Neil Agius - Linosa to Gozo
Linosa to Gozo
125.7 km (78.1 miles)
52 hours, 10 minutes on 28-30 June 2021
Observed and documented by Simon Zammit & David Brookes
World Record, Longest Ocean Swim
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Name: Neil Agius
- Gender: male
- Age on swim date: 35
- Nationality: Malta
- Resides: Garghur, Malta
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming.
- Equipment used: textile swimsuit (Nike brief), one swim cap, goggles (Nike), non-GPS wristwatch (Casio G-Shock), fabric ankle support during portions of swim.
- Body of Water: Mediterranean Sea
- Route Type: one-way
- Start Location: Ferry dock, West Linosa (35.863200, 12.853400)
- Finish Location: Xlendi Beach, Gozo (36.030510, 14.216989)
- Minimum Route Distance: 125.7 km (78.1 miles)
No known previous swims of this route.
- Start: 28 June 2021, 18:00 (Central European Summer Time, Europe/Malta, UTC2).
- Finish: 30 June 2021, 22:10:04
- Elapsed: 52 hours, 10 minutes, 4 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (C)||25||26|
|Air Temp (C)||28||30|
Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
On 28th June 2021, Olympian and endurance swimmer Neil Agius, pushed off from a jetty ladder at exactly 18:00 into the choppy waters lapping into the bay of Linosa island. Heading East, swimming towards Malta on what would be a journey through to 30th June 2021, Neil managed to step out of the Mediterranean Sea onto the sandy beach of Xlendi at 22:10:04. A journey that lasted over 52 hours and 125KM, through both day and night nonstop.
The original plan being to swim from Tunisia to Sicily (Italy), would have been 150KM, in a bid to join two continents whilst creating awareness about the impact of single use plastics on our Oceans. However, due to adverse and unsuitable weather conditions in the window of opportunity outlined by the Logistics team, it was determined that the above route and dates would be safer whilst still ensuring a qualification for the Worlds longest unassisted open water swim (current neutral).
As per the Rules of Marathon Swimming, for unassisted swims ,Neil completed the swim under his own power, without making supportive contact with any person, vessel or other object, and without assistance from any nonstandard swimwear or equipment. The swim was observed continuously in shifts by Simon Zammit, David Brookes, Christa Calleja and Angela Galea. Supporting observers were Mark Buttigieg, Ranjit Singh Mudjar and John Windfield.
Neil had an extensive 25 person crew to assist him in this endeavour, ranging through medics, a nutritionist , boat captains, tender drivers/team hands ,motivators , observers, handlers/feeders, photographers and videographers and film crew. These were Gordon Bugeja, Twain Cutajar, Samuel Attard, Andrew Zammit, Simon Zammit, David Brookes, Kurt Arrigo, David Ananstasi, Maja Podesta, Angela Galea, Christa Calleja, Greg Nasmyth, Jonathan Glynn-Smith, John Windfeild, Lara Vella, Steven Merceica, Andrew Schrembi, Alex Vella, Benjamin Tabone Grech, Mark Buttigieg, Marc Casolane, Ranjit Singh Mudjar. All of the above donning multiple hats to ensure Neil’s safe and successful record attempt.
Given this was in extensive open water, a large crew and their transport was required, consisting of 5 sail boats, 1 rib and 2 tenders.
The heat of the Mediterranean summer saw water temperatures staying fairly consistent between 25°C and 27°C. This is turn saw high air temperatures of between 27°C and 32°C through the mornings and into the afternoons. Wind and subsequent sea conditions were erratic at best, and ranged between Force 1 and Force 4 with erratic wind direction. Please refer to the Observer logs for further evidence.
The official tracking information for this entire swim record attempt can be found at http://yb.tl/waveofchange21
by Simon Zammit and David Brookes
In the months leading up to the swim, Neil and his Logistics team had spent countless hours determining, amongst other things, the weather window in which to swim. Based on historical data, it was decided the 16 days between 24 June and 10 July offered the best possible conditions. Crew were to go on standby from the 24 th. When the time came, they were to sail to Tunisia, follow Neil along his swim to Sicily, and return to Malta. A journey that was to take 5 days.
On a sweltering Thursday afternoon, sitting in The Chophouse restaurant in Sliema, there was a sense of uneasiness in the air. The entire crew was meeting in person for the first time. Iced drinks were handed out continuously in a bid to gain some relief from the heat.
As everyone seated themselves for the last run through before going on stand-by that evening, Neil’s Logistics team were supposed to give a final briefing of the schedule. One that had been pored over incessantly. Multiple, in depth team video calls. Lunch briefings, coffee catch ups and phone calls at all hours. Covering everything from coming across refugees on the open water, through to meal schedules, forecasts, and above all, safety.
Neil and the Logistics leads, Gordon Bugeja and Dave Anastasi proceeded to inform the rest of the crew that given the weather forecast, it was looking increasingly unlikely that we would be able to manage the swim within the window originally intended. Everyone leaned in a bit closer, wanting to fully understand the gravity of the situation and what this meant for the expedition as a whole. The team were quick to say that this was not the end of it, and they were looking at alternative options. Mainly lengthening the window, at the risk of compromising all of Neil’s training to that point, or looking at an alternative route. However, with each hand raised by the support crew, an honest, open and full answer was given by the team. The result being that the prevailing attitude was one of positivity, despite the setback, and we would move forward.
