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mAELSTROM CROSSING, 2015

CORRYVRECKAN

 
 
Before we swam the Eden, there was a single word we used as inspiration for our training. For me, it was a word that evoked a wilder and more ancient Britain – the same one that cartographers drew in the early 16th century. When the coastlines were wrapped in inky seas populated by leviathans and Hebridean sirens. It was also a word preserved in Viking legends. One that drew the mind to the west coast of Argyll. Where a collision of tidal pathways intersects and sends manic waves to smash against the jagged, limpet-studded rocks that edge the Isle of Jura… That word was Corryvreckan.
— Jack Hudson, Ch. 3 Corryvreckan, Swim Wild

THE BOYS set off from the stormy marina of Craobh Haven (with their sea captain Duncan) just after midday and returned under clearing skies a few hours later, having swum the Corryvreckan.

They later reflected and realised that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of their Mum. She’d had to stomach the idea of losing all three of her boys at once. But she kept calm and belted out cries of encouragement at every opportunity.

At times the boys were separated by the clashing currents and forced to paw their way through salty slabs of saline. Like anyone who attempts this crossing, they only had a short window to cross between the isles of Jura and Scarba. If they took too long they’d be caught in the maelstrom as it roared into full swing.

In the end they made it across with a decent time of 22 minutes. Aside from a few cut feet and bruised ankles they’d survived intact. It had been a froth-speckled initiation into endurance swimming - great practice for their next adventure: Swim the Eden.

 

Watch the video: The Corryvreckan

  Mike (far left) and Mark (far right) Join Swim The Eden  | Photo:  James Silson

SOURCE-TO-SEA RIVER SWIM, 2015

SWIM THE EDEN

 
Our journey would lead us for 90 miles across the wide, rolling river basin known as the Eden Valley. This valley stretches all the way from the feet of the Pennines to the roving slopes of the Lake District fells. Once the medieval staging ground for the raids of the border reivers, the scenery is still scarred from old battlefields and scattered with sites of historical interest, including the ruins of well-kept pele towers and castles...
— Jack Hudson, Ch.2 Matriarchs, Swim Wild
 
 

ALMOST A YEAR in the making: the 9-day/90-mile Swim the Eden expedition was a chance for the brothers to return to their roots and revisit the swimming spots they loved as kids. It was an opportunity for them to swap the humdrum clockwork of their respective cities (Newcastle, London, Berlin) for the easy rhythms of the natural world. The fact they could also raise money for the Swimming Trust was the final decider - they had to go through with it.

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The Eden swim turned out to be great fun. It took the boys 9 days in total. They started in the peaty bogs and gorges of Black Fell Moss. Then they wound down the steep dale of Mallerstang and floated through the green Vale of Eden. They swam all the way across the Eden Valley and passed through Carlisle and ended on the tidal flats of England’s eastern coast, where the Eden joins the River Esk and enters the Solway Firth.

The whole swim was filmed by the human Swiss Army knife: James Silson. He kayaked alongside the brothers, supported at intervals by Jack's good mates: David Renton and Sandy Kerridge. Then there were the ever-trusty, food-chariots driven by Mum and Dad, as well as Jack’s girlfriend Beth who baked brownies and cakes to keep the boys blubbered-up…

More examples of those kind folk who get you through tough times.

Follow this link to find out more…

 
  Crossing The Saltstraumen  | Photo:  Beth Harrison

MAELSTROM CROSSING, 2016

SALTSTRAUMEN

 
The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and life-giving. It is an immense desert place where man is never lonely, for he senses the weaving of creation on every hand... For the sea is itself nothing but love and emotion. It is the Living Infinite... Nature manifests herself in it, with her three kingdoms: mineral, vegetable, and animal. The ocean is the vast reservoir of Nature.
— Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
 
 

AFTER THEY Swam the Eden the brothers split up and went back to their respective cities. Robbie left for Berlin to work on his new exhibition. Calum returned to the lidos of London and a new role at Eventbrite. And Jack went back to Newcastle and began to write about the Eden swim.

A few months passed before the brothers felt the lure of the world map again...

This time they scanned the globe and pored over charts and maps and picked out unexplored waters. They wanted to do something on a bigger scale. It had to be something that scared them. Something that pushed them and tested their bond. Keeping all this in mind Calum dreamed-up the Into the Maelstrom expedition, in partnership with WWF-Norge.

In a short space of time it was suddenly agreed. They were heading up into the Arctic Circle - to Norway. 

