What’s it like to waTCH SOMEONE SWIM AROUND THE Isle of Wight?

By Kester Bailey

7:30 am – swim day.

Today, Oly Rush will attempt to break a Guinness World Record for swimming around the Isle of Wight in under 26 hours – and it’s my job getting him to the marina.

I pick Oly up from his at 7:30, he chucks various dry bags into the boot and jumps in the car. We’re also joined by outdoor sports coach – Craig Dooley, one of Oly’s trainers and now a member of his support team.

Conversation is light and cheerful as we trundle down the A31 in my Nissan Micra. I ask Oly if he’s nervous and he says at this point ‘I just want to get in the water.’

8:55am – Hamble Point Marina

We pull up to the marina not really sure what were looking for, but after driving around for a bit looking lost we find our man… 

Scott Dawson was the last person to swim around the island, setting a record of 26 hours back in 2016.

I interviewed Scott a couple weeks ago and spoke to him about the challenges Oly might face on the swim. It became clear that as well as arranging much of the swim, support yacht and navigator he was willing to share all that he had learnt 5 years prior.

As well as resolving logistical challenges, Scott was able understand the mental strain such a swim can have.

But, perhaps the most insightful thing he told me was, ‘you can’t swim the island without a team.’

10am – Seaview Yacht Club

After a brisk ride on the rib from Hamble Point Marina to Seaview Yacht Club on North East side of the island we started to see the crowds gather and things began to feel real.

Up to this point it all felt familiar, as if today was just another training exercise in preparation for the actual swim. But no. Today is the day. You could feel it in the air.

The yacht club begins to fill with sponsors, reporters and spectators, all waiting in quiet dis-belief as a man will shorty walk down the steep slip way, plop himself into the water and stay there for what turned out to be just over 15 hours.

But before he does, I take a minute to observe to scene in front of me. It’s busy and exciting. I search for Oly in the mass of people and find him giving an interview to a reporter or it could’ve been a sponsor. It’s hard to tell.

He talks about why he’s taking on the challenge. How his love for the sea, animals and nature is what drives him. How he hopes by pushing himself to the unknown limits of his capabilities he can generate interest on a subject he cares about deeply.

The ‘why?’ is what this is all about. It presents an opportunity to talk about an important issue. The issue of habitat loss, pollution and the role of plastic consumption in our society. 

Oly knows the significance of the swim and a world record attempt. It’s the sort of event that sponsors and news agencies love and it creates a platform from which he can spread awareness on the issue at hand.

Furthermore, this swim will be raising money for charities and community interest companies tackling the plastic problem, including; Clean Jurrasic Coast, Turn The Tide Cornwall and us.

11am – Start the stop watch

Oly walks down the slip way, raises his arms and turns to the 100 or so people gathered around him. They cheer as he gets into the water.

Their is one last fist pump from Oly as he turns, puts one arm in front of the other, dips his head into the water and is away.


19:52 – Approaching Bembridge

The sun is setting as we see Bembridge life boat station come into view. 9 hours in and it’s looking like Oly will beat the current record if all continues as planned.

Since departing Seaview, we’ve passed through Ryde, Cowes, Yarmouth, Niton, Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown. Along the way Brian Thompson has captained the Yacht – an experienced veteran in the sailing world and the man with the plan when it comes to tidal planning. A key component of Oly’s success.

Roy Beal – founder of Clean Jurrasic Coast and Oly’s right hand man/navigator, has kayaked thus far the entire distance that Oly has swim and continues to do so until it’s completion. He is also joined by friends of Oly who kayak alongside offering unwavering support and motivation.

Between the yacht and the kayakers Scott bounces about on the rib, relaying information and supplies as he goes.

A well oiled machine springs to mind.

12:15 –  finishing line in sight

Roughly 13 hours at sea was starting to take its toll and I  can’t talk for Oly – but I was starting to get tired. Not even coffee was helping.

Needing waking up I precariously climbed off the yacht and onto the rib in search of some excitement. We shot off into the darkness to find Oly and the support kayakers, knowing they would be approaching an area of strong tidal currents.

The only light at this point was that offered by the gracious moon, beaming contently looking quite full, and the occasional blink of a lighthouse in the distance, perched on a rocky out cropping.

The tidal planning was correct and as the rib rocked somewhat violently, for the first time during the day I was aware we we’re at the mercy of mother nature. You only had to find the horizon and witness what looked like a wall of water rising in the distance to tell that we were in for a rough ride.

Scott relayed this information to Roy on the kayak who took action and guided Oly confidently through the tumultuous patch water, safety to the other side.

around 2am – finish

What a feeling coming into Seaview. In the darkness of the night all you could see what the little lights of the houses looking out onto the water. The cumulative point of the experiences made even sweeter by the faint whoops and cheers from the shore line, as some hardy souls stood doggedly determined to see Oly walk up the slip way he had descended only 15 hours earlier.

The water was choppy and I watched as the kayaks struggled to dock on dry land, Oly however kept going. He finds his footing and for the first time since that morning stands up on two feet looking victorious but somewhat oblivious to what he has just accomplished.

Kayakers now on land, people are gathered, family and friends. Oly hugs his mum as the camera crews and reporters bustle and tussle for a sound bite. A young lad hands Oly a beer – maybe not the best post 15 hour swim supplement, but well deserved I think.

As the crowds dissipate and a quietness engulfs the slip way, there is a lovely sense of calm.  A feeling of job well done. I say goodnight to Oly and Tess – his supportive partner, and make my way to the rib so I can catch a ride back to the yacht.

Skimming across the water feeling tired but happy. I can’t help but think this is what it’s all about. People working together for a cause greater than themselves, getting high off a feeling of adventure and helping to educate our fellow humans in the best possible way, leading by example. Money was raised and awareness was spread.

Thank you Oly for conceiving this adventure and letting me be apart of it. I’m sure I can speak for everyone in saying this was an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

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