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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Kevin Murphy On Bristol, Isle of Wight And North Channel

Courtesy of British Long Distance Swimming Association and Kevin Murphy.

Kevin Murphy provided the following information regarding his swims in the Bristol Channel, Isle of Wight and the Irish Channel in the 1971 British Long Distance Swimming Association annual report [see here] produced by G. Trevor Smith and John K. Slater:

"It was one of those years! I set out to achieve so much....so many things went wrong....but it turned out okay in the end.

I had set my sights on two major swims - two way non-stop North (Irish) Channel and round the Isle of Wight. Peter Tyrell suggested another, the Bristol Channel from Glenthorne Cove (North Devon I am told) to Porthcawl so that made it three.

For years people have been surprised to find how little training I do so I tried to rectify that during 1971. It did not work. I did so much training I left my strength behind in the pools.

Bristol Channel

First the Bristol Channel with its "frightening" finish. Water was warm (estimated 63°F or 17.2°C) although I did wonder about one "hot" patch a few miles out with an immense pile of soap suds in the middle. Considering it was the first time this swim had been tried, everything went surprisingly well until we were within striking distance of the Welsh coast. Peter's planning paid dividends. Navigator and boat crew co-ordinated well. Derek Leonard and Peter took on the tough job of rowing most of the way.

A freak short storm and tides which did not do all the was expected of them and made it a tremendous battle to get to Porthcawl. I finish up with a ten mile swim along the Welsh coast with a great deal of it in shallow water against the tide. Peter and Derek waded waist deep through the water for many miles, shouting much needed encouragement.

I was supposed to get to Coney beach amusement centre but landed about a mile away after swimming for over 15 hours. A quick trip in an inshore rescue boat took me to the amusement beach and that "frightening" finish. There was a big official welcome and 2,000 people there all waiting to greet me. Six hours earlier there had been 5,000. The 2,000 were those who had waited.

I suddenly found myself up on a rostrum, microphone in hand, replying to an official speech.

Not too easy after 15 minutes 8 minutes swimming but a marvellous welcome. Distance straight across was about 18 miles but estimated swimming distance 28 miles.

Isle of Wight

Next on the list was the round Isle of Wight. An attempt at the end of July failed after ten hours swimming because deteriorating weather conditions made it dangerous to be out in a boat on the south side of the island.

This really was a swim where navigation was as important as swimming and I was lucky to have Eric "Val" Vallintine working on the charts. We had been told that the swim was impossible and when I first attempted it in 1969, some boatmen refused to hire-out their craft for use as a pilot boat because they were frightened of the south side of the island.

This 60 mile round the island swim ranks with the two-way English Channel. With so many rocks; a strict schedule to reach the four corners of the island on cue with tide changes; tide charts which were not exactly accurate over time' and tides which changed every six to seven hours, it was a mammoth task of navigation and planning. The Medway Queen Marina near Newport provided a first-rate base camp for the swim and helped with the arrangements.

Those who saw me swim at Clacton early in September will know how shattered I was by that time in the season, but I started at midnight on September 22/23. Water temperature was approximately 60 - 62°F [or 15.5°C - 16.6°C].

It would be impossible for me to describe all the excitement and happenings of such an eventful swim. I rounded the Needles at dawn and St. Catherine's Point at mid-day, then had a really good slice of luck. Instead of being pushed back by seven hours of adverse tide, the calm seas enabled me to get right inshore and make slow progress in the shallow water. All had gone well for the first 18 hours although I was not swimming up to the standard of earlier months. As darkness closed in on the 23rd, physical and mental exhaustion took its toll. The last eight or nine hours were a really desperate struggle to reach the start/finish point at the end of the Ryde pier.

A dinghy could not be launched to accompany me inshore, away from the main tidal currents, because the darkness was so intense, boat, dinghy and swimmer lost touch with each other when it was tried.

