HOW TO PLAN A SWIMMING EXPEDITION - PART FIVE - "BUILD YOUR POD"
Welcome to the 5th post in our series focused on how to plan outdoor/wild swimming (whatever you want to call it) expeditions. With Little Brother Jack off out to Bratislava for some Slovakian swims and ice creams on lidos in paddling pools with Big Brother Robbie, it’s left to Middle Brother to pick up the slack with some swimming tips (I’m not jealous at all that I’m not there…). As you know hopefully know this series is focused on sharing with you exactly how we went about organising our adventures and how you can plan and build your very own expedition. We will focus on “world first” expeditions or swims that haven’t been accomplished, again if the swim you want to attempt has been done before then that person is the key to a successful expedition. In part 5 of this series we’ll be looking at how you can assemble a crack support team for your expedition and dive into tips on how to “Build your Pod”.
Building the right team for your expedition is absolutely crucial and can be the clear cut difference between success and failure for any aquatic adventure. Why do I need a team for my expedition you ask? I’m an absolute swimming machine, Poseidon incarnate… a veritable Sailfish of the Seven Seas. Well to be frank it’s immeasurably arrogant, pretty darn stupid and potentially incredibly dangerous to set off on a world first swimming expedition on your own, also it’s a lot less fun. There are 5 main reasons you should look to build a crack team for your swim;
SKILL - Depending on what type of world first you’re after it’s likely that your swim will require a support boat, partnering with the right Ship Captain and learning from their in depth local knowledge is critical.
SAFETY - It’s unlikely that any expedition could be safe without a support team looking for wildlife, stroke rate, signs of hypothermia, currents, eddies, vortexes, feeding, fuelling and pretty much everything in between.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT - Whether it’s pre swim nerves, words of encouragement during or long term camaraderie on multi day swims you will need others around you to support you in your lowest moments.
FILMING - We would highly recommend documenting your expedition, you don’t have to live stream your morning coffees on instagram but you’re unlikely to regret sharing your story with others as well as having it as a personal record.
FUN - That’s why you’re doing it right? It should be, you should enjoy your expedition no matter how dangerous or scary and experiences are much more enjoyable when you can revisit them with other people.
Now that you’re convinced that you need to “build your pod” you need to think about who you’re going to bring along. Your first decision should be whether you want other swimmers with you or if you want to swim alone. We might be biased because we swim as brothers but we would really urge you to think about not doing your swim on your own, it truly is a special experience to be in the water with another person/people when breaking new ground in the swimming world and it’s also a lot safer. It can also help to make you look a bit less of a megalomaniac/egomaniac as when the swim approaches you won’t be just talking about yourself the whole time. Now whether you can swim with others depends a lot on the type of expedition you’ve chosen. Expeditions like Ross Edgely’s Great British Swim, Sean Conways Top to Bottom and all of Martin Strel’s swims are such insane concepts it’s unlikely anyone would be mad enough to join. Some swims are beyond others abilities, Kim Chambers, Lynne Cox, Sarah Thomas, Chloe McCardel, Diana Nyad… it’s unlikely that anyone else would have been able to complete the swim with them. But, if your swimming expedition is within reach of mere mortals then get building your aquatic motley crew. Groups like Swim Dem Crew, Madswimmers and many ice swimmers really showcase the joys of bringing others along on their expeditions.
For your pod we would urge you to strike a balance between two core principles, expertise and trust. The first is clear, if you’re going to swim a maelstrom you need an expert ship captain with knowledge of tides and conditions, if you’re swimming a river source to sea you need a team with in depth knowledge of flash flood windows, run-offs, waterfalls rapid etc. In short you need a team with knowledge and skill. The second might seem obvious but we would advise you take a personal approach. When it comes to trust it’s likely that the people you trust most in the world are your close friends and family, they might not have experience of being part of a swimming expedition but you have gone through every bump along the road with them, you’d trust them with your life. We would advise that you create a merry mix of experts and trusted family/friends. The experts will pick up the physical and practical slack of the expedition while your family/friends will be the emotional rock to anchor too. Look for these core characteristics when building your pod…
Captain Ahab - The wise ship captain, the first name on the list. Look for a captain with years of experience in the region and this is such a crucial role that we’ll be devoting the entire of next weeks article, “Call me Ishmael”, on how to work with ship captains.
Mr/Mrs Practical - This could be a friend/family member if you’re lucky enough to have one or a seasoned swimmer themselves if not. Someone with a practical mind and often military background is critical to make sure the nuts and bolts are moving. Robbie’s close friend James Silson has filled this role on all our expeditions.
The Backbreaker - This should be a close friend/family member, someone you trust and can rely on. They might not have expertise of swimming expeditions but they are calm, reliable and know the emotional weaknesses of the swimmer/swimmers involved. They are the eyes you rely on to spot various shapes of fins and always there with a cup of tea when needed. Calum’s childhood friend Luke Palmer has filled this role on our expeditions.
The Eye in the Sky - We’d advise you film your expedition and having an experienced camera man to document and capture the swim is definitely recommended, Jack’s university compadre Dave Renton as well James Silson has played this key role.
Your Mum - We’ve taken our mum along with us on pretty much every single expedition we’ve been on, call us softies but our Celtic Guardian and very own Wild Swimming Mother fills a crucial role as chief matriarch. If you’re lucky enough to have your parents/parent with you why not bring them along, no one knows you quite like them!
So now you’ve decided not to swim alone and built your pod for your swimming expedition. Next up we want to take an in depth look at navigating the world of tea stained maps and ship captains and help you build trust and a relationship with your ship captain in next weeks article, “Call Me Ishmael”.
Next week – Stage 6 of Planning a Swimming Expedition “Call Me Ishmael”
For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”