Swimming Land's End to John o' Groats

lecumminslecummins Charter Member
edited July 2013 in General Discussion
I've seen a couple of news stories popping up across Facebook over the past couple of days about a guy, Sean Conway, who is supposedly swimming the length of Britain. So I had a look at it today...does anyone know anything more about him? He seems to be having nothing but problems so far...as a result of particularly poor planning as far as I can tell!
Here's where his seasick crew caused him to apparently lose a day:
And here's where his tongue is swelling up from the salt:

From the BBC video it looks like he's just got a kayaker with him, although maybe that's just for sections of it or something. His website is here: http://www.seanconway.com/. In his first blog entry he talks about how the local fishermen refused to take him to his start point because the tide was too strong so he decided to go ahead on his own with just a kayaker...sounds like a recipe for disaster if he's ignoring the advice of local fishermen on his first day!

Does anyone know anything about him and what sort of OW preparation that he's done for this (if any!)? One would assume in planning something like this it would obviously make sense to talk to other long distance swimmers about issues and problems that they could help to predict (regardless of the wetsuit). I'd be interested to know more about his route planning too-he seems to be planning to keep very close to the coast for the next while and a few other times later on too so I'm wondering if that's because of lack of boat cover or something else. The shortest route would seem to make most sense!

I'm just curious about it all since BBC seem to have latched on to it so we may be hearing a lot more about him on this side of the world over the next couple of months...


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited July 2013
    I exchanged a couple of tweets only with him 6 or 8 weeks ago, innocuous stuff though. http://twitter.com/Conway_Sean.

    Certainly the first few days have been, well, as you pointed out...challenging. He only started on Monday afaik.

    H2Open are kind of promoting it if I remember & I've seen it in a few other places such as SimplySwimUK. He basically says he started training three months ago and he's not a swimmer per se. He was still getting equipment from sponsors only last week, Speedo UK stepped in right at the end.

    His OW swimming was negligible by most standards, and with 3 months swimming, you could say that about all his training. Agreed on the route. but his plan called for a mix of "sleeping on the kayak or the beach". Without a significant offshore craft & provisioning he's probably limited. The ideal initial route would be straight across the edge of the Bristol Channel to the edge of George's Channel in Wales. The Bristol Channel could have a lot of tide problems if he's too close in, Geth Jones being the only one who have done that before. Well, depending on whether you include Darren Jaundill . Going across is a long way offshore and would need at least a week's swimming, I'd guess, but far more likely a minimum of two weeks, like going from Kerry to Rosslare.

    That said, there was a guy last year who did something similar, no swimming experience, down the Mississippi towing a raft, in a wetsuit, sleeping on the river banks, very under the radar.


  • JonMLJonML Member
    He looks good on the Website. The half-off wetsuit and lightning bolts are both nice touches. ;)
  • sharkbaitzasharkbaitza LondonMember
    He is a Zimbo... those Southern African men are a little touched! :)
  • I would have started at the north and went down. He's leaving the worst until last.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    What would the total distance be? Will he have enough time before summer is over?


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • ColmBreathnachColmBreathnach Charter Member
    @gnome4766, True, everyone knows its easier swimming downhill.
  • sharkbaitzasharkbaitza LondonMember
    apparently swimming from north to south means you swim against the prevailing winds...
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    So the guy that swam the Missouri 1000 miles is Dave Cornthwaite. The raft he used belongs to me and holds two weeks food water and camping equipment. It can be sat upon for resting.

    Sean Conway and Dave are mates and I guess they have been talking about the various adventures that can be done.

    Dave is on a quest to complete 25 non motorised journeys, each being over 1000 miles. He skateboarded across Australia for his first journey and us now on journey number 8. Dave is not a swimmer.

    Sean is also an adventurer and has cycled around the world. He has also done a few other things.

    I guess they both make a living (of sorts) lecturing and writing books about their travels.

    I have a number of unusual swims behind me and have tried to get in touch with Sean. I understand his original plan to swim the length of Britain was to follow inland canals and only some coasts. This would never have worked, but a non swimmer would always be too afraid to take the coastal route. Sean eventually chose the coastal route but I believe he was planning to start in August and take two months. I absolutely know this is a mistake. I advised him to bring his swim forward and allow four months. I suggested we meet up, but it never happened.

    It appears he brought his swim forward, though.

    He will be swimming in stages with fins and wetsuit. Accompanied by a small yacht and will get a GPS fix when getting out of the water. This way he will be able to take a few days to swim directly across the big open crossings.

    I believe this is also a mistake, and as seen, his crew have held him up somewhat.

    He has taken recent swimming lessons and believes his existing and proven cycling endurance will support him. I guess he thinks cycling all day for days on end means he has the will power to swim all day for days on end. (Or catch the tide every 6 hours). This is a mistake. I believe he will have a rude awakening once he gets beyond 4 hour swims. He will realise that an 8 hour swim is a whole different matter and will soon shatter his resolve. He hopes to swim the equivalent of the English Channel every day. I believe even the worlds best long distance swimmers would not have the resolve to do so. However to reach John OGrotes in two months, that is exactly the mileage he will need.

    This takes no consideration for weather.

    I am really interested in how he gets on because I have had plans for something similar for nearly twenty years. I wish him the very best for a safe and exciting journey.

    Now, I don't think my twenty year old idea is possible (which is why I haven't tried it yet), neither do I think Sean can succeed in his idea unless he can keep it up till November. But this is what adventuring is all about. And impossible is only an opinion.

    Oh, and I hope he has the integrity to swim around Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth, rather than cut through the Caledonian Canal.

