Neil Brinkworth - Eddystone to Plymouth
Eddystone Rocks to Plymouth Hoe
22.1 km (13.7 miles)
11 hours, 1 minutes on 8 September 2020
Observed and documented by Kate Robarts
- Name: Neil Brinkworth
- Gender: male
- Age on swim date: 48
- Nationality: Great Britain
- Resides: Plymouth
- Ben Kellet - pilot
- Rob Hanlon - co-pilot
- Andrew Butler - swimmer support crew
- Sian Lane - swimmer support crew
- Gavin Bennett - kayak support
- Marcus Blatchford - photographer
Kate Robarts - CSA, CS&PF, and BLDSA obserer (2013 - present). ASA Level 3 coach.
|Panther||30-ft catamaran dive boat||Plymouth|
- Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
- Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
- Equipment used: textile jammers (Speedo), silicone swim cap, goggles, earplugs, Vaseline, 2x green LED lights.
- Body of Water: Plymouth Sound, English Channel
- Route Type: one-way (channel)
- Start Location: Eddystone Rocks & Lighthouse (50.18087, -4.26564)
- Finish Location: Plymouth Hoe steps, west of Tinside Lido (50.36386, -4.14423)
- Minimum Route Distance: 22.1 km (13.7 miles) (map)
Eddystone Rocks & Lighthouse
- Jabez Wolffe - 10:45:02 in July 1914.
- Christine Sifleet - 10:01:30 on 26 July 1977 (ratified by BLDSA).
- Sharon Price - 6:56 on 16 August 1987.
- Unsuccessful attempts by Marguerite Pike, Kevin Crabb, and Brian Palmer.
LongSwimsDB: Eddystone Rocks
- Start: 8 September 2020, 05:18:00 (BST, Europe/London, UTC+1).
- Finish: 8 September 2020, 16:19:58
- Elapsed: 11 hours, 1 minutes, 58 seconds.
Summary of Conditions
|Water Temp (C)||16.6||17.5|
|Air Temp (C)||16||18|
Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).
Nutrition: Feed after 90 minutes, every 45 minutes thereafter. Most feeds 500ml CNP maltodextrin, mixed with warm orange cordial, occasionally supplemented by either half banana or 2 shortbread squares. Sometimes requested coffee instead of CNP.
by Kate Robarts
Swim: Eddystone Rocks (Lighthouse) to Plymouth Hoe
Distance: 14.3 land miles (12.43 nautical miles or 22.9 km)
Start: Eddystone Rocks, below the lighthouse. Start time: 05:18:00
Finish: Plymouth Hoe/steps west of Tinside Lido. Finish time: 16:19:58
Swim time: 11 hours 1 minute 58 seconds
03:57 The support boat, “Panther” leaves the Mountbatten marina, after a short safety briefing from the skipper, Ben, during which Neil shares the proposed route of his swim with his crew and photographer.
There is excellent humour onboard. This swim hasn’t been swum since 1987 and Neil, as a local boy, has always been fascinated by the idea. Much laughter as the boat leaves. Marcus records the crew chatting.
Seven people are onboard the boat, 2 boat crew, Ben and Rob, 2 support crew, Andrew and Sian, photographer Marcus, kayaker Gavin, and me, Neil’s observer.
It’s a fast and bumpy ride the 14 miles out to the Eddystone Lighthouse. The spray and occasional drenching causes much hilarity and teasing about appropriate clothes and legs being waterproof.
4:50am A 5minute warning to Neil before arrival at the start. In spite of the bumpy ride, he manages to get ready and attach his green guardian lights to his goggles and swim trunks.
4:55am Boat arrives close to the rocks. The lighthouse looks stunning in the moonlight. White water crashes against the rocks at the base.
The crew help to attach glow sticks to Gavin’s kayak, which is lifted down via the dive platform at the stern. The process takes around 15 minutes. Observer informs Neil that he should try to safely touch one of the rocks and shout that he is ready.
5:14am Neil is lowered into the water from the platform. He doesn’t want to jump in case he harms himself at the start. He follows Gavin to the rocks, where the rebound from a wave capsizes the kayak. Gavin loses his hat and headlight, but rights the kayak.
5:18am. Neil touches, shouts to the boat and swims away from the rocks. The swim begins.
He swims to starboard, at first a little too far from the boat, so only the lights can be seen. Ben brings the Panther nearer, so Neil is about 5m away, with Gavin on his outer side. Neil breathes bilaterally and is able to comfortably maintain his position between the boat and the kayak.
