A six-strong team of swimmers negotiated jellyfish, a busy shipping lane and choppy waters to complete a cross-lough charity challenge on Friday evening.
In the process of powering their way from Grey Point to Carrickfergus in two hours and 50 minutes, Councillor Pete Johnston, Mark Loughridge, Bobbie Philips, Anthony Bannon, Michael Nugent and David McConnell raised thousands of pounds for charity.
Conditions on the day of the Belfast Lough Swim, explained organiser Gary Davison, were not great with a 14 to 15mph wind from the south,
Gary said: “This was going to make the swim that much more difficult, but the forecast was for it to drop during the swim and this thankfully proved to be the case. After making the choppy crossing in ‘InVincible’ one of the two support RIBs, which were provided and piloted by crews from Sailability, the swimmers were dropped off at Grey Point. Upon going ashore at the point, they then re-entered the water and set off swimming into the choppy sea of Belfast Lough.
“Due to the wind over the past 24 hours the sea had been churned up, and within the first mile or so, all six swimmers had received a number of stings from lion’s mane jellyfish. The stings were to their hands, face, neck and feet. On board both the RIBs they carried a quantity of vinegar to treat the symptoms of the stings. However, these would remain painful until properly treated on dry land.”
Gary and his colleagues put a lot of work into preparing for the 3.75 nautical miles event and a crucial stage for the experienced participants was the main shipping lane to Belfast.
“As the swimmers reached the shipping lane they stopped and the support boats contacted Belfast Harbour to get permission to cross the lane. This had all been previously agreed and was part of the overall risk assessment for the swim. The shipping lane is approximately 200m wide and the swimmers crossed this within two minutes.
“The swim had been planned to be done on a neap tide and during the middle section of the swim the tide was slack and all six swimmers were swimming well. David McConnell had a leak in his goggles and had to use his spare pair, Bobbie Philips had some bad stings and swam without a swim cap for a period. Over the last hour of the swim Michael Nugent had suffered repeated bouts of cramp in his calves.”
However, it all became worthwhile as the swimmers reached the beach next to Carrickfergus Castle to be greeted by crowds who had also enjoyed the spectacle of an aquathon from Fisherman’s Quay.
Gary added: “After a group hug they came ashore and were greeted by family and friends, having completed the epic swim across Belfast Lough, which was all done in aid of charity raising approximately £4000. My plan is for this to become a once a year event and I’ve already started to put a group of swimmers together for next year.”
The swim was in aid of a children’s home in Kolkata, India, Children’s Cancer Fund for Northern Ireland and Belfast Lough Sailability.