Strongman swimmer Ross Edgley and sailor Matt Knight are on their way to making Ross the first man to swim around the British Isles. The pair set off from Margate on May 30 with the aim to complete 2,000 miles by the end of the summer. Today, 65 days in, they are at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and the feat is already looking like an incredible act of endurance as Ross gets in the water every time the tide goes his way and swims for six hours or more – twice daily. An early challenge was to swim across Dover Harbour while the coastguard diverted other marine traffic; Ross also developed an early neck abrasion from his wetsuit which left an ugly red welt which looked bad enough to threaten the venture. “We have had a huge battle managing & nursing the chafe wounds and the other physical challenges associated with muscle/joint strain, salt exposure, & recently a major Jellyfish assault… but I think we are getting on top of it,” Matt commented as the pair came to the western end of the Channel on day 30, and prepared to cross the Bristol Channel. “At one stage it was taking us an hour to get him in the water with major dressings- creams, gauzes, various layers & types of of tape and then barrier creams before we could even start to get him into a wetsuit.
“However Ross’s unbelievable determination to carry on together with some serious effort by the entire crew on board kept the show firmly on the road,” Matt adds. The “show” is based aboard Matt’s Wharram stretched Pahi 52, Hecate, (LOA 53ft / 16M Beam 7.5M Draught 1M), which is proving an ideal vessel for such a venture, not least for the Wharram patent swimming platform, which hangs in the water between the amas aft and allows Ross to get aboard relatively easily.
She has berths for up to 12 – 8 guests in 4 double en suite cabins plus 2-4 additional berths in the saloon pod & flexi space coffers in the hull ends for overspill & crew. Matt is running Hecate with his wife, cook, nutritionist Suzanne plus a rota of deck crew to keep watch on Ross and assist with the many tasks managing the project from on board. Joining Ross, are his occasional guests, plus ad-hoc and regular media crew; the stable deck of the Wharram cat is also a useful camera platform – the venture is sponsored by Red Bull so professional quality video is required.
In Ross’s latest weekly post (see below) he praises Matt’s navigation as a key part to the success of the swim. In talking with Matt while the pair were rounding Land’s End he was looking at tidal gates and inshore eddies to see if he could get an eight hour favourable push from the tide: “The plan is to jump through the tidal gate at Gwenapp, play the early eddy that potentially allows us 8 hours of favourable current, and try to avoid the inshore counter currents that might stop us dead in our tracks north of Landsend. If we get it right we could be in for a huge swim possibly high teens of miles covered and be in St Ives by the evening. If we get it wrong we might be languishing in Sennen for 8 hours,” he said.
And it’s not just tide – which is predictable, but the wind and wave factors also have to be considered. “Ross is almost superhuman,” Matt says, “but even almost superhumans can’t punch through 20 mile an hour headwinds for long. Throw into that some other logistics factors – we have to reprovision & keep on top of boat maintenance whenever we have an opportunity. There is a further trade off between spending all the rest periods hove-to at sea; which might enable us to take the quickest/shortest route but would require continuous watch keeping and less sleep for the team, against the option of anchoring between tides to give everyone, including Ross better chance of proper sleep. This whole excersise is finding a balance between optimum daily performance and longer term sustainability to enable Ross to still be healthy and swimming in two months’ time. Juggling all these factors determines the decision about every new route choice. We have to crunch the numbers and wait for a decent weather forecast before we decide on which route and when.”
And what about food? What is Ross’s favourite meal? “Bananas,” says Matt, “Hundreds down already… about 1 every 1.5 miles so far! Seriously though the nutritional requirements of this extreme-a-challenge for long term endurance mean that there isn’t much room for favourites. Suzanne is focussed on making sure Ross gets the calories he needs to sustain a huge daily energy use within a diet that also balances that energy requirement against the need to keep him healthy; on most shorter term endurance challenges you can get away with training in advance, carb loading and just burning energy for a few days. But in this situation it’s such a long term project that he needs to eat really well and maintain his health as well… because we really don’t know exactly how long he will be needing to swim for. So she is basically making a highly varied, holistic & super nutritious food programme and he just has to eat what he’s given – haha! Hopefully its delicious most of the time, but there have been a few pained looks about some of the weirder booster smoothies. We are using a lot of coconut water, oil and milk.”
Matt reveals that in the off watches he and Ross find inspiration from some historical heroes. “As much as this is a physical challenge it’s the mental endurance that will see Ross through. We have had a number of discussions about the deprivations suffered by historic figures such as Shackleton & Bligh, and the inspiring example of climbing endurance heroes such as Choinard or Bonnington, as well as the more recent achievements of people like Ellen McArthur. In my book Ross’s achievement in pulling through what he has endured is already pretty astonishing, and when he makes it round, which I believe he will, it will rank up there with some of the great endurance achievements of all time.”
Matt and his Cat
Matt and Ross met after Matt worked on a surfing venture which involved looking at charts to discover offshore and remote reefs that could make good surfing grounds, and then voyaging out to try them. “We had been working with a couple of Big Wave surfers, in particular Andrew (Cotty) Cotton who we know from home in North Devon, looking for waves that are not easily accessible from land – off the coast in Ireland and also Southern Portugal and out in the further reaches of the Atlantic. The nature of that work has meant we have had to develop protocols, equipment and operating procedures for supporting people who are routinely going overboard in challenging situations. A couple of commercial documentary films have been produced around the projects we have done with Cotty and as there aren’t that many boats that can do this sort of work someone suggested us to Ross,” Matt tells CS.
You certainly couldn’t complete a venture like this without the right boat and Matt says that after years of farming he wanted to set up a charter business and was instinctively drawn to the Wharram designs. “I spent most of my early professional career on boats working at the classic yacht/tall ship end of the spectrum. And as a rule, modern cruising multihulls never appealed to me but Wharrams were always the exception… they just looked like good sea boats, and I loved the rigs, and once I started talking to Wharram owners and reading about the designs and James & Hanneke’s life’s work I became more & more interested.”
He found and bought Hecate in Greece and sailed her back home to North Devon’s Taw/Torridge estuary, for refitting and reworking the deck pods: “mainly to give us the shelter we needed aboard for charter work in the colder & wetter climate that characterises the best surfing regions of North West Europe… Looking back, and having been a custodian of Hecate for nearly a decade now, I have come to understand that it is a combination of the underlying Wharram philosophy and artistry of boat design, together with the extraordinary history of voyaging canoes begun by the Polynesians centuries ago, that drew me in, and makes them so special. I could write a long essay about all the fantastic design detail that makes Hecate perfect in practical terms for this project, but that would probably be the basis of a separate article. It’s a long list.
“We have sailed all over the SW of the UK, and then the Atlantic facing coasts of Western Europe. We spent a couple of years in Ireland (circumnavigating the entire Irish coastline twice). And we have had charter work as far South as the Canaries where we have circumnavigated nearly every Island, spent a number of months doing film work exploring for surf in Madeira and her outlying Islands, plus a series of trips up & down the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain & Portugal. We spent a fair bit of time in the Estuaries and bays of Northern Spain’s Biscay coast which is amazing for its combination of fantastic cruising and surf exploration, and around West Brittany and further down in the Biscay coast of France. Along the way that programme has involved 9 Biscay crossings to date so we have pretty much tried & tested Hecate now, in anything from flat Mediterranean summer to foul winter storm conditions in West Donegal. She’s looked after us beautifully in every situation.”
Photos by: Harvey Gibson / Red Bull Content Pool (click on photos to enlarge)