Wenglish Flyers - Bristol Channel

Ilfracombe to Mumbles Lighthouse

40.8 km (25.4 miles)

16 hours, 57 minutes on 20 June 2022

Observed and documented by Elliott Briskman


Team and Members

Team Name: Wenglish Flyers

  • Sophie Smith
  • Shona Lee
  • Rebecca Roberts
  • Jane Hitchman
  • Wilf Rylance
  • Paul James

Support Personnel

Name Role
Ceri Davies pilot
Elliott Briskman crew, observer

Escort Vessel

“Cobra” RIB (Swansea Watersports)

Swim Parameters

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Bristol Channel
  • Route Type: one-way
  • Start Location: Rapparee Cove, Ilfracombe, England (51.209947, -4.108449)
  • Finish Location: Mumbles Lighthouse (island 300m east of Mumbles Head) (51.566300, -3.971422)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 40.8 km (25.4 miles) (map)

Swim Data

  • Start: 20 June 2022, 20:54 (British Summer Time, Europe/London, UTC1).
  • Finish: 20 June 2022, 13:51
  • Elapsed: 16 hours, 57 minutes.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 14.3 16
Air Temp (C) 12.3 29
Wind (Beaufort) 0 2

GPS Track

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

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Observer Log

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It was hard coming down off the massive high that was our Wenglish Flyers Ilfracombe to Swansea relay, and hard not to feel totally deflated returning to normality! We just want to go back and stay there forever, and it was one of the proudest things we’ve ever done! Unforgettable and we’re bursting with pride. It was a beautiful swim from one beautiful place to another we are proud to call home. There were challenges; the delay on the day of the swim, the uncertainty whether we could complete it and, without doubt, the jellyfish; but there were also dolphins, a seal, bioluminescence, a stunning sunset and sunrise and beautiful calm water to swim in. And, above all, fabulous company from the teammates and boat crew. Some swims required real bravery and inner mettle, and they delivered. The boat crew Ceri Davies and Elliot Briskman from Bristol Channel Swimming were fabulous with their patience, expertise, sporting spirit and banter. And we had the added bonus of the unexpected sunny day in Ilfracombe!

We met Ceri and his RIB in Swansea marina in early morning sunshine with an accompanying Force 6 breeze wearing our matching hoodies that covered our themed costumes: some were in bathers with the flag of St George, the others were wearing bathers celebrating the Welsh dragon! We were anticipating a fast ride across the Bristol Channel to Ilfracombe in decreasing winds and waves for the start of the relay at 9am. In the event the wind failed to die down as forecast and we entered the very picturesque Ilfracombe harbour somewhat wet from spray after flying across breaking waves in the Channel. Brewing a coffee on a Jetboil, we discussed the situation. The issue with the Bristol Channel is the need to land on the Welsh coast on the ebb tide and we had a window of an hour or so to see if the conditions subsided before we would miss the slot to land off Swansea. We decided to wait for an hour to see if the conditions improved. The hour passed and it was clear that the weather hadn’t abated as forecast as the Bristol Channel and sea off Ilfracombe was still full of large breaking waves! The options were to go back to Swansea and try again tomorrow or another day or spend the day in the sun in Ilfracombe and set out in 12 hours time at 9pm on the evening tide! It was an easy decision once everyone confirmed that they could extend the swim window so we settled down for a lazy day basking in the glorious sunshine in Ilfracombe. We saw that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the sun as the harbour also had large numbers of jellyfish relaxing in the water, which didn’t bode well for the crossing!

The swim eventually started at 2054 with Sophie entering the water at Tunnel Beach in the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour. After the strong winds and breaking waves of the morning, the conditions couldn’t have been more different with a flat calm and no wind. Sophie set off well, swimming past the statue of Liberty by Damian Hurst that guards the entrance to the harbour and swimming into the setting sun. The ominous views of jellyfish in the harbour during the day became real as Sophie swam past large clumps of moon jellyfish and lots of compass jellies; fortunately not getting stung much.

Shona followed Sophie, swimming well in the flat calm sea as the sky was slowly darkening with her green lights clearly visible in the increasing darkness. Shona didn’t appreciate the jellies either! It was fully dark when Rebecca took over from Shona, and continued the excellent pace Shona set. Rebecca also didn’t appreciate the large numbers of jellyfish!

