Chris and team swim from Ireland to Wales - and hope for new world record
Portadown man Chris Judge was part of a six man team who swam 72 miles from Ireland to Wales - and are hoping to set a new world record.
The 39-year-old, best known for his more recent role running the Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers, was first off the rocks near Roslare, Co Wexford on Saturday morning.
As part of the OA Giants, Chris and the team swam 116kms (72 miles) from Ireland to Wales - and it was all done 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.
Chris, from Rose Cottages, spoke of the team’s months of preparation throughout winter, swimming in local loughs and the sea as well as climbing mountains and an intense nutritional regime.
For Chris it has been years of preparation, from when he was first taught to swim by his father Brian, a tremendous athlete who carried out Iron Man triathalons in the 80s. He went to Portadown Swimming Club from the age of five but moved to Lurgan Swimming Club aged around eight years old and praises legend Dorothy Johnston who has coached him ever since including via her own swim camp.
Chris reveals that he started open water swimming aged 28.
“I just tiddle away at it but soon started to get a few podium places in events,” he said. “I then went on to conquer the north channel solo swim in 2017 which is a 26 mile crossing from Ireland to Port Patrick, Scotland.
“That channel gave me a massive platform for my open water career and I went on to become an Irish champion ice swimmer and became one of a handful in this country of swimmers to complete an ice mile.
“In 2020, through the pandemic, Infinity Channel Swimming, a local crew from Newry, put together this relay team, named the OA giants.
“This team was set up to take on the challenge, 10 years in the making, of swimming from Islay Scotland and finishing at the Giants Causeway.
“This is a swim that has never been achieved because of the strong currents and icey waters. The week before that swim, our relay team set out from Northern Ireland to swim to Scotland at 2AM in the morning in August last year, as a training swim for the week after. We had great conditions and ended up breaking the world record and having a Guinness World Record.
“This set us in good stead for the big swim the week after, where again after swimming through the night in challenging conditions, we smashed it.”
On Saturday Chris said it was a testing start, especially when the swim was delayed by one night due to weather conditions and the men had to sleep in their cars.
He was tortured by thousands of jellyfish as he left the Irish coast and then took a bout of seasickness.
Paying tribute to the Infinity Channel Swimming club, Chris said: “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.”
It transpired that what Chris had felt hitting him in the water was a pod of 15 dolphins.
“I was swimming belly to belly with them. They were leaping up and making their distinctive high frequency whistles and clicks.”
In what was an amazing relay swim the men first spotted the Welsh coast at 5am on Sunday morning.
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.
Chris 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 Donnelly was the man to complete the swim, touching land close to St David’s.
The swimmers were supported by boat pilot Padraig Mallon of 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,” Chris 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.
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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