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Our correspondent on the peninsula, Nic Goddard, recounts a day of safety training for those swimmers keen on taking to the open water.
On Saturday, I nearly drowned three times. I was alternately unresponsive, hypothermic and panicked. I lost the ability to swim, to navigate back to the shore, to communicate or to look after myself.
All around me in Loch Sunart were swimmers in similar distressed and perilous states. Some were struggling to breath, a couple were injured and one or two were frantic to the point of upturning the kayaker trying to assist them so that they, too, ended up in the water needing help.
Anyone passing by the loch at Resipole would surely have wondered how quite so many swimmers had gotten into difficulties and why it was that so many kayaks and the Highland Open Water Swim (HOWS) safety boat just happened to be on hand to help.
None of this was a coincidence though, as it was a scheduled safety training day for the organisation in advance of this year’s open water swim events.
There are 10 swims scheduled between February and October in the lochs and seas of the Highlands for all abilities – from gentle swims to super-
challenging distances and routes.
To ensure swimmers are kept safe every stroke of the way regular safety training for the team of volunteers who support the swims is part of the behind-the-scenes schedule.
All of the swims are supported by kayakers and canoeists monitoring the swimmers’ progress and keeping everyone on track. In the unlikely event of anyone needing help they will support the swimmer and raise the alarm to the safety boat which will come to their aid.
A whole host of scenarios were played out by volunteer wild swimmers to allow the team to practise a variety of rescues and predict potential issues in a training environment.
Jeff Forrester of HOWS told me: ‘We organised the training day to ensure our safety team can rescue swimmers quickly and safely in case it is needed. The numbers of participants in our events is steadily increasing.
‘This was our first organised training session and we all learned a lot from it. We will now work on more in-depth training for our safety team to develop what worked best from the scenarios with the swimmers.’
HOWS, a registered charity since 2017, has raised thousands of pounds for brain tumour charities by organising events which hundreds of swimmers come from far and wide to attend.
Jeff explained: ‘We started HOWS to help people get in the water, promoting open water swimming in this beautiful area, while raising money for good causes at the same time.
‘We have a fantastic team of volunteers who support the events to keep the swimmers safe.’
One of the newest members of the safety team is 14-year-old Cameron Bungey who was part of the boat rescue team on Saturday. Cameron said: ‘I went out in the HOWS rescue boat for some training, familiarising myself with the power boat and how everything works.
‘It was great to learn some new skills and I hope to volunteer with HOWS on the safety team for most of the swims this year. The volunteering will also go towards my Duke of Edinburgh Award.’
After all the rescue excitement everyone returned to shore, with kayaks pulled clear of the water, swimmers getting into dry clothes and everyone gathering for hot soup, delicious cakes and to talk about their experience in the water, much like at one of HOWS events.
This time though it was to discuss how things had gone wrong and swap stories of how many times we’d had to shout for help, cling to our tow floats and wait for assistance or succumb to the cold water and swirling waves.
Thanks to training sessions like these the safety of swimmers is
assured for the swim events scheduled for this year.’
Full details of HOWS events for this year can be found on the website,