BALLOCH to LUSS

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Our escort boat on its way to the Balloch slipway

One of my swim pals Gary was training for a non-wetsuit attempt on the length of Loch Lomond, a swim of 36 km. As part of that training, we had done the Inchtavannach and Inchconnachan loops several times, building up to distances of 5.5km.  The warm summer of 2018 had continued, with the water in Loch Lomond between 19.5c and 20.5c, which was very pleasant for my 2km morning swims with The Lomond Loonies (a magnificent way to start the day). One evening a few of us went to Loch Ard for the full moon, and the water in the shallow loch was 26c, an almost unheard of temperature for a Scottish loch. Just a shame that the midges that are the curse of the Scottish Highlands were out in force on that warm still evening.

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The two of us entering the water at the Balloch slipway

Gary had decided he wanted to swim from Balloch to Luss, a distance of around 12km, and asked me to join him. I jumped at the chance to swim south to north in skins (no wetsuit), having done the reverse direction a couple of years ago in my wetsuit. I met Gary at Balloch on a late July morning and drove to Luss to drop off one of our vehicles with our dry clothes. We drove back to Balloch and got our snacks and drinks ready, as we had organised to meet Captain Dave with his crew and the trusty escort boat at the slipway at 6am.

 

We were a few minutes early, which gave us time to observe the conditions for the day, overcast with a light easterly wind, and nice and warm with a chance of showers. Good Scottish swimming conditions. I mentioned to Gary that he could set the pace, but if I found myself tiring, I would jump into the boat. This was my going to be my longest swim for a couple of seasons, and I was aware that Gary was slightly faster than me after our previous swims around the islands.

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Past the Maid of the Loch

The boat arrived, and the requisite pictures taken of us entering the water at the slipway. I must admit I was a bit nervous, but also excited to swim in the loch that I knew so well, and to see it from other angles. The plan was to have the boat follow us, and it would come alongside for our hourly feeds. The first point of reference was the eastern tip of Inchmurrin. Up past the old black buoy, Cameron House and Duck Bay, places very familiar to me for my regular morning swims. They did look great in the gentle early morning light.

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Looking south down Loch Lomond towards Balloch

Our first feed was just off Inchmurrin, and by this time I was conscious that I was swimming slightly faster than Gary. We talked about our next reference point being Loch Lomond Golf Club, and I advised Gary to swim slightly to the right of the agreed sighting point, as the wind was picking up and would push us slightly to the left. I had noticed that he was tending to drift slightly off course with the small sideways push. After all we did not want to swim further than we had to. It is a learned skill to swim outdoors and to take into account the wind and the push of the water and keep on line.

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One of our feed stops and in good spirits

Our second feed seemed to come around very quickly, but I was aware that I had a nice smooth stroke going and time seemed to disappear as my eyes took in the sights of Inchmurrin was we inched past, and KK Bay as we drifted along. I had to stop and wait a couple of times for my comrade, which was not a problem in the warm water.

 

Our next point to aim for was the bottom of Inchtavannach. At our feed stop I would point out to Gary where we were headed, and make sure he could see it. We also picked other reference points up in the hills to help us. The southern end of Inchtavannach was familiar to us, but after talking to the boat crew we decided to keep slightly left (west) of the channel markers as there was some boat traffic, and this would be safer for us. My feeds of gels and water were going down a treat, and I was still feeling strong, which pleased me. Gary was doing ok too.

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Oops, we strayed into shallow water

Unfortunately, as we navigated the channel we drifted too far left and were soon swimming in knee dip water as we hit a mud bank. I stood up and laughed and headed into deeper water. It was nice to have a distraction. Up the channel we went, past the Wee Peter Statue, past Aldochlay.  It is a relaxing feeling doing a long swim in familiar waters, as the need to constantly work out bearings is reduced, as you focus on just swimming in a direct a line as possible, feeling the water brush past you.

 

Our last feed was just around the corner from Luss, and we were pleased with our pace, and that we were both still feeling strong. We knew the pier at Luss would be busy with boat traffic at this time of year, and we agreed that the boat would lead the way into the pier, and we would follow. I knew it was around 800m from Fraoch Island to the pier, and we hoped to make that distance in next to no time.

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Approaching our destination at Luss

Oh, it was a good feeling of achievement to stand up next to the pier at Luss, a place at which I do a lot of my ice swim training during the winter. We were greeted by a family of swans, and a very welcome hot coffee from our crew. The crew had done a great job of keeping us safe and feed on this long swim. I would not like to do this swim without the boat for a few reasons: they hold your snacks and drinks, which reduces the weight in your tow float; they keep you on course; they let other boats know there are swimmers in the water; and they are a back up in case things go wrong.
Captain Dave needs a special mention. He gives up his time to guide swimmers in the boat, those swimmers with dreams and ambitions of swimming the 36km length of Loch Lomond. He does this to help them achieve their goals and has guided around a dozen swimmers from his morning swim group down the loch. Will I do it one day….maybe.

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We made it

Congratulations to Gary too, he swam well even though conditions were not ideal as we hit squalls on the way. But we both kept going and made the 12km distance in just under 4.5 hours. The next training swim was to swim from Balloch to Inverbeg, another 5km north of Luss.

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Some people drive to Luss, others ride a bike or walk, but we swam

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