The Longest Swim on the Longest Day, The Outdoor Swimming Society’s new virtual event, captured the imagination of open water enthusiasts from 21 different countries across the globe. Not only did they plan, train and ultimately treat themselves to a long swim on or around the 21st June, but many of them also co-opted their friends and families to be part of their swimming adventure.
Here are the personal swim journeys of six of the Longest Swim participants.
Swimming has been the one constant in my life, paradoxically energizing and calming me, sustaining me through loss. I thrive on goals so the longest swim on the longest day caught my eye.
We’ve all had a rough year so to swim in an event with participants around the globe seemed like a joyful act of optimism. I began my swim in Paradox Lake, an idyllic lake ringed with pine trees in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State. It freezes over every winter and every spring I wait impatiently for it to thaw. My goal was 6500 yards, not a lot compared to open water miles I’ve logged in the past but I chose the number to celebrate my age (minus a few zeros). I’ve made peace with swimming less, more slowly.
We woke up to rain on the morning of the solstice. The forecast predicted severe thunderstorms. But as soon as I decided to postpone the skies cleared and the radar looked good, so we went for it. I swim in pretty much the same direction every time, but the conditions are always so different that I never get bored. Decades ago I sprinkled my husband’s ashes along my route, my secret guardian. For this swim my dear partner, Charles, kayaked beside me. Love + swimming = bliss. It was mostly a grey sky, water and land, all grey (my favourite colour). But every so often the sun gleamed through. The air was warm, the water temperature delightful. Mid to upper 70s for both.
The lake was quiet and mostly calm, belying the drama in the sky. A pair of loons glided over to visit. The last bit was swum into the wind, but it was honestly no more than a gentle breeze. I exited the water at 5000 yards, and headed onto the next.
I finished the event in my favorite outdoor pool. The sky was scarier by then. I divided the 1500 yards into 500s, then 200s, then 100s so I could stop and listen for thunder. A huge ominous cloud almost drove me out but once again the sun powered through just as I was about to flee. It didn’t storm until at least a half hour after I finished. I was so relieved that I hadn’t let the dark clouds ruin my day, nor was I struck by lightning. As a bonus the solstice ended with much needed heavy rainfall.
It was truly a perfect day.
My sister, Elaine Mochrie, had set herself a challenge of 79 swims between the Winter and Summer Solstice as part of Paralympic, Karen Darke’s, Quest 79. We swam many of these together and she reached her target much earlier than anticipated in April 2021, on the day my 79 year old Mum, Frances Adam decided to return to Open Water swimming! So a new challenge had to be sought.
Elaine knew I was keen to swim the Longest Swim on the Longest Day and this kindled another dream swim for her, as the Winter Solstice had been the inspiration for her Quest. This then became our focus as we swam on into the Summer. It meant I needed to start swim training in my wetsuit. If we were going to do this together I would need to swim the distance of Portobello Prom in my wetsuit not my “skins”. Right up until the day before I was still contemplating a skins swim. I even practiced 1/2 the distance as part of another challenge, however we had asked my Ironman cousin, Stuart Leitch, to join us – so wetsuit it would need to be.
The 21st dawned in a pale sunrise with only the tiniest bit of pink showing over the hills of Fife. Disappointed, I sat at my window and watched the sunrise and the solstice time pass and went back to my bed. A recce at 07:30 added more disappointment, the North East wind was up and the sea was choppy. I texted Stuart and called Elaine, thinking maybe it was best to leave it for another day. However, with our holidays in Scotland being early this year we were not sure when we could next fit it in. The forecast looked like the wind might drop so we decided to meet up and just have a swim of some sort.
We gathered in my garden and I could tell that we all just wanted to give it a go. So we got kitted and headed East to Seafield Bay. We had to fight the chop for the first half of the swim. Elaine and I, in our matching wetsuits with bright orange arms, swam at a similar pace and could keep an eye on each other. Stuart was significantly quicker and swam and waited all the way along. For me, who is normally in charge, it was lovely to feel supported and cared for in a real team-like environment. As we stopped on Groyn 1 for a photograph, the halfway point, the sun broke through the clouds and the chop became gentle swells. Easier swimming in familiar surroundings, a lovely way to finish the swim.
With a real sense of achievement and matching rashes on our necks we had showers in the garden and went off for a celebratory lunch. Plans are now afoot for our next swim adventure at our holiday houses on the Isle of Bute and Aviemore. Woo Hoo!!!
On a calm windless morning our group set off through the forest, sunlight filtering through the huckleberry and western red cedar, the air warm after the first real week of summer weather. We soon parted ways with the three hikers (plus a 6-month-old) who would be walking the overland trail to our destination. Shortly after the three paddle boarders, who were accessing the water from a different put-in, also waved goodbye as they headed downhill to the bay.
