I was at 6km.
Our skipper, Stephen, stopped me just after the 6km point. Sky News wanted to film a live broadcast in the middle of the English Channel – in ten minutes’ time. I powered on, thinking about what I was going to say.
Ten minutes later exactly, I was waved down by presenter Rebecca Williams, who – impressively – jumped right in next to me off the stern and started the interview. It was the first time I’ve ever given a live interview mid-swim!
With both presenter and swimmer treading water, it went surprisingly well, with no accidental sea-water swallowing.
After two minutes on camera, I was on my way again, managing 8km this morning for the first swim of the day.
The Sky News team stayed with us until lunchtime, with another live broadcast from the stern of Aquila. I spoke of my growing jellyfish paranoia, and the strain that constantly looking out for them is putting on my neck.
I drifted in and out of sleep all afternoon, getting up to eat a Cornish pasty, and then snoozing for another two hours. I’m finding it difficult to replace the calories I’m burning each day, so am sleeping for long stretches to try and compensate. I need to force myself to eat more.
When I woke again, the light was lower in the sky, our engine was revving, and I could hear our skipper Stephen’s voice excitedly jumping.
We were nearing Start Point for my afternoon swim and his thoughts were on the strength of the current beneath us.
“The tide looks like a 5km an hour swim boss,” he grinned from the corner of his mouth.
After wrestling every metre from reluctant currents over the past few days, this was the best news he could bring, and it lit the fire in me that had been dormant.
Stephen had calculated it perfectly. An hour after diving in, he told me I had swum precisely 5km (3.1 miles). By the end of the day, I’d covered 15.96km (9.9 miles) – the furthest in a single day so far.
I’ve now crossed the quarter-way point and have a buffer of nearly 5km (3.1 miles). I mean to swim at least half an English Channel crossing daily for the rest of the spring tides.
After a disappointing few days – I’m back.
I’ll be rounding Start Point in the morning on a current colloquially known as The Race. It will whip me around with no forgiveness and I’m hungry to feel its power.
5.65 miles (9.1km)
This morning I left my home town of Plymouth for the last time. I have been so heartily welcomed by everyone that I’m sad to leave.
Jumping in the water for today’s swim, it was a very comfortable 18C (64F), which is virtually a bath in comparison to the icy waters I’m used to around the poles.
The heatwave we have been experiencing in the UK has led to blue skies, day in and day out. The oceans and the heavens have been kind.
I finally began to feel the start of the spring tides this afternoon as we move into faster currents. It feels like the days of plenty are just around the corner.
Now, I’m swimming at 4.5km (2.8 miles) an hour instead of 3km (1.9 miles) an hour.
As we approach Start Point, the next headland, I’ll be pulled into swimming 5km (3 miles) an hour, then six, and hopefully seven. Tomorrow we revert to two swims a day, as we did right at the beginning, which will increase my daily distance significantly.
My team calculated that I’ve now swum the equivalent of four English Channel crossings.
The headland of Start Point has been a hazy spot on the horizon for days, abstract in its distance.
At last I can see it clearly, I’m able to make out the contours of the cliffs whose waters will suck me in and spit me out around the other side and into the looming emptiness of Lyme Bay. It is 122km (75.8 miles) across and the real start of this expedition.
I will have swum around a total of nine headlands by the time I reach Dover. I’ve survived two and am about to embrace the third.
Like Lizard Point before it, once I begin the swim around Start Point, I must commit and cannot turn back.
For now, though, I’ve still got the sun on my back.
6.18 miles (9.95km)
Today was the first day I have fallen behind in my distance. I am now 0.5km behind where I should be, according to our planning.
There is no margin for error anymore. I have no buffer for when this beautiful weather finally breaks and I have to stay ashore because of a storm. There is no buffer for if I get sick.
If the boat has a problem, or if we miss a current, that’s it. I won’t reach Dover in 50 days.
Whispers of inner doubt are starting to creep in, and it is getting a little harder each day to pacify them. The weight of expectation sits heavily on my shoulders.
My only hope is regaining the distance I’ve lost on later swims, especially during the spring tides around the new moon.
