Announcing the North Channel Swimming Association

Both North Channel routes. The “new” route is the more southerly of the two.

The tenth of November, 2018 sees the launch of the new North Channel Swimming Association, with a public announcement by Channel Swimmer  and inaugural Chairperson Antonio Argules in San Francisco (and here on Loneswimmer).

Since before Tom Blower’s first successful North Channel solo in 1947 (previously covered on Loneswimmer here), North Channel swim attempts have been all been governed by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA).

The new NCSA announcement is made in conjunction with the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA), which has indicated it will recognise NCSA Channel Swims for the Ocean’s Seven.




Disclaimer: I have been asked and accepted that should a dispute ever arise over a swim, I will be one of a number of independent arbitrators. I have no further involvement other than being a correspondent of some of the people involved. I have also crewed a number of North Channel solo swims with Quinton Nelson and Mark Hamilton.

The team behind the NCSA includes:

  • Quinton Nelson, pioneering skipper who opened up the “new” route with Fergal Sommerville‘s record-setting coldest and boldest North Channel records Swim.
  • Brian Maharg, highly respected veteran North Channel pilot, who single-handedly kept North Channel attempts going for decades.
  • Maggie Gibson, still I believe the youngest ever North Channel swimmer
  • Mark Hamilton, pilot and probably the most experienced North Channel crew and observer
  • Antonio Argules, Ocean’s Seven swimmer.
Killintrangan Lighthouse, on the Scottish side of the North Channel

Killintrangan Lighthouse, on the Scottish side of the North Channel


I am of the view that this is a good thing for the sport of marathon swimming. (I am not claiming any credit for the idea, nor have I been involved in the setup of the new association, but it has been in discussion for a few years and I am heartened to see it come to fruition).

You may ask, why? (Or maybe you won’t).

The ILDSA has had a great majority of highly reputable people involved over the years, who have all wanted the good of the sport and the opening up of the Channel. Since Irishman Stephen Redmond first completed it, the increasing popularity of the Ocean’s Seven, amongst those with the inclination, time and wherewithal to pursue it, combined with the new route, has led to a massive surge in popularity and demand over the last decade.

However I have long believed that the ILDSA has seemed more like a regional swim club trying to be a national organisation and ratifying body, but without the resources or discipline to so do. As a consequence it has often struggled to succeed at any of its primary tasks and for the majority of Channel swimmers in Ireland, it seems largely irrelevant. In addition there have in recent years been a number of internecine problems, which I have written about elsewhere (though these seem largely resolved, they were very troubling for a number of years). As someone who brought some of these problems out into the open, I may not be the most popular person in the ILDSA, but my reason for doing so was the same reason I welcome the NCSA: It is better for swimmers.

doubtless the ILDSA will continue to act as a ratifying organisation, and the North Channel will therefore have two organisations. Like the CS&PF and CSA for the English Channel, there will likely be a split between those who will say only they hold the record books, and those who have broken off. I have asked that the NCSA recognise all ILDSA swims but right now I cannot say that this is guaranteed. Nor can I comment about whether the ILDSA will so do.

I do know that the people I have involvement with in the NCSA are also very reputable.

However, I have long believed and continue to believe, that swimmers are often forgotten in the politics of swim organisations. There are similar problems with organisations in Gibraltar, Tsugaru, Lake Tahoe, Pacific North West, Great Lakes, some of which problems have not come out publicly, because swimmers can be ignored, taken advantage of financially, or had changes in conditions forced upon them. My email has no small number of swim stories from around the world, and the one unifying aspect seems to be that the swimmers feel they cannot speak about the problems, and since the community is so small, they can’t even use a proxy to describe their problems.

People on one side who claim they are for the swimmers, will in other circumstances where they are involved with an organisation castigate and blame swimmers over asking for transparency, or accountability. Swim politics is no different from any other sphere of human interaction therefore. There is and will always be a tension between those who are driven to swim, for whatever reason, and those who facilitate the need.  I have the luxury of holding to what I try to be a 100% uncompromising position about honesty and integrity because that is more important to me than the swimming ever is.

