Swimmers hoping to make history with North Channel charity relay
A group of local people are hoping to make history this weekend as they brave the chilly North Channel to raise money for local charities.
The nine men and one woman from Derry and Donegal are today bracing themselves for the epic swimming challenge.
Providing that conditions are favourable, they will set off into the open waters from Donaghadee near Bangor today, bound for the village of Portpatrick on the west coast of Scotland.
The group of ten will be divided into two relay teams of five, with each member of each team taking turns spending around an hour in the sea at a time before being relieved by one of their team-mates.
To date, there are only 18 instances of relay teams having successfully completed the gruelling cross-channel swim, which is considered one of the toughest open water swims in the world.
Now the local crews have set their sites on becoming the 19th and 20th groups to do so.
And its all for good causes as 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 amateur open water swimmers John Coyle, George Meenan, Gerard Curran, Jolene Linehan-Harkin, Darren Bradley, James Jackson, Marc Power, Paddy Bradley, Daniel Meehan and Jeff Gallagher.
Speaking during the final countdown this week, Gerard Curran said the idea came from John Coyle, who, along with George Meenan, was part of a relay team which had previously swam the English Channel over a decade ago, talking with Jeff Gallagher.
Following a swim in Lough Swilly last summer, John and Jeff about the possibility of pushing themselves further and they decided to ask other open water swimmers from across Derry and Donegal.
Gerard said: “They couldn’t believe the response and we are all doing it for great causes so we are hoping local people will help us to reach our target.
“We are basically now on stand-by. The temperature of the North Channel is 10.5 degrees and officials want it to be at least 11 degrees before they let us go. There are ten of us going and five in each boat, and one team will go in first. We will be making the decision on whether to go Friday on Thursday night if conditions are favourable.”
Gerard said open water swimming has grown significantly in popularity over recent years.
“We had some of the members swimming in Lough Swilly as early as April and the rest of us went in early May.”
But even with all that experience under their waterproof belts, the North Channel Challenge is not for the feint of heart as no wet-suits are allowed.
““You are basically in your own skin,” Gerard said. “To qualify you have to do at least a two hour swim that is verified. We did that a fortnight ago at Stroove and everybody came through it.
“We are still training and that training has intensified. Qualifying was tough mentally and once that hard work was done we are more relaxed and ready to do it, and looking forward to some summer holidaying after it!”
And the time it takes to swim the 21.6 mile route from Bangor to Portpatrick will be dependant on conditions in one of the most challenging stretches of water ever tested, but judging by past relays, the teams may have to spend 15 to 20 hours in the water.
The first completed North Channel Challenge relay crossing occurred in 1990, and there have only been only 18 successful relay crossings since, compared to almost 800 crossings of the English Channel.
Waters can be up to 5 degrees colder in the North Channel than the English Channel at the same time of year.
As well as the cold, hazards the team will have to look out for include shoals of giant jellyfish and strong currents.
To donate to their fundraising drive, go to: www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/northchannelchallenge2