To those following Ross Edgley’s Great British Swim, a swim around the coast of Britain, Ross is coming across as the original legend in his own lifetime. Ross is swimming 12 hours a day, in two six-hour sessions, and has been going for over 100 days. The highs and lows of his journey, which include dolphins, storms, Minke whales and a huge amount of eating, is being documented in his weekly vlogs. They say never meet your heroes, some also say there are no such thing as heroes (just people with photogenic faces and quotable lines). But to do what he is doing, and keep on smiling? That fulfills the definition of a hero for many of us: “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities”. With the Great British Swim back near civilisation after a time in the wilds of Scotland, swimmer Calum Maclean was invited onboard to meet Ross. How did he measure up?
I’d been following Ross Edgley’s epic Great British Swim since the start, so given the opportunity to meet him and get onboard his boat, Hecate – I jumped at the chance. I met Ross at the busy fishing harbour of Fraserburgh on the Aberdeenshire coast. After 100 days at sea Ross & support crew took the chance to do some work on the boat and speak to the media – so I went to meet him to make a short film of this point in history.
I spent over an hour with Ross & the crew onboard, chatting, filming, letting him eat some of the 15,000 calories he needs each day. One aspect of his swim that comes across in his YouTube vlogs is his positivity – he always seems to be smiling! I wanted to see this for myself, and question whether he really is like that, especially so far into the challenge.
To swim with a smile comes down to a physiological need, not just a mental game. Ross must care for his immune system: 100 plus days is too long to grit his teeth and tough it out
Ross said it all comes down to mindset. For every six-hour swim session (he does two a day!) Ross must tell himself something that encourages him to get in – even if it’s a lie. To swim with a smile is of upmost importance: but this comes down to a physiological need, not just a mental game. On such an expedition, Ross must care for his immune system: 100 plus days is too long to grit his teeth and tough it out, the stress hormones released could mean cortisol spiking, leaving his body susceptible to disease, so there is science behind the smile. After speaking to Ross, I can confirm his enthusiasm – (about everything!) – is infectious, and in future I shall be swimming with a smile!
After speaking to Ross, I can confirm his enthusiasm – (about everything!) – is infectious, and in future I shall be swimming with a smile!
The swim has taken a toll on Ross, from wetsuit burns to salt tongue, where layers of it were literally peeling off. A while back his feet went black, a result of the changes in circulation from spending so much time horizontal, and not weight bearing.
“Summer body goals?” Ross wrote on his insta. “Mine are to make my body fatter. Face hairier. Skin rougher. All to make me more durable and resilient and ultimately finish the #greatbritishswim”, What’s with the black feet? “The tiny ligaments, tendons and muscles in my feet and legs have atrophied (shrunk) from over 100 days at sea (a similar physiological phenomena that happens to astronauts from months in zero gravity)”.
Was there anything else, I asked?
‘I’ve yet to developed webbed feet,’ he says, ‘but I’m hairier. I’m trying to grow facial hair to protect me from jellyfish because, swimming at night, the first thing to hit you is jellyfish in the face. As you’ll know, the giant jellyfish in Scotland are silky, got me up the nose, in the ear, they just get everywhere.’
His mindset has changed. ‘I think I’ve become more mature,’ he says in his Week 15 VLOG. ‘When I started I was thinking as a young athlete: 20 miles a day, 100 days, BOOM. I was quickly humbled as a swimmer. Now I think a lot less like an athlete and a lot more like an adventurer, in that I know mother nature is not something that you can compete against, she’ll win every time’.
Physically, his form has also adapted. At the start of the challenge Ross did not look like your typical distance swimmer, despite some impressive feats in the past. His early vlogs show his muscular, heavy frame, which has since changed somewhat. Ross’s bodyfat has increased, a necessity to survive the sea every day, he has grown a mighty beard, and to my eye at least, he looked substantially older than when he began. From being relatively fresh-faced, he looked tougher, more haggard. This is the reality of hard sessions every day in sea water, and the reality of such an adventure.
But, for all the hardship, there are the high points – the pod of dolphins, the minke whales. ‘Somedays I’m not living the dream. Other days, yes! I remember why I’m doing this now.’
When he’s not sleeping or swimming, Ross spends a lot of time eating: 15,000 calories a day.
‘You need to take care of your calorie requirements, but at same time look after your nutritional requirements: vitamins, minerals, phyto enzymes. It looks strange sometimes that I’m starting the day with two pizzas and a full English, but I’m washing that down with multivitamins and a supergreen shake, a bowl of fruit and multivitamins’. A bit like having a hangover? ‘Yes,’ he chuckles. ‘A hangover. For 100 days.’
As Ross himself has said, he is the swimmer but it takes an entire team to get him safely around. His captain Matt is in charge of when and where to swim, with years of experience and an intimate knowledge of the sea. Reading charts and weather reports, it seems as though he may also be surviving on less sleep than Ross, with having to pilot to safe anchorages between swim sessions. Added to that a variety of friends, family and media crew who join the boat to help Ross with this mammoth challenge. Ross gives regular shout outs to those helping him (“(Another) Hero of the #greatbritishswim @caswallsart He’s paddle boarded more miles and applied more lube to my #RhinoNeck than anyone in the history of open water swimming, haha! Genuinely I don’t know if I’d have come this far so fast without him!”), including all those writing encouraging comments on social media.
Ross shall quite rightly take the plaudits but he could not do it alone.
After starting the swim in Margate, Ross is now back in English waters and heading for the finish line. His initial aim had been to complete the entire circumnavigation in 100 days – far too ambitious an aim as it turned out, particularly with some wild weather around the north of Scotland.
Exactly how long the swim will take is somewhat of an unknown: as Ross himself told me:
“When will I finish? When the ocean lets me.”