These fast currents will do half the work for me and I am planning on swimming twice a day to take full advantage of them – I will swim through the night if I have to.
The morale of my ever-supportive team is still high, though, and they are carrying me through in my low moments. I’m doing it for them, too. They have worked tirelessly for months just to get me to the start line. I will not let them down.
We were also joined for today’s swim by Tom Allan, a journalist from the Financial Times. While there were no dolphins to show him or sea shanties to serenade him with, I relished the chance to clearly lay out the aims for the campaign to such a newspaper.
I hope his feature about the swim is read by those who have the influence to make a difference at the business and political levels that is needed.
Our message of marine conservation and protection needs to echo loudly from all directions down the corridors of power if we are to see real change.
5.4 miles (10km)
Today was a day of fantastic highs and struggling lows.
On the motor out from Plymouth to my starting point for today’s swim, we were joined by a pod of 15 common dolphins who swam right up to us, riding in the bow wave between the two hulls of our catamaran, leaping and playing for a full half an hour.
They were so close that we could hear their clicks above water and could clearly see them just below the surface before they jumped and breached.
To be so close to these animals on their terms – and for so long – was profound.
Tearing ourselves away to start the swim, I dived in and started strong.
I was joined by Cal Major, a stand up paddle-boarder who just completed a world first expedition from Land’s End to John O’Groats to highlight plastic pollution.
She paddled alongside me for a couple of hours, which certainly made a change from having another swimmer.
Spending the day with Cal was a meeting of minds. We share the same core message that we want to communicate the best we can – through endurance sport.
We must end single use plastic and better protect our oceans through marine protected areas. This is no longer our children’s problem – it is ours, today.
I am now swimming in the ‘neap’ tides – when the current is at its absolute weakest.
This means I have virtually no help from the sea moving in the same direction as me, so achieving my goal of 10km a day is taking me longer and longer, and I need to expend more energy every day just to reach the same target.
Today it was a three hour 15 minute slog, even with Cal beside me.
My team are doing their best to cheer me on when I get to a weak moment, with our chief of staff, David, dancing on deck for the entirety of the last quarter of an hour just to get me over today’s finish line.
Sometimes, though, it feels like reaching Dover in 50 days might slip through my fingers.
I’m determined to not be defeated, even when my muscles are achingly sore, my tongue has swollen up to chafe against my teeth from the sea water, and even my coffee tastes like salt.
I accepted this challenge precisely because it was so difficult to highlight the extreme urgency to act now to save our oceans.
After a difficult swim, my mood was low and I was brooding on the obstacles ahead.
As we approached Eddystone Lighthouse on our motor back to Plymouth, my team started to sing yet another rendition of what has become the song of the expedition – the Eddystone Light sea shanty.
Pulled in by their enthusiasm, I put aside my fears and embraced the moment and agreed to record my first duet with our skipper, Stephen. I think a record deal may shortly follow.
6.5 miles (10.4km)
Today was a fantastic swim! I covered my full 10km target and avoided being stung by jellyfish along the way.
Most importantly I hit my first milestone: I have swum the first 100km.
This was a cause for celebration on board.
I have now swum the equivalent of just over three Channel crossings.
In three or four days’ time I will have reached the quarter-way point.
We are bang on schedule and I’m feeling strong, having finally totally gotten rid of my cold (my team will attest to this being a genuine cold rather than man-flu!).
It’s been a choppy day at sea with a force 3-4 wind blowing, so for the first time we were able to sail Aquila all the way back to Plymouth where we are mooring for the night.
It has been a pleasure to have the engine switched off and use wind power alone.
Our course took us straight past the Eddystone Lighthouse, which led to renditions of the old sea shanty.
Stephen, our skipper, has proved to be the best baritone on board.
We feel a music video may be coming – release date TBC.
I have been reflecting on my time in Plymouth over the past few days and the incredibly warm welcome home that I’ve received.
I’ve never before seen a city so singular in their dedication to marine conservation and reducing plastic waste.
Plymouth is known as Britain’s “ocean city” – they are truly living up to the epithet.
4.3 miles (6.85km)
I was swimming off Plymouth, my home city, this morning and the waters have changed since I was a boy growing up here.