It was two days later that the call went out and that we would be leaving the following day, Sunday 27th. Departing for Linosa, sailing through the night to get there for the dawn hours of Monday 28th. This was to be the alternative routing, with a scheduled landing in Malta, and with the distance able to be covered still ensuring a valid attempt at the world record. With everything having been purchased in the build-up and the boats having already been stocked earlier in the week, all that was left to do was wait for the following afternoon to meet at the boats whilst Neil was flown ahead to Lampedusa along with Lara and Benji on a small private charter.
Kick Off - 1 day before the swim
All the teams, having previously been allocated to their sailboats which would be their homes for the next 4 days, were instructed to meet at the various harbours for 16:00 sharp where the boats were moored. From there, the boats were scheduled to meet off the North coast of Malta, near Mellieha Bay. Then round the coast and head West, past Marfa Bay, passing Gozo and Comino on the Starboard side and making a beeline for Linosa, a distance around 150Km from our secondary landing option at this point, St Julians in Malta.
With a crew of this size, final safety checks, busy harbours and a plethora of other items and scenarios to take into account, it proved difficult to ensure everyone was near Mellieha Bay as intended. Conversations over VHF at the time concluded that given we would be travelling through the night, it was probably in the best interest of all parties that the flotilla maintained some level of distance between boats anyway. Thus as the crews left Malta in their wake and headed into the sunset, Cadmus led the teams on the way up, followed by Soft Parade and Pippus, with Olwyn coming up behind. The film crew were to leave slightly later being separate from the actual team assisting Neil, and tailed behind on The Middlesea.
Recollections amongst the crew when sitting afterwards to discuss the journey to Linosa made note of how eerie the setting was. Losing sight of Malta at around 19:00, and nightfall descending sometime after 20:00, the air was thick. Travelling under engine power with no wind to sail by, the darkness was absolute. Apart from the boats computers and lights, coupled with the pale red glow of head torches, we may as well have been floating in space. The soft pitch and roll of the boats syncing with the hum of the engines, as we waited for the moonlight to penetrate the clouds.
Knowing what was to come, instructions for the crew to rest apart from the rotating captains and their watchmen was strictly enforced. How anyone managed to get any sleep that night is a mystery given the endeavour we were all about to be part of the following day, coupled with the intense Mediterranean heat, even in the late hours of the evening. It was at around 03:00 that we first noticed the pale blink of the lighthouse perched on the East coast of Linosa. Cadmus crew, eager to moor in the bay on the opposite side of the island and get working on prep for the swim that day, carried on straight and managed to nestle themselves between the small reefs within the bay of “Pozzolana Di Ponente” as the sun’s first rays began to highlight the volcanic rock formations the island was so well known for.
Their companions on Soft Parade, had worse luck, the first significant issue to arise on the voyage. Approaching the bay in the light of the dawn, rogue swells with the incoming wind pushed their vessel onto one of the reefs, grounding their boat to a standstill. Emergency calls rang out over the VHF, with the crew from Cadmus quickly inflating their small tender to go and offer assistance, being the only boat of the flotilla in the immediate vicinity, some 300 metres away. Given the collective experience of the ships crew that were present, an immediate solution was presented involving driving out the mast with the tender to enable Soft Parade to work with the swell and dislodge themselves. Luckily enough this was not needed, for as the tender was lowered into the water, and the crew were holding their breathe, by some strange miracle Soft Parade managed to loosen themselves from the grips of the coral with the assistance of a rogue swell.
Once the light was good enough, Mark Casolani and David Brookes from Cadmus opted to swim over and inspect the hull and rudder of Soft Parade using a GoPro camera to take evidence and determine the full extent of the damage and see to what extent this would hinder Soft Parade’s ability to participate any further. Reviewing the footage, it was noted that between 6-10 inches of the rudder had been cleanly snapped off, exposing the fibreglass, along with some significant scrapes to the hull, calling into question the ability for them to proceed.
At this time, Pippus had arrived, along with Captain Dave Anastasi, the most experienced sailor in the entire crew. Gordon Bugeja, Head of the entire crew and operations, and of equal maritime experience to Dave, had left with Twain Cutajar, Rib captain, to go and collect Neil, Lara and Benjamin from Lampedusa. Their arrival wasn’t expected until close to midday and it was decided to wait until that time to make an executive decision moving forward. By now, Olwyn and The Middlesea had also both arrived. We all waited anxiously for the arrival of Just Add Water, the Rib containing Gordon, Twain, Lara, Benjamin, and of course the reason we were all there, our champion Neil Agius. To fill time, the crew of the various boats took to making preparations for the coming journey. Meals were prepped, lines tightened, boat checks done and mountains of sunscreen applied by all.
Pre-start build up
Image 1: Neil arriving from Lampedusa in the Rib Image 2: Neil and Gordon addressing the crew Image 3: Lara Proposing to Neil.
The rib came into sight shortly before lunch time. Under the intense heat of the sun, they pulled up next to the jetty and disembarked, greeted by hoots and whistles from the crew. A quick feed was had, and the crew then assembled in their entirety aboard Pippus for the final safety briefing. At this time, after much deliberation, it was agreed that Soft Parade was to remain as part of the fleet. It was a tough call to make, realising that, should the damage to their boat result in them being unable to continue during any point of the record attempt, another member of the fleet would have to remain with them. Soft Parades Captain, Steve Merceica was adamant they could push ahead and was not going to miss being part of such an event.
Nestled tightly together on the Pippus’ stern, a calm breeze floating in from the East, the gravity of the situation was sinking in. Whilst the film crew lurked in the background, the enormity of the challenge Neil was about to undertake was anything but downplayed. Everyone was reminded of their part to play, the significance of their role reinforced through an encouraging speech by Gordon. Neil, true to character, chose to speak to the crew, although humbly and without trepidation or elaboration. Thanking everyone for being there, acknowledging the sacrifices that everyone had made, and reminding everyone why they were there in the first place. Cheers, claps and final group hugs abounded before an air of seriousness fell across the bay as everyone retreated to their vessels. Neil, Lara, Gordon and Benji were taxied to the jetty by Twain on the Rib to start preparing.
