10 things I learnt swimming the length of Britain

After spending 130 days swimming the 900 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats, adventurer Sean Conway has a few tips for anyone crazy enough to repeat his record-breaking feat


1. You can swim for four-and-a-half months with no previous sea swimming experience… but I don’t recommend it!

I hadn’t swum in the sea before I started my quest – not even once – and those first few weeks were really hard. I was constantly battling with my style and trying to figure out where to put my arms during each stroke. I wish I had trained more.

2. When you swim from Wales to Ireland, make sure you check for tornadoes.

Seriously. During a four-day crossing from St Davids to Rosslare and just 10 miles from Irish soil my skipper announced that I had to abandon the session and make for cover because a tornado was going to hit Ireland. I couldn’t believe my luck. We then spent four days sitting out the storm before heading back to finish the crossing.

3. You’ll learn to love fish.

Fishing became a huge part of the expedition: fresh food, omega oils and good proteins were vital for me and my support team. Plus it gave the crew something to do while rolling beside a swimmer at two knots.

I was surprised how many we caught – our record was 38 in a day, though we threw most back into the sea and just kept six for a fish pie. There’s nothing better than eating a fish you’ve caught literally a few minutes before – it tastes so good!

4. Dolphins are very inquisitive.

I used to wonder whether I’d ever get the chance to swim with seals and dolphins, and that dream was fulfilled as soon as I set off from Land’s End when a pod of 10 or so dolphins swam right past me. For the next few months we’d see them every few days as they came to see what was happening. It was strangely comforting to have them near me.


5. Get a big boat.

Although I loved Friday (the name of the support yacht I bought on eBay), she really made things interesting for daily life. She was 26ft long, constantly leaking and had no running water or shower: living conditions were pretty difficult. 

The crew never once complained but things would have been a lot easier if I had somehow managed to beg, borrow or steal a bigger boat.

6. When your toes start to swell and go black, see a doctor.

Due to being in cold water for such long periods and with virtually no blood going to my feet, my toes started to go black, but I was too worried to see a doctor in case he gave me bad news. After
a week I decided I should probably get it checked out. Luckily it wasn’t serious – yet – but could have been if I had let it go on for too long.

7.  People who survive in, on, or off the sea are very, very cool.

I never knew anything about fishermen, coastguards, sailors or anyone else who makes a living from the sea. It was a real pleasure getting to know them all as I made my way around the coast. They have some pretty amazing stories and there is one thing they all have in common: they as are hard as nails.

8. Don’t listen to the naysayers.

I’ve never experienced as much negativity about a goal as I did with that swim. I was told I’d die, get eaten by a killer whale or get sucked to Australia in a whirlpool. One gentleman in Scotland even wanted to come out in his boat to physically stop me swimming through a certain narrowing – he was convinced I’d die if I attempted it. It ended up being one of the easiest sections.

People’s natural instinct is often ‘no’, but often it has no substance to it. Do your research, train hard and don’t let negativity with no substance affect the decisions you make in life.

Sean-Conway JOG sign

9. We are all a lot physically and mentally stronger than we think we are.

If I can complete one of the longest sea swims in history with no sea swimming experience then everyone can do all the creative, ambitious ideas they keep in the depths of their mind. Push the bar up. You’ll surprise yourself.

10. Pee does not stop jellyfish stings.
However, growing a beard does stop jellyfish tentacles from stinging your face.

Sean’s book, Hell and High Water, is out now and published by Ebury Press; £10.99

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