Serpentine Ladies complete Loch swim... without any help from Nessie!

Serpentine Ladies complete Loch swim...

without any help from Nessie!  source: http://www.amcr.org.uk/html/lochness_swim.html

For one momentous week in Scotland, a team of 'Serpentine Ladies' turned into veritable 'Loch Ness Lassies'. They meticulously prepared for, heroically completed and wildly celebrated a 23 mile swim of the biggest lake in the British isles.

The relay challenge began at exactly 5 am on Thursday, 5th August, with daylight arriving on the long, cold loch. The first of the six swimmers to take to the black water was Jenny Rice from Devon. At 24, she was the youngest. (The jutting out line of pebbles she left from at Fort Augustus has since been renamed (by the team) 'Jenny's Spit'!)

It was 29 year-old Australian, Kristy McIntyre, who set foot on Loch End beach, 13 hours and 23 minutes later - well before sun-down. Her team-mates swam to shore behind her to hold hands and scream their delight in front of the cameras!

The gruelling swim - with each swimmer, in strict rotation, in for one hour, out for five - was all over! And in far less time than the anticipated 18 hours! Not bad for a team whose average age was 42. This included 66 year-old Englishwoman, Clare Doyle, and two American mothers in their 50s - Martha Fry and 'Captain' Anne MacAlpine-Leny.

The sixth swimmer was also American - Sophie Rutenbar, aged 26. Last year Sophie completed a solo English Channel swim (also about 23 miles) in only a little over the time it took this whole team to do Loch Ness.

Two years ago, Sophie, Martha, Anne and Clare, with two other swimmers – Maree and Lorraine – constituted the 'Serpentine Six' who completed a Channel relay swim in a record (long) time of nearly 24 hours! Loch Ness was certainly colder, at around 11 degrees centigrade, and not without wind and waves, but there were none of those fateful tides and currents that kept that team bobbing backwards and forwards along the French coast!

Preparation and execution

Before the Loch Ness escapade, a 'meal-meeting' was held at the team's base chalet at Old Pier House, Fort Augustus. It had gone into detail on the rules of the swim, who would be where, how the change-over of swimmer would be executed, what signals would be given, how the feeds would be lowered to the swimmer in a bottle on a string after 30 minutes of each hour etc. Most sobering of all was the discussion about signs of the onset of hypothermia and how the whole thing could be called off if there was any accident or emergency. (Nessie's appearance was not regarded as one of these!)

The Pilot of the support ship, Atlantis, the indefatigable Tom Kent, was there. His extremely difficult task was to steer a straight line up the middle of the loch at a swimmer's pace. Margaret Kent was to be constantly and quietly preparing food for the swimmers on board. There with an abundance of words of advice and encouragement was Martin Douglas. He reported that there was much interest in the swim amongst the local media who would be waiting for us at the end of the loch. Jimmy and Ricky were also there – the patient pair from the rib (dinghy), Pioneer', who were to play an invaluable role in escorting the swimmers and getting them in and out of the water. Two way radio contact would be maintained with equipment loaned by the local Red Cross.

Roddy Jones was also there and very much part of the team. He swims in the Serpentine at six thirty every morning and is one of the main organisers of the charity foe whom the Lassies were swimming – the Afghan Mother and Child Rescue charity in aid of which the swimmers are aiming to raise £50,000 to build a new maternity unit in the Panshjir Valley.

Last but not least as a 'visitor' at the meal-meeting was the local observer from the British Long Distance Swimming Association, Juan Warshawsky. He clarified all the BLDSA's conditions for a safe and successful swim. He had delighted the 'girls' by personally making a week's worth of delicious cakes and puddings to keep up their calorie intake, and joined in the jovial atmosphere.

But...from the moment the alarms went off at 3.15 on the morning of the swim, Juan metamorphosed into a vicious, barking 'enforcer' - not to be disobeyed from that moment until Atlantis was back at her moorings and the team was on dry land! Then he was straight back to his friendly, sociable self!

Two other Serpentine swimmers were an invaluable part of the back-up team. Fiona Gately worked hard on press and publicity, as well as land support, along with Piera Constatini Scala who was the official photographer. Not allowed onto the swim boat itself, Piera succeeded in commandeering a tourist boat to pay a mid-Loch visit to the Atlantis and the Pioneer and add to the massive stock of photos and film being taken on board.

Among those to give welcome support from the banks of the Loch were Mark Pickersgill (Clare's partner) and Neil Price from the Serpentine ('just passing' on his way to start cycling from John O' Groats to Land's End) along with two dogs – Dudley and Wishbone.

The progress of the swim was tracked on 'Spotit' and 'Twitter', with photos being sent directly from the boat and interviews from radio stations being done on board. Two-way radio kept the water-borne team in touch with the land support team and a great day was had by all! The local media carried interviews, reports and photos. During the swim, the Loch Ness swim was reported to be the sixth most popular item carried on the BBC web-site!

The swimming team looked especially impressive in their specially designed tartan swimming costumes in the colours of their club and the charity they were swimming for – Afghan Mother and Child Rescue. Their 'unique-for-purpose' towel tents were also green and purple. These were 'regulation' attire for each swimmer as she was ferried back in the Pioneer support rib to the support boat Atlantis, after an hour in the deep black loch. By common assent, these hours were the longest ever experienced on this planet!

Celebrations and thanks

The celebrations after the swim were various. Champagne before they were even out of the support rib, beer at the canal-side picnic, more champagne back at the team's Fort Augustus base, wine, whisky and champagne as well as delicious food prepared and cooked in the loch-side chalet. In the following two days (and nights) the whole team enjoyed going over the events of the swim and other related tales. There were collective day-time saunter-swims in the loch and one brief skinny-dipping adventure (videoed for a showing at the fund-raising event in October!).

Compared with last year's attempt to swim Loch Ness, the weather was far better (the sun even tried to shine and the rain held off most of the way. The plans were more minutely gone over, predominantly by the tireless Captain Anne. But again, the best laid plans of mice, men and women can still 'gang aglay'. In London it had been planned for the youngest fastest swimmers to get the deepest, coldest, most disturbed pieces of water.

In the event, the two oldest – Clare and Anne got the cold incoming waters of both Invermorison bay (at 7 and 8 in the morning) and the larger Urquhart Bay, at well over half way. They were delighted to have their photos taken with the famous Urquhart Castle in the back-ground and only later learned that the part of the Loch they swam over was deeper than the North Sea! (No wonder they didn't spot Nessie lying at the bottom!) The other 'fifties' girl, Martha, got what proved to be the most difficult and disturbed stretch of water not long before Loch End beach showed up clearly through the pilot's binoculars.

Every one of the swimming team who are the ones to get the accolades, wishes to express their heartfelt thanks to all those in the boats and on the land who donated their time, their skills, their boat fuel, their moral support and their help to ensure the whole adventure was not only a success but a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all! Now it's full steam ahead to reach the full £50,000! Donations can be made on-line through www.justgiving.com/lochnessrelayswim

More details of swim and AMCR charity on swimlochness.co.uk