Jane was the next one in, taking over from Rebecca. Jane initially struggled swimming with the floodlights shining on her from the RIB, so Ceri turned them off. The night suddenly became a lot darker as we were then relying on our head torches; although Jane could still easily see the boat and us with the boat’s navigation lights, the glowsticks dangling off the side of the boat and we were silhouetted against the night sky lit up by 1000s of stars! During her swim Jane struggled with the large numbers of jellyfish and suffered from cramp but kept swimming on despite the pain. Jane was helped out of the water at the end of her stint at 1am as Wilf started his swim. He initially had problems staying near the boat in the dark but soon settled down and got on with the task of swimming. There were frequent groans as he was stung by jellyfish but kept swimming on and maintaining his stroke.

Paul discovered what Wilf was groaning about when he took over at 2am. Swimming around 10 feet from the RIB with very little illumination from the nav lights and glowsticks, Paul had trouble getting into a rhythm as he kept swimming into what felt like huge masses of jellyfish several metres across, which he sprinted through then dropped his pace to a more steady rate wincing as he was stung by wandering jellyfish before encountering the next huge clump of jellyfish and restarting the sprint surrounded by jellies. Paul settled into a rhythm of sprint and steady pace, swimming though amazing bioluminescence!

Sophie took over from Paul at 3am for her second rotation and asked for the floodlights to be turned on. We then saw what Paul had been swimming through: huge 2 to 3m diameter clumps of moon jellyfish with many compass jellies between! Sophie only had one or two clumps to contend with as they jellies seemed to become less numerous the further we went from the Devon coast, though there were still random shouts of pain as she was stung. At one point Sophie asked “who’s the grim reaper?” as she saw Wilf silhouetted against the stars in his dry robe with the hood up!

Shona was in for her second stint at 4am with the jellyfish numbers thankfully now significantly reduced and saw the sun starting to loom over the horizon before Rebecca replaced Shona for her second hour. The day was lightening as a fishing boat trawling passed close astern and refused to give way, steaming straight on! As if to make up for the fishing boat, we were treated to the amazing experience of being joined by a pod of dolphins who enjoyed playfully swimming around and under Rebecca; it was truly wonderful!

The team was now getting into its stride as the day brightened and Jane replaced Rebecca in the water at 6am, looking very relaxed and comfortable. We were about half way when Wilf took over from Jane at 7, looking strong and relaxed as he swam his second hour and the tide started to turn. The tide was well and truly on the flood when Paul got in at 8 for his second stint. This time he had lovely conditions with a few moon jellyfish and no stinging compasses! He looked much more relaxed and comfortable this time around and had the fun of being joined by a seal who decided to pop his head up, see what was going on and play!

The conditions just got better and better as Sophie got in for her third swim. The sun was shining on a flat calm sea with just the occasional ripple. Sophie was swimming well when she asked if we’d seen the “tanker?” There are often large bulk carriers at anchor off the South Wales coast near Swansea waiting for a berth at Port Talbot and on this day there were a couple of very large bulk carriers (aka tankers) at anchor, and they’d been there all night! There was then a discussion with Sophie about whether the “tankers” were going to move and we assured her that we’d have lots of warning if they were going to up anchor and steam off! Clearly the “tankers’ had got Sophie’s attention as she swapped sides from the starboard to port side of the RIB for a photo op with the “tanker!” We did have cause to doubt Sophie’s sense of direction as she seemingly mistook the “tanker” for the RIB and kept heading towards it!

Shona took over from Sophie at 10am, swimming on the starboard side of the RIB as we headed up Channel on the tide in glorious sunshine and flat calm around 3.5 miles off Caswell bay.

Rebecca was in at 11am on the port side for her third rotation, swimming in the sun in a mirror calm sea! Jane was in at 12 for her third swim. Conditions were perfect for swimming with merely a healthy (?) amount of moon jellyfish! Sophie’s friend, the tanker, was in the background as Jane swam with the tide starting to head to slack water.

Wilf got in at 1 for his third swim. The question was would Wilf land the relay? The tide had turned and we were heading for the Gower Peninsular and its spectacular beaches; would we land in Swansea Bay itself? For a while, as Wilf swam strongly in the sun, we thought we might land at the lifeboat station or even the slipway by Verdi’s, a great Italian restaurant. In the event Wilf landed at 1351 in the cave under the Mumbles lighthouse, marking the end of the Gower and lighting the entrance to Swansea Bay. So completing the swim from Ilfracombe to Swansea, ending at probably the most iconic feature of Swansea Bay in 16 hours and 57 minutes!


Click to enlarge.