Local swimmers make history by completing North Channel challenge

Eight of the City of Derry Swimming Club team who are taking on the North Channel.
Eight of the City of Derry Swimming Club team who are taking on the North Channel.

On July 5, five brave swimmers from Derry make history when they swam the North Channel as a relay team in a time of 14 hours and 35 minutes.

Now the second half of the 10 strong team from City of Derry are waiting for the green light to take on the same 21.6-mile stretch of water from Northern Ireland to Scotland, a feat accomplished by only 18 teams before.

The local team out on the North Channel.

The local team out on the North Channel.

But what drives a person to want to traverse choppy water filled with stinging jellyfish like the lion’s mane (pictured) with only a pair of swimming trunks and a bathing cap for protection?

Gerard Curran, who is part of the second group of swimmers who have not yet completed the challenge, said sea swimming came with a “serious feel good factor that it’s hard to put your finger on”.

“There’s something about just hitting the sea in just your trunks,” he said. “There’s the adrenalin and there’s a great sense of achievement. The cold water is great therapy. The main differences between open water swimming and swimming in a pool would be the temperatures of the water and the currents. These are non wetsuit swims – you’re basically in your swimming togs so it’s even colder. Then you have the unpredictableness of the weather.”

Gerard said City of Derry Swimming Club first started dipping their toes in open water in 2008: “We have been swimming in the Foyle for close to 10 years. The year the Peace Bridge opened, we had a race from the Craigavon Bridge to Foyle Bridge.

Marc Power was a part of the first successful relay team.

Marc Power was a part of the first successful relay team.

“It was through John Coyle and George Meenan that we got started. They were part of a team in 2008 that crossed the English Channel from Dover to France. Both John and George are part of this North Channel team.”

Gerard continued: “Sea swimming has got so popular round here in Derry and just across the border in Buncrana. It’s for anybody, not just the super fit. You could have some doing 1,000 metres and some doing up to three or four kilometres.”

He said a favourite sea swimming spot was Ned’s Point, but cautioned: “As soon as you go in you’re out of your depth. It’s a cracking spot to swim but you need to be a more competent swimmer.”

The remaining five will get the call when the water temperature reaches 11 degrees. According to forecast their next window for the attempt opens this Saturday.

If the team’s green light for the North Channel swim comes on Saturday, it will clash with their involvement in the Foyle Maritime Festival.

Gerard said: “We’ve organised a swim in the Foyle this Saturday which is the day our window opens for the North Channel swim. There’s over 70 swimmers registered which might get closer to 100 on the day. We’ve got people in place to take over if we get the call. Ideally I’d like to do the Foyle Maritime on Saturday and the North Channel on Sunday.”

And its all for good causes as the two squads, Team Doire and Team Suili, are fundraising for four local charities: Foyle Search & Rescue in Derry, Buncrana-based Lough Swilly RNLI, the Red Cross and ME Support NI.

The brave souls taking part are John Coyle, George Meenan, Gerard Curran, Jolene Linehan-Harkin, Darren Bradley, James Jackson, Marc Power, Paddy Bradley, Daniel Meehan and Jeff Gallagher.