Galway RNLI to benefit from funds raised in Jersey Island swim
Many of us would be well out of our depth if faced with a 41-mile swim around the Jersey Islands, but when supporting a cause and saving lives comes into the question, one man would swim anywhere to raise funds.
For 41-year-old Andrew Flanagan, it all started in the pouring rain just after 5:30am, Wednesday 7 August. The starting point was the Elisabeth Castle breakwater, and once he was in the water, he swam counter-clockwise around the island for 41 miles.
“I did an English Channel swim in 2010 for the Galway RNLI and have been looking forward to another challenge since. I love sea swimming and also like to challenge myself physically and mentally and this swim was both,” said the Dublin native who now lives in Moycullen.
Andrew swims all year round in the Kingfisher gym in NUI Galway, with training partner Pat O’Leary. In preparation for this challenge, he has been swimming up to six hours at a time in Galway Bay.
“The waters [Galway Bay and Jersey Island] are remarkably similar – very clear, warm, although the water [in Jersey] was a bit warmer at 18 degrees. Like Galway, Jersey is also very scenic, making for some lovely vistas as I was swimming. As a place to swim regularly, Galway Bay would be hard to beat, but Jersey is a spectacular holiday destination,” he said.
The adventure got easier after the sun came up at 7 o’clock and the rain eased off. Rain was no problem to Andrew; he was already wet. But it made things easier for the crew that followed him in the boat – an Arvor 230 AS. Without Sally Minty-Gravett, Seán Gravett, Charlie Gravett and Mick Le Gulchier, Andrew wouldn’t have managed the challenge so well.
“The swim was a great experience and wouldn’t have been possible without the crew and their minding of me, feeding me drinks of energy drink every 30 minutes and generally encouraging/berating me as needed to keep me motivated.”
The aim of the game was to raise funds for Galway Lifeboat Station, and with several people donating funds online, Andrew is pleased with the results.
“I really appreciate everyone’s generosity; I realise that times are tough financially and that all charities are looking for donations, so any donations that I can generate for the Galway RNLI, either online or in person are most welcome and will assist the RNLI directly and totally,” he explained.
The aim is to raise €3,000 by 12 November 2013. So far generous donations have been made, accompanied with good wishes from those who have donated. The average donation made is €20, but one man went so far as to give €250 to the cause.
“Whatta swimmer and whatta cause. Thanks for picking RNLI to keep the rest of us afloat,” one well-wisher says on Andrew’s iDonate profile.
For the first three hours of the swim, Andrew travelled up along the east side of the island, where the water was “exceptionally shallow” – almost too shallow for the boat.
“On occasions, the clearance under the boat was less than 18”, making the swim interesting and the piloting quite hair-raising,” he said.
“The sea state was quite calm, with a swell of less than one metre, until we rounded the ‘corners’ of the island at La Roque, St. Catherine’s Breakwater, Grosnez and La Corbiere, where the tidal currents ran across each other and caused a lot of chop for the five to ten minutes it took to round each point.”
Every adventure has its ups and downs, and this one is no exception. Rough patches of sea make for difficult swimming and after six hours, Andrew started to suffer muscle fatigue. He also found it difficult to get food and drink from the boat when the water was rough.
But there were several high moments for Andrew, with one of the best being the company of a dolphin pod. While swimming along the North coast of the island, a dozen or so dolphins started to follow the swimmer and the boat for about an hour.
“It was amazing; I could see their dark shapes speeding through the water as well as their backs as they surfaced to breath. I could also hear them chirping or talking in the water,” Andrew recalled.
But the best part of any long swim, no matter how fun, is reaching the finish line and feeling that sense of achievement that comes with completing a challenge. Once he had rounded the last ‘corner’ of the island at La Corbiere Lighthouse, the end was in sight and the support from a number of local swim club members was a welcome sight.
“The final landmark on the swim was Noirmont Point and from there it was a straight run across St. Aubin’s Bay to finish by touching the Elisabeth Castle breakwater [where the swim had started],” said Andrew.
The swim lasted 10 hours and 20 minutes, and this was Andrew’s third attempt at the challenge. He had tried once in July 2012 and again in July 2013, but due to high winds and rough water, he couldn’t do the swim.
“I was exhausted but elated; particularly as I’d been to Jersey twice previously to do the swim and it hadn’t gone ahead as the weather was bad and the winds were too strong to safely swim or launch the boat,” he said.
“The financial support I received from all of those who sponsored me was brilliant and very welcome, and also I had great training partners both in the pool [Ivan O’Shea, Kate Coyle and Pat O’Leary] and in the sea [Jim Colleran] who motivated me to train and keep going when I might otherwise have packed it in!”
Andrew is still hoping for donations in aid of the Galway RNLI. Donations can be made at http://goo.gl/swh7dm and will be very much appreciated by the volunteers at the Galway Lifeboat Station.
This article was printed in The Connacht Tribune in Autumn 2013.