Stroke count at the start is 55. There is some swell but no short chop.The night is still quite dark but there are signs of dawn on the horizon. The air is quite warm at 16c and the water temperature is 16.7c, with a wind of 9.5kts from the west.
Neil will be feeding after 90 minutes, and every 45 minutes after that.
05:47 Neil stops to adjust his hat and goggles and looks ahead at the lights of Plymouth.
05:55 Stroke rate is 54. He looks relaxed. The sky is starting to lighten. Ben, the pilot, says Neil is looking great and making good progress.
06:04 The light is much better. Conditions in the water are beautiful, although it looks like a cloudy morning. Neil stops to adjust his goggles again.
06:18 S/R 54. Now fully light but dull and grey.
Ben has put on some gentle music, which adds to the happy atmosphere on the boat. Photographer, Marcus, is about to launch a drone. It’s up and filming by 6:23am.
So far, only one small fishing vessel has been spotted this far out to sea.
06:45 Neil stops for his first feed. He’s in good spirits. Feeds are thrown on a rope. Neil asks that all his feeds be warm, easy to do because of the facilities on the catamaran. He’s had a pee whilst swimming and is comfortable. There are a few seagulls, but very little activity to disturb him. Gavin asks for a sponge to bail out the kayak.
There is plenty of witty banter onboard the Panther. Everybody is watching Neil.
07:06 S/R 50 A quiet time, with just the sound of Neil’s rhythmic strokes and the odd seagull cry.
07:18 S/R 51. Neil is settling into his swim. Crew chat to Gavin, who’s a little chilled after capsizing at the start and losing his hat. Crew prepare to make him coffee.
07:35 Feed stop. Gavin is handed his hot drink in a bottle, together with a sausage roll and a borrowed woolly hat.
S/R 50. A slight breeze is building, with more surface movement and a few whitecaps. An occasional small craft may be seen in the distance. The sun is trying but the rays are weak and provide very little warmth.
08:18 Another feed stop. Andrew gets the line tangled round the reel, so the bottle goes nowhere. There’s a short delay to disentangle it and re-launch the feed.
Marcus gets into the water, wearing a wetsuit and long fins and swims behind Neil with an underwater camera.
S/R 53. An MOD vessel can be seen leaving the port and a small fishing boat passes. Larger swell is visible on the port side but Neil is protected in the lee of the boat.
Ben points out the L4 Scientific Buoy to starboard. A sailing boat passes to port.
Meanwhile, Neil’s crew are choosing cupcakes and discussing their merits.
Marcus is back onboard and comments that the water feels cold. He says he can’t imagine swimming without his wetsuit in 16c water.
08:48 S/R 51 It’s a grey day. Two Navy frigates are out on manoeuvres, silhouetted against a dull sky.
08:58 Gavin points out dolphins breaching ahead, but the crew miss them in the waves.
Neil feeds at 9am. He has some paracetamol but is fine.
S/R 54, the swell is bigger and the sea is steel grey and wavy. The wind is gusting a little. Neil is in good spirits.
After 4 hours, he’s a little over halfway. A marine research vessel passes to starboard at 09:20.
09:50 time for a feed stop and coffee. S/R 51. There’s a small yacht on the horizon behind Neil.
09:56 There’s quite big swell on the port side but it’s calmer to starboard. Wind is from the west so Neil remains protected. Devon coastline looms out of the mist. There is no colour in the landscape. The Mewstone, a large triangular rock, is now visible off the coast. (This is a popular destination swim venue for local open water community.)
Another drone from Marcus is flying overhead. Neil’s S/R is 49 and his crew are keeping an eye on him.
10:10 The research vessel passes to port, returning towards Plymouth, setting up a bit of a wave.
10:18 The 5 hour mark. The closer the Panther and Neil get to Plymouth, the more the boat traffic builds, with yachts, small fishing boats and tankers sharing the water. Fort Picklecombe, an old coastal fort converted into apartments, is now visible. The pilot is singing and checking the chart for Neil’s chosen landing spot. S/R 51.
10:35 feed time. Neil asks that the crew let his route planner, Tom, know when he reaches Penlee Point. This is the waypoint he has planned to pass close by, on his way into Plymouth Sound.
10:53 Ahead is a survey vessel, a Rib and survey submarine. Ben diverts the boat slightly to the west to avoid the survey site. Rame Head is clear to port and Penlee Point approaches. The swim is now level with the Mewstone. Neil is in excellent spirits. His stroke is strong and steady and he’s a happy swimmer. He never falters, even when his support crew are making an effort to make him laugh.
