The middle of August 2017, and time for the annual Pier to Pub swim. This is one of my favourite swim races, and I was lucky to be doing it for the third year in a row. The race starts at Arden Pier on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, and finishes 2.3km away at the hotel on Inchmurrin, (the largest island in the Loch, and the largest fresh water island in the UK). In 2016 I had swum the race in skins, but this year I decided to revert to the wetsuit due to the conditions,, with a freshening headwind forecast for our swim east in the late afternoon.
I was joined this year by Vince, who was aiming to win the non-wetsuit or skins category; and George our erstwhile kayaker and sometime swimmer who was making his debut in the race. Both of them had been part of the swimming adventure in Milos Greece in 2016. Also joining us was Emma our channel swimmer in training, both Davids the men who was only happy when the water was cold, and several other Wild West Swimmers. I also saw several swimmers from the weekday swim group that I often joined for dawn service on Loch Lomond.
This race is magnificently organised by the owners of the hotel on Inchmurrin, and is a fund-raiser for local charities. The briefing at the start was short and to the point: start here, go to the right of the moored boats, then aim for the cruiser stationed half-way across. Then keep Inchmurrin on your left, the mainland on your right, and exit between the first and second jetty in front of the hotel.
This year, I was doing the swim for a bit of fun, and would be happy just to make it across. I had not swum as much this summer as I had in 2016, and as not in as good a shape as I would have liked. Regardless, this race is always fun.
I started on the left hand side of the start line, mainly to keep away from the rest of the 60 or so swimmers in the race. I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up even as we had waited for the start. Away we went, and I was quickly passing other swimmers, and went out past the moored yachts. I noticed Vince steaming past me, as I recognised his distinctive windmill stroke, and his bare arms. I let him go, as I did not think I would keep up.
After around 500m I noticed that Vince was taking a good line and was no more than about 30m in front of me, with another swimmers in-between. I thought I would try to catch him, as the wind had definitely picked up, creating a small chop hitting us head on. These conditions tend to suit me, perhaps because of my experience of swimming in waves and chop in Australia. Within another 500m there were two of us jostling to get on Vince’s feet to get that small amount of drag.
Past the cruiser at the half-way point we went, with the three of us battling the increasing chop from the rising wind. It was tough to get a consistent pattern going, with a battle for every stroke to try to keep balanced. These conditions were getting tougher, but still we swam on, and still we swam no more than 5 metres apart.
We approached the island, and I sensed this year’s swim was taking longer than the previous year. The chop racing through the channel had pushed us too far north, and we battled to keep out of the shallow water along Inchmurrin. Suddenly I noticed another swimmer join our pack, and he looked fresher than us. I decided to use an old trick as we approached a shoal of rocks, and managed to force this anonymous person to ground onto a shallow bank as I kept going in slightly deeper water Was this fair? For an event like this probably not, but George and I joked about it over a beer in the hotel (yes it was George I forced to run aground).
Finally we got neared the finishing line, and Vince had put on his infamous burst to get away, and he was just ahead of me. With the support of the cheer squad on the jetty, I tried to catch him, but as you can see from one of the photos, he beat me by about a metre or so. Great swim for a determined swimmer in skins up against other wetsuit swimmers. George had recovered from his premature beaching, and was just behind us.
My time for this 2300m was a slow 49 minutes, in a wetsuit. I had swum the same distance in 2015 in a wetsuit in 37 minutes, and in 2016 in 41 minutes without the wetsuit. The difference was the tougher conditions, swimming into a strong wind and chop.
Once again a great meal was provided to the swimmers in the hotel. Vince did win the non-wetsuit category, George won a raffle prize, and I managed another top ten finish overall. I also won a prize, a signed book by Adam Walker about his efforts to become the first British swimmer to swim the Oceans Seven (the English Channel, The North Channel, Catalina Channel, Straits of Gibraltar, the Molokai Channel, Cook Strait, and Tsugaru Strait). Was this a sign from the universe of what I should aim for into the future? I contemplated this on the ferry ride back to the mainland.
Once again another fantastic swim. I hope to be back in 2018 for four years in a row. A big thanks to Kim for some of these photos too.