There was a big surprise last night as Carmel Collins completed a fantastic North Channel crossing in a time of 15:58:21. Carmel decided to be very low-key in preparing for this swim, having found the pressure on her before her English Channel attempt in 2012 had distracted her focus. For anyone who doesn’t want it, the huge social media focus on swims in the last few years can create its own stresses. Carmel made the decision to cut out that external part of any potential pressure and it paid off for her. She was putting enough pressure on herself personally without any publicity.
The swim start was quite rough but then it calmed and conditions were very good for most of the swim. The biggest issue (and this will surprise anyone who knows Carmel) was the cold – it was a real battle. The water temperature was 12c-13c during the swim. Carmel had prepared for up to an 18 hour swim but was thinking in the first two hours that she wouldn’t be able to do more than half of that. She was frozen. As the day went on it got a bit warmer and in the second half of the swim there were hot (relatively speaking) and cold patches but the cold ones outweighed the hot ones and moving from one to the other was horrible! Carmel was shivering in the water and her hands were locking up at stages. Despite this, she was very mentally strong and really determined to get the job done, with fantastic crew support.
On board yesterday were her crew of Ger Kennedy and Claire Ryan with Pádraig Mallon and Kieran McClelland . The Pilot was Charles Stewart. Carmel was full of praise for the crew, who encouraged her at every stage with whiteboard messages from her family and even lied convincingly to her that she was seeing a dolphin…..
It was a Minke whale joining in the fun. This video taken from the Infinity Facebook page is one for Carmel to cherish! When she saw it first, Carmel thought “killer whale!!”. Fortunately, not – just an amazing experience! It swam under her for a bit, moving slowly. Carmel was able to see it clearly as the visibility in the North Channel throughout the swim as incredible.
The water was so clear that there was not time for any boredom, as there were constant distractions and things to look at. Being able to see clearly meant that “DodgeBall with Jellies” was the order of the day. While there weren’t as many as she feared, Carmel did get her first chance to go up close and personal with a Lion’s Mane. She swam right over him but avoided the tentacles and luckily didn’t get stung by him. She picked up a few stings from other jellies during the swim, but nothing to cause her problems. On balance Carmel reckoned the distraction value of being able to look at all the different colours and shapes of the jellyfish was well worth the few stings.
The big problems Carmel had for the swim – apart from the cold – were a couple she brought into the day – a really sore left shoulder and a long-standing dose of bronchitis. The shoulder meant a change of breathing side for most of the swim and the bronchitis caused a lot of breathing problems during the swim, with two hours or so in the middle being very slow as it kicked in badly. This time, however, she was determined there was no stopping her and even when she had feed problems and had to skip some feeds, she slowed down but never stopped.
Currents were very strong in the Channel. Ger Kennedy did one support swim during the whole crossing, with about three hours to go. After he got out, Carmel was looking at Scotland and thinking, “that’s it now, nearly there”. An hour later, she was still thinking “nearly there”. Another hour later…..same thing!! The current was a big push against her and reaching the shore in the dark felt like it took forever, over a distance Carmel felt she would normally have covered in 30 minutes.
Problems or not, there was no stopping and 15 hours, 58 minutes and 21 seconds after she started, Carmel Collins was a North Channel Solo Swimmer.
According to Carmel, Myrtleville to Monkstown and back is the next plan after a short rest. After yesterday, she says she can take on anything!