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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The History And Future Of The North Channel

When Wayne Soutter successfully crossed from the Mull of Kintyre on extreme west coast of Scotland to the Antrim coast in northern Ireland, his success brought up an issue: where exactly is the official North Channel and where is the official course?

Soutter’s swim from Mull of Kintyre to Ireland is a 11-mile crossing across the North Channel at the straits of Moyle, from Scotland to the Northern Island.

His course has precedence in the marathon swimming world.

Once in the autumn of 1928 and three times in 1929, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer Mercedes Gleitze attempted the same crossing of the Mull of Kintyre to Ireland. The prolific pioneering swimmer had previously attempted the 21-mile course in the Mull of Galloway three times but came up short each time.

After these unsuccessful attempts, she turned her back on both the Mull of Galloway and the Mull of Kintrye and took her swimming energies elsewhere throughout Ireland and as far away as South Africa, ultimately completing 51 marathon swims. But the 11-mile course traversed by Soutter and the traditional 21-mile course across the North Channel eluded the pioneer Gleitze.

In 1947, history was made when the North Channel was finally crossed. Tom Blower attempted to cross the 21-mile Mull of Galloway course on July 12th. Although he was unsuccessful, he tried again a fortnight later. On July 27th he became the first person to successfully cross the North Channel in 15 hours 26 minutes. Blower pioneered this 21-mile route that is recognised and ratified as The North Channel, a crossing in the Mull of Galloway, which has been historical path of 14 subsequent swimmers and a handful of relay swimmers with hundreds of unsuccessful attempts.

In the mid-1960s the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA) got involved and offered certification and its observers. The Association ratified records and associated itself with the notorious 21-mile waterway.

The ILDSA certifies the swim across the 21-mile Mull of Galloway course pioneered by Blower (pilots are based in the Bangor Area both Brian Meharg and Quinten Nelson, the swim as it is, may start anywhere surrounding the mouth of the Belfast Lough North or South).

"In its present structure to take on the 11-mile stretch the official pilot boats would have to steam their boats for 6 hours to the start location which would add both huge cost and time to the swim. The 11-mile Mull of Kintyre course first attempted in 1928 by Gleitze and achieved by Soutter in 2012 may come on line if suitable pilots with suitable facilities and accommodations to facilitate the swim and observers, and the necessary certificates and insurance are sourced. It is in the future," confirmed the ILDSA.

The ILDSA explains further, "The 21-mile Mull of Galloway crossing is the challenge that Tom Blower set down in 1947; the challenge was not about getting across the fastest route. The Mull of Kintyre is obviously the shortest route, 10 miles shorter and always was there with it's own localised challenges. The huge distance in these temperatures was the challenge and has made the successes more sweet and the unsuccessful more bearable.

The historical importance of the North Channel Swim was about taking on the mantle pioneered by Blower, his 21-mile crossing. Swimmers to the North Channel found their challenge in replicating the brilliant achievements of those who had gone before them, primarily because of the risk and the dangers that the cold and the deep dark waters held. It is a feared body of water and running over 1,140 feet in The Beaufort Dyke."

By taking on the shortest possible crossing Mull of Kintrye, Soutter has presented another challenge for those who favour a shorter distance. But the ILDSA is clear there is a difference. "Both courses are honourable but it is important to maintain the integrity of the record books that distinction is made between both routes."

But it is now clear the introduction of another route of the Mull of Kintyre, championed by Mercedes Gleitze in the 1920s and achieved by Soutter, will be a welcomed addition to the open water swimming world and something that will be addressed at a future ILDSA meeting.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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