HOW TO PLAN A SWIMMING EXPEDITION - PART SEVEN - "I HAVE A CUNNING PLAN"
Welcome back to the 7th article in our series focused on how to plan outdoor/wild swimming (whatever you want to call it) expeditions. Very much back into the swing of things and as you now hopefully know this series is focused on taking an in depth step by step look at planning a swimming expedition so you can go and create your own. We’re envisaging a day when mer-people all over the land are cascading down waterfalls, jettisoning across lands and flowing down rivers! For this series we are focusing on “world first” expeditions or swims that haven’t been accomplished, again if the swim you want to attempt has been done then take that person for a drink and pick their brains. In part seven of the series we dive into to how you can build a comprehensive strategy for your swim, work out your entrance, route and extraction and make sure that you “Have a Cunning Plan”.
We’d strongly advise that you follow in the footsteps of wise old Baldrick and come up with a cunning plan for your swimming expedition. Why do you need a plan for your swim? “I’ll just jump in and wing it” you say, “I swim ALL THE TIME and I’m very very experienced don’t you know”. All of the aforementioned comments are destined to become famous last words and from our experience having a plan for your expedition can be critical to its success. It allows your mind to visualise the journey ahead, it builds trust and confidence in your fellow swimmers and support team and can lend an air of credibility in any conversations with your ship captain. This plan will depend on the type of expedition you’re planning, whether it’s single day or multi-day, the dangers and risks involved and number of swimmers/support boats. However irrespective of the type of swim the plan should focus on dates, distances, entrance, extraction and possible risks/dangers. Below is the plan we built for our “Swim the Eden” exhibition, whilst we didn’t entirely stick to it, it massively helped form the exoskeleton upon which the fat of the expedition was added. Having this vision laid out early on helped us plan logistics, safety, press visits, entry and extraction;
Swim Route - River Eden: 90miles in 9 days
Day 1 Saturday 15th August = Hell Gill to Kirkby Stephen 18.5km
Notable challenges – Hell Gill waterfall, scramble to source will require overnight camping. Access – Need to hike to the source no kayaks required. Pick up - Bridge with River Access
Day 2 Sunday 16th August = Kirkby Stephen to Sandford 19.5km
Notable challenges – Kirkby Stephen Gorge/rapids, Kirkby Stephen weir. Access – Bridge with parking
Day 3 Monday 17th August = Sandford to Temple Sowerby 18.5km
Notable challenges – Access –Bridge with parking Bridge on B6412 with parking
Day 4 Tuesday 18th August = Temple Sowerby to Langwathby 14km
Notable challenges – Access- Langwathby Bridge with parking
Day 5 Wednesday 19th August = Langwathby to Armathwaite 18km
Notable challenges – Lacy caves rapids, Armathwaite rapids, Armathwaite Weir, Nunnery rapids. Access – Armathwaite bridge with parking
Day 6 Thursday 20th August = Armathwaite to Warwick Bridge 17.5km
Notable challenges – Wetherall weir Access – Warwick bridge with space for parking
Day 7 = Friday 21st August Warwick Bridge to Carlisle Bridge (Bridgewater Road) 15.5km
Notable challenges – Sand centre rapids. Access – Carlisle bridge, parking near on left bank.
Day 8 = Saturday 22nd August Carlisle Bridge to Rockcliffe 12.5km
Notable challenges – Access – Parking bay in Rockliffe hamlet with easy river access.
Day 9 = Sunday 23rd August Rockcliffe to Solway Firth and FINISH 11km
Notable challenges – Sea tide, rip tide, sinking sand as estuary widens. May require a boat/local trawler for mid-stream pick up rather than land based.
