HOW TO PLAN A SWIMMING EXPEDITION - PART TWO - "THE WHY"
This is the 2nd post in our 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. 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 the 2nd part of this series we’ll be looking at uncovering the real reason and motivation behind your swimming expedition, “The Why”.
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that there are two key reasons for your swimming expedition that you need to accept and understand before going any further. Put the kettle on, sit down and take a deep breath and say to yourself that you are extremely grateful that you are even able to plan one. You’re in a privileged enough position to be able to do this, you’re lucky enough that even embarking on a swimming expedition is possible and remember that as the expedition progresses. The reason I mention this now is that there is to a certain extent a degree of stubbornness and sheer bloodied mindedness required to accomplish a new swimming expedition, but this trait must never be at odds or compromise your reasons for doing so in the first place. When we first set out on our journey as “The Wild Swimming Brothers” I can remember our first ever article, I was sat at work and received an email with a link to the piece in our local regional newspaper in Cumbria, “The Westmorland Herald”, it was a short piece outlining our intention to swim our childhood river, The Eden, source to sea. I cycled home with the biggest grin on my face and said to myself that everything that followed, no matter how big or small, was a bonus and that I would be grateful for it all. If you don’t practice being grateful, you’ll ultimately fail with your expedition, there’s always a bigger swim, more prominent newspaper and more “followers”, if that’s your goal that quest will never end.
The second key thing to acknowledge is that one of the reasons you’re doing the expedition is because ‘YOU WANT TO’, you know you’ll enjoy it and deep down you are immensely passionate about swimming. Remember this, the high and mighty in the adventure world can often forget that they are enjoying what they’re doing and doing so because they want to. No amount of saccharine quotes on Instagram will convince most people that there isn’t some element of personal joy or fulfilment. Additionally, “The Why” may be no more than because you can and because you want to. That’s absolutely fine and ultimately is as good a reason as any. During Big Brother Robbie’s 7.5-mile swim of Lake Ullswater in 2014, an early catalyst for our aquatic forays, after 5 miles he reached a group of teenagers kayaking as part of an outdoor pursuits weekend. One of the students called out to their teacher;
“Miss, Miss, there’s a man swimming the lake!” the student shouted.
“So, there is” she nodded back.
“But why Miss, why is he swimming the lake?” the student questioned. The teacher turned her back, dipped her paddle into the water and said…
“Because he can”.
So, why do you need a deeper reason you might ask? Well we’ve found that it can be crucial for 3 reasons;
1. It helps motivate and inspire you during the dark moments. Whether that’s training or during the expedition itself it can serve to fuel the fire within and help you overcome your doubts and worries. Whilst Robbie was swimming Lake Ullswater because he could he was also doing so as part of an immersive art project, this gave him extra strength when the sarnies and banana bread had run out!
2. “It’s not about you’ it really isn’t and if your swimming expedition has an aim outside of just completing the swim itself you will find more people are willing to join you.
3. Support - People are more likely to support you with advice, press, accommodation, flights and captain fees if you are doing the swim for reasons beyond your own selfish aspirations.
Now that you’ve humbled yourself at Poseidon’s alter (clearly the god of any swimming expedition worth its salt) you can really look to uncover the shiny pearl of your expedition, the deeper meaning and cause behind your swim. If you look at some of the greatest swimming expeditions ever accomplished there are common unifying themes which often tie the swim itself to a higher purpose or goal rather than just as a feat of endurance, whether intended or otherwise, this may emerge as the swim unfolds or even after the swim itself. Lynne Cox, the greatest outdoor swimmer and pioneer, used her swims to highlight and heal political schisms and relations between countries, her world first crossing of the Bering Strait in 1987 served to cool tensions between the USSR & USA and when President Gorbachev travelled to Washington to sign a nuclear weapons treaty later that year, he and President Reagan raised a glass to toast the swimmer and Gorbachev said - "She proved by her courage how close to each other our peoples live," . Lewis Pugh the champion of “speedo diplomacy” and UN Patron of the Oceans (officially the greatest job title in the world) uses his swims to highlight the destruction that we are causing to the oceans, he dives into the most inhospitable waters on the planet, the North Pole & the South Pole, to urge world leaders to protect the natural world. Look at Ross Edgleys recent “Great British Swim”, a 3000+ km circumnavigation of the British Isles in an attempt by Red Bull to see just how far one super powered aquatic rhino could go. Ross surpassed pretty much all previous thoughts on what a swimmer could endure and as the swim progressed it became about so much more than one person’s capacity for endurance. All over the country, swimmers of all shapes, sizes, gender, ethnicity and sex joined Ross for swims, forming an amorphous representation of the power of outdoor swimming to unite and bring people together, casting a positive story of the interconnectivity and kindness of strangers across a Britain fractured by Brexit and our broken polarized politics. One-person swimming around the British Isles morphed into a nationwide advert for the joy and unity that outdoor swimming can bring.