Unbeknownst to a large portion of the crew, it had been decided several weeks before by Lara, Neil’s long-time girlfriend, that she was going to propose to Neil shortly before he lowered himself into the water. As instructions were issued over the radio to all boats now sitting outside of the bay, Lara proceeded to aid Neil in his final prep. Moments before lathering his shoulders and back in Sudocrem, she dropped to one knee and did the unexpected, asking Neil to spend the rest of his life with her. at 17:50, ten minutes before Neil embarked on the biggest challenge of his life, a crackle came over the airwaves… He said YES!
Swim Time (hours 0 to 6 - 18:00 through until 00:00 - 28/06)
Longitude: 35.8633° N through to 35 53.187°N Latitude: 12.8548° E through to 013 0.902°E Weather conditions: Clear. South Easterly wind. 19 knots. Choppy seas, 1 foot swells. Sea Temp: 26°C at start Air Temp: 30°C at start
Image 1: Neil shortly before pushing off from Linosa Image 2: Neil swimming out of Pozzolana Di Ponente bay. Image 3: Coming up to round the lighthouse of Linosa before heading into open water. Image 4: Leaving Linosa behind us as Neil swims West towards Malta.
Neil’s shoulders, white from the Sudocrem, could be seen hovering just above the water line as he gripped the ladder rail behind him. The countdown began and at 18:00 on 28 June 2021, Neil pushed off from the island of Linosa. A few butterfly kicks as he sank beneath the swell, and rising a few metres away from the jetty, aiming for Malta. Gordon, Lara and Benji were taxied by Alex on one of the tenders, back to the Rib. As we approached the exit of the bay, a ferry was coming into dock on the jetty a few metres up from where Neil had pushed off from, but luckily this didn’t interfere with him in any way.
It took around 2 hours for Neil and the fleet to navigate around the North of Linosa and put the coast behind them. The wind picked up from the South, creating swells about 1-2ft in height, hindering progress significantly. It was noted on the radio at the third feed around 19:30 that Neil was only progressing at a rate of about 2Kph. His last kilometre had taken 29 minutes, despite his stroke rate remaining at a consistent 40spm. Feeds continued just shy of every 30 minutes and with the darkness approaching, the desire to make as much distance from Linosa before complete nightfall was palpable. During these initial hours, Both Mark Buttigieg (handler/feeder) and Simon Zammit (lead observer) started to show the early signs of sea sickness. Called to rest on their respective boats, the shifting schedule was amended slightly with David Brookes (Observer) heading to the rib early.
Shortly before the shifting change for the tender drivers at 20:00, a small drama occurred where it was realised that the glowsticks provided for the Rib and tenders were incredibly rigid, and unnecessarily difficult to snap without breaking them. One broke in the tender when trying to attach just before Dave B boarded, and several broke when trying to snap and use on the feed containers and the side of the Rib. This created a stir as we knew we had at least 2 nights to get through, and possibly a third, and there was a serious potential that we would run out. They were rationed out and efforts made to break them as gently as possible. (There would still be several sticks broken and rendered unusable over the following two nights).
The swell had started to make transporting people in the tender at night borderline dangerous once we had entered open water, and it was decided no unnecessary trips were to be done if it could be avoided. It was around 21:30 that Neil started taking in warm electrolytes as part of his feeds. Along with the feeds before, this was complemented with mouthwash. The second drama of the evening unfolded around 22:20 as the rope holding the drogue for the Rib snapped and the drogue was lost to the dark sea behind us. Despite having a spare, it was decided best to proceed in the evenings without one. As we got closer to midnight, Lara had commented how it was so good that he hadn’t come across any jelly fish, but of course, no sooner had she said it than Neil stopped for his 22:30 feed and noted he had been stung twice. Once on each arm. Half an hour later, we found he had been stung again. His nose was starting to get sore from the salt water, and combined with the stings and the extreme darkness, Neil’s conversations during the breaks started to quieten as he focused on getting through to dawn. By 23:30, the wind had started to die down, Neil commenting on the stars, but also that there was no moon. Stopping for feeds at the correct time was also proving to be difficult as he was unable to see the times on his watch properly. In his last feed at a few minutes to midnight, his left ankle started to give him some issues. A pain he attributed to being cramped in a tiny plane the day beforehand and was a niggle that he had discussed with the medics before departing. It was thought to revisit the pain at his next feed and make a call regarding medication by then.
Swim Time (hours 7 to 12 - 00:00 through until 06:00 - 29/06)
Longitude: 35 53.187° N through to 35 54.098°N Latitude: 013 0.902° E through to 013 6.135°E Weather conditions: Dark, hazy and humid. Easterly wind. 11 knots. Sea Temp: 25° C Air Temp: 28° C
Image 1: Neil having finally made it to dawn after a difficult night.
The moon chose to make an appearance shortly before the first feed on the 29th, scheduled for 00:30, but did little to light the scene. The timings were getting difficult to monitor as whilst all members of the Rib team had synced their watches, primary time checks were being done on dimly lit phone stopwatches. With the incredibly humid air and occasional splashes from waves, these were starting to take a beating with the main phone (that of John, the on-board nutritionist stopping altogether). All watches, phones and stop watches were resynced with Neil’s wristwatch on this first feed after midnight, with Neil asking Lara to go and get some rest. Just over 20KM in, Neil held discussions with the medics for pain relief and he was offered Catafast and Ramitidine for his ankle. Both were washed down with a warm chocolate smoothie.
