Joanne Jones - Bristol Channel

Penarth to Clevedon

21.2 km (13.2 miles)

5 hours, 27 minutes on 27 September 2020

Observed and documented by Tom Chapman

Course record



  • Name: Joanne Jones
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 27
  • Nationality: Great Britain
  • Resides: Newbury, England

Support Personnel

  • Tony Ball - crew / feeder
  • Ceri Davies - pilot


Tom Chapman. Swim Smooth Wales - coach and partner. Observed Kamil Resa Alsaran’s Bristol Channel swim on 10th September.

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
X Beat 3 RIB Penarth Marina

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Funkita swimsuit, goggles, silicone cap, earplugs.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Bristol Channel
  • Route Type: one-way (channel)
  • Start Location: Penarth Pier (just south of) (51.4340619, -3.167221)
  • Finish Location: Clevedon Pier (just south of) (51.442222, -2.861778)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 21.2 km (13.2 miles) (map)


LongSwimsDB: Bristol Channel.

Swim Data

  • Start: 27 September 2020, 08:52 (BST, Europe/London, UTC+1).
  • Finish: 27 September 2020, 14:20
  • Elapsed: 5 hours, 27 minutes, 57 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 15.2 16.3
Air Temp (C) 11.4 15.9
Wind (mph) 0 9.8

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Orange Maxim - every hour 1st 3hr, then every 45 minutes.

Observer Log

Download PDF


by Joanne Jones

This year marks 3 years since my English Channel Solo and 10 years since my English Channel Relay, and my mind had turned to what could be next.

My husband lives in Bristol so a contributing factor was swimming and finishing close to somewhere special. I loved the idea of being met on the beach by family and friends. I had been intrigued by the idea of a Bristol Channel Swim since I heard about it from a Facebook history post. I had read bits and pieces online but I couldn’t work out how many people had done it, who piloted it, and which routes there were as there were lots of stories, different records and also swim stories which didn’t appear in the records. There was also no clear guidance on finding a pilot. This mystery made it more appealing.

Eventually I purchased and read Ask Me Why I’m Stood Here by Alec Richardson to read while on Furlough – paused work in the UK. It recounts his swim in 2017 (BLDSA recognised). I got in touch with him, and decided it was the perfect lockdown and 2020 focus – a swim to train for was a great antidote to the rest of the uncertainty in the world. I found a facebook group called Bristol Channel Swim Association and was put in touch with Ceri, of Swansea Watersports.

In July I booked a swim date for mid September, 8 or 9 weeks away. A short, sharp focus point for training and I quickly added some distance to regular lake swims that I had been doing since we were allowed to swim again.

I have a good background for swimming, having swum the English Channel in 2017, Lake Windermere in 2016, and several 10k+ swims – I try and do at least one a year. I also was coming off the back of Ice Swim training, so was fairly fast and fit – before lockdown that was. As soon as we were allowed to swim again, I quickly went to the river and then local lakes to train and built to easily swim an hour, then an hour and a half.

After booking it training became more structured. I had 8 weeks, and could already comfortably swim 5km / 1.5h in one go. I planned a staircasing swim training plan, building from this 1.5h swim to around 4h of swimming.

I managed:

  • Lots of 2h swims.
  • 2 x 3h swims.
  • 1 x 3.5h swim (in one go)
  • 1 x 3.5h swim (1.5h and then 2h swim around work).

I was keen to swim a lot in Clevedon to get used to how the tide works, which was a great adventure.

I have a good background of swimming long distanes - having swum several 6h, 7h and a 9h swim training for the English Channel, and then 12.5h in the English Channel. I was confident that if I reached halfway I’d make it.

On the weekend of the swim (originally planned for 12th September) - I had it all planned out. My family and I built a little getaway around it, with a couple of nights in Cardiff, and then a night at a posh hotel in Bristol on the Saturday evening to celebrate.

10th September - Thursday morning I had a phone call from the pilot – the weather didn’t look great with force 4 winds and force 5 to 6 gusts. We were already packed, and my parents who live further away were en route – so we decided to go anyway. I spent the drive furiously googling weather conditions, and had a plan a, b and c for both weather windows and crew for different days.

11th September - Ceri told me the boat had broken and so the swim was off this weekend, but there might be a possible opportunity in a couple of weeks.

I made the best of a weekend holiday, though disappointed I couldn’t swim and then spent 2 weeks reluctantly swimming a little bit, disappointed I hadn’t had my chance to swim.

Take 2:

Wednesday 23rd September the pilot let me know there was a window. The water was cooling, the air was cold, and the wind was stronger than he’d like – but if I wanted to give it a go, he was happy to take me.

I scrambled and found someone to observe. I deliberated whether I should swim and obsessively checked every weather report I could find for a few days.

I did a couple of 5km swims in the Thames (water temp 15.6) early in the morning to mentally get myself ready for a cold air temperature. I wasn’t sure I’d trained enough for a hard swim.

I called the pilot, and cancelled on Saturday 26th. The wind had picked up a bit overnight and it was northerly which meant it would be even colder. An hour later I called him again, as I immensely regretted not having the chance to give it a go. Thankfully Ceri could still get the boat, the observer was still free, and I still had a hotel room.

I was going to get in the water, and swim to feed 1. Then swim 2. And if conditions were bad, I’d review at 3 hours of swimming.

I was so nervous of failing the swim I didn’t tell many people I was doing it – just family, and having made a fuss of the previous non-starter, kept it off my social media feed until I was in the water.

