When experienced adventurers David Burns and Maghnus Smyth set out on the Swim 360 on 3rd June this year, they can’t have imagined the periods of frustration that lay ahead.
The pair, founders of Sand2Snow Adventures, sought to be the first people to swim the entire way around Ireland’s coastline. Supported by their crew of Leisha Hughes and Philip Hatton, the expedition set off from Sandycove, Dublin on a clear summer’s day.
A relatively peaceful passage down the eastern coast gave way to unpredictable tides and often unmanageable winds. The nature of the tides meant that the duo would often have to start their day’s swim miles off shore. On a calm day, Mr Burns said the pair “could cover 15-20 kilometres.” However, with high winds the boat often wasn’t even able to go out. And, if any swimming was possible: “the furthest we would swim would be five kilometres and we would be exerting far more effort than on the good days.”
Messrs. Burns and Smyth have been taking part in endurance challenges for seven years. In 2008 the duo cycled 17500 kilometres unsupported from Cairo to Cape Town and back to Ireland through the Sudanese Nubian Desert, the Sinai Desert in Egypt and the European mainland. The pair undertook the challenge to raise money for Self-Help Africa, an international development charity.
In 2010, it was on to the Marathon des Sables, a 260km race over five days through the Sahara Desert. Out of 160 runners, the relative novies finished a highly impressive 21st and 26th respectively.
It was in 2011 that Sand2Snow Adventures was founded and the duo set off on a remarkable pan-Asian, man-powered expedition. Their odyssey began with a cycle from Istanbul to Kathmandu – via Turkey, Iran and India – finishing in the foothills of the Himalayas. From here, Coleraine native Burns and Limerick man Smyth undertook a gruelling schedule of 27 marathons in 25 days, through the Himalayas to the Tibetan Plateau. A 4000-kilometre kayak journey down the Yangtze, the longest ever descent of the river, into Shanghai concluded an incredible journey.
Unfortunately, Swim 360 was the first challenge that Messrs. Burns and Smyth were unable to finish together, as Mr Burns decided to leave the water for good in late September. He was happy with his decision and says that from the off this expedition was different to previous journeys, all of which were unsupported. The difference said Mr Burns was that “for this one, we relied an awful lot on other people. That was quite hard.”
Mental rather than the physical
He admits that leaving the Swim “was a hard call to make at the time but I’m happy now that I made the decision.” It seems it was mental, rather than the physical aspect of the swim that Mr Burns found toughest to deal with. “Running 27 marathons back-to-back was far more physically difficult but the mental effect of the swim really took my head away. I’ve enjoyed to a massive extent everything else I’ve done.”
The Himalayas provided a beautiful backdrop, as did the wilderness of the Yangtze but in the water everything just seemed the same. Mr Burns told me “you are unaware of your wider surroundings. It’s what’s in front of your face at the time. You can’t hear anything.”
The pair could persist in Africa and Asia despite the aches and pains but there is no negotiating with the mundanity and wild winds on the high seas.