Next feed occurred shortly before 01:00, and Neil was in decidedly better spirits now that the moon was up. This was despite issues with the feeding where lids weren’t secured properly and saltwater made its way into the bottles. Neil even joked with John asking “are you sure you make juices for a living?!”. He also remarked on the push of the swell, stating that every time he stopped he felt himself being pulled back to Linosa, but still continued to joke, asking if there was anything that he could do to help the support crew : “Do you need anything Benji?”.
The following early hours were rather uneventful. Neil continued on, his stroke rate steady around 40-42spm. His feeds consisting of warm electrolytes, energy gels and mouthwash. His left ankle continued to irritate him. The medics however were reluctant to offer too much medication. Firstly for fear of mixing too many different medicines, but also given the distance still to be covered, and without rest, the toll that this might take on his body. He was however given Citruline Malate at around 01:57 along with Hysan and Naprosyn at around 02:27 in a bid to combat the pain. The sea swell was still fairly rough, and coupled with the darkness meant the crew had to keep very close eyes on Neil, and made taking any form of photos difficult. Each stop led to a fresh inquiry about the weather update and when the conditions were likely to change. By this stage there was no option to provide Neil with any further medication until he had a long enough break between doses, and so was given herbal pain killers to swallow with his feeds. It’s hard to determine the cause, be it a combination of the medicine, swimming in the intense darkness, or both, but Neil was starting to hallucinate mildly. Stopping sporadically because he thought he heard, or saw something in the water. Shortly before 04:00, at a distance of around 25KM from Linosa, the medics decided to smear the inside of a fabric ankle support with anti-inflammatory and had this passed to Neil via the feed basket (affectionately named Arnold by this point). It wasn’t clear whether or not it would work in the water or simply wash off, but given the distance still to travel, all ideas to make Neil comfortable (within regulation) were being considered. At 04:15, he was still in pain and the doctors checked the time record of his last Catafast and provided him with another one.
The first faint hint of dawn started to show around 05:00. “One night down!”. The achievement was overshadowed though as the pain in Neils foot continued. Just before 05:30, Neil stopped, but chose to skip his feed and use the time to reapply a mixture of Sudocrem and sunscreen whilst treading water. The ankle support was thrown back into the boat, with a fresh one provided lined with biofreeze spray, Gel 15 and Emla cream. Not wasting time, Neil sank below the water slightly as he put it on and then continued swimming as the sun could be seen popping up over the horizon ahead of us, silhouetted beautifully against the mast of Pippus, guiding us home whilst the Rib crew began to sing and play guitar in an attempt to lift Neil’s energy.
Swim Time (hours 13 to 18 - 06:00 through until 12:00 - 29/06)
Longitude: 35 54.098° N through to 35 57.130° N Latitude: 013 6.135° E through to 013 11.719° E Weather conditions: South/South Easterly Wind. 10 knots. Swells between 1 and 2 feet. Sea Temp: 25°C Air Temp: 28°C
Image 1: Lara photographing Neil and checking stroke rate. Image 2: After a night of being seasick, Simon (Lead Observer) watches over Neil in the water. Image 3: Neil alongside the Rib in mid morning, the sun already scorching.
By 06:30, Neil was in significantly higher spirits. The pain in his foot had started to subside and we were already starting to feel the warmth of the sun. Changing his goggles for the daylight hours, Neil was informed he had managed just over 28KM since leaving Linosa. Upbeat, positive and with one night under the belt, Neil focused on trying to make distance during the daylight, knowing the real challenge would be the second evening. Just before 07:00 as a lot of the crew on the sail boats were trying to squeeze down some quick breakfast, Neil even managed to throw out a quick hello and a few words, shouting into the VHF over the side of the boat, thanking everyone for being there.
The morning continued on a similar positive trend. Feeds continued on the half hour and Neil was engaging well during each break. The switch back to cold feeds took place around 08:30, and was accompanied by a concern from the medical crew that Neil had not managed to defecate yet. Neil half joked about taking some Dioralyte but it was obviously on his mind as well, having not taken in many solids. He did however continue to play around, splashing water up at Lara and the crew when stopping.
By 09:30, the heat of the sun was getting intense with concerns for Neil’s skin, especially his lower back and the back of his legs. He was advised to apply more Sudocrem and Sunscreen mixture. This was just one in a list of minor challenges Neil continued to face. Having to place a surgical glove on his hand each time whilst in the water (to prevent Sudocrem getting stuck to his goggles), as well as trying to apply to parts of his back that were difficult to reach, all whilst treading water and keeping break times as short as possible. Kurt (Photographer) had briefly jumped in as a support swimmer but got out of the water shortly before Neil’s 11:00 feed/break. Neil noted that he wasn’t a massive fan of the support swimmers as much as he thought he would be, given that they distracted him. The medics were still pressing him for details on pain level for his foot at this time as well, which he said sat at around 6.5 out of 10, but was manageable. The medics were keeping a keen eye on the various medication he was receiving in case this became intolerable.
Towards midday, Neil also had to reapply more of the Sudcrem/Sunscreen mixture. This was something that would have to be done multiple times as the day moved on, as the cream struggled to stick to him once in contact with the water. The heat, coupled with the saltwater meant Neil also asked for more Aloe Vera to apply to his nose which was starting to feel the effects of having been immersed in the water for over 12 hours.
