On Saturday 4th September, three swimmers gathered at the water’s edge in Portsmouth ready to swim across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
Perdita Hunt, the Director of the Watts Gallery wanted to help raise money for the ‘Hope Appeal’ – and swimming to the Isle of Wight seemed like a fitting challenge. But, to make it happen, she needed some help – so, on a chilly winter’s evening in January she got talking with Sue McLagan of Wight Charters and the plan was hatched.
“From the moment of our discussions in January, I knew that we were on. It was a wonderful moment when Sarah agreed to participate, which brought in the support of projectfive and Steve. Having Leo was a great bonus too.”
Months of training followed – with regular swimming on the River Thames in Laleham and Seaview on the Isle of Wight, and then Perdita, Sarah Giles and Leo Hacking were ready – but was the weather?
Steve was watching the forecasts carefully… “We said, right at the outset, that anything less than a Force 3 would be OK – more than that, and we’d need to reconsider. But, as the day drew closer, and the weather looked worse, then we agreed that a Force 4 would probably be OK too – we might not make it all the way, but we’d certainly give it a go.”
On the day, the forecast was for Force 4/5 occasionally Force 6. It didn’t look good!
“Then, we got a text message to say that the sponsorship total was £4955 – and we knew we had to give it a try!”
In a strong swell off Gilkicker Point nr. Portsmouth, the team gathered. 3 swimmers, 4 kayakers, 4 RIBs and a couple of Spectator Boats were bobbing around in the blustery conditions. And at 13:20 they were under way.
Sarah found the conditions tough to begin with… “It was quite rough to start, but we soon got into the flow of it. The RIBs did a great job of pushing the Ferries and Large Tankers out of our way as we made our way across the Solent”
“It wasn’t all plain sailing” Steve said, “Leo had a tendency to swim to the left, and Perdita slightly to the right – it split the group up. You could see the swimmers were struggling with the waves – but they battled on and you could sense that they were not going to be defeated.”
There were a couple of moments where cramp took hold, but as the team crossed the halfway point the waves seemed to lessen. And before long the swimmers themselves could see the Isle of Wight – and they began driving forwards with even more determination.
Steve had the champagne on ice in the back of his canoe, and he could feel that the swimmers were chasing him. “As we came alongside Ryde Pier, we had less than a mile to go. One of the boats started to play ‘We are the Champions’ and we could see the spectators on the beach waving. I took my cue to race ahead and get the Moet ready”
“I’ll never forget seeing Sarah, Perdita and Leo as they reached the shore.” Steve said “The sense of achievement was obvious. They’d battled very challenging conditions and completed the swim in a mind-boggling 2 hours and 10 minutes.”
QHM (Queen’s Harbour Masters, Portsmouth) sent their congratulations to the swimmers when they were informed that we were inside the pier and Solent Coastguard acknowledged the completed swim and confirmation that 4 kayakers and 3 swimmers were on ‘dry land’ at Ryde.
During the swim, the team received mention on Radio 1 and the Tweets were picked up by Surrey Life. “It was great that so many people were following our progress” said Sarah.
Then, champagne in hand, the whole team retreated to Bembridge for a BBQ.
Back on dry land, Perdita had the following to say “I was moved beyond words to see the amazing support team that we had and I knew then that I could not let them down.”
“It will be a day that Sarah, Leo and I will always remember”
And the final word goes to Perdita to thank everyone who has sponsored and supported the swim “Your involvement has helped Watts Gallery in its efforts to save an arts & crafts building of national importance for the nation and to have supported the efforts of RNLI Bembridge. And, for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart”.