Young channel swimmers break team world record


A RECORD-BREAKING team of swimmers have said their gruelling crossing of the English Channel is the proudest moment of their young lives.

The Bristol English Channel Swim Team (Best) broke the world record for being the youngest team – all aged 12 – ever to swim the famous feat of endurance.

Months of gruelling cold-water training paid off when they completed the 21-mile relay in the hours of darkness last Saturday morning.

The crossing took the team 13.5 hours, during which time they had to contend with night-swimming, strong waves and currents, while watching out for jellyfish, passing ships and floating debris.

Team member Lewis Clarke, of Bishopston, said: "It was amazing to finally do it after all the hard training. We're all so proud of what we've done."

The team was made up of: Lewis; James Elmer, of Keynsham; Angus Rowley, of Leigh Woods; Danny Pirret, of Fishponds; Drummond McMillan, of Portishead; and Alex Chantler-Mayne, of Gloucestershire.

But the boys said they could not have done it without the two reserves, Eleanor Aris and Rebecca Sheppard from Gloucestershire, who had taken part in all of the gruelling training.

The idea for the attempt began three years ago when Lewis, who goes to QEH school, asked his mum Sarah Johnson if he could swim the Atlantic.

She said it would not be possible but he might be able to swim the English Channel. She investigated and found that no one under 16 was allowed to swim the Channel, but children of 12 and over could swim it as part of a relay team.

She set about recruiting swimmers; about 60 applied and the squad was whittled down in a series of trials.

Lewis swam three legs in total, including the first one. He said: "It was a mental challenge as well as a physical one."

The rules of the record stipulated the team were not allowed to wear wetsuits but could put grease on their bodies if they wanted to.

The team had only had about ten minutes of swimming in the dark beforehand, but had acclimatised to the 14-16C cold with months of training in their local pools, in the sea at Southbourne, West Sussex, and at Henleaze Lake and Clevedon Marine Lake.

Lewis said: "It was hard swimming in the dark because it was hard to see where you were going and you can't see what's in the water so it's quite eerie."

Angus, who goes to Bristol Grammar School, said: "Swimming in the dark was quite scary because we weren't used to it and it was a bit weird."

In a fitting coincidence, their success came 42 years to the day a team from Tunbridge Wells set the previous record.

Drummond only started taking up swimming seriously when he heard about the challenge and applied. He had arguably the toughest leg, swimming over a sandbank which caused big waves and made the swim even harder.

Danny, who goes to The Grange School, said: "It feels quite amazing actually, that I even had the chance to swim the channel."

Alex had the honour of taking the team home, but the pressure was on as he had to swim the last mile as quickly as he could to beat the tides.

"I just went for it," said the member of Swindon Dolphins.

James said: "It still hasn't kicked in yet. When Alex finished the final leg we were all really excited."

The team's Clifton-based coach Penny Porter, a former British record holder for 50m butterfly in the pool, said: "I had to swim the last 100m with Alex because the boat could not go any further and it was absolutely freezing. It's just an amazing achievement."

The team raised £1,500 for Children's Hospice South West and Surf Life Saving GB doing the challenge.