Of course it’s not that straightforward. WOWSA recognising the NCSA is unnecessary, and that is itself contentious, as WOWSA, despite its name is no more or less that an advertising platform that uses swimming and the Ocean’s Seven as its vehicle. Its title belies the fact that “World” in its name means nothing really. WOWSA is also open to question about its motivations and its attempt to manipulate Ocean’s Seven swimmers to only use one organisation over another, and to threaten to withhold Ocean’s Seven ratification to a swimmer choosing another organisation.

I seem to have gone a bit off topic here from the question I asked above. Forgive me, I find I am still as passionate about swimming and what I believe are some of the problems that afflict swimmers as I have always been, but I didn’t want to go off on a rant.

For those of us with one or more marathon swims, marathon swimming is one way that we find out about ourselves. The compulsion and need to swim is overwhelming at times.  If I have learned anything in all these years, it is only this, and about myself, the rest being extrapolation. The arena in which we carry out this measurement is the ocean. Despite our range of personalities and beliefs and reasons, we by-and-large swim for ourselves. And in this pursuit assistance is essential, such that I said years ago there is really no such thing as a solo swimmer. I write Loneswimmer because I think it contributes or helps  swimmers learn. to swim more. I co-wrote the Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, because I thought they were essential for the future of the sport. I co-founded the Marathon Swimmers Federation because I thought back then that it was essential for swimmers to be able to take more control of their sport. Not all these things have led where I hoped but the motivation remained and remains the same: What is good for the swimmers?

So I think the introduction of the NCSA is good because it will allow aspirants more choice. I cannot say that it will improve costs, reduce booking times or eliminate bureaucratic and political problems but  swimmers have at least one more option.

Therefore I wish the NCSA and all its swimmers success for the future. As I also wish for the ILDSA and its swimmers.


Unrelated Postscript:

I have been writing for eight years. There was never any break in writing until this year. This is not a result of lack of ideas. A number of articles are in various states of progress and hopefully I will be able to return to posting on a regular schedule.


14 thoughts on “Announcing the North Channel Swimming Association

  1. Hi Donal,

    Liked your article very much. Agree in the general tone and almost all points.

    One thing you should know–Quinton reached out to me to be on the board for appeals, and I said yes, so I’m involved. On the other side, I’ve heard from Infinity (Padraig) that they did not reach out. I’m hoping to rectify this. I think Infinity would very much like to be a part of the new organization as they’ve had the same challenges with the ILDSA (as did I personally).

    Thanks for what you said about WOWSA. I think you already know how I feel about SM. I do have to say, though–the event this weekend (even if it was a SM money grab), was really good as it brought a lot of people together. I did go (just to the day sessions), and saw (and met) a lot of people who have great integrity and also are great swimmers.

    Looking forward to you next post. I’ll be in Ireland in March…maybe enjoy a little suffering with me and get in a quick swim?

    Hope you’re well,




    • Thanks Steve. Well let’s hope our services as arbitrators in case of appeal are never needed!. Sure, I’d should be fine to swim in March, so long as yuu remeber it’s the coldest time of the year, and I’m not doing the cold training you are, so it’ll be very short! Stay in touch.


  2. Tahoe gets up to 1718C in the summer and yes down to about 35F in Winter.
    The presence of another NC organization just shows that there’s room for many organizations ready to ratify swims. It’s a big playground. As long as there is transparency in all aspects of all the organizations it’s a good thing!
    Suzie Dods
    SF CA


  3. Apologies for drifting off-topic, but curious what you real swimmers made of Ross Edgley’s swim around Britain? I say real swimmers without an ounce of cynicism. I am just a paddler in comparison to the swimmers who occupy these pages. But I am curious. Clearly, from the little I do know about channel swimming, this was a different animal altogether. And you would need to be hugely fit, insufferably cheery, and slightly unhinged to even take this on. Any thoughts?


