First all-female swim team to take on challenge of 40km Bristol Channel crossing in support of charities for neurological conditions
- Middle age ladies take on cold water, sea sickness & jelly fish to swim challenging Bristol Channel
- Relay team “Henley Mermaids” aim to raise £40K for neurological research and treatment through Bristol Channel endeavor
- Mermaids demonstrate open water swimming is for good and not just a fad
On July 22nd exactly a year after their successful English Channel relay, five middle aged ladies will set off in relay format to swim across the Bristol Channel at its widest point – a distance of over 40km (25 miles) – from Illfracombe, North Devon to Swansea. The chosen route has only ever been attempted by 4 individuals and one relay team since 1927.
With little more than 4 or 5 years’ swimming experience behind them – and training plans hampered by the closure of swimming pools due to COVID-19 lockdowns – the team, known as the Henley Mermaids, will take on the cold water challenge without wetsuits.
“Although we have tried to keep our cold water acclimatisation up through regular swims in the Thames throughout the winter, because of the cold, these could only be undertaken over short distances, so in addition to the challenge of swimming the actual distance, we anticipate having to brace ourselves for immersion into very cold water for quite some time.”
The Bristol Channel is the second most tidal waterway in the world, and the Mermaids will face strong tides – often with a 15-metre variance – which is further complicated by headlands and islands scattered across the route, all of which need to be carefully navigated. The 40km route chosen is already over 6km longer than the English Channel – a feat the five women completed in 2020 – but they will also battle sea sickness and nausea, plus facing large contingents of jellyfish, making the swimsuit-only endeavour even more challenging.
The team hopes to complete the crossing in 15 to 25 hours, depending on sea conditions.
The Henley Mermaids, made up of both UK, Irish and Australian nationals, are Laura Reineke, Joan Fennelly, Jo Robb, Fiona Print & Susan Barry. They are aiming to raise £40,000 for a number of charities – both in the UK and the Republic of Ireland – supporting serious neurological conditions ranging from Huntington’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
“None of us are what you would regard as particularly fast or technically accomplished swimmers, however, we have a passion for open water swimming, overcoming a challenge and a strong belief in contributing back to society and those less fortunate than ourselves. Our completion of a 17-hour English Channel crossing last year has encouraged us all the more.”
The Henley Mermaid’s next target is to swim the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland – a distance of 21miles, in water of 11 degrees. – and if completed, will be the only all-female team to have completed the English Channel, the Bristol Channel and North Channel – known as the “Triple Crown”.