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Into the Maelstrom became a world first attempt to swim across the world’s biggest and most powerful maelstroms: the Moskstraumen and Saltstraumen. Swirling violently off the Norwegian coast, above the spear tip of the Lofoten Islands, these cauldrons of turbulent water possess the strongest and fastest tidal currents in ocean. Made famous by Edgar Allan Poe's A Descent into the Maelstrom and Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (when Captain Nemo's submarine, the Nebuchadnezzar, disappears under the waves) they are truly the stuff of literary legend.

 
 

No one had ever attempted these swims before. It meant the brothers were bound for unknown waters and untested currents. They would also have to contend with the icy water of the Arctic Circle, as well as over 600 orcas rumoured to be roaming the region. Not to mention the infamous lion’s mane jellyfish, capable of growing bigger than a human. 

 
 

The first swim was across the Saltstraumen. It would be a frantic sprint across a 0.25km tidal split with the world's fastest currents. The submerged seamounts funnel up to 400,000,000 cubic metres of swirling seawater through a 3km long and 250-metre wide strait every six hours. Within this frantic wash of currents the water can reach speeds of up to 25mph. 

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The brothers completed this swim in a frenetic 10-minute window. They dodged red jellyfish and fought vagaries of bubbling pressure that jolted them onto disorientated courses. But they made it to the other side under the supervision of their loyal team. And they became the first people to swim across the most powerful maelstrom in the world.

As it turned out the margin between success and failure had been less than one minute. The current suddenly turned a moment after they made it safely into the boat. It was an experience none of them would ever forget. But there was no way the boys could have made it without their companions and crew: Luke, Beth, James, Dave and ship captain Knut Westvig.

Watch the video: Into The Maelstrom, Part One

 
 
 
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MAELSTROM CROSSING, 2016

MOSKSTRAUMEN

 

The second and final swim of the Into The Maelstrom expedition took the brothers across the mighty Moskstraumen. This was an 8km point-to-point crossing between the islands of Vaeroy and Mosken. On a bad day, the central whorl of this whirlpool can span a diameter of around 40–50 meters (130–160 ft) and fierce tides bring the northerly Norwegian Sea currents into a storm-induced flow to create currents of up to 12 mph.

 
 
 
 
 

The brothers crossed the Moskstraumen in 2.31 hours. They became the first people to make that 8km crossing and landed safely in the dry fingers of the Lofoten Islands. Granted the Norse weather gods had been kind to them and despite the odd strong current they were blessed with Arctic waters that were glassy smooth.

That being said, the brothers did have to quell the dread of an orca sighting - several had been seen in the maelstrom six days earlier. They also had to dodge warbling blooms of lion’s mane jellyfish and survive the numbing 9°C water. 

The awe-inspiring beauty of the Lofoten Islands made it all bearable, as well as the encouragement of a motley support team: Luke, Dave, Sils and Beth, as well as Knut Westvig of Stella Polaris and Therese and Lars of Aqua Lofoten Coast Adventure AS

 
  Floating In Loch Broom  | Photo:  Beth Harrison

POINT-TO-POINT LOCH SWIM, 2017

WILD LADY OF LOCH BROOM

 
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone for coming along and being involved in this weird, wonderful, odd adventure... It is exactly what Grandma would’ve wanted.
— Calum Hudson
 
 

CALUM, JACK, their girlfriends, Beth and Serena, and good friend Luke, escaped the late night bustle of London on the Caledonian Sleeper train. They hurtled north and drank through dusk in the lounge cabin, their surroundings rattling as they crowded the table at intervals with small bottles and upturned cards.

 
 
 
 

The following morning to be greeted by a big, friendly Scot carrying a tray of coffee. Excited for their first glimpse of the Scottish hills, they whipped open the windows and sat propped against their pillows, sipping they coffee and enjoying the sweeping views as they slowly woke up. Soon the boys saw the familiar swathes of heather and the rugged tors rising over stands of Scots pines. It was the world their grandma was from. The wild, sprawling Highlands they’d visited since they were little. 

Nothing beats the Highlands when it comes to escaping the city. There's something about the vast space, unique brawny wildlife and spiny hills that releases you from anxiety. All the while scree-striped hills and leaden lochs swept by the little train windows.

One by one the beautiful vistas came and went with increasing effect. Sometimes the train would slow and the boys would peer into the gardens of isolated bungalows. Then the train would hurtle off again, plunging into deep forests, where seas of bracken poured between the scattered pines.

By the time they reached Ullapool - after taking a taxi from the station at Inverness - they were ready to get out, stretch their legs and inhale the fresh air.