    • It’s a good question Declan. I would guess that 80% of all Irish or UK Channel swimmers have mused to themselves in the past:
      I could be the first to swim around Ireland, or the UK“, as the case may be. Nights have been spent in far flung locations with groups of channel swimmers shit-talking this stuff. So why didn’t they do so?

      This two overwhelming reasons are …time and money. Waheh! No surprise so. I did a back of an envelope calculation for a swim around Ireland some years ago, and figured it would cost a couple of hundred thousand. I estimated around Ireland would take probably 6 months, you’d need two boats, a full time crew, and wages and support and running costs. I also thought that it was a minimum of a two year project assuming already being experienced. The only way to do it is with sponsorship, and it’s such a marginal sport, and the small population etc…. I could argue those guesses with myself, but no matter, it’s a significant effort.

      Swimming is unlike say a walk or cycle across the USA for example, the type of endurance pursuits to which it is often compared. With a walk the length of the US, for example, you can start easy and improve in fitness and lose weight while walking. Same for cycling. But with a big swim, you can’t really swim your way into fitness if you don’t have a good starting technique, and without some OW experience, you will inevitably get injured. And for a long duration stage swim, you’d need to start with excess weight to account for using 8000 to 12,000 calories required per day 9no wetsuit). So you’d probably need at least a year of training and preparation. Two years would probably be better. Dan Martin spent three years preparing for his transatlantic swim attempt because he was hoping to do it as a skin swimmer (and it never happened due in part in the end due to the financial burden).

      But the weight issue and cold and recovery is eliminated or very greatly reduced if you wear a wetsuit. I heard Ross Edgely talking about jelly stings to the face of example. Sure, that’s annoying. But without a wetsuit, multiple jelly stings all over the body will have the toxin bio-accumulate in the joints and swimming and movement can become impossible, due to increasing pain.

      So for Ross Edgely and these type of swims, the first big achievement is finding the money, and not having to think about the rest of your life. So it definitely something that is better suited to someone who makes a living out of “adventure” and I think that goes to what you are saying, that it almost takes a certain amount of getting into something without realising how big it is, and having that nothing is impossible attitude.

      I think, from what little I know about Ross Edgely, and it’s very little, I heard him say he didn’t come ashore for 150 days. I have the smallest inkling of that, and that is phenomenal when those days are mostly spent swimming. There seems a lot of talk about his decaying tongue, and I’ve been asked about that (as a lot of channel swimmers get it) and his Chef even left a comment on Loneswimmer on an old article about salt mouth being a limiting factor in marathon swimming that I wrote. That is a huge problem, and being able to endure it is no small feat.

      I don’t have a Chef…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cheers Donal. Thanks for the comprehensive reply. It is certainly quite an achievement, no doubt about it. And fundamentally not a runner unless you are sponsored by someone like Red Bull who definitely go in for this line of adventure. Funnily enough, I was just watching Ant Middleton (him of ‘Super Army Soldiers’ fame) on the telly last night relating his Everest summit experience, during which he nearly died, another climber was seconds from being cut off the rope and a sherpah passed away in front of him. And at the very end of the documentary, he says he’d do it all again. I guess one of these bouts of Red Bull madness will end badly one day, and that might be the end of the money.
        And alas, I too have no chef 😉


  4. Thank goodness the swimmers of the world have you to explain the true nature of things, Donal. World’s greatest unintentionally hilarious swimming blog.


    • I just got done swimming in Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata, MN last Nov 1st. Water Temp was 43-45 degrees.
      I assume Lake Tahoe in the summer is maybe 50-55 on the surface? Wintertime 35 degrees? Am I close?


    • One more thing, In Lake Minnetonka I swam for about 30 mins without a wetsuit in 43-45 degree water. Not sure what % of cold water swimmers swim suited or bare back?


  5. Sounds like a bunch of horse shit to me!

    Another sanctioning body to take people’s money and waste their time. Pretty soon, the North Channel will be like the English Channel and no one will give a damn!

    Have a ball!

    Andrew McLaughlin


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