If you’re looking for a good read this morning, look no further, we hope you enjoy Sam’s summer story written by Stuart Livingstone….
Scottish Triple Crown
“The Summer of Sam”
An idea spawned in a tiny Scottish pub in December 2022 turned into a summer of swimming never done before.
“I’m swimming Loch Awe for my birthday”.
“why not do all the biggies?”
This was all it took for Sam Farrow’s epic 2023 swim plans to be put into motion. Jump forward to June and the wheels were rolling north as the Swim Your Swim team headed for the northwest highlands and the first Loch in the series.
As the sun rose on the 2nd of June, we set off down Loch Awe to our start point at Torran Bay which sits at the south end of the Loch, arriving for an 08:00 start, planning on Sam having 12+hours ahead we knew we had plenty of daylight at this time of year. Sam entered the unseasonably warm waters of Loch Awe at 07:55 and we were off, full steam ahead till we reach the railway bridge over the River Orchy at the north end of the Loch. The conditions were perfect with the water temp sitting at 16.2ºC as we set off. Settling into her stroke straight away Sam looked very comfortable and the first 4 hours passed very quickly (for the boat crew) with the hourly feeds coming and going without incident or much chit chat.
As we got to 22km into the swim thoughts on the boat started turning towards record times for the swim and we started researching previous times, The female record for the full length is 15hrs 53mins and the Male record is 13hrs 30mins 37secs. Once we had found these out we knew they were both there for the taking, just had to keep the arms turning and the food going in.
As the swim reached the section of the Loch where the River Awe feeds in the water took a significant turn and the waves started white capping due to the wind and the incoming waters which meant the steady 3.2 km/h Sam had been holding dropped to around 2.8km/h for the next 90 minutes which had her thinking she wasn’t going anywhere. Once we passed the mouth she pushed on again and although fatigued from fighting the waves she lifted to around the 3km/h mark again ready for the final 5km.
The final stretch seemed to pass so slowly for the followers at home as the messages to the boat crew increased asking “how long till she’s finished?”. The finish came soon enough as she reached the railway bridge over the river at Kilchurn in a time of 11hrs 44mins 45secs a new unratified record time for the length of Loch Awe.
The next loch in the trilogy was to be Loch Lomond and we rolled up for the attempt on the 7th of July and the weather was very typically Scottish and unfortunately the decision was taken to postpone the swim due to the storm the night before still blowing up the Loch as the boat crew motored down to the start point making it un-swim able.
Lomond had beaten us but we’d return. The then crew rolled into Loch Ness on the 27th of July to have a go at the monster and once again the weather conspired against us, causing the attempt to be called 5hrs 49mins due to rough weather and cold with the average water temp at 12ºC .
So it was back to the drawing board and we replanned the swims, we were not to be beaten. New dates were set; 15th of August for Lomond and 2nd September for Ness and the lessons learnt from Loch Ness were accounted for. Two weeks till Lomond Sam was sent away with strict instructions to train and get some time in cold water before we headed north again, which she did with some complaint.
So the 15th of August arrived and we were in Loch Lomond, no excuses & no failures acceptable.
Setting off from Balloch at 05:42 we were away, same as before arm over arm till we get to the other end. As we motored through sunrise the only change we made from previous swims was the feeding strategy, feeding every 45mins to avoid getting cold or hungry as the water was inevitably colder and it seemed to work, good news. Leon and Stuart whiled away the hours looking at the stunning scenery surrounding the loch as conditions were as perfect as we could have hoped for, we’d landed lucky again.
As we pushed up the loch there were no thoughts of records as this was a different proposition, in the world of marathon swimming Loch Lomond is a popular challenge with both Male and Female records siting just above the 9hr mark. Sam was working to her own schedule, we had a triple crown to finish. Loch Lomond is different to Loch Awe due to the direction it sits in the country. It is more influenced by winds, which we were acutely aware of following the cancelled attempt, we were always keeping an eye on the conditions. Thankfully the wind and rain stayed away for the most part and we enjoyed calmer waters for the duration of the swim with Sam even smiling at us a few times,
Loch number 2 was knocked off in a time of 12hrs 27mins 5 secs as Sam walked up onto the beach at Ardlui.
Loch Ness, the final chapter and by far the hardest of the three. Stuart had spent some time researching the best time to do the swim as the weather had picked up significantly in the middle of the day on 2 previous attempts to crew it. We settled on the 2nd of September, we later found out the latest it has been swum was the 3rd of September. We set off under the full moon at 03:00 in perfect conditions once again, if Nessy was going to make an appearance tonight was the night.
We employed the same feeding strategy, every 45 mins to stave off the cold. Loch Ness sits at an average temps of 10-12 degrees at this time of year. Again this was about completion. We knew what was coming having checked the weather on at least 5 different apps every day for the week leading up to the swim, we were well prepared for every season. The first few hours passed in the moonlight and we were cruising. A good pace and solid swimming had us at the point Sam reached on her first attempt 49 minutes ahead of time, she was aware of this, that was a mental win for her.
The swim was, I’m glad to say, very uneventful the crew managed to get a bit of sleep (Stuart more than Leon this time) and kept up on a bit of admin and random chit chat. However, in true Scottish fashion the weather changed, it got colder, the wind picked up, we had a torrential downpour to flood the boat and the feed box. What’s going on? We’ve got at least 4 hours left out here! Luckily the rain stopped as quick as it had started but we were left with the wind, we were really fighting it now. The boat spent more time in reverse to stay with Sam due to the wind and waves pushing us faster than she could swim at some points, the rollers were breaking at around 4 ft high and as these are wind generated not tidal there was no pattern for Sam to get used to. The fight was on and fight she did coming home in 12hrs 31mins 13secs.