Now it’s important to remember that these are some of the most ambitious swimming expeditions ever attempted so we would advise that for your expedition “Why” you focus on a smaller more personal motivation. After all, all adventure is deeply personal and your expedition should mean something to you. Common areas to explore are memorial swims to overcome grief, to help people process loss or deal with mental health issues. Other areas might be to raise awareness of environmental damage to the aquatic world or a particular endangered animal. What is the most threatened marine animal in your local area? Could you do your expedition to raise awareness about its plight? You might also look at trying to inspire a younger generation to reconnect with the outdoors and one day embark on their own swimming expedition. For our 2017 “Wild Lady of Loch Broom”, expedition we decided to swim the 13km length of Loch Broom in the Scottish Highlands in memory of Grandma Wild. Her house overlooked the loch itself and we had spent our childhood roaming the mountainside above its waters. She was known locally as the “The Wild Lady” and was a passionate conservationist and Scot. We believed that she was the personification of the mythical and critically endangered Scottish Wildcat, and we used the swim to raise awareness about this beautiful animals disappearance, the perfect Patronus for our Grandma. We’d buried her in a church at the bottom of the loch and the swim, starting in Ullapool, would be a 5-hour swim with each stroke bringing us closer to her grave. Along the way we collected seaweed and lay an aquatic wreath at her tombstone. We’d invited local highlanders to join us for the swim and had a myriad of dippers dive in with us, some for the whole swim, others for the final 1km, our mum and aunty even joined for the final 3kms. The swim became something much bigger and powerful than just swimming the 13km length of Loch Broom.
Personally, my core love is maelstrom swimming, it’s a pretty niche passion even within the niche of outdoor swimming expeditions. But it is the thing I love the most, maelstroms are almost completely unknown and undiscovered. They are areas of deadly vortexes and whirlpools created by unique underwater topography and the powers of opposing tides. They have names like “Skookumchuck” and “Te Aumiti”, they are places of legend, mystery and lore. Only one had ever been swum before, The Corryvreckan in Scotland, but in 2016 we swam two more, the Saltstraumen and Moskstraumen in the Norwegian Arctic Circle. Next year we will attempt to swim Naruto in Japan, the 4th maelstrom. But there is a deeper reason and “WHY”, maelstroms are areas of supreme currents and as a result marine life tends to coalesce within them. The Norwegian ones were in an area with the largest cold-water coral reef in the world, 70% of the Atlantic’s cod stocks and home to Orcas, Porbeagle Sharks and Sea Eagles. The Norwegian Government was debating whether to drill for oil in this region and we partnered with WWF Norge to use the swim as a protest against the plans. Nothing makes us feel more alive than swimming across unexplored maelstroms as brothers to try to protect the natural world.
From Lindsey Cole’s swim of the River Thames as the Urban Mermaid to highlight plastic pollution to Swim Dem Crew’s mission to make swimming more inclusive, from Calum MacLean’s micro expeditions aimed at inspiring people to reconnect with their local landscape to Tunisian swimmer Nejib Belhedi who swims distances of over 120km and toys boats to heal his divided nation. There is a myriad of wacky & wonderful “Whys” out there are and for your own swimming expedition the more it personally means to you the better. You can apply one simple rule to hold a mirror up to your own ambitions, “take away the cameras, social media, likes and content, if no one else would ever find out that you had done the swimming expedition, would you still do it?” If the answer is no then quit while you’re ahead, if the answer is yes then dive on in head first and know that your intentions and ‘The Why” is pure.
Next week - Stage 3 of Planning a Swimming Expedition - “We Haven’t Had Enough of Experts”
For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”