The lighthouse can now barely be seen, so far behind him.
11:03 A police launch passes to port. Neil is so good -humoured, the mood is infectious and there is much laughter onboard the Panther. S/R 51.
11:10 He teases his crew by looking up and saying that he’s bored.
11:15 Neil asks for coffee and shortcake for his next feed.
11:18 He has his feed, including 2 x small shortcake squares, supplied in a plastic box. He tells Andrew they’re soggy and Andrew tells him, if he wants them dry next time, he has to swim faster and it serves him right for saying he’s bored. Neil laughs, finishes his feed and swims on.S/R51.
11:36 Sian points out a tank landing craft to port. There are now more yachts and another large tanker. The place is getting busy.
11:56 The ebb tide is now beginning to build. This is where the swim really starts to get more difficult.
11:59 Andrew gives Neil a 5 minute feed warning. Neil asks to change the feed to white coffee.
12:02 A good, fast, 30 second feed. He’s still in good spirits. Neil finishes his coffee and says to his team, “Next stop, Tinside. Last one in buys the ice cream!”
The crew note the building tide and decide to keep his feeds short every time. Every stop from now will push him backwards.
S/R 55. Neil is picking up his cadence but forward progress is beginning to slow with the increase in the ebb.
12:22 S/R 53 he now has 0.4kt of tide against him and is 0.4nm from the breakwater. The narrowing of the passage for the tide, caused by the mile long breakwater, means that this is the part of the swim where he will really have to push hard to make any progress at all. He is prepared for this but knows it will be tough.
Ben, the pilot, says Neil is still moving forward. His stroke looks strong, but the tide is building up and will be 0.6kt against him by the time he reaches the breakwater.
12:38, some progress but slowing. Crew are watching the breakwater, trying to gauge how long it will take to get past it. Neil is working hard. S/R 52 but this is the most tiring part of the swim.
12:48 The Queen’s Harbour Master in Plymouth contacts the pilot to say that two warships are due to arrive inside the breakwater for crew transfer and that they have arrived 15 minutes early. The QHM says that Neil cannot pass the breakwater before the warships arrive, so he requests that Ben stop and hold Neil in the water until the ships have concluded their transfers on the inside of the breakwater.
12:50 This is going to be a long stop, so Neil’s crew think quickly and decide to give him a really good feed of whatever he likes. He has 500ml of CNP and orange squash, followed by two of his wife, Tina’s home-made, giant sausage rolls. There is much laughter as he lies in the sea, eating. He shouts, “Living the dream!” at the crew, then starts swimming backwards and forward and round in circles, to stay warm and stop his muscles from seizing up. Gavin, the kayaker, follows him to keep him safe.
The first warship, the Esbern Snare from Denmark, enters through the Western Approach completes its transfer and moves.
13:05 Neil is now waiting for the second warship, the Dutch vessel, Evertsen, to enter the harbour.
13:15, still waiting and watching the ship make its way to the breakwater. Andrew and Sian are entertaining Neil by doing Scottish country dancing on the deck. A tourist boat trip passes by and the passengers wave at Neil. His swim has had a lot of interest locally, from the press and television.
13:25 The Evertsen is still concluding business inside the breakwater.
13:33 news from the QHM. Neil is being allowed to continue after a 45 minute wait and lots of circle swimming around his kayak and the Panther.
He is now approaching the breakwater again, after his track shows he has been pushed back some way by the ebb tide during the enforced stop.
S/R 54. The big feed has given him lots of energy and, even though he knows he has lost time and ground, he swims with renewed vigour and purpose. Stroke looks strong and steady and he is still a contented and purposeful swimmer.
13:51 Now level with the breakwater.
13:58 Making very slow progress against close to 1kt of tide but still looking strong. He is now being pushed west by the ebb tide.
14:03 Neil is almost clear of the breakwater. S/R 53. Working very hard.
14:18 9 hours into the swim, the tide has slowed again to 0.6kt against him. The crew have decided not to stick to his feed timings and are going to try not to stop him until he is further in towards land and has left the breakwater behind. S/R 52.
14:25 The crew check with Neil about the feeding situation but he says he’s fine and doesn’t need one.
14:35 The sun is now out, the sky is blue and the tide is losing strength. After the grey, gloomy morning, it’s a perfect summer’s day. Neil is now well inside the breakwater and the crew are happily applauding to give him encouragement. Sian notes that she can see the colours of the changing room doors at Tinside beach.