I learned to swim with my parents off the beautiful golden beach of Whitsand Bay. When I was young there would be no plastic there. Now, you find plastic coming in with the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s happening all the way along our coastline. The birds are eating the plastic, as are the fish.
The impact on our oceans is devastating.
I started today’s swim with the support of 60 members of Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming club.
All kitted out in Speedo’s, we jumped in the sea at Tinside Beach and swum together out to our Princess speedboat, which was whisking me to today’s start point.
The Wild Swimming club sent two of their finest along with us, who joined me for much of the swim.
They acted as my good luck charm as today was the very first day that I’ve not been stung by jellyfish – we still had to dive out of the way of a few large compass jellies though!
Jellyfish are an important indicator species – they bloom in warm waters and we are now seeing unprecedented numbers.
The fact that I’ve been seeing (and have been stung) by so many on my swim so far is a painful and poignant reminder that our waters are already feeling the effects of climate change.
We need to wake up and take strong action before it’s too late.
After today’s morning swim, I opened an exhibition about marine conservation and plastics in the ocean.
Looking around the exhibits really drove home what we are trying to accomplish with The Long Swim and what it’s really all about.
I feel that we are beginning to make some headway and knowing this drives me forward.
5.4 miles (8.7km)
“This is the German warship Augsburg, we are about to commence gunnery practice, please avoid the following coordinates…”
A panic shot round the crew as the radio crackled to life and they heard a thick accent announcing there was a military vessel only a couple of nautical miles away on our port side.
The crew radioed in for a repeat of the coordinates, frantically trying to calculate if they were within radius, and I was completely unaware of the potential imminent threat.
After a few minutes of uncertainty, the skipper confirmed our boat was not in Augsburg’s path, but I was keen to speak to the crew about the impact this will have on marine life and how we need protected areas in place to ensure the regeneration and long-term sustainability of fish stocks.
Navies are going to have start thinking in terms of protecting natural resources.
Before that drama, I was joined by guest swimmers Matias Ola and Jackie Cobell (pictured above) – both of whom are renowned open water swimmers.
I had a strong swim in the morning, with fewer jellyfish than normal, but we are now on the neap tide rather than the spring tide, so with half a knot of current behind me it’s much harder to make progress each day.
Matias joined me for the first hour and it was like swimming with a swordfish. He is Argentina’s best open water swimmer.
Really excited to hear @LewisPugh talk about how important it is for #plymouth to be the UK’s first National Marine Park. We are Britain’s Ocean City and it is now time for Plymouth to lead in creating marine parks – really encouraged how our campaign is really gathering pace pic.twitter.com/ulMPaIq0Iu
— Luke Pollard MP (@LukePollard) July 20, 2018
Jackie joined for the last 10 minutes and was magnificent. I was thoroughly impressed by her style and perseverance.
She swam the longest Channel crossing at 28 hours and 44 minutes when she was 56 years old, and in my view, the person who swims slowest is the greatest as they need the most grit and are immersed in the cold for longest.
After the swim we transferred from the Aquila to the Princess speed boat to rush to Plymouth for the lord mayor’s tea reception to welcome me home.
The sea state was slight to moderate, but combined with a force-three wind, there was kitchen cutlery and crockery flying everywhere and several people on the verge of being seasick over the side.
The nasty chop in the sea meant the transfer nearly ended with several crew members overboard, with many wet feet and a couple of green faces.
We are now all safely aboard the Princess and are speeding home to Plymouth ready for an afternoon of celebration.
Aquila is sailing behind us and will take several hours to reach harbour. Me and the crew will be using the Princess for the next few days to continue swimming, as it is much faster.
5.1 miles (8.3km)
Especially large jellyfish were out on force this morning, with two new species spotted that looked particularly nasty.
Another first for today was a shark sighting! We are unsure of the species, but the crew saw its fin pointing out the water about 30m from the starboard side (luckily opposite to me).
Thankfully, it didn’t seem to spot or be interested in me so we kept going and the crew only told me once I was out.
I have developed a cold so the morning’s swim was tough going. I am resting as much as I can now before the weekend, which sees me and the crew attending events in my hometown of Plymouth, so we have a jam-packed schedule.