Swim Time (hours 18 to 24 - 12:00 through until 18:00 - 29/06)
Longitude: 35 57.130° N through to 36 0.851° N Latitude: 013 11.719° E through to 013 23.640° E Weather conditions: clear, humid with a mild South Easterly wind of 12 knots. Sea Temp: 26°C Air Temp: 30°C
Image 1: Dave Anastasi having to give Neil the information about the new end point (Gozo). Image 3: The demanding role of the tender driver, this time taking Kurt to get photos.
Leading up to lunchtime, Dave Anastasi and Gordon were faced with a difficult decision. With the winds and currents, it was becoming increasingly obvious that if we hoped to arrive in the daylight, a landing on the East side of Malta would have to be abandoned, as progress was slowing whilst moving through the swell. At the 13:00 feed, whilst he was changing his goggles, Neil treaded water whilst Dave and Gordon leant over the edge of the rib and tried to explain to him what was happening from a navigational perspective. Neil, still single mindedly focused on achieving his goal, was somewhat dismissive and said they would discuss it in the coming hours. By 14:00, it was obvious that a finish in Gozo would be the most practical. Neil was once again confronted with the stark reality that the plan needed to be changed. Discussions were had over the side of the boat about heading, time left for the swim, and the best bay to aim for in Gozo that would enable us to still manage the record attempt. It was decided that Xlendi was the number one option, and the land team back in Malta were advised as such, in order for them to make the necessary arrangements with the coast guard and medics for the arrival the following day. As a result of this destination change, we had to make some alterations to the course that we would follow. Neil would now need to push in a slightly more North Easterly direction, against the swell and currents to enable him to come down into Gozo. This rerouting can be clearly seen in the analytics of the tracker. With no other option, although not entirely enamoured with the idea, Neil took a few moments to stretch his back out whilst bobbing in the water before dropping his head down and pushing up and over the swells coming from the East.
The hours following were fairly uneventful and there was a sombre air as it was obvious that these sudden changes to the plan lay at the back of everyone’s minds. This new arrival point decreased the distance Neil would break the record by. A fact that irked him as he had a strong desire to extend it significantly. This, along with the knowledge that the approaching evening would by far be the most challenging part of the swim, meant that everyone needed to heighten their focus to achieve the goal that we had all set out to help Neil achieve.
Feed followed feed every 28-30 minutes as planned. Electrolytes and mouth gel forming the consistent part of the menu, with the latter becoming evidently more of a necessity as the salt water played havoc with Neils tongue. These were supplemented sporadically with pasta and smoothies as requested by Neil, with both options being prepared for every break and ensuring that Neil was taking on something more substantial than just liquids. Pee breaks were becoming more frequent now, a good sign according to the medics on board and by around 17:00 Neil was starting to joke about the “short” distance he had left to cover. This positive mentality was to prove essential as we started to move into the evening hours, with the daunting prospect of the second night looming on everyone’s minds. The Pippus crew took the opportunity around this time to also try and do a current check by using the primal method of throwing a wooden broomstick into the water and checking its drift alongside its idle engines. A 1 knot setting of 030° (North/North East). travelling in an easterly direction into the current indicated a fairly current neutral position, with hopes rising that this would continue into nightfall. The diminishing light, coupled with the audible lap of the swells against the rib, by now donned with several glowsticks, started to play a bit with Neils mind. His hallucinations were fairly continuous and included him hearing and seeing things such as people lying on loungers on the bottom of the ocean, and a parade of puppets putting on a performance for him in the depths below. Having anticipated this, Neil continuously reiterated that he knew these were just tricks of his mind, and that we were not to worry. The concern from the crew was still there though as we knew by now sleep deprivation was tightening its grip, and it was going to be a long night, with hyper vigilance required to ensure Neil’s safety.
Swim Time (hours 24 to 30 - 18:00 through until 00:00 - 29/06)
Longitude: 36 0.851° N through to 36 0.838° N Latitude: 013 23.640° E through to 013 36.980° E Weather conditions: Clear, humid and with a Southerly wind pushing through at 16 knots. Sea Temp: 26°C Air Temp: 30°C
Image 1: Neil in the water with the Rib to the left, And Soft Parade in the distance behind, just after 18:00 Image 2: View from Pippus looking back on the flotilla shortly before 20:00
Sometime after 18:00, Neil once again changed his goggles as it started to get darker. Subconsciously, in a bid to warm up, Neil’s stroke rate also started to increase, sitting around 45spm. The Rib crew had to constantly remind him to slow down, the old adage of it being a “marathon and not a sprint” coming to mind. The shift was made again to warm foods to combat Neil’s shivers, despite the air temperature being around 32°C. A welcome breeze came on from the South, much to the relief of the crew, although making things a bit more difficult for Neil as white tips started to form on the crests of the swells.
Twilight started to melt into dusk as we approached the 66KM mark from the starting point at Linosa. A haze filled the skyline and with mild cloud cover, we were gearing up for a very dark night indeed. Neil was given some paracetamol and a lozenge to combat the irritation from the saltwater, coupled with a mouthful of coconut oil. Shortly after 21:00, the wind changed to a strong Easterly requiring significant skill by the Rib drivers to keep the boat in sight of Neil, and not be pushed ahead of him, or worse, lose sight of him! The cold was starting to get to Neil now, and he maintained a high stroke rate in these early evening hours. Things were made worse by the fact that as his tongue was so swollen and lacerated from the salt water, it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to tolerate warmer drinks, with his taste buds being hyper-sensitive to temperature and texture. A few large ships, assumed to be cargo vessels or cruise liners, could be seen off in the distance to the port side. Their lights, the only visible respite in the pitch-black surroundings, succeeded in throwing Neil off course several times as he thought they were Pippus leading the flotilla back to Malta. This was to be by far one of the most stressful sections of the entire event. The pale blip of Neil’s light could barely be seen in the dark Mediterranean waters. Finding items dropped on the floor of the Rib, checking for the right thermos for the next feed, taking observation notes, measuring and reading volumes from the feed containers, or simply holding a conversation. All attempts to do the above had to be done under the pale rose coloured beam of the crew’s head torches so as not to startle or blind Neil with the intense brightness of the white LED’s.
