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  • Sophie Ruffles

Swimming the Solent

Standing in the water as the sun rose over the Solent, I could see the spire of the church in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.  ‘That’s what you’ll be aiming for’ I’m told.  ‘Until you see the pier, then you’ll be swimming to the beach to the left of that’.

Right.  Except that it looked impossibly far away.

In truth, once I was in the water, which was a balmy 20°C and mercifully calm, with the sole goal of swimming across the Solent to Ryde, I just wanted to get swimming.

I can safely say that the journey to the start line was so stressful that the swimming would be the easy bit. Especially once I could see that I wasn’t going to be battling huge waves to get across. I just kept my fingers crossed there would be no jelly fish.

The pre start line stress was not the usual lack of training/kit/travel worries. It was a stress that only mothers to new babies will be familiar with.

As a mum to a 6 year old and a 5 month old, the first child was no problem. The second one however… he was the reason I was swimming and had not swum the year before due to pregnancy and morning sickness (see my blog post Ticket to Ryde).

In the week before the swim Joe had decided to refuse a bottle which made leaving him for half a day a concern. He had also decided sleep was for wimps and was waking up every 2 hours. I know that the sleep the night before an event isn’t vital but I am pretty sure the sleep every night the week before is quite important, particularly when you have to get up at 4.30am to drive to the swim start.

In order to try to get some sleep my husband had a sleepless night trying to get Joe to take a bottle so I would get some shut eye. I fed Joe at 4.30am and got on my way.

When I got to Stokes Bay, the start point for the swim, I was relieved to find there were toilets which found me trying to hand express milk into the loo before the swim start. I’m fairly sure my fellow swimmers weren’t having the same issues.

So you can see why the swim was the least of my concerns.

The swim thankfully it went better then could be expected. Once I put my head in the water I was comforted by the colour,  it was the same aquamarine as the water at Church Ope Cove on Portland, where I swim when visiting my mum. It instantly put me at ease. After that I just got my head down and swam, keeping an eye on my kayak support who led me across the Solent and kept me safe from boat traffic.

It was a beautiful sunny day and occasionally a boat would come closer or I would see the ferry track between the island and main land but I trusted my kayaker and the safety team and kept swimming.

The middle of the swim brought choppier water and larger waves but save for the odd rogue wave to the head, I kept swimming front crawl without feeling too sloshed about.

After nearly 2 hours the water temperature and visibility dropped.  I’d been told that there is a large sand bar at Ryde so I put a leg down to test the depth and found that the water was less than waist deep. I stood up. I’d swum across the Solent to the UK’s largest island. I was so relieved that I had made it.

To return home to children after an event or adventure means little time to process what you have achieved and to rest. But it gives me a sense of peace that I can continue to achieve despite the obstacles and hopefully.. one day… my boys will be inspired by what I have done.

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