This year, The Outdoor Swimming Society handed over the organisation of its iconic swim events – the Bantham Boomerang and Swoosh, the Hurly Burly and the Dart 10k – to -charity Level Water and their new events arm, the Swim Collective. Kari Furre helped to map out the routes of the original swims, so how would she feel swimming her first Swoosh without The OSS running the show?
I live near the Swoosh, and normally don’t swim the event as I can do it anytime, but this year was special: the first-ever Bantham Boomerang, and the first time the events have run since Level Water took over the organisation from The OSS. The Swoosh is a 6k swim down the estuary of the River Avon, named after the final kilometre in which swimmers are ‘swooshed’ out by the ebbing tide funnelling through a narrow section of the river. The Boomerang doubles the swim: from the mouth of the river at Bantham upriver and back again to enjoy the ebbing tide and its final ‘swoosh’ into the sea.
I did some of the test Boomerangs with Kate Rew (OSS Founder and previously Event Director), it is only by trial and error that you can refine the timings. The aim is for all the different speeds of swimmers to get as far as possible up the river before the tide turns. There is no slack water to speak of, as the river is like a funnel and the water empties back out as soon as the tide stops pushing. We went multiple times, with different pace swimmers, trying out different permutations. The first test we did was me, an artistic but persistent swimmer representing medium paced swimmers; fast swimmers Llyr (the water safety genius) and Morgan (who has played so many roles in The OSS) representing the speedy swimmers, and Kate paddling and keeping track of things with a notebook, clock and camera. My set off time turned out to be too early, so I reached Tidal Road (the final possible turnaround point of the Boomerang) before the tide turned, while the speedy swimmers turned out to need an earlier set off time – they only just made it past the water skiing area.
I did some of the test Boomerangs, it is only by trial and error you can refine the timings. We got so cold on one occasion that we had to stop. Another time we got confused about whether the tide had turned or not.
The tests continued: Kate and I got so cold on one occasion that we had to terminate the attempt and get out half way at Aveton Gifford, where I found great solace warming my feet in a puddle while we waited to be rescued. Another time we felt the tide turn before it was officially due – we stopped swimming to confirm it was pulling us in a different direction. So although The OSS would never come to organise the actual event, we already knew it would be quite a logistical undertaking for multiple swimmers!
Level Water took over and managed the whole swim brilliantly. They had to manage the less than ideal time of the tide (it was late in the day, making it a push to get everyone home before dark), and all the thousand and one details it takes to run an event in such a scenic, but inaccessible place. As a long time fan of The OSS, ready to tut at any changes, I found myself being charmed by the new organisers, who put their own stamp on the event, but kept all the character of The OSS swim.
The start of the swim, through the mud flats, is always slow. Just like the start of a marathon, everyone is getting their sea legs and trying not to get in anybody’s way. By the end of the first kilometre, the collective nervousness had melted away in the silty water.
I decided to just do the one way Swoosh swim on Saturday morning. Although the logistics of being in the right place at the right time and on the right bus was quite taxing enough as a swimmer. The numbers of swimmers queuing at the start of the swim was overwhelming. It was requested that the slower swimmers go to the front and the fast at the back, but how do you choose where to go in the shuffling band of neoprene bodies? I thought I was probably far too near the back by the time I had faffed about, but with not a chance of changing places with anyone, you just get in and swim.
The start of the swim, through the mud flats, is always slow. Just like the start of a mass marathon, everyone is getting their sea legs and trying not to get in anybody’s way. By the end of the first kilometre, at the end of the Tidal Road, the collective nervousness had melted away in the silty water.
The water broadens out at this point and there is more space to swim. I swam with one Swoosher for a few hundred metres, enjoying the companionship of the red hat and shiny goggles, and realised that the water was becoming much clearer: shallow and sandy, with shells and pieces of seaweed. I lost my companion, but then found another. Every time I sighted, the black, seagull arms of swimmers ahead stretched out forever – I didn’t dare look back for fear I was near the back of the swim, why oh why do I worry about that? I know there is no possibility of winning! Not that it is a race as we all know, and I also know I am unlikely to be last.
We got to the wide part of the river where the water ski club rushes up and down some days. The samphire beds are to the left, the woods are all around, the water is clear and flowing. Here, my stroke starts to lengthen, and I start to pick off swimmers. This is such fun! I feel fast and slick and oh such a good swimmer. Then all of a sudden I am on my own, I think must have passed a whole bunch and am chasing the next. But no of course not – I was so full of my own swim I was using my usual route, which was not the same as the official route, and the body of swimmers had crossed to the left side of the river leaving me, the happy but lone swimmer, on the right. I had to be shooed back into line by a paddleboarding lifeguard.
Then came the swim down the home straight sighting on the boathouse. When I leave Bantham Beach I always glance up the river and get great pleasure from thinking “I have swum that”. At the boat house, the water pace quickens and there is very little point sprinting to the finish at the beach. The water picks up speed, the seaweed streams behind, and it doesn’t really matter if you stroke or not we all are pushed at the same pace past the pink boathouse, around the corner ready to be spat out on the beach by the famous swoosh.
It was a happy day knowing that the Swoosh is in remarkable hands, and that we all raised money for Level Water, the charity that has been linked to the OSS for many years. I can’t wait to be part of the festival vibe that is the Dart 10K.