On January 29th 2018 Becky Horsbrugh is setting out to become the first British person to swim the Bay of Bengal, joining a local organised long distance open water swim. Here’s her story:
Last year I read about a 16 km sea swim in the Bay of Bengal that no British person has ever attempted. Organised by a local group called ‘The Everest Academy’ the Bangla Channel swim started in 2006 with three swimmers taking part with a snorkel mask and fin. In 2012 an English Channel swimmer Van Gool Milko from the Netherlands took part, but still very few people have done it – so far it’s only been conquered by him, four Indians and a few local swimmers.
The distance isn’t so difficult, it’s simply sports like open water swimming are not practised by many people there. There is no real culture of swimming and most people are very poor in comparison to what we have. They don’t have the luxury of easy access to decent swimming pools and training and kit. Also visitor numbers to Bangladesh are low; it’s not necessarily one of the safest countries to travel to as a westerner.
When I read about the Bangla Channel swim I had recently returned from a visit to Bangladesh teaching children to swim, and was getting back to my usual fitness in the water following serious illness and surgery. The combination of the two factors made me want to do it, so I signed up with The Everest Academy and announced to all and sundry that I was going to do it. Then I rather freaked out. What have I let myself in for, I thought?
I’ve always been in awe of English Channel swimmers: the dedication they put into their training, their sense of adventure and bravery tackling such a grueling challenge. I love swimming outdoors, but I am not used to such cold and harsh conditions. I’ve done swims like the Hellespont, but at the point of signing up my longest swim was 7km in a river, so I didn’t have experience of anything that would test my physical and mental ability in the water to this extent.
I signed up for weekly club sessions with a company called SwimforTri*
My first instinct was to just swim lots! I was wary of injury and over doing it, so I signed up for weekly club sessions with a company called SwimforTri*. One of their coaches wrote me a training plan that leads right up to the swim. It involved four swims a week, around 4-5km in distance. with a mixture of endurance and drills. I usually swim at London Fields Lido in east London, but as that was closed much of last year most swims have been at the Olympic Aquatics Centre. Whenever I struggled with the commitment, the thought of who the swim might help spurred me on.
In Bangladesh, about 50 children die in the water every day.
In Bangladesh, about 50 children die in the water every day. In the UK, it’s around 15 a year – still 15 too many, but a stark contrast. I’m a swim teacher and when I visited Bangladesh in 2017 I spent a week in Sreepur Village helping out on one of the local SwimSafe schemes, which helps prevent drowning by teaching children to swim.
Working alongside local coaches we taught children in groups of five or six within a bamboo structure built in a pond. Run by an organisation called the CIPRB (Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh) with RNLI assistance, the scheme aims to ensure every child can swim 25 m, float or tread water for 30 seconds and perform a dry land rescue.
Previously I had seen swimming as an activity I enjoy which is good for my health. Over that week that changed: I came to see swimming as a lifesaving skill that everyone has a right to learn. It costs twenty-one pounds to teach a child to swim via the SwimSafe scheme, and £30 to deliver a water safety lesson to a group of 30 children. I’m aiming to raise £2000 through my swim for SwimSafe; and that focus really kept me going during the training months. So did the support I’ve received from swimming and non-swimming friends: people telling me that I have inspired them has in turn re-inspired me.
A 16 kilometre sea swim is quite daunting when there are so few people who have done it. I have spoken to a few swimmers who have – some local swimmers, and Van Gool Milko, the Dutchman who completed it. I don’t know that much about the conditions except they are okay. There should be tidal assistsnce, no jellyfish and the water temperature will be about 20 to 23 degrees. The swim is fully supported by boats.
The Bangla Channel is seen as one of the ultimate sporting challenges in the country.
I’ve made a lot of Bangladeshi friends thanks to facebook and other social media over the past few months; the Bangla Channel is seen as one of the ultimate sporting challenges in the country. I am lucky too that through work I have good friends in Dhaka who have helped me with all the planning (I am a foreign news journalist and my work has a bureau there.
The Bangla Channel swim starts in Teknaf and ends on Saint Martin’s Island. First I will travel to Dhaka, the capital where I will stay a few days and talk to local media about my challenge. Then, I’ll make my way down to Cox’s Bazar, on the coast by plane. From there I will travel by car to Teknaf, (a two-hour drive) and then finally join the swim organisers there for the two hour long ferry journey to St Martin’s Island where we will stay for two days before the swim.
St Martin’s Island is the only coral island in the country, and just 8km long and 1km wide, adorned with coconut trees.
There is no electricity but there are generators in the evening providing some power. The swim itself will be from Teknaf back to the island. I feel honoured that representatives from the CIPRB, whom I am raising money for, will also be there.
It will be an incredible experience, even though at the moment I feel nervous, excited, scared and a bit apprehensive.
But I feel if I don’t push myself I won’t really know what I am capable of, and if the money I am raising helps to save even just one child from drowning then all my effort will be worth it!