By 22:30, there was still no sign of visual relief in the form of the moon. With the darkness being absolute, we may as well have been on the bottom of the ocean, rather than dancing along the swells above its depths. As with the night before, the crew started to sing and chant. Both to boost morale, but also to provide Neil with some sort of audible compass to keep him on track and within sight of the Rib. Break periods tended to be more silent now as Neil’s tongue was too irritated to really communicate, attempting to sign with hand gestures where possible. Oddly enough, lukewarm pasta seemed to be the most tolerable thing for him to consume, which he wolfed down rapidly when on break, before pushing on quickly, wanting to try and keep warm by moving.
Swim Time (hours 30 to 36 - 00:00 through until 06:00 - 30/06)
Longitude: 36 0.838° N through to 36 0.919° N Latitude: 13 36.980° E through to 013 44.042° N Weather conditions: Dark, humid. Slight Northerly wind pushing through at 3 knots. Sea Temp: 25°C Air Temp: 29°C
Image 1: Neil in between the rib and Cadmus in the early hours of the 30th. Image 2: Dawn and the rise of the sun on the third and final day of the swim.
In the minutes leading up to midnight, Neil was on the receiving end of another jelly fish sting. The thick layer of Sudocrem applied earlier in the evening seemed to aid in providing some form of relief, but it nonetheless, the sting exacerbated all of his other physical pains. A very pale and shrouded moon had now risen, but scarcely providing any form of comfort or visual aid. Neil was oriented with his surroundings and what he was doing, but his mind was really starting to play tricks. His visuals were by now incredibly distorted and hallucinations appearing vividly. It was the first point in the swim where we started to note visible irritation stemming from his demeanour, and attitude in the water. Short, curt responses during feeds. increased questioning regarding the distance remaining, and an inability to comprehend why we couldn’t see the same things as him. Underwater motorways unfolded below him. Unknown creatures morphed in and out of the shadows. All of this enhanced by the sound of the wind and the slop of the swell every time he raised his head to breathe.
By 03:00, we still had around 60kms to go. information not taken lightly by Neil. “How can this be? you told me 40km the last time we stopped?”. “Where are you taking me?”. “We’ve been here before!”. as we closed in on the 04:00 mark, Neil stopped for his feed, albeit a bit too far from the boat. Given the swell, manoeuvring was challenging at the slow speed we were travelling at. Finally getting alongside him, the first signs of despair showed. Shivering cold and tired, it took a few moments to encourage him to get going again. Break stops were becoming erratic and ill timed. Neil noted this was because he was unable to see the time properly on his watch, or the boat clock. Every stop brought with it a fresh query about the distance. Not wanting to alarm or discourage him, we kept plying him with warm drinks, and told him that the sun would be rising soon, and we would provide him with an updated calculation at that point. Fearing that he might lose spirit, true accounts of the distance remaining were withheld, something that we realised would come back to haunt us later on that morning.
Just before 05:00, there was a faint glow starting to show as the dawn broke. Neil joked “what town is this? The best town! We’re in open water!”. The jokes were short lived though as we noticed the first signs of significant confusion starting to cloud his mind. conversations such as the below played out at every feed in the approach to 06:00…
Neil - “Where are we going?”. Crew - “To Xlendi”. Neil - “To Xlendi? you mean this way?” (Whilst pointing off into the Northern horizon). “ Oh no, I mean this way. I have to follow the boat, right? Ok, ok. I’m going there now. But where is the entrance? Where is the entrance to Xlendi?”. Crew - “Just follow the boat and we will get you home”. Neil - “I still can’t see the cliffs. Are we getting any closer? Where are Pippus? you are here and they are there, I don’t know where to go?” Neil - “Also, there are some beautiful patterns at the bottom of the sea, and I get lost following them, that’s why I keep drifting off.” Neil - “I wore this uncomfortable watch for 12 hours (it had actually been around 36), for nothing” as he removed it and hurled it back at the boat in frustration. Neil was starting to fluctuate between highs and lows in his emotions. A symptom of the major lack of sleep, but this stabilised as the sun poked above the horizon providing a golden orb for Neil to aim for and get home.
Swim Time (hours 36 to 42 - 06:00 through until 12:00 - 30/06)
Longitude: 36 0.919° N through to 36 1.271°N Latitude: 13 44.042° E through to 013 53.094°E Weather conditions: Hazy and muggy air. Humid with a Northerly wind picking up at 11 knots. Sea Temp: 25°C Air Temp: 29°C
Image 1: Lara looks on at Neil as he approaches mid morning Image 2: Neil communicating with the team during one of his feeds.
Just after 06:00, another large tanker was spotted off to the North. If it weren’t for the updates being relayed back from Pippus via Dave Anastasi, we could all have easily been fooled into thinking the end of the journey was close at hand. As it stood, we still had around 50kms to go. The sunrise had brought with it fresh optimism though, and a true feeling that the worst was over, and it was now the home stretch. Despite his cap irritating him, and stopping to change his goggles around 06:30, Neil seemed in much better spirits, and deepened his resolve to complete the entire swim. More Sudocrem, mixed with a heavy dose of sunscreen, was applied to his calves whilst in the water, whilst he struggled to reach the areas of his back that were getting really burnt. The final day was set to be an absolute scorcher, but Neil had no choice but to apply it where he could, and just keep going.
