Swimmers set for epic island crossing

In training for the Harris to St Kilda swim

Nine hardy Scots hope to become the first to swim from Harris to St Kilda

Most people would stop short of paddling in Scotland’s chilly waters, let alone swimming. Yet a team of nine hardy Scots hope to swim 65 miles (or more) from Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, to the island of St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles.

The team of three women and six men will brave the tricky and frequently treacherous North Atlantic Ocean crossing in June, swimming in a non-stop relay for about 60 hours. As well as having a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the team hope to become the first to swim between the islands and raise fund for three charities.

The St Kida Swim 2014 leader is Colin Macleod, from Stornoway on Lewis. He says: “Everyone, including local fishermen, thinks we are completely mad attempting this crossing. But it’s a great challenge – and all the swimmers in the team love a good challenge.”

Preparing for the impressive long-distance feat is demanding in a country where open waters rarely rise above extremely cold. The swimmers, who are scattered across Scotland, are currently spending many hours each week swimming lengths at their local pools. In the months to come, they will don wetsuits and train in lochs and at the coast.

Everyone, including local fishermen, thinks we are completely mad attempting this crossing. But it’s a great challenge

The age range of the relay team is 29 to 58. The swimmers have been gathered together by Colin, who has completed a number of other epic swimming challenges. In 2012, he attempted to swim the Little Minch, the 30-mile strait separating the north-west Highlands and the northern Inner Hebrides. The following year he took on the 55-mile Big Minch, from Ullapool on the mainland to his home town of Stornoway.

Colin, 42, says: “The swimmers I have asked needed to be keen to give this sea crossing a go and also dedicated to training. It will be a very tough outing so I have asked swimmers on to the team who I know can cope with this type of adventure. But, still, there will be many unknowns that we may face, such as tides, swells, navigation, bad weather, darkness, jellyfish and even a possibility of meeting whales and large fish.”

John Dyer, the eldest in the team, is from Motherwell, who is currently training at his local pool and plans to swim in Loch Lomond “as soon as possible”.

The retired fire-fighter says: “Unlike some people I really enjoy swimming in Scotland’s waters. However, I would normally wait until later in the year to swim in Loch Lomond. I will just have to get into the cold waters early this year, though, because I will need all the training hours I can get if I am going to be prepared for the St Kilda swim. It is a daunting but exciting opportunity.”

The swimmers will be supported by three kayakers and a cabin cruiser and will swim in 45-minute spells each, non-stop.

Colin says: “Navigation will be one of the hardest parts of the challenge – and the risk of bad weather. I am expecting that we will swim many more miles than the 65-mile crossing because of the movement of the sea and tides. We will rely on our support kayakers and boats to keep us on track and to assist if anyone gets into difficulty.”

While Colin is no stranger to epic swim challenges, the Harris to St Kilda swim will be his most challenging yet.

He says: “I am attracted to these kind of challenges and I like the rewards of doing something that others haven’t. In addition, it will be amazing to reach St Kilda, which is acclaimed for its natural beauty. We have permission from the National Trust for Scotland, which looks after the island, to stay overnight. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our achievement when we get there.”

The team is still looking for financial support to pull off the challenge, as well as donations to the charities, The Leanne Fund, The Fisherman’s Mission and Yorkhill Children’s Charity.

See St Kilda Swim

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