They headed down onto the pebbled beaches, found crabs under the rocks and skimmed stones over the kelp forests. Then they wandered to the harbour and Luke tested his new rod as they watched two seals prowling in the oily water around the fishing boats.

In the evening they met up with a local wild swimmer, Norman, and went for a swim in the loch. They found a stretch of water away from the boats and ditched the wetsuits to acclimatise and discover just how cold it really was. 

In the icy, clear water Jack was immediately surprised by the size of the splayed lion's mane jellyfish - much bigger than any of the ones they'd seen in Norway. Then there were scattered blooms that pulsated a few feet beneath the surface, warbling menacingly with thick wads of tentacles.

But apart from those gelatinous stingers the water was lovely, with far-reaching visibility - not to mention the abundance of fish, crabs, kelp and coral. The only thing they were missing was a seal! 

Norman told them how the seals would come to inspect him when he was swimming. Apparently they were protecting their pups at this time of year, which made them a little more hostile (they weren't known to give anything worse than an inquisitive nudge).

 
 
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Later, as the sun packed up its rays behind the hills, the group ate fish and chips and chatted about the swim and how nice it was to be away from the city. Then they finished the night drinking cider and listening to live music in a harbour pub, hushed by a smooth, acoustic blend of Cat Stevens and Tracy Chapman. 

 
 

The next day, Friday, August 25th, the boys prepared for their swim down the full 12.8km length of Loch Broom, from Ullapool to Clachan church. The church is where their Grandma Wild is buried, alongside their Great Grandma. Jack also had a lovely chat with Fiona Stalker on BBC Radio Scotland (35-mins in) and told her stories of Grandma's life on the lochside and how she became known as the Wild Lady of Loch Broom.

That afternoon the rest of the happy clan arrived, including big brother Robbie, his girlfriend Valeriya, old school mate Sandy, his girlfriend Millie, their stone-fetching black Labrador Bonnie, Mum (the Wild Swimming Mother), James Silson (the trusty Human Swiss Army Knife), Aunty Fiona, Uncle Mike, cousin Katie and another hardy local wild swimmer, Colin, who'd be crossing the loch with the boys.

Once everyone was there they all celebrated and ate fish and chips together and watched the sunset from the harbour before hitting the hay for an early night.

When it came to Saturday morning the boys were bleary-eyed and groggy but ready for the swim. They woke at 5 and took the kayaks down to a jetty close to Ullapool harbour. Millie then donned the wild cat costume they'd been given by sponsors Wildcat Action and the boys took a few photos with Colin and Norman, before heading out (on what would be an almost 5 hour swim in 13 degree water) through a crowd of anchored boats.

Along the way they saw shoals of fish darting through the clear, greenish water. They dodged and swerved down a narrow channel that was later renamed Jellyfish Alley and slowly crawled a seemingly endless, but mercifully sunlit, final mile, alongside the familiar bracken-swathed hills that overlook Grandma Wild's old white bungalow. The brackish 13-degree water was fairly punishing and, as the hours slid by, the boys became very thankful for the neoprene covering most of their bodies, including Jack’s webbed gloves, which Beth's Mum had posted to the hotel at the last minute (thanks Sue!). And yet by the end of the swim Jack’s extremities still seemed to have been disconnected from his body and his muscles had turned to water.

Nevertheless they all made it!

Looking back, it was one of the greatest experiences the boys had in the water! They were even joined at different times by several shy seals and porpoises (unfortunately they kept their distance). And all the while, with every stroke, they'd drawn closer to the free matriarch who'd first inspired these mad adventures together as the Wild Swimming Brothers

Finally, they boys were met on the boggy marshland below Clachan by a host of lochsiders, all of whom had known and loved Grandma. They kindly revived the swimmers with coffee and sausage and bacon sandwiches. Then everyone went up in a group to Clachan church and laid Katie's wreath, made of seaweed, heather and wildflowers, on Grandma's grave, warmed by the knowledge that they'd done her proud.

 
 
 
 

The boys did this swim in memory of their Grandma Wild. But they also wanted to raise awareness about the plight of the Scottish Wildcat, which was why they partnered with Scottish Wildcat Action.

The history of this striped beauty describes a true survivor. Roughly 9000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, furry European wildcats crossed the ice and arrived on the rugged, drifting landmass that later became Britain. In the many years that followed, interbreeding with domestic cats, habitat destruction and persecution have all but wiped these wildcats out. Now their last refuge is in the forested Scottish hills, where they are known locally as the Tiger of the Highlands.

Organisations like Scottish Wildcat Action are responding to the desperate need to promote and secure their protection. If you'd like to find out more about how you could support their current conservation plan, and save this wonderful creature, you can visit the Wildcat Action website below.