Despite his apparent positive mindset, fatigue was starting to get the better of him. By 07:30, Angie dived into the water as a support swimmer as we spotted the second tanker that morning off to the port side on the horizon. Neil continued to lift his head and look forward in the anticipation of seeing land, but was encouraged not to think about it, and to just take us home. At 08:00, we were just shy of 92kms from Linosa. Neil was starting to show his frustrations now. Casting accusations that the crew were conspiring against him, that we had passed Gozo hours ago and were taking him to Sicily, and that he had several theories he would relay to us once we reached land. If we ever did!
Stopping early for his next feed, he then calmly stated he just needed to round the next corner and he would be there. With no land in sight, we knew that whilst he was lucid, he was becoming increasingly disoriented. This was made worse by the crew not necessarily giving him exact answers for how long was left, for fear he would become despondent. Everyone by this stage was leaning over the Rib, shouting encouragement, and doing everything in their power to verbally motivate him to press onwards. Lara especially did an exemplary job, calmly talking to him about his mindset, his intentions and reigniting the drive within him to carry on at each feed.
At the next feed, Neil looked to change his goggles once again, as Kurt replaced Angie in the water as support swimmer. Talking whilst taking a pee break, Neil stated he felt very full, and it was like he was going in circles, but joked that he was ok with this as he knew we were taking him to “see a whale” (something that he had desperately been hoping for since starting the swim). An hour later, as the swell started to pick up once again, Kurt was replaced by Mark as support swimmer. Neil was continuing to go off course and struggling against the waves and as he was tending to stray far away from the boat, shouting was failing to catch his attention. Mark was continually having to scream at him from behind, and direct him back towards the Rib, following in the wake of Pippus, guiding us to Gozo. by 10:30, jubilant shouts rang out as Neil managed to defecate. An action that brought relief to the medical team, as well as signalling Marks exit from the water.
Now lighter, and more comfortable, Neil applied more Sudocrem/sunscreen mix and seemed to get a new lease on life. His stroke rate crept into the fifties, as he was alerted that the film crew were preparing to place divers a few hundred metres up ahead to allow them to take footage from under the water as he swam over them. Still hallucinating, Neil calmly remarked that this was a good thing, as they could “tell me what those puppets are doing down there!”. The first major panic rushed over the Rib crew as Neil suddenly went motionless in the water, his limbs and head hanging lifeless in the water. As members of the Rib team prepared to dive in and resuscitate him, thinking the worst had happened, he casually lifted his head, smiled, and carried on, stopping only briefly to say he was “just checking”. To date we still don’t know what it was that he was checking on, but held our berating until we reached shore, all of us having just avoided minor heart attacks!
In the final hour approaching noon, Neil decided to remove the wrap from his foot and throw it back into the boat, with the pain in his ankle having subsided significantly enough that it was no longer warranted. We also had our first and only wildlife spotting just before 12:00 as we noticed a sea turtle bobbing on the surface about 6 metres off to the port side of the Rib. The Sun reached its zenith, and we passed midday having completed just under 102km.
Swim Time (hours 42 to 48 - 12:00 through until 18:00 - 30/06)
Longitude: 36 1.271° N through to 36 1.274° N Latitude: 13 53.094° E through to 014 4.966° E Weather conditions: Clear but humid, with a strong North Westerly pushing in at 8 knots. Sea Temp: 26°C Air Temp: 30°C
Image 1: A concerned Lara tells Neil to keep focused as he is informed there are almost 6hrs left. Image 2: Feed coolers, med boxes, and everything else in between crammed on the Rib. Image 3: Lara was a stalwart for Neil throughout the swim, constantly keeping him motivated.
Having come into phone signal for the first time since leaving Linosa, Neil became visibly more focused and happy. Joking about how he was “tripping balls” (A statement heard several times), he laughed saying “There’s Gozo, where my grandmother never lived!” (There was still no land in sight). Despite the above, the anxiety about getting there and finishing was nonetheless present. Each feed brought with it a round of questions about how far we were from the finish. “Would we get there by the next feed? How many hours are left? Why can’t we see land yet? I’m sure we passed Gozo already?”. Feeds were also getting difficult with Neil’s waning strength. Having to hold the bottles above the water in between gulps was proving challenging in the swells. Subsequently sea water was getting in, making the smoothie/electrolytes intolerable to his palate and thus having to be discarded.
Just after midday, we were still shy of hitting land by some 25km, and the reality of a night time arrival could not be ignored. Glowsticks were prepared as stealthily as possible out of sight of Neil. The fear being that if he saw them, he would know we were expecting a night time landing, still some 9 hours distant. In his current state of intense fatigue, this may have proven too much to contemplate.
The swells continued to pump towards us from the East, further salt in the wound as it were and making progress slow, even with his now increased stroke rate sitting around 50spm. The crew started to chant and sing towards Neil now, every ounce of energy being aimed at helping him focus and driving him forward. When asked later if he had even been able to hear us, he responded that he hadn’t, but he could feel us pushing him, and see the focus from everyone each time he lifted his head to take a breath.
