LOCAL photographer, Paul McCambridge, has swum the North Channel after taking up the once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve the feat.
The chance to swim the Channel came by chance. Texts and phone calls flew through the ether as the small band of likely participants hurriedly tried to get forms filled and medical certificates signed on a Friday afternoon – for the possible go- ahead of Monday morning, weather as always, permitting.
With only a handful of successful relays having been achieved across this notorious stretch of water, this band of hopefuls were off to a great start. The team consisted of two brothers, Padraig and Martin Mallon, their cousin, Aoiffe and her husband, Mickey Lynch, all from the small town of Camlough in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland. Iryna Kennedy from Spa completed the team of six.
With each of the swimmers having experienced an English Channel relay, and Paul having been support swimmer for a solo effort by Maureen McCoy, there was every reason to believe this would be a good day. So the intrepid team were ready.
As they left Bangor Marina, Sara, the local seal, popped her nose up and bid them a fair trip.
Padraig started the swim at 8.56am from the rocks at Orlock Point, east of Bangor, with a good eight hour tide to push them through.
The water temperature was 11.6 degrees, pretty cold even for open water swimmers, but the sun was threatening to break through the fine layer of cloud and there wasn’t a breath of wind. No-one could have hoped for a better day than this.
As you would expect, the craic was good on the boat with spirits high as the worry of the dreaded sea-sickness slowly ebbed away. Each swimmer was to swim for one hour and follow a strict rotation, never changing the order of the swimmers. As with English Channel rules, they must wear only swimsuit, cap and goggles and even if a swimmer is sick they must complete their hour in the water, otherwise the swim is null and void.
Having made good progress for the first hour of the journey, Padraig’s time was coming to a close and so Mickey got ready to take over. Smeared all over with Vaseline and wearing a flashy pair of trunks printed with alien faces, Mickey bravely dived straight into the North Channel, over-took Padraig and settled into his pace for the second hour of swimming.
Soon all eyes were pulled away, when they spied a pod of porpoises off to the right - much more entertaining than watching front crawl for hour after hour.
Every 15 minutes a flag would be waved so the swimmer could count down their time, but the last fifteen always seemed so long. Paul was the third swimmer in and he had the honour of being carefully inspected by a Fulmar who swept down low over him, circling three times before landing in-front and effortlessly paddling alongside.
“Tom Blower,” the pilot said, the spirit of the first man to swim the North Channel, “Greets us every swim!” And so Tom Blower was a good omen for them.
As Martin took over, the temperature had risen to 12 degrees, positively balmy, for this piece of water. But there were no complaints from swimmers.
As they got further into the channel we began to see the dreaded jellyfish. On the boat the swimmers were looking out and guiding the swimmer left and right to avoid the beasts.
Aoiffe plunged in to start the fifth hour of the swim and set off in a high-speed front crawl. The sun finally broke through and the water temperature moved up by point two of a degree. Iryna had the added benefit of working on her tan as she swam.
As some of the team relaxed, lay down and ‘rested their eyes’, Padraig prepared for his second stint. The temperature had reached it’s highest at 12.9 degrees and the sea was calm with not a breath of wind. That Irish luck still holding strong.
Moving into the eighth hour of the swim and they were at the deepest part of the channel, the Beauford Dyke. This is where explosives from the Second World War were dumped, some thousand feet deep. Perhaps that was why Mickey swam so fast.
The harbour at Portpatrick loomed closer and as we moved into the final hour of the swim we knew that the man who had the honour of starting, Padraig, would also have the glory of finishing the swim. With half a mile to go, he jumped in and set off with vigour towards the rocks below Kilnatrinkin Lighthouse, at 9:17pm he climbed onto the rocks as we cheered and whistled from the boat. The North Channel conquered on 22nd August 2011, in 12 hours, 21 minutes and 12 seconds.