If you’re scared of snakes, you don’t ask for one for your birthday and call it Bob. If you’re scared of the dark, you probably sleep with the light on. And if you’re scared of hugging, you probably dodge that bullet wherever you can. Well I’m scared of the water. And again this summer, I have decided to support a ginger nutter as he attempts to swim a ridiculous distance. Last summer, I stand-up paddle boarded 1001 miles down the Missouri River supporting Dave Cornthwaite as he swam the distance for CoppaFeel breast cancer awareness charity. A year later, I am sitting on a little yacht called Friday While, as I kayak Lands End to John O’Groats supporting Sean Conway as he attempts to become the first person to swim the distance for WarChild UK.
Sean Conway (middle). Ginger. Swimmer. Cries like a baby for food, drinks and massages. Penchant for wearing very little pants.
Owain Wyn –Jones (left). PR god. Dab hand at photography, filming and running the in-house café. Very good at bumping his head on the boat and carrying heavy things.
Jez Fielden (right). Skipper. King of the ship, lord of all beach explorations and the man who finishes everything, especially coffee and Haribo.
Now let’s get back to the beginning. Sunday 30th June. Our start date. Despite a cloudy sky, a delayed skipper and inconvenient tides, Sean swam and I kayaked, with the tide, from Sennen Cove back to Lands End to start the epic adventure. This took 30 minutes. And the return journey took 2 ½ hours. With our friends and family on the rocks. Dolphins jumping around us. We made it back. Speedo kit intact. And a realisation of how immense this challenge was going to be.
Day two is blurred with two words. Sea. Sickness. I have no words to explain how I felt this day. When you are sea sick on holiday, you can lie in a pool of your own vomit and feel sorry for yourself. But when you’re on expedition, as crew captain, you need to man up. Which is hard when you are completely and utterly unable to move. So in between vomits and with sick in my hair, I attempted to prepare protein shakes, get into a wetsuit and kayak alongside Sean. With Owain and Sean puking next to me (Jez is an ocean man) and tides working against us, we decided to pack it in and find our sea legs.
Day three brought us a new start. And a drugged up haze of sea sickness tablets and ginger biscuits. With black clouds in the sky, Sean and I headed back to Sennen for the last time. A BBC Radio interview kicked off the toughest day of the whole expedition. By which point I had already vomited flapjack out of my nose. The wind blew. The rain fell. And we spent six hours in the water with close to no water or food. The tide changed and we were unable to get round Pendeen Lighthouse headland. Finally Sean clambered out over the rocks and I beached a little further down where we buried the kayak and bumped into a very sweaty BBC cameraman who did a segment on us in which I sound very posh, state how lovely it is to see the coastline from this angle and talk about niggles. I have still not lived this down.
Day four put us on two countryside buses to get to the start line and another big session in the water for Sean and me. We made it to St Ives. With huge thanks to Simon and Innes. Without their food and support, these days would have been a lot harder.
I must note at this point, that I suddenly realised (thanks to Jez and Owain for allowing me to attempt it) that I would be kayaking Lands End to John O’Groats, which compared to Conway’s feat is nought. But it looks like I will be the first chick to do it. And while my sea kayaking was getting quite good, my beach landings were close to horrendous. My wipe-outs were slowly and impressively becoming known up the coast. But my muscles were starting to rival the lads.
St Ives to Newquay was a blur of team logistics going wrong, big beaches, massive swells, hitch hiking, amazing people like Beth, the chocolate cake family and Kate and Steve Robarts .
The Robarts took us under their wing. Gave us food and beds for two nights. And a world of wisdom. From this point forward, the expedition was set to change. ‘Niggles’ had been ironed out. We were one unit again. And ready to prove everyone wrong and take this expedition the whole way to bonnie Scotland. My kayaking skills were improving, I had seen dolphins, seals, incredible hidden beaches, nudist hangouts and given a lot of hugs. And while I spend almost 90% of my time terrified of the water that I hate and love all at the same time, let the expedition continue.