As well as coming up with a plan we think it’s also incredibly helpful to come up with an itinerary for your expedition. If your expedition is an absolute monster (we’re talking a Martin Strel-esque river swim) then it may be very difficult to build a concise itinerary but if it’s perhaps less than a 10 day multi-stage swim or a single day swim then it’s definitely helpful to build one. The main reason being that you HAVE to build a weather window for your swim. You’re likely taking time off work, have lots of moving parts, support staff etc and pressure and tempers can mount if you have put all your eggs in one basket on one day. You MUST give yourself multiple days as potential windows for the swim if the expedition swim route is one that can be affected by the weather. This will help calm your nerves and also serve to ensure you listen to reason if your ship captain advises against the swim if the conditions are not right. Desperation maketh the fool! Have a look at our itinerary for our “Into the Maelstrom” expedition as an example;
”Into the Maelstrom” Expedition
Day 1 Saturday August 20th = Fly to Bodo via Oslo. Chill and stay the night in Bodo
Day 2 Sunday August 21st = Bodo - Press conference in the morning/meet journalists, practice swims in the harbour, meet Knut Westvig at Stella Polaris for Saltstraumen preparation
Day 3 Monday August 22nd = Saltstraumen - Swim 1 - take RIB Boat from Bodo harbour to the Saltstraumen for the first swim of the expedition - evening chill in Bodo
Day 4 Tuesday August 23rd = Ferry to Reine - Take the morning ferry to Reine - practice swim in Reine harbour, meet Lars and Therese at Aqualofoten to discuss logistics for the swim.
Day 5 Wednesday August 24th = Window 1 Swim 2 - 1st weather window for Moskstraumen swim*
Day 6 Thursday August 25th = Window 2 Swim 2 - 2nd weather window for Moskstraumen swim*
Day 7 Friday August 26th = Window 3 Swim 2 - 1st weather window for Moskstraumen swim* - Back to Bodo on the Ferry
Day 8 Saturday August 27th = Bodo - Chill, drink all the whisky and celebrate under the midnight sun
Day 9 Sunday August 28th = Fly home - (Monday is a bank holiday as well)
*The plan is to do Swim 2 on the first weather window giving us much more time to chill in Reine - top things to do there would be;
Hike to Reinebringen
Take the ferry to Bunes Beach
Snorkel with Orcas
It’s also wise to have a plan and strategy if things go wrong during the swim, this is something you need to talk through in depth with your ship captain/team and come up with a clear strategy for exactly who is responsible for what, whom and who is in command. Ultimately the ship captain should allows be in command of the expedition if the swim requires one, you CANNOT have a swimmer in control, their judgement and decision making may be impaired by hypothermia, their ego or fear/confusion. It is paramount that you discuss emergency procedures and roles as well. Ultimately the swim strategy requires complete input and co-authorship with the ship captain. For our swim across the Moskstraumen, Therese our ship captain led the discussion and laid out the plan of the exact start time to give us the greatest window of opportunity (8.30am to be exact) she had the final word on the conditions and whether the swim would go ahead. Similarly Knut Westvig for the Saltstraumen defined the exact moment to undertake the crossing to the minute, 6.28pm to be precise, this precision was paramount to the success of the expedition. Have a look at the ones we had for our Norwegian swims;
Saltstraumen Swim Strategy
Point to Point 450m across the maelstrom from north side to south side on the slack tide.
Swimmers to set off at exactly 6.28pm - all watches co-ordinated
First dash in U shape behind the 1st island then final dash in U shape
Finish on South shore, don’t swim against the current, we can get out much further down
Jack, Calum, Robbie to enter water at the same time and swim in close formation to first island
Regroup under island then swim the final section
All swimmers to remain close together at all times
Knut, James, Luke and Beth in boat. Each individual is responsible for spotting one swimmer at all times.
Dave on the exit side and Meike on the Bridge
Low risk of hypothermia as short swim and limited risk of Orca’s as short swim
Currents and whirlpools – if a swimmer is pulled backwards/stuck in a current - Luke to redirect swimmer from prow of the boat
All swimmers to swim diagonally against the current to head for the opposite bank
DO NOT swim against the current – swim across and exit water further down
If swimmer is dragged under the water by the maelstrom, this is immediately a priority, remaining two spotters to keep their eyes on their swimmers but boat to head for the swimmer in greatest difficulty, sight tow float if they are under water
So now you’ve built an exceptionally cunning plan for your expedition, thought through an itinerary leaving room for multiple swim windows and also co-authored a strategy with your ship captain. Next up we want to take an in depth look at how you you can limit the environmental footprint of your expedition , have a positive conservation impact and understand that “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”.
Next week – Stage 8 of Planning a Swimming Expedition “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”
For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”