The Dart 10k swim goes downstream from Totnes to Dittisham in Devon. It is an annual event organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society and attracts 1600 swimmers over the weekend. As part of my 60at60 events I found myself standing on the quayside at Totnes in an excited huddle with other swimmers about to embark on several hours of swimming. The tide and current definitely help, but this swim still involves a fair amount of effort and several hours exposure to cold water, hence a requirement to wear a wetsuit unless you were proven capable and competent without one.
I was not confident that the day was going to be a success. My original 60at60 idea had been to do one of the Great Swim mile events, which was duly completed in Windermere back in June, but the Dart Swim was on the Adventure Daughter’s tick list, and she considered a single mile to be unchallenging. On the other hand she is an accomplished club swimmer and diver, and I am not. We had agreed there was no point in her trying to wait for me, so although we started together she was soon a sleek dark shape disappearing into the distance.
I had done hours in the pool (thanks to Medway Council’s free swims for over 60’s) and practiced at Leybourne Lakes, an open water venue near Maidstone but six months previously I wasn’t doing any swimming; this was the equivalent of a couch to marathon transformation. I was happy I had fitness and endurance, but I had not managed to bring about much improvement in pace.
It took me a long time to settle, my front crawl fell apart with the jostling and moving water, and the low sun bounced off the water making sighting in goggles tricky. After a while getting frustrated I resigned myself to more comfortable gentler strokes and removed the goggles so I could enjoy the views.
All the briefing prior to the event emphasises it is a journey, not a race, but there is also an expectation that entrants are able to make good progress down the river, and a very efficient rescue system was clearly in place to fish out strugglers and stragglers. I developed a feeling that I was heading for the announcement, “Come in number 366, your time is up”, heightened when I suspected that I was the last swimmer. This position was confirmed for me by Ben, one of the safety team on a board who had become my shadow. However, far from this signalling the end of my swim, it became clear that Ben’s mission was to encourage me to Dittisham. So, 5.2km became “over half way”, I was advised the second half of the course provided more benefit from the current, Ben counted off the kilometres, gave me timing updates, advised direction changes, and simply presumed we were going to do this.
His intervention that I appreciated most was during a spell when looking around there seemed no-one on the tree draped river but me, Ben and the birds. The hurly burly of the mass participation event had long left us behind. “This is what wild swimming is really about”, said Ben. I agreed.
I am very grateful to Ben, and the team who waited on the raft in the middle of the river to feed me jelly babies, and the Outdoor Swimming members and volunteers who waited at the end. It’s a powerful thing, the kindness of strangers.