The pain in my legs was such that I will never know how I kept going and I might not have done but for the encouragement of Val and my father (as usual Les Murphy accompanied me on my three major swims) in the pilot boat. I have since found that the effects of that early season tough training left me with fibrositis in the legs.

The swim finish was an anti-climax. I touched the end of the pier; failed to climb out of the water on the girders, swam back out to the pilot boat, pinched a piece of Val's bread pudding, then promptly fell asleep to wake up four hours laster, at 7 am, to find the boat docked ten miles from Ryde. Outside were press photographers who got to the pier to film the finish three hours too late because I was three hours ahead of the original schedule.

North Channel

The North (Irish) Channel offers plenty of room for improved times but, again, navigator Captain William Long is vital. Distance straight across, Orlock Point to Portpatrick, about 21 miles, estimated actual swimming distance about 25 miles. Jellyfish - the big red football variety - and cold sea temperatures in the mid-50's or below are big problems. August 29 saw me setting out on a two-way attempt with the weirdest looking contraption of a net rigged up at the side of the boat to keep the jellyfish away. It helped but did not solve the problem.

I was slower than expected and that sent the planning haywire. Swimming close behind the anti-jellyfish net was a problem because my speed did not exactly match any of the gears in the boat.

There were nearly always two or three jellyfish caught in the net and it was nerve-wracking swimming just out of reach of them. Periodically the net had to be cleared and then came a game of dodgems as they floated away. George Russell in the pilot boat had good training as a football referee - whistling everytime it was time to dodge a jellyfish which came round or under the net, or even from under the boat.

The last five hours or so was a tremendous fight to get in towards the Scottish coast against a head-on tide. I made it but only just in time. I was losing my senses and the effects of the jellyfish stings were causing something akin to an asthmatic attack. I had to be given sedation afterwards while it wore off. The weather was also worsening when I finished and somewhere out in the Irish Channel someone had probably been puzzled by a weird net contraption complete with a few bits of jellyfish - it was cut adrift from my boat as soon as I finished. I had already decided that there was no point in attempting a return width.

The welcome in Scotland was again a marvellous experience. Bath and clothes from the same lighthouse which helped me in the same way during my record swim in 1970 and further hospitality from Portpatrick where I was given a night's accommodation, food and a car ride across country to catch the ferry back to Ireland the next day.

All credit to the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association whose members did such a wonderful job assisting me. George Russell nearly broke a leg jumping 12 feet from a quay into the pilot boat at the start of the swim then kept non-stop vigilance from the 14.5 hours I was swimming. At the finish Larry Burke took over as oarsman in the dinghy which came ashore in Scotland - the crewman designated for the job refused to get in the dinghy because the sea was rough. It was dark and there were needle sharp rocks around. Jimmy Body and Fred Parkes also took the risk of diving in and swimming ashore alongside me.

Great credit also to boat-captain Eddy Laird and Captain Long's son, Michael. Given the conditions and this team as backing, we might see a new one-way record from Ronny Jones this year. I'll have another go at the two-way.

Still believing that my body could keep on taking punishment I attempted the Minorca to Majorca Swim in October - and finally learned the lesson. I was ordered out after 13 hours. I felt I could have continued to finish, but the Spanish officials were worried. I had been sick, I was slower than they expected and progress had been reduced to snails pace by adverse currents. I was warned that deteriorating weather threatened the boat.

For those who are interested, my diet during swims remained rice pudding and glucose drink supplemented by biscuits and chocolate. A firm delivered 48 tins of rice pudding and 24 tins of tinned custard to my office during the summer.

For additional recollections of Murphy on his second career crossing of the North Channel [after his initial 11 hour 21 minute crossing in September 1970], read here.

At the age of 22, Murphy completed the following swims in 1971:

* a 25.7 km crossing of the Bristol Channel from Glenthorne to Porthcawl in 15 hours 35 seconds
* a 35 km crossing of the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland in 14 hours 27 minutes on August 29th
* a 90 km circumnavigation swim around the Isle of Wight in 26 hours 51 minutes in September

Copyright © 2008-2018 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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