The ‘Brancaster Bathers’ – a team of nine local ladies and one man – successfully swam from Europe to Asia across the Hellespont and Dardanelles Straits in Turkey, thereby completing ‘the world’s oldest swim’ and an open water classic.
The team, who all come from the Farnham area, were raising money for the My Name’5 Doddie charity which seeks a cure for MND, in support of their friend James Clarke from Wyck near Alton who has this degenerative and fatal disease.
The annual 5km race is in its 36th year and took place on August 30. The strong current running through the straits makes a straight-line swim impossible.
Each of the 800 entrants has to select their own course dependant on their individual swim speed, aiming for different landmarks on the far shore for the different stages of the swim. The shipping lanes are closed for two hours with swimmers having to cross within that time.
The swim’s origins are in Greek mythology and it follows the route swum nightly by Leander to his lover Hero. Hero was a priestess of the temple of Aphrodite on the European shore and she lit a candle each night in her tower to guide Leander, a shepherd from the Asian side. Each morning Leander would swim home. But Leander’s ardour finally got the better of him when, attempting the swim during a winter storm, Hero’s lantern failed and he drowned.
Lord Byron, the romantic poet famously dubbed “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, was obsessed by the story and successfully swam the straits breaststroke style on his second attempt in 1810.
After nine months of training in Frensham Ponds, Mytchett Lake and the Farnham Leisure Centre pool, the team set out with some trepidation. Nine of the team swam freestyle with one completing the swim in traditional ‘Byronic’ breaststroke.
The whole team finished within the two-hour cut-off to a great sense of satisfaction and some considerable exhaustion.