A team of six Irish sea swimmers has become the first to complete the North Channel swim from Ireland to Scotland in winter.
The team, who go by the name Team Walrus, met during lockdown and trained for months before taking on the swim, which is considered the toughest of the seven ocean sea swims.
Others include the English Channel between England and France and the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands in New Zealand.
Niamh McCarthy, Declan Bradshaw, Vincent Donegan, Ger Kennedy, Colm Morris and Dave Berry completed the North Channel swim last Friday (January 14th) faster than expected in a time of 12 hours and 51 minutes (they had predicted a time of over 14 hours).
They were also supported by a full team including doctors and an escort pilot.
They have also raised €39,000 for the Gavin Glynn Foundation, which supports families fighting childhood cancer.
Declan Bradshaw told BreakingNews.ie: "We trained a lot and I would say we had prepared physically for it, mentally it was a real challenge and I would also say without the support we had it would have been impossible. We had a doctor on board measuring our vitals, we had our own little team helping us with logistics, then we had the Infinity team managing the boats and the pilot, they were just fantastic. The orchestration was phenomenal.
"The weather gods were relatively good to us, the start was calm, it got very lumpy in the middle, the winds were picking up from the south-west, but we did alright. We were very lucky overall with the weather, and we picked the right window as well."
The swim was done through a relay system, and Mr Bradshaw explained that every team member prepared for three hours in the water. However, they each ended up doing two, except for team leader Ger Kennedy who swam two hours and 51 minutes.
"Our fearless leader Ger Kennedy, he did the first hour, and he got to do the last, so it was very fitting because he was really the main orchestrator of the whole event, so it was a champagne moment when he started and when he finished.
"The support team does a stroke count, they watch how many strokes per minute because if you drop (say from 48 which was mine to 38) there’s a problem. None of us did, but they were watching for everyone.
"The pilots are the ones who make the call, but there were no issues thankfully."
Mr Bradshaw explained that there is a lot more than the time in the water, as the preparation requires physical and mental challenges.
"Just to talk about the process, you have 20 minutes to get ready before you get in, and we have a very specific routine about getting changed, making sure the clothes are set up so you can get dressed relatively easily when you get back out of the water, then you’re getting ready by checking your equipment, the pilot then tells you when you have a minute to go, you swim around the other swimmer, make sure you don’t touch them, they get into the boat and the boat catches up with you, then you’ve got an hour of really tough swimming because it’s push, push, push.
"You actually need help getting out, you’re so cold. You’re talking a temperature between 8.6 and 9 degrees water temperature, the air temperature was around 6 and 7 but with the wind chill we reckon it was 3, all those things in just a swimming suit. The next hour, you get out and get dressed, you have to get warm then. Your body temperature drops significantly while you’re in the water. A couple of us were around 28 degrees which is really quite cold considering you should be about 35/36 degrees, so it’s a big drop."
He added: "Your body has to cope with re-warming, you’ve lost all your core temperatures. It requires exercise in a small confined space. Squats, dips and all sorts of stuff to get warm. The doctor was taking our vitals every 10 minutes, and he’d watch our temperature start to go up then drop, there’s a thing called the after drop that happens when your blood starts flowing again and the cold blood flows into your core from your extremities, then it finally comes back up.
"That’s a good hour, and it takes a lot of strength, it’s not just swimming for the hour. The psychology then kicks in because you’re thinking ‘am I warm enough? I’ve got to go again in a couple of hours’. Then you’ve got a rest period and getting your nutrition in.
"Safety was always our top priority and that of the support crew and the pilot."
Training for the North Channel swim included 6.45am swims at the Forty Foot for Mr Bradshaw, while others swam late at night to fit their schedule in with work and family life.
"Our qualifying swims were intense, an hour’s swim in 8.2 degrees water, warming up on the spot, three hours later doing another hour. It’s a fantastic team and Ger is a fantastic leader. We have to thank all the spouses specifically because they went through a lot."
Mr Bradshaw said the team has a strong bond after all they went through in preparation for the North Channel swim, and he expects they will take on more challenges in the future.
They are all proud of making history, but he said raising money for the Gavin Glynn Foundation was just as important.
"There’s great joy in doing something nobody has ever done before, no one has ever attempted a North Channel swim in the winter, and it is the coldest channel crossing, so we’re very proud of that record.
"We also thought a lot about why we were doing it and the Gavin Glynn foundation, we’ve raised €39,000, 10 days ago we were on €40, so it’s fantastic support from all over the world for that fantastic charity."