How to Plan a Swimming Expedition - PART ONE - "The Source"

This is the first post in a series focused on how to plan outdoor/wild swimming (whatever you want to call it) expeditions. Over the years we’ve planned source to sea river swims, world first maelstrom crossings, long distance swims in the Arctic Circle, Ice Km’s in sub 5 degrees and channel crossings. We’d like to share with you exactly how we went about it and how you can plan and build your very own expedition. In the first of the series we’ll be looking at the coming up with the source of your idea.


To come up with a really great idea for an expedition you have to harness your aquatic imagination and creativity. We’re going to split the concept here and focus only on swims that haven’t been done before, if the swim itself has been done then planning an expedition is really simple, invite the person who did it for a swim/drink and listen to them. Now we are by no means saying you have to try and come up with a new expedition, we love our Lidos, just dipping for fun, organised events, races and swimming holidays but there’s really something special about coming up with a totally new and original idea. So how do you come up with an idea for a swim that’s never been done?


Our first piece of advice would be to “Start Local”. We’d advise this for a number of reasons, first of all it’s much easier to organize an expedition close to where you live. Second of all, you will likely know the area, be familiar with the wildlife and have easy access and extraction. Also, it’s much cheaper, no air fares, less accommodation costs, all in all much easier on the wallet. Finally, it’s critical not to get too far out of your comfort zone that you endanger yourself or the other swimmers/support crew on your expedition. Even if you’re an incredibly experienced swimmer, if this is your first attempt at a new swimming expedition then you’re in virgin territory and any mistakes will likely be mitigated by proximity to where you’re from or live.


Now that you’ve settled on doing the expedition in your local area/country we’d recommend dusting up on your Cartography skills. It’s time to “Get the Maps Out”. When it comes to maps, the bigger the better, put the kettle on, and dive into a map of your area. It’s incredible what a bird’s eye perspective can give you and it will allow your imagination to roam uninhibited, perceiving your environment from a different viewpoint. Now you’ll need to think about what type of swim you want to do, some of your options might be a single day point to point swim, a multi-day stage swim, a group relay swim or a team swim. We’d recommend looking at the following features - rivers, lakes, channels between islands, crater lakes, maelstroms etc. Just focus on the actual swim itself, the dangers, risks, wildlife etc come later!

Big Brother Robbie’s sketch of the Corryvreckan Maelstrom which we swum across in 2015.

Big Brother Robbie’s sketch of the Corryvreckan Maelstrom which we swum across in 2015.

If a scan of your local area hasn’t got the creative juices flowing, then we’d recommend diving into the “History & Literature” of swimming. Books like “Haunts of The Black Masseur” by Charles Sprawson explore the history of swimming and may fire up your imagination with ideas for swims you’d never thought of. Equally “Wild Swim” by Kate Rew, “Anything is Possible” by Lewis Pugh and “Hell or High Water” by Sean Conway are all brilliant in their own right and explore different types of swimming expeditions that may inspire you. If that’s not worked, we’d recommend watching “Big River Man” by Martin Strel, that may really expand the horizon of what you thought previously possible for your own expedition (note: PLEASE don’t try and swim the Amazon for your 1st expedition). Looking to the past ripples of other great swimming pioneers may be the catalyst for your own concept


Once you start to look into it you’ll be amazed at how unexplored & uncharted the aquatic world is, try to “Tap into the Unknown”. Barely any of the world’s rivers have been swum source to sea, very few channels have been crossed (aside from the Ocean’s 7 and other well-known ones like The Straits of Magellan or Bering Straits) and countless lakes remain un-swum. There are also other areas to tap into, crater lake swims are high altitude crossings of collapsed calderas which have filled with water, underground cave swims through unexplored caverns, maelstrom crossings and frozen ice lakes. Look at the longest, highest, lowest, biggest, fastest etc, they’re all good places to start for uncharted territory. Other areas might be prison breakout swims like Alcatraz, or swims across geographical or historical boundaries. Has the highest lake in your area been swum? Has the longest river in your region been swum source to sea?


For our first expedition together as brothers we hatched a plan to swim our childhood river in Cumbria England, The River Eden, from Source to Sea. It flowed past the bottom of our old family homes garden and we’d crossed it every day going to school for 13 years. We knew the landscape, the people, the wildlife and felt familiar with the area. We’d swum in multiple spots along its length and felt at home in its waters. We got our local map out and measured its length with string (nice and precise you see), 145km, the 9th longest in the UK. We could feel the idea coming together, a multi-day stage swim of our childhood river, source to sea. We knew we had the seed for an expedition.

The crucial next part was really focusing on WHY we wanted to do this as our swimming expedition…

Next week – Stage 2 of Planning a Swimming Expedition “The Why”

For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”