Find out more about the Scottish wildcat: Visit the Scottish Wildcat Action website.

 
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A SWIM FROM EUROPE TO ASIA, 2018

HELLESPONT 

The morning sun was streaming down onto the water. We waded in with the heat on our bare backs and pulled down our goggles. A fever swept across the churned water and I let out an involuntary cheer as the bodies rushed past me and dove into the shallows. Tall splashes erupted in all directions. Slowly we slumped forward and pulled ourselves down into the swirling green quiet – that veil of bubbles. When I came up there were swimmers on all sides of me. I picked out Calum’s Selkie jammers and drew up alongside him. Then we set off together into the long, bobbing channel of fishing boats, dinghies and kayaks.

THE STRAIT OF THE DARDANELLES runs like a sinew between the Black Sea in the northeast and the Mediterranean to the southwest. It also connects the southwestern Aegean Sea to inland Sea of Marmara and serves as a boundary line between the continents of Europe and Asia. As a link to all these expanses of open water it has become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. So it was no surprise - when we veered onto the coastline, crammed into a taxi with the windows rolled down and a Turkish Tourism graduate and his father gesturing to signposts and ruins as they swept by outside - that we peered through the thin screen of trees and looked across the water at huge tankers and freighters bloated with cargo. Mind you, what did come as a surprise was that giddy James Bond moment when one of us pointed to the bridge of a Russian submarine, slicing through the central current.

We were a long way from the sleepy rivers and babbling brooks of Cumbria. This was the wide open heart of Turkish industry – that often fought-over stretch of water, the shores of which were scattered with the dusty ruins of Ottoman castles and ancient cities. And right then and there it became clear that this was going to be a swim unlike any we’d attempted before.

They call it the Oldest Swim in the World – a transcontinental crossing of the historic Dardanelles, from Europe to Asia. We were here with the company Swim Trek (run by Simon Murie, himself an English Channel swimmer and coach who broke the Australian record for crossing the Gibraltar Straits), on one of the many swim adventures they organise around the world, from the Galapagos Islands to Croatia. When Calum first arranged for us to join them I started reading a little about what we could expect. There was no need for the usual back and forth. Anyone who thinks that swimming across the world’s most powerful maelstroms is a good idea, and turns out to be right, is worth trusting twice. And so I smothered any distrust built-up over years of being the Little Brother – memories of toddling along forest paths and suddenly being hip-nudged into the undergrowth.

I decided that this time I was all in.

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On the day of the swim we were thrust into a muddled group of Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, Irish, Welsh and English - all jumbled together in our 75 green caps, amidst the sea of yellow caps belonging to the Turks. We left the ferry in a slow herd and flowed along the roadside, passing bystanders who gawped at us and early risers in their apartments. The risers patrolled their balconies with little steaming cups and watched our solemn sea-bound march like sailor’s wives on their widow’s walks.  

Two salient forts – sand-faded vestiges of the Ottoman empire – were perched atop either side of the strait. We walked to the bay where we’d be starting our swim, close to one of these forts. A barrier separated us from the sand. Officials walked up and down it, patrolling our confines. They checked their watches at intervals and signalled each other. We were all of us itching to get started. Wearing nothing but our suits and caps. Goggles hung pinched between fingers. Colourful jammers clashed and jumped together.

The weight collected again in my stomach. I felt the unease rising.

This was the start of our Hellespont Swim Race.

We’d taken a boat ride across the Dardanelles the day before and been told about the two currents that flow through the strait in opposite directions. A strong saline undercurrent sweeps along the farthest shore. This would make it hard for us to exit. Simon had explained that we’d have to aim left and fight the current and make for a tall flagpole that jutted up from the hills. Then after the flag you could sight several other landmarks – a stadium, the minarets of a mosque… – we’d have to pick them out until we could cut a direct sprint for the exit ramp at the harbour. Apparently only the strongest Turkish swimmers swam a straight line to the finish. For the rest of us it was likely our paths would turn out like the scribblings of a drunk with an Etch A Sketch.

I shuffled up to the barrier and gripped the metal. Calum was talking excitedly to a huddle of Swim Trekkers. Behind us the recumbent town of Eceabat was just waking up. Stray dogs lounged at the roadside. I stared across the water and measured the crossing in my mind. I reminded myself that the Thames Marathon had been 14km in total. This was closer to 5km.   

Enjoy it, I told myself.

