Swimmers hopeful of new record in Ireland to Wales relay effort

The Oa Giants completed the 116km swim from Co Wexford to the Pembrokeshire coast in 34 hours and 25 minutes.

Relay swim
Relay swim

A group of Northern Ireland men are hoping to have set a new world record for swimming from Ireland to Wales.

The Oa Giants swam 116kms (72 miles) from Co Wexford to the Pembrokeshire coast in 34 hours and 25 minutes.

Keith Garry, John McElroy, Colin Lindsay, Dominic Mudge, Chris Judge and Bill Donnelly took it in turns to brave St George’s Channel in a challenging day and night swim, setting off early on Saturday from Carne Pier.

Relay swim
Bill Donnelly completes the relay swim by the Oa Giants from Ireland to Wales (InfinityChannelSwimming/PA)

They described spending months preparing for the challenge with winter swimming in the sea and lakes, as well as mountain climbing, running, strength training and nutritional regimes, to ensure they were at their peak last weekend.

Chris Judge took on the first leg from Carne Pier just south of the busy Rosslare Harbour, alongside both ferries and fishing vessels.

The Co Armagh man described a testing start when the swim was delayed by a night due to conditions, leaving the men to sleep in their cars.

Relay swim
A group of swimmers known as the Oa Giants are hoping to have set a new world record for a swim from Ireland to Wales (InfinityChannelSwimming/PA)

He started swimming from the Irish coast through thousands of jellyfish before taking a bout of seasickness before a traumatic night swim.

He paid tribute to the crew from Infinity Channel Swimming for their support, keeping them going.

“The experience at the start wasn’t nice, I had a traumatic night swim, I hit the boat and I could feel a lot of things hitting me in the water, and I had cramped up in the leg from the cold … it was the longest hour of my life, and I prayed,” he told the PA news agency.

As Mr Garry took on the next leg, what Mr Judge had felt hitting him in the water turned out to be a pod of 15 playful dolphins, “swimming belly to belly” with them, leaping and making their distinctive high frequency whistles and clicks.

Powered by soup, stew and bacon and egg butties, the men described the first land-ahoy moment at 5am on Sunday, with the sight of a series of islands ahead of mainland Wales.

They described one of the most challenging moments of the swim as a reef between Ramsey Island and the mainland, where they faced standing waves, whirlpools and a boiling pot of water directions.

Mr Judge thought he may have had the last leg, however conditions led to the expedition having to loop around an island to be able to make it to Wales.

Six hours later on Sunday evening Mr Donnelly was the man to complete the swim, touching land close to St David’s.

Relay swim
The group are hopeful they have set a new world record (InfinityChannelSwimming/PA)

The swimmers were supported by boat pilot Padraig Mallon of the Co Armagh-based Infinity Channel Swimming, co-pilot Adrian Poucher and crew Milo McCourt and Jacqueline McClelland.

“The crew were unbelievable, watching over us, navigating us, they were absolutely brilliant, we motivated each other from the heart” Mr Judge said.

The Infinity team said they had been eyeing up St George’s Channel for a number of years, and paid tribute to local fishermen and the RNLI for lending them their expertise.

Oa Channel swimmers
(left to right) Adrian Poucher (support crew), Dominic Mudge, Keith Garry, John McElroy, Bill Donnelly, Colin Lindsay and Chris Judge on the Giant’s Causeway in 2020 (Karen Brown/PA)

The swim will be submitted for ratification to the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association and Guinness World Records.

The Oa Giants set two world records last year, including the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the challenging waters of the Oa Channel from Islay to the Giant’s Causeway.

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