Drake’s Island looms larger ahead of the boat. Previous successful swims from the lighthouse, in 1914, 1977 and 1987, were landed on the steps to the west of the art deco Tinside Lido, so Neil wishes to continue this tradition.
14:54 He still refuses feeds. S/R 53. Andrew and Sian think he’s just on a mission to get there and will let them know if he wants something. 1.25nm to the hoe.
15:00 S/R 51. The yacht, Tamarisk, passes Neil to starboard.
15:20 Roughly 0.8nm to go. Ben says he’s less than an hour away, as Neil is making forward progress at 0.9nm per hour.
15:30 QHM radios Ben to say he’s going to have to hold Neil again, as HMS Albion needs to cross the military shipping channel between Neil and his landing spot.
15:39 still swimming but the Albion is on her way. Ben is waiting to hear from QHM
15:48 After instruction to hold, from QHM, Neil is treading water, almost within shouting distance of his landing spot, where his wife Tina is waiting for him, accompanied by Sharon Miller, who swam from the lighthouse in 1987. The crew reassure him that this will be a short wait. Neil swims wide circles around the Panther and takes another opportunity to have one of Tina’s sausage rolls.
Sian and Andrew are getting ready to swim in behind him to the steps.
HMS Albion passes along the military channel in front of Panther.
16:02 Neil is swimming again. He crosses the shipping channel.
16:07 S/R 53
Andrew and Sian, towing drybags with towels and shoes for Neil, follow him in towards the steps.
16:19 Neil walks up the steps at Tinside, clearing the water and raising his arms in celebration, to huge cheers from waiting friends, press and local TV crews.
The swim has taken 11 hours 1 minute and 58 seconds. It has been an excellent day’s work, during which not even shipping manoeuvres and strong tides could dent his mood or make him falter in his determination to achieve this ambition. His crew have worked superbly to help him.
From the boat, where the remaining members of today’s team are sharing his elation, Neil is seen quaffing Champagne on the steps, having a hug from wife Tina and from Sharon Miller and chatting happily to a TV crew.
On their return to the boat, there is continuing celebration and appreciation of the roles of everybody on board. Neil says he feels fine. He thanks everybody, gets dressed in warm clothes and the boat motors back to Mountbatten marina, where all of us celebrate with an amazing cake, made to mark the occasion.
08 September 2020
by Neil Brinkworth
As discussed regarding the reasons why I wanted to do the Eddystone Swim and and recollections of the day.
The Eddystone Lighthouse has always captured my imagination since I was a small boy.
I have lived in Plymouth all my life and there is a particular spot in Plymouth where you can look across the city and out to sea; on a clear day you can see the Eddystone Lighthouse.
As a child I use to fantasise about the lighthouse, what it was like out there and my father use to tell me tales of he and his friends jumping off the stump of the old lighthouse into the sea, when they use to go diving on the Eddystone reef. I loved to hear the stories about the old ship wrecks. My imagination would be captured and I would dream about swimming to and from the lighthouse.
Fast forward about 40 years, along with my passion for open water swimming, I realised that my childhood dream could come true, with some planning. Lewis Pugh said it takes one person to unlock a dream. I think my dream was unlocked when I had the opportunity to swim with Lewis Pugh on a leg of his Big Swim; we passed the Eddystone and I remember saying to myself, once I’ve swum the English Channel I am going to swim the Eddystone.
With a lot of hard work and planning, overcoming many set backs and disappointments, I eventually managed to get the right people together, I was able to make my childhood dream reality on the 8th September 2020 and showcase Plymouth as the amazing city I live in, as a future hub for long distance open water swimming.
The morning of the swim was amazing, I jumped into the car and I couldn’t believe that I only had to travel 20 mins to the marina and I was about to swim from the Eddystone lighthouse back to Plymouth Hoe. To think that so few people had successfully completed this swim before me, and I was going to end up being the first person in over 30 years, (the first person in the 21st century) to be attempting it gave me goosebumps.
The boat ride out to the lighthouse was exhilarating; the twin hulled catamaran that I chartered as my support boat sped through the swell and at times took off through the waves in the darkness, which was incredible.
I was running on nervous energy and tense with anticipation as to what lay ahead at the start of the swim: getting into the turbulent sea, in the darkness, below the looming lighthouse was really surreal. I remember somebody saying to me, “you must touch a rock”. I was thinking, are you for real, I can’t see the rocks, as it was pitch black and the waves/swell was breaking over them.
