You will have seen by now that Andre completed his swim, coming into shore in the town of Lamlash on Saturday 25th June, two weeks after he started. He has, to date, raised over £6500 for youth suicide prevention charity, Papyrus, and has had a little time to rest and reflect on the scope of the challenge he faced, and all that he has achieved over the past two weeks:
What was it like getting out of the water at the end?
“The last day was real struggle with force 4 gusting 6 winds and huge waves, so actually getting out that was mainly just a relief. One of the first things I said was “does anyone have a banana?”. I was swimming with Georgina on the last day, and we were so tired and hungry by Lamlash pier. It was amazing to see so many people at the end who had supported me, either online, or by donating, or by sharing their local knowledge. That was particularly special. Seeing people who cared about this charity and the adventure, beyond just me and my friends and family. The locals really came out to support including cake, sausage rolls and coffee.”
Was there a moment where you thought you couldn't do it?
“Early on I realised that my original goal of swimming a few 10 kilometres was too ambitious for me, given the training I had managed to fit in around work. I knew I could still do it, however swimming 6-7 or 8 kilometres per day meant I wouldn't be able to take many rest days, or days for bad weather. Then it was mainly luck whether we got good days of weather to get out and make those kilometres.”
What's been the most physically painful thing?
“The plan for the swim was for it to not be a ‘suffer-fest’. I made sure to look after my body and make sure I wasn't in too much pain each day, and I managed to take two rest days. There was some pain in my elbow and I did get two jellyfish stings but my face was quite numb, and they weren't really bad jellyfish, so the stings weren't too bad; certainly not lionsmanes. I kept on top of the chafing and muscle soreness with preparation.”
How long did you sleep on Saturday night?
“Not actually that well, I was so wired off so much coffee!”
What's the moment you'll never forget?
“On the last day, Georgina and I were swimming around the headland north of Lamlash, fighting huge swell, force six headwinds, without safety kayakers because the weather was too rough for them, and realised we were competent, happy and safe in those insane conditions, with some land safety. That was an incredible experience and a huge buzz to finish off what has been an incredible adventure.
“Throughout the swim I have been astounded by the amount of help people on Arran have been willing to provide in terms of their time, money, and offering me free food at the many cafes scattered around the coast. People are awesome and will do amazing things for each other; that is what I hope to take away from this swim.”
What would you say to anyone wanting to swim around Arran?
“These are also things I wish I had told myself before I started:
That the tides will always be against you even when you've planned everything correctly, so accept that you will be in the water for longer than you think. That is an incredible amount of support in the local community, people are excited to hear about your adventure, so tell them!
Also, eat more.”
“The next couple of weeks will be recovery, making sure my muscles are happy, chatting to a physio, and making sure I don't get expedition blues which can really affect a lot of people who've been out on trips with a strong focus for quite a long time as they try to reintegrate into having to do work and normal life.
“In terms of swim around Arran, I'll be trying to get a little bit more publicity see how much more money we can raise for Papyrus. I hope to do this by reaching out to larger organisations I’m connected with, to try and get the universities on board with publicity.
“For the mental health aspect, I am starting to become more involved in my university as part of our student support team, and also looking after the mental health of our fellow staff members. I'm looking forward to restarting mental health swims again and encouraging people to think about the mental health, getting strategies for themselves in place and ensuring people are more comfortable supporting others.”
Will you be planning future adventures?
“Linked to post expedition blues, I'm hoping to get back into running, as that was something I enjoyed in lockdown. The Scottish hills have a lot of opportunity for very fun routes, maybe thinking about building up to a trail running marathon and beyond.”
With a little help from my friends
By Felicity Inkpen
Swimming for such long distances and staying in the water for around 4 hours a day, the mind can wander. Andre disclosed what goes through his brain as he fights against the waves and the currents:
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming... I keep an eye on the safety swimmers around me, I keep an eye on the waves. Usually I think about spotting jellyfish, or I have a game I play where I count each stroke that I swim and see how close that is to a metre per stroke, which gives me an idea of how fast I am going, compared to the distance on my watch: how efficiently I am swimming.”
And for Jon, was it something similar?
“Mostly when I’m swimming, I’m thinking about how to breathe without breathing in a chunk of salt water. You can sort of zone out, like you’re on a long walk on your own, and think of random stuff.”
Happy but tired, and really quite hungry, Jon hadn’t lost any enthusiasm for getting back in the water:
“I live in St Andrews, so I’ve got a nice swim from East Sands to West Sands, right on my doorstep, so I’ll be back in the sea soon."
Feeding an Endurance Swim
By Felicity Inkpen
“Whilst swimming, every 45 minutes I have a banana and 600ml of electrolytes, sugar and protein, and chocolate bar. I’ll repeat this up to 3 times whilst I’m in the water.
“Once I’m out of the water I am hankering for a cheese toastie, more coffee, cake, and anything else that I can get my hands on. Luckily for me, the cake selection in the cafes around Arran is incredible.
“I’ll have an afternoon tea of cheese sandwiches, a bowl of cereal, a protein shake, all the while listening to whatever my body is craving.
“Throughout the day, I also have to mouth wash with coconut oil, to stop salt tongue. After 3 days of swimming, I found that my tongue was becoming raw and painful. I’ve followed the career of endurance swimmer Ross Edgley, who did the Great British Swim. One thing I’ve learned from his experience is that the salt water will destroy your tongue and mouth. Swilling the coconut oil around my mouth helps to stop this.
“When it comes to my evening meal, I’m eating whatever’s on the table – four portions of it. So far in this adventure, I’ve had veggie fajitas, burgers, pasta... anything that gets the calories in.
“A special thank you to The Shore Café of Whiting Bay, who have given me two free toasties when I’ve stopped by.”
Wildlife off the coast of Arran
By Felicity Inkpen
A benefit of his posse of seals is that they eat Andre’s main adversary: the jellyfish. There are only two species of stinging jellyfish around the coast of Arran: the blue jellyfish has a sting like a nettle, but the lion’s mane jellyfish sting can give more than seven hours of pain.
“So far, I have caught one blue jellyfish sting across the face. It actually wasn’t that bad, though that may have been because my face was numb with cold.”
Other jellyfish, Andre has been happier to see, including the sea gooseberry jellyfish:
“I giggle to myself, feeling like I am going through a gooseberry patch whenever I swim amongst them”
Alongside the sea-gooseberries, sea comb jellyfish have also been visible in abundance: These jellyfish, roughly 6cm in length, phosphoresce – give off light that they generate themselves
“Sea comb jellyfish are like exciting landing strip lights, directing me onwards.”
Other supportive marine organisms include a host of the common edible crab.
“When I was swimming above the crabs, they sensed danger and raised their pincers to attack, but from above it looked to me like they were waving and cheering me on. It was quite motivating!”
Around the south coast of Arran, on his fourth day in the water, Andre met an altogether more elusive habitant of the sea.
“Out of the gloom appeared the distinctive triangular fin shape of a shark. Fortunately for me, it was a foot-long dogfish, entirely unbothered by my presence.”
Throughout, there have been scatterings of starfish, sea urchins, and a barrel jellyfish the size of a car tyre. The flora has been just as stunning as the fauna. Andre has swum through beautiful sea grasses and kelp forests. According to Andre, “These have been possible thanks to extensive marine protected areas around Arran.”
Felicity Inkpen is Andre's friend, a keen swimmer herself, and an artist and writer based in Edinburgh, UK.