Swim sisters are doing it for themselves

Friends Vivien and Joey take on Gull Rock in Cornwall and discover that although you may get separated by the chop, together is always better

Nick Mills

The view looking towards Gull Rock from Portscatho is stunning. I visit this area every year and the water is crystal clear, cold and can often still have a bite to it in the summer. I had a growing desire to swim to the rock, around and back. A distance of approximately 6.5 miles. I wanted to share this swim with my swimming sister and friend Joey. We both love the cold sea and experiencing the changing of the seasons through the water. There is now a familiar rhythm. As the year passes, the temperature and type of swims we do change. We like to plan a swimming adventure each year – somewhere beautiful that we want to explore. Gull Rock was this years adventure.

Often we swim alone, but the most special times have been together.

I contacted people I thought might be able to help, who had good knowledge of the sea and who had done some safety training, such as kayaking companies, boat hire people, and a few local contacts including Karteek Clarke that had completed the swim a few years back. There was a lot of emailing back and forth over several months. Eventually I was put in touch with Matt Relton at Lusty Surf life saving. We chatted over the phone and he was really excited to help.

Vivien Solari

At this point it was midwinter and the lowest sea temperature I measured was 4C, with frost on the pebbles. We often walked home steadying each other feeling blissfully drunk from the cold, shivering and teeth chattering. We opted to train mostly in the sea.

On the day itself, the start of the swim went like a dream. The morning was relatively calm and sunny compared to the previous days. We met the team, Matt, Helen, Andy and Pete at the beach and soon after we were off. It felt smooth and comfortable and every so often we looked around to enjoy the view of the Roseland Peninsular. The sea was a deep clear blue and we could see a multitude of compass jellyfish, and a few crystal ones. These gave us a bit of perspective on the depth as some were just miniature size as we swum over them. Nare Head looked spectacular close up, and Gull Rock seemed to be playing with us, the distance very difficult to judge. Joey and I swum close together and we could see each other so clearly under the water. It didn’t stop the odd collision though! We got to the rock very quickly and spent a while simply enjoying being there, chatting about what might be in the cave. The nesting sea birds on Gull rock swooped down to investigate, one cormorant getting very close to Joeys head.

Our main concern was to enjoy swimming, and for us that was outdoors in all weather.

Vivien Solari

Dark clouds started to appear and a spot of rain, then the wind started to pick up. As we approached the other side between the mainland and the rock we realised that it was not slack yet and we would be swimming against the tide for some time. I could see Joey disappear behind a swell and I was looking down at her and then vice versa. No wonder we got seasick. Sighting was difficult even with lots of landmarks around us. I started to get a cramp and it stayed on and off for the rest of the swim. We ended up doing a detour inside the bay. This increased the distance but gave a little relief from some of the bigger waves. Helen offered me some hot tea and it tasted like the best tea I’d ever had: sweet relief for my churning stomach.

The waves were swelling up and down carrying Joey and I with them. Often in opposite directions.

John Broadbent
Vivien Solari

Eventually Portscatho got clearer. By this time Joey had gone back to the beach on the advice of the team, which really changed the mood of the swim. I felt concerned for her but knew she would want me to finish. I love that. So on I swam for several hours more. It was so exciting to see my family, friends and Joey welcoming me in. There was an emotional team-hug at the end and I remember saying: “I’m so sorry it took so long!” They all laughed. We predicted 4hours and it took me 6hrs 10mins! And the distance I’m really not sure, but it doesn’t matter, it was the swim that counted. We are already planning new adventures, but I think Gull Rock will draw us back sometime. Joey has unfinished business with it and I would love to do it again.

…Eleven days later, Joey went back and succeeded. Taking on board a few lessons learnt about the local affects of the tide and a determined mindset, she finished in 4hrs 52mins! Gull Rock produced a few surprises for us but that is why we love sea swimming so much. No two swims are the same.

With distance swimming you often lose sense of time, like meditating you are focused on the moment and can learn to ignore what your body is telling you.

Nick Mills
Vivien Solari