In the beginning…
100 years ago they used to swim cattle from Caldey Island to Tenby. The mural in Tenby Market shows this.
The annual Swim may be following this route! We are not sure when this sport started. People are always attracted to Islands and Caldey is a special one.
In the 70s, local youngsters started to swim to Caldey. The summers were warmer then and there was not much for local children to do but swim and play on the beach while their parents worked.
Around this time a local man called Bill Parcell who was courting the lighthouse keeper’s daughter and to impress her, he swam across.
The first time he swam he didn’t allow for the tides in front of Caldey so he wound up on the rocks. In subsequent swims he swam the perfect course. Bill also advised local youngsters and the young Johnny John who swam across in 48 minutes, no mean feat for a 16 yr old. The Caldey Boats take 20 minutes.
The youngsters weren’t training as such but they were swimming regularly. Parents weren’t told till the swim was over and a group of 4-5 swimmers went with one support boat. It is a big stretch of water, people swim at different speeds and the poor people in the boats didn’t know who to watch out for and follow. Things got out of hand and the swim was banned for a time.
In the 1990s a local man, John Rees, returned to live in Tenby and with his wife Val and Mick Brown set about finding out about doing this swim again. There were people to ask for information and advice, if you knew where to find them and they were happy to share their stories. They were the youngsters from the 70s now grown up. Another man with useful information to share was Mickey Wilson, whose task was to swim out from the lifeboat to people in distress to fasten a line. Alan Thomas, who ran the Caldey Boat, also knows the local waters well.
The first swim of 20 set off and most had successful swims if they had done the training and hadn’t succumbed to the cold. See the picture of the 1990 swim on our web page..
The weapon against the cold was a special mix of lanolin and vaseline made up according to the formula given by the Channel Swimmers. It was a difficult job done by Craven the Chemist. Did it work? Probably. The problem was it didn’t come off easily and your skin was conditioned for a week. The boats found it difficult to wash off.
There were several successful swims – see our cuttings – and many local youngsters swam across, this time with supporting adults and a support boat per person.
The Hurlow girls, Louise, Carly and later Jody swam across with their Mother and late aunt, Lindsay. The girls were of Junior school age. They swam with friends, Nicola Chiffi and Carly Christopher, teachers Peter Williams and Julia Wood, Carlton Coates and Nicola Maggs, Helen Thomas and brothers Andrew and Peter Kidney and Carl and Mike Evans; the list is not exhaustive. It was a badge of courage to say that you had done the swim.
Two hazards put paid to peoples’ swims, the cold if you were thin or hadn’t got used to the cold and some rather large jelly fish. Most average swimmers complete the swim in 1 1/2 hrs to 2 hrs which is a long time in water of about 15 degrees.
One swimmer had an escort of porpoises and a girl was dive-bombed by angry gulls off Caldey.
Many people completed the swim and in the process raised thousands for local and national good causes: The Jubilee Sailing Trust, the local Schools, The Guides, NSPPC, Cancer Research. Some swimmers completed several swims.
Many local boatmen helped the swimmers get there by providing the boats and cheering the swimmers on.
Richard Harrison proved that you could swim back from Caldey and he and the brothers Andrew and Peter Kidney completed the two way swim, there and back.
A young woman from Kent broke the record for a while only to have it reclaimed by Adam John, son of swimming teacher Ann Adams who shaved the time to 45 minutes. There it stands. There have been small groups who have done the swim but not on a large scale as it was in the 1990s
In recent years the next generation has completed successful swims, with Olivia Harries, Bryony Coates Rees and Jane Carling posting good times.
A young man from Penally, Richard Young, completed a successful swim in 2011 and became the first person with a disability to do so.
In 2013 the swim was resurrected by Tenby Sea Swimming Association, with a steering group of committed swimmers, sea safety practitioners and volunteers. Since then, two years have been fallow, with conditions on both the initial and then the back-up dates being too difficult for the swimmers and the safety crews.
Many of the would-be swimmers have been frustrated by the conditions, yet accept this is not a simple swim; it is a significant challenge, as evidenced by the relief on the faces of those that have completed the course. And even when the swim is cancelled twice in the same year, so it is a ‘no Caldey Swim year’, the legend that surrounds it survives – some would say it is even enhanced.