The eastern shore rippled in the heat. A layer of mist had settled over the water. I looked at the little mosques and forts and white buildings of Çanakkale. The coast itself was arid – the vegetation sparse and the shoreline crowded with chalky rocks the same colour as the buildings.

Just then a trio of eager Turkish men muscled their way to the front and stealthily heaved the barrier back. One of the officials caught sight of them and rushed over, waving his clipboard. Amidst the commotion a horn blasted suddenly and the front lines surged forward and sprinted down the sand into the shallows, like wildebeest galloping into crocodile-infested waters. We wished luck to our group of new friends: Matt, Otto, James, Dee and Sarah. Then we jumped down onto the sand and spotted another Swim Trekker – the quick-fire Irish whippet, Ed. The night before he’d been a bag of nerves. He’d inhaled this mound of chicken and rice and jittered at the table and asked us all about the minor details of our preparations. Now he was more determined than the rest of us. He talked in all directions as he weaved his way into the water and forgot to step on the starter mat to register his ankle tag and rushed back and re-joined the group beside us.

“Right lads – you’re only here once,” he called, as he disappeared into the mass of swimmers.

The morning sun was streaming down onto the water. We waded in with the heat on our bare backs and pulled down our goggles. A fever swept across the churned water and I let out an involuntary cheer as the bodies rushed past me and dove into the shallows. Tall splashes erupted in all directions. Slowly we slumped forward and pulled ourselves down into the swirling green quiet – that veil of bubbles. When I came up there were swimmers on all sides of me. I picked out Calum’s Selkie jammers and drew up alongside him. Then we set off together into the long, bobbing channel of fishing boats, dinghies and kayaks.

The next half hour was as pleasant as any time I’ve spent in the water. The currents were slow and gentle and the waves rocked us and rolled with our strokes as we rose and sank over the chop. The bed disappeared quickly, but the sun still stretched its fingers down far below us and caught the umbrellas of clear jellyfish as they rose from the murk and glinted within twisting shoals of fish. Calum and I kept a quick-ish pace and timed our strokes together and cut a path through the criss-crossing wakes of other swimmers and saw the steep sun rays dropping through their bubbles. I let my feet trail and felt the warm water threading through my fingers and washing over me. I kept sight of the line boats and the flagpole ahead of us and we didn't stop until we were cast under the prow shadow of an incoming boat. 

We looked up to see Simon grinning down at us.

“Stroke’s looking good,” he said. 

He told us we were making a good direct line with the Turkish bunch. If we continued as we were the current could sweep us too far right and cause us to miss our exit. He advised us to cut a hard left towards the boats on our farthest side.  

We took his advice and swerved against the current and kept digging in until we floated onto the glassy waters around the exit ramp, shielded by the harbour wall. A moment earlier a figure had swept past us as we crawled through the water. When we peeled our goggles off we saw that it was James - one of the South African/London Swim Trekkers. He grinned at us and raised his arms as he burst from the water. 

"I beat the Wild Swimming Brothers."

In the end we made the 5-kilometer crossing in just over an hour.

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That night we drank with our group and heard stories of encounters with sharks and Pacific Island swim spots and huge events that draw thousands of aquatic attendees. A handful of our swimmers had won medals and the Efes was flowing and spirits were high. Personally it was one of the best swims I’ve been part of so far. It was totally different to our swims in the Arctic Circle (much warmer) and our swim down the River Eden (much shorter). The challenge had been to stay calm and find an inward rhythm amidst the 700 other swimmers. But that wasn't such a hard task with such beautiful surroundings and far-reaching water clarity and the silent company of all those other swimmers threading through the water. Aside from the first few lines the pace had been gentle and unhurried. Some of the older swimmers had even swum breaststroke the whole way. We'd had enough time to enjoy the water and film and dive down at times to that dim curve where the temperature dropped.

For anyone still wondering whether or not to book the Hellespont swim next year… We make a lot of recommendations for swim events and sometimes you do worry if the swimmer catches a bad day, or bad weather, there's a chance they won’t get a good experience out of it. The Hellespont is different though. Even if the currents turn on you – a boatload of swimmers didn’t make it and still came out on the opposite coast with huge smiles– the atmosphere of excitement and pride is irresistible. You'll be aware all the while that you are taking part in something special. The great march of industry grinds to a halt. The freighters and submarines draw back. And for two hours the Strait of the Dardanelles belongs to a bubble-kicking, current-pawing, salt-water-spitting pod of swimmers from around the world.

All there for the same reason - all enjoying the water with barely a word passed between them. 

This is something you'll remember - this good thing that you did...


Sign up for the next big event: Visit the Swim Trek website

Words | Jack Hudson