On our way back for our last day in Falmouth now.
5.75 miles (9.26km)
I was joined by my first guest swimmer today!
Chris Coleman (pictured below), who is deputy head of Taunton School, is a Channel relay swimmer and has championed open water swimming with his pupils.
We are hoping some of the pupils might join us further into the journey.
There was another sunfish sighting today, while some dolphins came right up to our boat’s hull.
For now, we are continuing with a strategy of one swim a day.
5.3 miles (8.5km)
The morning swim today was great.
I smashed out 5.3 miles (8.5km) and the plan is for this to be the only swim of the day.
There were no wildlife spots this morning and only a very small number of jellyfish, but there were lots of fishing boats out that I had to navigate around.
We are now motoring on towards Falmouth for a bit of a recovery day after all the excitement of meeting Prince Charles on Monday.
6.6 miles (10.6km)
Met Prince Charles today – in my shorts and flip flops.
I was a keynote speaker at the Ocean Plastics Solutions Day at St Agnes in Cornwall, organised by Surfers Against Sewage.
The Prince of Wales listened attentively as I explained what we were doing, and why it is important to make sure the oceans are as clean as they can be, as we battle problems like single use plastics.
Not ideal conditions today – there were lots of jellfyfish blooms and rain squalls along the way.
Yesterday’s final swim was a disappointment. We picked the wrong current to follow around the last section of The Lizard – the most southerly point in Great Britain – so after one hour and 20 minutes of hard graft, I’d made virtually no progress.
After the poor swim, we anchored out at sea so we could catch an early tide this morning.
However, we finally found success! Our craft’s skipper, Stephen Praetorius, and I managed to locate the missing offshore current, which meant I could fly 3.4 miles (5.5km) in one hour and 20 minutes.
We are now back on track and we are definitely one happy crew again.
My support vessel Aquila has travelled to Falmouth for much needed water and supplies. We are now down to our emergency water rations.
I went out again this evening and swam straight into a good current, swimming 3.2 miles (5.1km).
A pod of four dolphins including two young ones joined me for a few minutes, and were only metres away.
I could hear their clicking under the surface.
4 miles (6.5km)
Today was a crucial day for the first week of The Long Swim.
I rounded Lizard Point, the most southerly point in Great Britain and a place renowned for its treacherous waters.
Although things appeared calm on the surface, they were rather more turbulent underneath.
Whirlpools and eddies caused an up-swelling of cold water. The temperature when the swim began was 16C (61F), and when I came out of the water after 79 minutes it had dropped to 12C (54F).
Although our images show me swimming straight towards the rocks, the tide was actually perpendicular, pushing me 90 degrees sideways.
Big up to skipper Stephen Praetorius, who navigated our craft and me safely through on the morning spring tide.
I have never experienced such strong currents. It was like swimming in a flooding river.
This evening swim then started well – we saw pods of dolphins and a sunfish – but after that it didn’t go to plan.
I started swimming on the wrong current, which made me swim even slower than I would have done if there’d been no current at all.
After struggling against counter-eddies for nearly an hour and a half I had covered only a couple of kms.
I made the call to stop and try again first thing in the morning – a move we had not planned. This means we couldn’t motor to Falmouth for the evening to replace our water, power and get food.
We have now run out of water and are on our emergency supply bottles, having anchored in the small village of Coverack.
The plan for tomorrow is to do a swim early to make up for the lost time.
9 miles (14.5km)
Glassy sea on a beautiful Saturday in Mounts Bay, with a perfect spring tide current, which helped propel me toward Lizard Point.
The crew continued fine-tuning the jellyfish watch and are now on a rota. It is difficult to keep focus after 20 minutes and very easy to be hypnotised by the motion of the sea and you glaze over in the glare.
I have an active mind while swimming and I like to keep track of my thoughts. Occasionally I stop to shout a word or phrase for the crew to write down – something to trigger my memory later.
The stream of consciousness can get quite interesting!
Today was the first time we have encountered big ships – there was a row of three oil tankers anchored on the eastern end of the bay.