The hours running from 13:00 to 16:00 were filled with the same. Swim, feed, quick pep and motivation from the crew, and repeat. Each and every crew member by now had spent their own reserves. Nerves frazzled, struggling with the heat and lack of sleep, all of us looked on with absolute amazement at the herculean effort Neil was able to put into these final hours. Despite his own physical and mental strain, never once during the feed breaks did Neil ever doubt his ability to finish. Strategies about how we would celebrate, discussions about landing prep, and a razor-like focus on what was needed to get him there was by now starting to be dictated by Neil as opposed to us telling him. We calculated the distance left and gauged how many feeds were still required. Neil did some arithmetic on his hands, looking like a small child counting on his fingers, as he pronounced that we were going to get there within the next 4 feeds, and decrease his breaks to one an hour whilst upping his speed (something he also wished to do in order to heat up, as by now he was shivering uncontrollably).
Shortly after 16:00, the cliffs of Gozo were spotted as a hazy silhouette against the horizon. We could see home. We could see the finish. All three medics now came on board to keep a close eye and ensure that nothing went awry in the final hours. In a final bid to motivate and give him an extra push, the entire crew took it in turns to be ferried by the tenders and come on board the Rib to offer words to Neil. Some pumped him up with encouragement, others simply thanked him for allowing them to be part of something so much greater than themselves, whilst a few just sat silently, watching, and allowing Neil to notice their presence.
The sun was starting to kiss the edge of the horizon and in a last ditch effort to warm Neil up, large 19L bottles were filled with boiling water, and poured into the sea around Neil when he stopped to feed. Being so close, nothing was going to stop him now. Even Lara mistiming her throw of one of the feed bottles and hitting Neil squarely on the temple didn’t seem to faze him as he pressed for the shore.
Swim Time (hours 48 to 52 - 18:00 through until 22:07 - 30/06)
Longitude: 36 1.274° N through to 36 1.823° N Latitude: 14 4.966° E through to 014 12.999° E Weather conditions: Clear skies, humidity dropping with a Southerly wind of 13 knots. Sea Temp: 26°C Air Temp: 30°C
Image 1: Neils Family join the flotilla for the final approach into Xlendi Bay Image 2: the packed and backlit cliffs of Xlendi as Neil approaches through the bay.
At 18:00, the final remaining glowsticks were snapped and placed on the side of the Rib and the feed bottles. Miraculously, the wind turned to come from the West, giving Neil a chance to overcome the swells. Soon after, the film crew left the flotilla to head into Xlendi and film the landing. Moments later, we saw the coastguard coming from the bay to greet us. Several small boats holding supporters, friends, and most importantly Neil’s Family, came out to join in the final section. A cursory wave was all that Neil could manage before ploughing ahead, his stroke rate now consistently above 50spm. As 20:00 rolled around, Neil confirmed he was going to make a break for it. 2km swim. Break. 1km swim. Break, and a final push of 1km to get his feet under him on the sandy beach crowded with supporters, whose screams we could now hear rippling over the water.
By 21:00, Neil took his final feed. A few swigs of water accompanied by a mouthful of hot chocolate. It was do or die. The darkness was coming on rapidly and Neil was struggling to see properly. The lights of the bay and all of the surrounding boats throwing him off. Each breath he took and sunk his head under water greeted him with insane visuals. Reefs that didn’t exist. Barriers throwing up obstacles preventing him from getting home. Tired, borderline hysterical, and with no way to truly know where he was going, one of the tenders pushed out to his left side, whilst we ushered all of the extra boats to now hold back. The Rib and the tender formed a channel for Neil to pass through. Lara and Benji constantly having to guide and draw him back with their voices. As we entered the Xlendi bay, Neil switched to breaststroke to keep his head above water so he could hear them. Lara and Benji moved onto the tender as now with the depth and multiple boats moored in their path, the Rib could not go much further.
The crowd was deafening. Yet somehow Neil managed to zone in on the hushed encouragement from Lara and Benji. The observers were taken in as far as possible as we watched the crowd pushed back by the land crew, making enough space for Neil to come on land and be fully out of the water before the medics could see to him, having been taken ahead by one of the other tenders moments before. As they approached the shallows, Lara and Benji jumped out of the tender into the waist deep water, still talking to Neil, whilst shouting at the crowds ahead to now keep quiet so as to avoid any unnecessary disorientation.
As Neil got within 5 metres of the shore, he could see and feel the sand below him with his hands and feet. The bright lights of the bay, camera crews and supporters casting a blinding yellow glow as he rose to his feet in the knee deep water. A stumble. Back on all fours as he tried to muster the strength to raise his body out of the water. 3 more steps, and this time a buckling of the knees but he managed to stay upright. With water lapping at his ankles, Neil managed to muster whatever energy he had left and exited the water with his entire body. feeling sand under his feet and wind on his body for the first time since leaving Linosa, 125KM away and 3 days prior. swaying slightly, unsteady on his feet, he is guided to a chair before being swaddled in towels as the medics performed what would be their last checks on him. A stadium could not have provided a better atmospheric setting for this conclusion. Roaring crowds and a beyond ecstatic crew could not have been happier as we showered everyone in champagne and toasted to the fact that on that day, 30th of June 2021, at 22:07, Neil Agius had made history. Completing the longest unassisted open water swim, with a distance of 125.7KM in a time of 52:07:04.
- Malta Today: Neil Agius enters world record books with 125.6km non-stop swim from Linosa to Gozo
- Lovin Malta: After 50 Hours, Malta’s Neil Agius Breaks World Record For Longest Distance Ocean Swim
- Times of Malta: Intrepid swimmer Neil Agius starts Linosa to Malta swim
- Times of Malta: Neil Agius changes swim route to finish challenge in Malta
- Times of Malta: Neil Agius to finish world record swim in Gozo
- Times of Malta: Neil Agius battles currents and ankle pain in world record swim attempt
- Times of Malta: ‘We aced it’ - Neil Agius thanks supporters
- Times of Malta: Record-holder applauds Neil Agius for epic swim