Windermere End to End

Race Date: Wednesday, 04/09/2019
Race Distance: Other - Swim

This was a guided solo swim the length of Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. The swim covered the 16.9 km (10.5 mi) navigable length of the lake, starting at the southern end at Fell Foot Park and finishing at the northern end at Waterhead. The day started at 6:15am at Waterhead Pier, where I met Dave the boat pilot and Josh the observer, who would manage my feeds during the swim. The forecast was for south-westerly winds and rain during the day, but at the start of the day the lake was mirror flat. We set off down the lake to the start at Fell Foot with Dave pointing out a couple of key points for the swim along the way. At that time of day, we had the lake to ourselves with the exception of a couple of swans and a flock of geese. Once at Fell Foot, I stripped down to my swim costume, jumped in to the water (around 17 degrees C), swam over to the red buoys that marked the start of the navigable channel, and a little before 7am set off up the lake. We then settled in to what would become my routine for the next eight hours: swim along keeping the boat to my right (my breathing side) with Dave setting the course; Dave would give me a two minute warning when I was due a feed (every forty minutes); and then a short stop for some warm energy drink and a gel, banana Soreen or jelly babies (rotating through one of these three each feed). For the first half of the swim, we headed up the eastern side of the lake, and then as we got closer to the mid-point at Bowness moved across the centre of the lake. It was around this point that the wind picked up and the water started to get a bit choppy. This was the hardest bit for me: I wasn't entirely convinced by this point that I knew how to swim, and after all there was a ferry so I might as well give up at half way and take it easy. Fortunately, according to Dave, my stroke was exactly the same as at the start and we were doing OK. The halfway point is roughly where the chain ferry from Bowness crosses Windermere, and we arrived just as it was crossing, so had a pause and a bob around while we waited for it to pass, and then set off with the sound of chains rattling underwater. After this, we were into the islands that sit in the middle of Windermere - the water here was calmer and we threaded our way between the islands and the yachts that were harboured around them. Once through the islands, we headed up the west side of the lake. On the way down, Dave had pointed out a jetty (Bark Barn) - the '5K to go' point - so this was my next target. As we went up the side of the lake, I could see that on the boat Dave had put his rain trousers and jacket on, and in due course Josh got an umbrella out. When you've been in the water for nearly six hours, it helps to have distractions - such as watching your boat crew struggle to control an umbrella in the wind. We reached the jetty and I knew that the end was in reach, although still two and a half hours away. According to Dave: "Your pace and stroke rate are exactly the same as at the start - which just goes to show how bad you were at the start..." - thanks Dave. From the jetty we cut back across the middle of the lake, and back through choppy water. By this point, I was beginning to feel less than fully warm, so I focused on keeping my arms turning and counting down the feeds as the rain cloud covered hills behind Ambleside started to get closer. The last feed done, it was a steady swim into Waterhead, past the large YHA building, past the pier for the ferries and I got the signal - Windermere End to End done. I swam into shore while Dave and Josh moored the boat. After a brief rest to let my legs remember how to function, I cautiously stood up to be greeted by a couple of ducks and a tourist who asked me how my swim round the bay had been. A quick certificate handover and photo done, I put on as many warm clothes as I had and set off for the chip shop.