Now heading back to Mullion Cove again, we will be heading back out in the late afternoon to pick up the GPS point for the evening swim.
Overall, a phenomenal morning swim and it feels as though we are banking kilometres. All happy on board.
I am back in the water this evening and hopefully this will take us to the edge of Lizard Point.
This evening was all about the Lizard.
Do we shoot it tonight, making the best that the spring tide can give, or do we take a measured approach and leave it for the morning?
Today’s swim was shorter, but fast, sometimes I was swimming at over four knots – that’s 7.2 kph.
Overall another happy day, as we say goodbye to Mounts Bay.
8 miles (12.8km)
Another two good sessions in the morning and evening, in very fair conditions. I will be doing two swims a day and slingshotting around Land’s End.
I had a few periods of jellyfish activity – the biggest we saw was longer than our shortest crew member.
I was stung on my arms, which we treated with vinegar after I got out of the water – it made me smell of fish and chips!
We ended up setting up a jellyfish watch, with spotters armed with whistles.
6 miles (9.8km)
Today was a day of ironing out the swim procedures. This involved working out communication between me in the water and my team, adhering to the verification protocols, working out actual distance covered versus distance swum – it’s difficult to swim in an exact straight line.
In total I manage to cover 6 miles (9.8km) of my journey, although this is less than the actual distance I swam.
This was the first day when all nine members of the campaign were on board, and over the next few days we will learn much about the teamwork and processes that will help us get through the entire expedition.
Another first today was my first jellyfish sting. It got me right on the crotch.
We ended the day by sitting at anchorage just off Mousehole, finishing up dinner and getting in an early sleep before we move back to the GPS point at 4.30 am for the next swim at 6.00am.
The eve of the swim
Wednesday 11 July
You are either a pioneer or a follower; you can’t be both. And if you are a pioneer, you know all about worry.
If something has been done before, you know it’s possible. If you don’t know something is possible, you worry about it.
I’m about to embark on a swim with significant risks and consequences – financial, reputational and environmental. So there hasn’t been a night in the last month that I haven’t woken up.
A few nights ago I was using the worry hours to plan, and remembered something Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
I have a plan to try and swim 10km per day. But when I swim into my first bloom of jellyfish, that plan will become flexible.
I know that I’m going to get sunburnt. I’m going to be frozen, I’m going to be stung, and I’m going to become mentally and physically exhausted. Have I done too much preparation, or not enough?
What if we get the tides wrong, get caught in a counter eddy and find ourselves going backwards? This is a notoriously dangerous coastline, with the shipwrecks to prove it.
Did I mention that half my expedition team is new, and half has no sailing experience?
In those waking worry hours I also remembered the Stockdale paradox.
Admiral Stockdale was an American pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and spent eight years in a POW camp. He said that the people who survived had two important qualities.
First, they always believed they would be freed. Second – and this is the paradox – they had no optimism. Because the people who did have optimism – the people who hoped they would be free by Easter, then by Thanksgiving, then by Christmas, and had those hopes dashed over and over again – those people didn’t survive. The people who survived were the ones who confronted the brutal reality of their situation.
I have to face some brutal facts when I look at the chart of our 560km swim route. This is the longest swim anyone has ever done, adhering to Channel Rules in water this low temperature. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do this. But I do believe I’ll see the white cliffs of Dover. So that’s the paradox that’s going through my mind.
The swimming is only part of the challenge. We’ve also had to co-ordinate with sponsors, raise funds for the expedition, recruit the right people for the team, and deal with the media… all the while juggling private lives with unexpected domestic crises.
As if all that wasn’t enough, after six months of campaign planning and preparation, we learned that Donald Trump is coming to London on the day I start swimming. We certainly hadn’t planned on such a big media story distracting from our message.
Because the message is the reason I am doing this swim. The truth is we are failing our oceans. And it’s only through bold and courageous action that we’re going to be able to protect them properly. “Piecemeal” protection is not going to safeguard our seas. We need an enormous shift in business and government and the public to be able to do this.
There are challenges ahead. But as English Channel crossing pioneer Captain Webb said, nothing great is ever easy.
I’ll keep that in mind as I strike out for Dover.
:: Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com
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