When I jumped off the boat, my whole body tensed up and I began to hyperventilate; why, I don’t know, but I kept talking to myself, “calm it down, take it easy”. I lifted my goggles to get a better view of where I could swim to so I could touch the rocks. I spotted a wedged shaped rock- that was the rock I was going to swim to. I clambered onto it and shouted back to my crew, “I’m touching the rocks”. If a wave was to to pick me up it would wash me over that rock, unlike the other rocks where I would just be smashed against them. My plan worked, I managed to get onto the rock and shouted back to the crew, “I’m on the rock” I repeated it, and then I started swimming!
As with all my swims it usually takes me just over an hour to feel comfortable and settled, the usual stop to adjust the hat and googles is normal. I can never rush my swims, I have to wait to let my pace come to me. Once I’ve settled down I’m fine, this swim was no different. All the tension and anticipation from the organisation and preparation slowly started to slip away, I was doing the swim I always had dreamt about…even before I contemplated swimming the English Channel.
In what seemed no time at all I received my first feed, by which time it was starting to get light. The feeds kept coming, regular as clockwork, as I had planned and with only 100s and 100s of comb jellies to keep me company, I just kept swimming. Then I caught my first glimpse of land, that welcome site all swimmers long for, Rame Head, the first noticeable land feature. I knew where I was and what was coming and the different land marks along the way.
The swim was going to plan, I could tell I was on the course we had plotted. I was ecstatic, I knew this stretch of coastline well and knew what to expect. The closer I got to my Penlee Point I knew I would start to encounter the tidal flow of the ebb tide leaving Plymouth. I could tell from landmarks along the coastline that I was slowing down and probably swimming against the tide. But worse was to come; I was going to enter Plymouth Sound on an out going tide, that meant slow hard progress, I would just have to be patient and keep swimming.
I was mentally ticking off milestones in my head, the two headlands opened up to present Plymouth Sound and the Breakwater lighthouse, I got my head down as I knew once inside the Sound I was about an hour from landing at Plymouth Hoe. But the lighthouse on the end of the breakwater didn’t get any closer. I took another feed and thought to myself that would be my last feed. How wrong was I, after another 45 mins of swimming I made slow progress to the lighthouse. I took another feed and carried on swimming.
It’s amazing what goes through your head when you are swimming. I sometimes get fixated on food; I knew there were homemade sausage rolls in the food bag on the boat, what I would give to have one of them. I was starving! The CNP and bananas weren’t keeping me from feeling hungry. I needed some proper solid food. I then got the call from my crew to stop swimming forward, at the entrance on Plymouth Sound about 500m from the Breakwater lighthouse, as two foreign Naval ships were coming into the Sound for crew transfers. I knew too well what was going to happen and how long it was going to take as I saw the crew transfer boat and had witnessed them doing this sort of thing on a number of occasion when training in the past. Right I thought to myself, now’s a time to have some of those sausage rolls, that’s if the crew haven’t eaten them…they have a track record for eating my food!
My crew instructed me to keep swimming around the boat and maybe even to do some back stoke; it seemed like forever that I was swimming around circles. I was starting to get cold, the ships were in no rush to leave, but my spirits were lifted when a boat came past and all the people onboard where clapping and cheering for me.
We finally got the green light to enter the Sound; my crew were shouting at me to start swimming towards Plymouth. I was on the final leg home. I had swum across the Sound several times, but never when the tide is full ebb, the delay didn’t help. I counted off the navigational buoys and landmarks as I slowly made progress past them, I could now see where I was going to land to finish the swim. The sun had come out, which helped me warm up a bit. Plymouth from the sea on a lovely day is very picturesque.
Just one last shipping lane to cross and I would be at the finish. I was excited, but my excitement was quickly extinguished. I had to stop swimming forward again!!! There was another warship leaving the Naval Base; I took a peek around the bow of my support boat and could see the tugs manoeuvering HMS Albion through the shipping lanes. So close yet so far! At least the sun was out now so it wasn’t too bad and I took the opportunity to grab another sausage roll. Again I carried on swimming around in circles, waiting for my instructions to swim towards the shore.
Next thing, everyone was shouting and cheering at me to start swimming to the shore; this was it - I was about to swim into shore, climb out of the water and make swimming history as the 1st person in the 21st century to successfully complete the Eddystone swim.
Climbing out of the water and up steps, raising my hands in the air, was emotional and overwhelming, I had done it. To be greeted my so many friends, family and a TV crew was unbelievable. I was overjoyed. The icing on the cake was being congratulated by Sharon Miller (Price) who was the last person to swim the Eddystone back in 1987.
Click to enlarge.
Plymouth Chronicle: Neil’s Eddystone challenge