Sunday 27th September – Swim day.

The water was chilly, but the air was warm. The sun was out and the wind was minimal. All was OK.

I felt confident as the boat drove from the marina to the pier – I was excited that I had my chance to try, and hoped the wind wouldn’t pick up once we were on the open sea.

In all my research I had noticed that the record for fastest swim was about 5 and a half hours. I was expecting a 6 hour swim but as a joking comment I mentioned to the pilot to shout at me if I was close to 5.5 hours and I’d sprint the last bit. At the same time I was content to get to halfway if the wind was cold. It was all part of my nervous chatter - bad jokes, what if’s and weird comments.

And before I knew it I was standing to the right of Penarth Pier and a whistle indicated to start swimming.

I felt chilly initially, but I always do when I start swimming. I thought it was nearly 17 degrees (Tom had told me it was 17 and I reckon he was rounding up) so I will get used to it and then I’ll be fine I told myself. “At least the suns out.”

The first hour took FOREVER. I’m so used to swimming with a watch, having no idea of the time was weird. Every time my Dad reached to his bag, I hoped it was time for a feed – but many, many times it was too early. I could see the boat really clearly - it was a rib, not the big boats they use in the English Channel so they were only slightly above water level.

The sun was warm, and I felt ok. Finally my Dad beckoned me with my feed contraption. This was a basket inside a float – It had handles so he could extend it to me, and if it fell into the water it would float. I grabbed the bottle of carb powder and water with Orange Juice. The lid wasn’t on tightly, so I spilled the feed into the water. A few minutes later, another feed was handed to me – this time the lid was fixed so I could unscrew it. A warm feed felt amazing.

I kept on swimming – this time with a reference point for how long an hour was. I began to relax. In my head I sang songs, I tried to focus on my stroke (hand first entry is my current struggle), and I let my mind wander. Before I knew it it was feed 2. I’d just seen my Dad eat a pork pie – and I realised I was hungry. I drank my orange juice-carb powder drink and asked for some food at feed 3. That would be nearly lunchtime after all. They told me the tide would turn soon and I was doing better than expected. I said then we might as well start sharing on social media and whatssap groups– I felt really strong in the water and the weather was way better than forecast.

I got a pork pie at my next feed – cut up and put in one of my beakers. It tasted great. I washed this down with some hot water - and was told that I had about 6 miles to go. I didn’t ask if this was miles or nautical miles – I was just happy that I was swimming well and I was over halfway.

I was going to 45 minute feeds now. Not because I needed more fuel, but because I was getting bored and the warm water was a placebo for warming me up. I felt chilly the whole next swim, and was a bit nervous. However, I reasoned that I was in the middle of a channel, and so even if I got out, I wouldn’t be on land for ages. My body was just realising I was in cool water – and I could still think straight and wiggle my fingers and talk so I might as well keep swimming.

Next feed was just a drink – and my goggles were starting to sting my eyes. I had been worried they would fog up so I washed them with soap/shampoo from the hotel this morning. I asked for my spare goggles in my drybag next feed - but they stung really badly, so I brought that forward. These were tinted, which was good as the sun was really strong. I could see a lot better now.

I kept swimming to the next feed- they gave me some jelly beans with my drink. They were too hard to eat, so I tossed them away and kept swimming. The pilot said about an hour and a half or so of swimming. That seemed way too soon to be finishing, so I reckoned I had 3 x 45 min feeds left.

I was cold again, and slightly shivering when swimming, but I could swim for 3 more feeds I thought. This 45 minutes seemed to take ages, and I had no idea where I was. Apparently the boat could see Clevedon straight ahead- but I couldn’t see a thing from the water. Before I got to the 45 minute feed I asked to go to 30 minute intervals. I was getting bored. And when I got bored I realised my shoulders ached and I was cold. At the same time, however I was starting to believe I could get to Clevedon, so after this next feed I began visualising walking up the slipway, seeing my Husband who was waiting for me at the beach and being able to sit down and have a pint of coke.

Next feed I got offered some sweets but I just wanted to keep swimming. Aparantly I had an hour to go, maybe less. They could see the pier and people were messaging saying I was swimming well. I couldn’t see the pier. My shoulders hurt – and I wanted Clevedon to come closer.

I was trying to work out what time it was. I knew it was more than 4 hours – maybe 4 and a half or 5. Because I’d changed my feed times I couldn’t’ work it out.but, that puzzle occupied my mind for the next half hour. I could see this long green fence – and I tried to work out what it was as I couldn’t place it in Clevedon. Beckoned over to the boat for what became my final feed, Ceri told me I had 1 mile to go. Spurred on by this I started kicking enthusiastically. And then I regretted it as I got even more tired. I slipped back into a ploddy pace – I’ll sprint when I can definitely see the finish.

Suddenly, I was in line with the pier. It is green!! And there’s the slipway.

The boat people were telling me to keep swimming and that I had 5 mins left and about 600 metres before 5 and a half hours. My shoulders really hurt. But, I kept swimming. The boat started to slow down and I passed it. People on the beach started pointing and gathered on the slipway. I found land under my feet and I stood up. “CLEAR THE WATER” my Dad yelled so I tried to run up the slipway. The whistle blew.

5 hours, 27 minutes, 57 seconds.

“where have you swum from?” an onlooker asked

“Penarth”. I said, sitting down on the slipway.

Bristol Channel: Swim swum.


Click to enlarge.



Download PDF