A few minutes later the four of us reached the start of our swim, a small sandy beach between the barnacle covered boulders exposed by the low tide. After a quick chat about the route, we zipped up our wetsuits, slipped on our swim caps and goggles, and slide into the refreshing salty waters. Our plan was to follow the western shoreline of Bedwell Bay, to Jug Island Beach in Belcarra Regional Park and then retrace our route back.
The water was perfectly calm, and the dropping tide pulled us up the bay as we quietly swam past boats moored off the steep granite cliffs dripping with the flowers of mid-summer. Soon our paddle boarder entourage caught up and accompanied us past curious seals, over eelgrass beds, through sandy narrows dotted with ochre sea stars, and around Jug Island to the sheltered beach where our friends were waiting, all smiles and waves. After a short break for water, snacks, and photos, we waved goodbye and jumped back in, retracing our strokes and dodging the odd jellyfish and crab trap along the way.
The now rising tide propelling us back down the bay. I’d like to tell you this timing with the tide was planned, but sometimes things come together just right, and you get lucky, and this was one of those time. Two and half hours and 4.7km later we were back where we started, although this time everyone was there to greet us after a swim well done.
As we slowly walked back through the forest, picking berries from the trailside bushes, casual conversations drifted between the perfect weather, to highlights of the swim, plans for the rest of the day. Soon enough the talk was all about food. Pizza? Beer? Definitely, we earned it.
Setting foot into the pre-dawn balmy darkness, punctuated only by early morning workers, rooted under orange street lights, waiting for their rides, I was wondering what sort of spectacular sunrise would appear at the start of the longest day of 2021.
Arriving at the destination of my first swim and patrolling the beach for evidence of nesting turtles, I realised I had sanguinely expected a fanfare of light and quickly acknowledged that was not going to happen. Every cloud has a silver lining, so the saying goes and not long after slipping into the silky, smooth water under a sky the colour of pale pewter for the start of a 2km swim, I passed over dozens of starfish, guiding me out over the seabed to the deeper water ahead. I followed them, like lights on a runway, until suddenly I found myself on top of a lone, pure albino, juvenile ray, looking almost ethereal in the crystal clear water. I dived down a few feet, being careful not to disturb it, and followed close behind for quite some distance before it gracefully headed out to sea.
As soon as it was out of sight, I investigated the mooring I found myself next to and almost instantly spotted a Mediterranean moray eel peeping out of the neck of a submerged plastic gallon container. We played peekaboo for a bit as I repeatedly dived down for a closer look, until bored of that game, it refused to come out again. Starting to feel peckish, I turned back across the bay, passing another solo swimmer. We greeted each other like familiar buddies, joking as to which of us had brought the coffee and pastizzi. Right beneath our feet as we trod water chatting a huge crab was showing off, but as soon as it realised it was rumbled, it buried itself in the sand. Right on cue my route back to the beach was led by a flying gurnard that seemed to be in quite a hurry and I emerged, reenergised, in front of a group practicing yoga.
Much later, after an overcast, hot and humid day, at a different location, I managed to finally see the sun on the longest day, albeit briefly, before it set beautifully over the distant hill tops across the bay. As the light faded, I completed swim #2, a leisurely cruise of 4km exploring the rocky shoreline and the day was once again enveloped in sultry darkness. Reflecting that evening, I was reminded of The Rolling Stones lyrics “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need”.
I started the longest day very early at Hammerman Beach in eastern Baltimore County, Maryland, U.S.A. Hammerman Beach is part of the Maryland State Park system. It fronts the Gunpowder River, part of the Chesapeake Bay estuary.
Years ago, an agreement was reached to allow long distance swimmers to train outside the ropes before the beaches opened for public use. My cure for Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) and longest day celebration began, however, before I set foot in the water. I glanced down and saw fern moss near the base of the osprey nest in the parking lot. Emerald cushions with spores ready to explode with new single cell life covered the ground, inches away from asphalt. I glanced up and heard the high-pitched chirping of newly hatched osprey fledglings that can barely be heard over the tymbalic mating calls of millions of Brood X cicadas. They had been underground for 17 years and now they were rocking and rolling like a modern-day Brigadoon. Behind me, a doe drank from a vernal pool until she was startled by a car door closing.
I quickly swam out to the rope sans wetsuit (by June 20 the water was a comfortable 73 degrees) ducked under it and headed towards the Bay parallel to the shore. As I swam in the early diffused light from pier to pier (five hundred yards from the first pier to the last) my head turned to the right to catch a breath. A great blue heron was just a few feet away, patiently waiting for her breakfast to appear. Heading to the next pier and revelling in a good chop that forced me to practice bilateral breathing, a shadow appears on the water and I quickly looked up at an osprey grasping what looked like a channel catfish in her talons as she headed back to the nest at the parking lot. Submerged aquatic vegetation (sign of a healthy river) occasionally entangled my arms but all I had to do was relax my stroke and it slipped away.
