What an achievement!!!
He only went and did it! Neil Gilson, AKA Marathon Swimmer, completed his epic achievement to be the first person to swim the Bristol Channel from Swansea to Ilfracombe.
Neil swam 28 miles in just 12 hours on Saturday 17th July 2021. Setting off from Swansea at 5am, just after sunrise, Neil began his swim with a support/pilot boat alongside him. On the pilot boat, were some of Neil's friends, including former Olympic swimmers, Liam Tancock and Joe Roebuck, who provided his support crew. Neil was wearing a specially commissioned bright green 'Neil's Challenge' swim hat, which was produced by Swimzi. This was so that he was easy to spot in the water, but also to pay homage to Neil and Liam Tancock's home club - Exeter City Swimming Club!
Photo below - Neil leaving Swansea
Photo below - Neil's support crew of Liam, Joe and Alex
Neil could not have timed the day in the calendar better. The weather conditions were amazing! Beautiful sunshine, was accompanied by very calm sea, which undoubtedly was important, as over that sort of distance, the conditions could have had an adverse affect on his mammoth challenge. If it had been just the weekend before, the conditions would have been very different, with wind, rain and choppier sea conditions. It wasn't to be all plain sailing for Neil though, as after about 3 hours, Neil felt unwell and was vomiting. At such an early stage of the swim, this obviously worried Neil, however, putting it down some energy gels he was using, he adjusted his fuelling, sticking to bananas and flat cola, Neil started to feel better and pressed on.
Later in the swim, the conditions did 'chop up' slightly, which would be expected in such a wide channel of water, with one of the biggest tidal differences anywhere in the world, but Neil pushed on. Throughout the challenge, Neil's supporters were able to track his progress on an app and the support crew provided a series of video updates of Neil swimming via various social media platforms.
Photo below - the tracking app showing Neil's route/location
Neil's estimated time to arrive at Hele Bay, Ilfracombe was due to be between 6pm and 8pm, however Neil was making such good progress, with a really strong swim, that it was looking highly likely that he would arrive ahead of schedule, providing he kept strong and the conditions continued to be as perfect as they were.
As Neil got to the stage where the North Devon coast was fully in sight and felt almost close enough to touch, the swimming gods shone down on Neil again....this time to be joined by a pod of Dolphins! It was as if they wanted to celebrate what he was trying to achieve and give him that final bit of motivation to get him through last few painful miles. They swam in front of him, around him and surrounded the pilot boat. They even swam underneath him. What an amazing sight!
Video below - Neil surrounded by a pod of Dolphins!
Neil pushed on to the finish and it was now clear he was going to complete the challenge in an amazing time and as he approached the shore of the beach, where 100's of family, friends, all wearing specially produced 'Neil's Challenge' blue t-shirts, were packed on to the beach, cheering him in to the finish. This is where several members of Exeter City Swimming Club, Neil's former club, having made the journey up to North Devon, were in the water ready to swim the final few hundred metres with him. They surrounded Neil and he swam the final bit of his epic swim, surrounded by our swimmers wearing their bright green ECSC swim hats.
Video below - Neil surround by ECSC swimmers
Club Chairman, Dean Drury, spoke to Neil on the beach at the end of his swim and Neil said that he was so grateful that so many of our club had made the journey to join him in the water. He said it was a real highlight and that it made him feel really emotional!
Photo below - Neil with some of the ECSC swimmers at the finish
Neil swam the challenge to raise more awareness for the charity Pans Pandas, so close to him and his family's hearts. He has since been interviewed on Radio Devon and other news outlets, who have all celebrated his achievement and he has definitely raised the profile of Pans Pandas, where more families have been able to gain support for their children's condition.
Neil has kindly donated a number of his limited edition green swim hats to the swimmers who took part in the final push to the shore. We are so proud of Neil and he is truly inspirational to all of our swimmers, that despite working full time, with a family and a number of years since he used to swim competitively for our club, that he is still loving to swim and so much so, that he is able to swim across the Bristol Channel in a day!! Amazing stuff! Well done Neil.