Neil Agius - Malta Channel
Sicily to Malta
100.1 km (62.2 miles)
28 hours, 8 minutes on 25-26 June 2020
Observed and documented by Andrea Agius and Simon Zammit
- Name: Neil Agius
- Gender: male
- Age on swim date: 33
- Nationality: Malta
- Resides: Gharghur
- Andrea Agius (Malta National Team swimmer, participated in 3 FINA World Championships).
- Simon Zammit (observed Neil’s Malta circumnavigation and Gozo circumnavigation swims).
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: Arena textile brief, cap, goggles, GPS watch.
- Body of Water:
- Route Type: one-way channel swim
- Start Location: Punta di Bracetto, Sicily (36.814876, 14.460276)
- Finish Location: St. Julians Bay, Malta (35.914969, 14.493838)
- Minimum Route Distance: 100.1 km (62.2 miles) (map)
In July 1985, Nicky Farrugia completed an 82 km swim of the Malta Channel between Punta Secca, Sicily and Xwejni Bay on the island of Gozo. Neil’s swim is the first between Sicily and the main island of Malta.
- Start: 25 June 2020, 05:13:10 (Europe/Malta, UTC1).
- Finish: 26 June 2020, 09:21:22
- Elapsed: 28 hours, 8 minutes, 12 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
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Trackpoint frequency: 60 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Every 30 minutes - water, juices. Occasional dates, flapjacks, coffee.
by Observer Andrea Agius
2020 has been a year full of challenges and obstacles, but Neil has managed to conquer an immense and inspiring 100km swim from Punto Braccetto in Sicily to St.Julians, Malta.
2011 marked Neil’s first taste of open water swimming when he swam from Malta to Gozo and back. From then the Maltese olympian (Athens 2004), set his sights on bigger and tougher challenges.
In 2018 Neil swam around Malta, approximately 70km in 22 hours. All this to raise awareness for plastic pollution of our seas for the Wave of Change campaign. In 2019 Neil successfully swam around the sister island of Gozo, around 38km in 10 hours. Immediately after he set his goal of completing the cross between Sicily and Malta.
The training regime that Neil set for himself was gruelling and tough. He would go for long sea swims, many times all alone and at the dead of night, to set himself up for this huge challenge. Training culminated with 2 consecutive solo 12 hour night swims in Mellieha bay. One got cut short due to poor weather conditions, but this did not bring him down.
Neil left Punto Braccetto in darkness, covered in sudocrem, in the early hours of the morning, 05:14, after having spent the night in the bay on a boat. Alas due to covid restrictions Neil was deprived of a comfortable bed on shore, so had to get his rest out at sea. Not the best way to prepare for an over 24 hour swim!
The plan for the journey down to Malta was to swim for 28:30 minutes and stop for the ‘feed’ which would take 01:30. The course was directed by ‘Elusive II’ while support boats ‘Jan Cux’ and ‘Olwyn’ helped with prepping food and served as rest stations for the rest of the team. ‘Just Add Water’ captained by Gordon and Twain was always by Neil’s side. From this rib the ‘feed’ would take place and motivators and observers would help out to see that Neil was all ok. The ‘feed’ consisted of pre-prepared juices (strawberry and mango), flapjacks, power balls, dates, carb gels, caffeine gels, hydration liquids and water.
During each feed we had the time to talk to Neil and monitor his well being. Lara, Neil’s girl friend and adventure buddy was a constant presence on the boat, giving Neil a constant boost of morale and staying by his side all the way! The motivation and calmness that Lara transmits to Neil is something of immense value. The two work hand in hand beautifully! Dr.Maya Podesta would come on board every so often to make sure that Neil was comfortable and in good health, monitoring his physical and mental condition.
The calm sea was dotted with ‘fried egg’ jellyfish, which managed to sting Neil on the face within the first half hour of the swim! The beginning of the swim saw Neil pick up a very good steady pace managing to cover on average 2.6km each half hour. This blistering pace got us all a bit worried, but Neil kept a steady stroke rate of 42-44 strokes per minute.
At 15:12 Neil had a different request during this feed. He wanted us to order him a pizza. What was impressive throughout the whole swim was Neil’s morale and high spirits. He was in the zone mentally and stayed that way from start to finish.
Calling on people back at home to pick up 3 pieces of plastic as part of the Wave of Change campaign, Neil continued his way towards Malta comfortably. The response on social media platforms was phenomenal. Everyone back at home was following Neil’s tough journey home. He managed to inspire a large part of the island, all for a good cause!
At 22:45 Neil answered safety questions successfully, showing us that he was mentally fit and still in the zone.
As darkness fell the sea became choppy and an uncomfortable swell developed. The only light was coming from the mast of the Elusive II guiding our course back home. Neil kept a steady stroke rate minute by minute, for the whole 28:30 minutes up until very late at night. At approximately 23:00 his stroke rate increased to 48 strokes per minute. The weather conditions turned for the worse in the evening, albeit reassurances from the crew on board that the water should be calmer at night.
That night was tough to watch with the conditions being far from optimal. ‘Just Add Water’, the support boat which was always by Neil’s side, was being lifted up from the water, and our fear was that Neil would get caught under it. At 23:45 another shocking question by Neil; he asked us how fast he had to go to make it under the 30 hour barrier!
Conditions did not improve as jellyfish started to bite Neil at 01:00. We would hear Neil shout after the sting but that would not stop him. He just kept swimming! The worst bite was at 03.30 when a jelly fish bit him on an existing bite that Neil had sustained during training in Malta.
Possibly the toughest part of the early hours of the morning was when at 04:45 Neil somehow got disoriented and started making his way back to Sicily. It took the crew on ‘Just Add Water’ quite a while to grab his attention.
As the light started to break, sight of Malta lifted Neil’s spirits after an incredibly tough night. Neil powered his way strongly towards Malta. His parents Chris and Debbie approached us on another boat to witness their son finish off this marathon swim.
The crowd that had gathered at St.Julian’s was staggering and further motivated Neil to a strong finish. Hundreds of people cheered Neil on! At 09.21, after 28 hours, 7 minutes, 27 seconds and over 100km of non-stop swimming Neil Agius got out of the water at San Giljan pitch. An inspirational achievement which brought the whole country together behind our hero.
Well done Neil! Never stop dreaming and achieving.
Click to enlarge.
More by photographer Kurt Arrigo HERE.
- Times of Malta: Neil Agius completes epic Sicily-Malta swim in record-breaking time (PDF)
- Swimming World: Olympian, Activist Neil Agius Completes Sicily-Malta Swim (PDF)