On one leg of the swim heading toward some railroad tracks, I heard beautiful singing in Spanish. It was a church group, ministers dressed in long white (and now soaking wet) robes, performing baptisms in the river. By now the sky was a cerulean shade and more great blue herons had left their rookery on the far side of the river to salute the newly baptized. As I continued, now going past the piers and heading towards an inlet known as Dundee Creek, I sometimes lost count of how many eagles I saw. Seemingly stoic and unperturbed by my ripples in the water they gazed down at me giving me the gift of getting close enough to see their eyes. If I was really lucky some red winged blackbirds wouls pop up from the marsh and yell at me for disturbing them. One lone crabber was setting her lines and I took care not to foul them. I’m always impressed with how the crabbers keep them from tangling.
This has been a year unlike any other in my six decades. The isolation, the loss of contact with what Jane Brody refers to as consequential strangers, much less dear friends and family has been numbing. The sky, the sea, the river, the land and their inhabitants have been consistent reminders that not only does life go on, but it must go on. Those of us lucky enough to immerse ourselves in water know this viscerally. To me, it is the best way to pay homage to Earth as womb. Water teems with life seen and unseen.
Last summer when Covid locked us all down, the freedom to swim was sanity saving. All I had to do was open my eyes to appreciate the beauty all around me. This freedom is not guaranteed to last. We have an obligation to protect it. Those of us fortunate enough to have discovered the joy of open water swimming should share our love with others. The more folks who see this beauty the more likely we are to recruit people to preserve what we have. Climate change is no longer debatable and sea level rise is here to stay.
Nothing is guaranteed, not the next summer, the next year or the next moment. Carpe diem.
My Longest Swim on the Longest Day (2021) by Rob aged 41 and 7 months
It has always seemed daunting how far away the harbour wall looked in the distance. I know from running along the boardwalk it is just over 2km from the beach by my house to near the wall. It’s not that far to run, in fact, it is quite manageable, but swimming is another thing. I’ve barely managed a kilometre in the sea before. Originally, I was supposed to be driving the others to the harbour to let them start their swim, now suddenly I’m doing this swim?! I’m still not quite sure how that happened.
Anyways it is 01:45 in the morning, I’m supposed to be swimming at 07:15 so I should be fast asleep but instead I’m staring out at the dark sky and the moon getting nervous about this swim and trying to remember how or why I have ended up agreeing to it. Before I know it, the alarm has gone off and I am trying to work out how to squeeze myself into a wetsuit, it used to fit before lockdown. I don’t think I need to say anymore!…and the clock is ticking close to 7am, when we are supposed to be getting our lift. I’m going to be late, the other 3 regular swimmers are no doubt going to be annoyed that I’m holding them up!
All of a sudden, I realise we are walking towards to the harbour wall, everyone is laughing and joking, taking it in their stride. I cannot even see the beach we are swimming to in all the grey rain and mist. I have never swam that far before! It is starting to feel like a very long way. I cannot even back out now, as walking the 2km home in a wetsuit will just look silly. I have my towfloat ready to go. Should I confess to the others I have never worn one before? I cannot even sort it so it clips around my waist. A combination of nerves and incompetence is kicking in. The others will soon spot this, I’m sure of it.
We touch the harbour wall, and the shorebreak seems to have grown into a monster. How the hell am I going to swim back to the beach? How was this even a good idea?! Forget this Summer Solstice, we cant even see the sun!!….. Just get focused into a rhythm, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe‚ I’m trying not to look at the shore to see how little progress we have made. I am sure the harbour wall is just behind us and we have barely moved from it. Stroke, stroke, breathe. I daren’t look to see how far ahead the others are, I’m already at the back. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Bloody hell we are already approaching Winterton Way, that’s over a 1/3rd of the way there. You know what I might actually make this. It is feeling ok so far. I seem to be swimming! The wetsuit is definitely helping!
Stroke, stroke, breathe. I can see the others up ahead, they are close to making it level with the beach. I’m not that far away, I am going to be able to do this. You know what I think I have actually enjoyed this. The time has flown by. I have no idea how long it has taken, but I can see the end in sight! Stroke, stroke breathe.
Oh yeah! I have made it. I have met up with the others and I have made it level with the beach. Looking back I cannot even really see the harbour wall. Did I really swim this? Have we really swum that far? Surely not?! It feels awesome. I feel great, I feel alive. Can I do it again? Dart 10k you say? Better start practicing my stroke, stroke breathe.
The OSS ran a story competition with event sponsors, Alpkit and Red Original and hundreds of longest swim participants submitted their stories. Thank you to everyone who took the time to entertain us with their warm-hearted tales.
Congratulations to Rob, Sally, Carl, Maree, Annabel and Brian for sharing your stories with us – you have won the following prizes:
Read the Longest Swim on the Longest Day event report here