    Most of all I hope he stays safe and succeeds. This type of swimming can become a new horizon for us.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    Yes, about 30 miles since he started 4 days ago.
  • @Haydn I'd be interested to see and hear more about your raft!
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    Look up my website www.haydnwelch.co.uk under previous swim tab scroll to 'swim trek Baja'.

    The raft is in Memphis right now. If anyone is planning a trip to England or fancies organising posting it or bringing it back to England , I would be really great full.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    @Haydn I really hate saying, "I don't think x can do y." Do you think he will make if as far as Cardigan Bay? All your points are great and I can't get past the lack of training and the lack of open water experience. He obviously knew nothing about salt mouth effects either. And that's only going to get worse. He said about his crew when they got sea-sick that "they had ticked that box when he asked the question". I'd gather from that his crew aren't experienced either, or if they have sea experience, they are not swim-crew experienced and that he doesn't have much or any training with them?


  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    If all else fails he could just ride on the boat for a while. That's approved by the sport of ocean swimming, is it not?
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    People can do great things, but I just look at whether a great swimmer could do it? I still cannot answer the question with anything other than an educated guess. I think Sean can do it, just not in two months. I think we all know what is ahead of him.......and he doesn't . The lack of experience will make the swim, for him, a real hard task and proportionately, the greatest adventure of his life.

    I expect his crew have never been sea sick at sailing speed, but we all know what it's like to be sat on the rolling deck of a small boat doing virtually zero swimming speed. It's a whole new ball game.

    It is tough to figure out how his swim will progress and how he copes with hour building, especially as his schedule slips by impossible margins to make up. His resolve will be tested (adventurers seek these things). He will need rest days, but will not want them randomly scheduled by bad weather. When he needs to rest, it will infuriate him if it coincides with light winds, flat sea, and great tides.he will get short tempered with the crew, they may simply go home early.

    How far will he get? Maybe as far as the first spell of gales which will prohibit swimming for a week or more and he chooses to sit them out at home rather than on the beach.

    He might pick up an injury that slows him down, not just suffer the salt. Then again, this coming weeks weather looks great, maybe the tides will run for him, and before he gets too tired, he might get some great speed swimming with a really fast tide. The mileage might give him enthusiasm. Then again, despite the great weather and perfect tides, he might still not get the mileage. And by then, he will also be a physical wreck.

    But, what if the swimming gets in his soul and he finds the energy to stay in and swim all day, every day..............this is what swimming is all about.

    Western Scotland would be a great set of swims though. I wish I was doing it.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited July 2013
    @Haydn, thanks for your perspective on this, I can't think of anyone else as qualified to talk about this swim or similar. The wetsuit will protect him in some ways, especially from repetitive cooling and Lions Manes, but it will also batter his shoulders from daily repetition, especially since he hasn't trained those.

    Haven't we all seen over here, summer Atlantic storms during late July that look like an Atlantic winter storm? I don't think I've known a summer that we haven't had one big summer blow of Force 9 or up in the last 15 years since I started paying attention. If he was to make it as far as the Western Isles, (which I honestly can't see happening, I can't see him passing Anglesea, not wishing him any bad luck), then he's into the direct brunt of any Icelandic weather pattern. It's a big dream that needs a lot to work and I think much of the basics are missing. It seems in a way that he can have such a big dream because he is unaware of just what's required to see it realised?


  • KellieKellie Member
    edited July 2013
    @loneswimmer I think you are spot on when you say "It seems in a way that he can have such a big dream because he is unaware of just what's required to see it realised?" When I have done things that were big things for me, I have often thought at the end of them that if I'd known at the start what I knew at the end, I would never have dared to start. Sometimes it is good to have the experience behind you so you can say "Well I did that, so I can do this" but sometimes knowing how much it's going to hurt can hold you back.
  • Love the true sense of adventure in this project, totally gung ho...
    and especially the bumble bee effect, doesn know that he "shouldn" be able to do it...a big advantage!!
    last year i shit out(am i allowed to say that??) of a swim which i had planned on doing for quite a few years...turns out the challenge was to big for my tiny little brain...overthinking it, So good luck to this guy and hope he makes it!
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    Great image on his website, resting in the middle of a bay. Laying out on an inflatable boat, tied to another boat. Interesting though, he is wearing freediving fins????? Ultra slow leg kick totally out of sync with the pull????

    We must remember, for a non swimmer, and an adventure like this, we cannot (must not) apply swimming rules. Sean's is simply a matter of getting to John O'groats the wet way.

    Maybe someone else will come along and try it with more purity one day, or differently again.
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    Haydn said:

    Great image on his website, resting in the middle of a bay. Laying out on an inflatable boat, tied to another boat. Interesting though, he is wearing freediving fins?????
    We must remember, for a non swimmer, and an adventure like this, we cannot (must not) apply swimming rules. Sean's is simply a matter of getting to John O'groats the wet way.

    I can’t even pretend to be interested in this sort of thing.... sorry.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • HaydnHaydn Member
    Well David,
    Instead of going for a four or six hour swim every morning in your local patch of lake or ocean, just keep the land on your right and keep going for a few days, weeks or months. Past the first headland across the first bay and on and on. Because you are a swimmer, you will do it in skin. Or start at the Baja peninsula and swim through the summer to Canada. Just do it with a little more integrity to the rules you accept should govern a swim.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    Now Sean has decided not to swim up the English West coast but to cross over from Wales to the East coast of Ireland, that means the North Channel in a few weeks ???????
    Soooo behind schedule too. It may not be the kind of swimming for this forum, but a heck of an adventure.
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