Henley Mermaids heading for their next big swim: The Bristol Channel

Henley Mermaids heading for their next big swim: The Bristol Channel

Nurse Fiona and her team are fundraising for charities that support people with neurological conditions and their families

Oxford Health nurse Fiona Print from the Rapid Access Care Unit in Henley,  and her team the Henley Mermaids, are in the training for their next big challenge: a swim relay of The Bristol Channel from Illfracombe in North Devon to Swansea in Wales.

Last summer Fiona and her team Laura Reineke, Joan Fennelly, Susan Barry and Jo Robb completed a swim relay of the English Channel, raising £32,000 for Henley Music School. Now they are aiming to conquer the Bristol Channel on the anniversary of that swim, on July 22, all contingent on COVID restrictions and weather conditions.

If the Mermaids successfully complete the Bristol Channel, they will be the first women-only team to do so. With a distance of 25 miles between Ilfracome and Swansea, the Bristol Channel is renowned for its strong tidal forces which could easily add 10+ miles onto the distance. The team will also face the cold temperatures of the Irish Sea, possibly swimming in the dark, dealing with jellyfish, and navigating through the busy shipping lanes of the Channel.

“This will be much more of a challenge than the English Channel,” says Fiona. “It’s the second highest tidal reach in the world. The English Channel took us 17 hours and we think this will take 20 to 25.”

She adds:

“It may take longer but we hope not! We are just five middle-aged women who love swimming – we are not experts. But we are determined, and we’ll do what it takes.”

Training has posed its own challenges this time round.

“It’s been so cold we haven’t been able to go much into the river. We’ve only done about 40 minutes at a time because if you stay in longer, you will become very cold and can get poorly. But really, we must be able to do an hour because that’s what we’ll have to do in the relay,” Fiona explains.

This time the Henley Mermaids are fundraising for four charities: Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation, Cure Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease Association and Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. All funds raised will go directly to the charities and will be split equally between the four. The funds will be used to provide specialist care and support to people with these conditions and their families.

“Neurological conditions do touch a lot of people’s lives and I’ve looked after people with all of these conditions so it will be really nice to support these charities,” Fiona says.

If you’d like to donate to the Mermaids, go to their website henleymermaids.com where you will have a choice to donate to Irish or UK charities. On the site you can also see features on Mermaids’ training and achievements – not to mention future ambitions.

“If all goes well this summer, we’ll be planning for the North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. But I’ve heard it’s full of jellyfish!” Fiona says.

Published: 20 May 2021