In April, “06880” reported that Liz Fry successfully swam Cook Strait — the dangerous waters separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
That meant she had conquered 6 of the 7 major open water swims worldwide. The only one left: the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland.
It’s the most challenging of all: very cold, infested with jellyfish, but no wetsuits allowed.
No problem! Last month, Liz — a 1976 Staples High School graduate, longtime Westporter and frequent visitor to the Westport Weston Family YMCA, where she trains — completed the North Channel swim.
She joins a tiny, elite group of men and women who have accomplished all 7 swims.
Here is Liz’s report.
It’s Monday in Donaghadee. The sun is coming out after heavy fog earlier this morning. I went to the starting point at 5:30 a.m., to send off the 4 other swimmers attempting their crossing today.
It’s hard to believe yesterday at 5 a.m. I was scrambling across jagged rocks to find a clear rock to leave from. It was pitch black except for the lights from phones held by the Chunky Dunkers (the group I trained with in Ireland) at the water’s edge to see us off. Quinton, my pilot, has a quick start. You board his boat, and in 15 minutes you are in the water.
Liz Fry (2nd from left) with her crew in Donaghadee harbor.
My crew was incredibly efficient putting on sunscreen and “butt paste” for chaffing. Next thing I knew my cap, earplugs and goggles were on. I jumped in the cold abyss.
I followed the lights on shore and spotlight and managed to avoid many of the sharp rocks, although one got me good. I found a rock that was clear and raised my hand, signaling the start.
It was still very dark. Unfortunately my first hit in a Lion’s Mane jellyfish bloom was in the first 10 minutes. My whole left side took multiple hits as I swam through tentacles, but luckily only one hit across my face.
I felt like Harry Potter. I felt these stings the whole swim, but the pain subsided to tolerable fairly quickly. Salt water is the best medicine. I knew it was only the beginning so I had to keep my head together.
A swarm of jellyfish.
I had my first feed after 1 hour, which is my typical feed schedule. I don’t usually feed well as I am a sinker and struggle to stay above water. However, with the water so cold (12-14 C) we planned to go with 45 minutes after the first feed.
Calories intake were critical. I asked for and received a lot of advice from North Channel swimmers all over the world. I used all I could remember.
With daylight, my crew helped me navigate around the lion’s manes. Several times when I tried to follow, each person on the boat pointed in a different direction.
The jellies were moving towards me faster than I could swim out of the way, or the blooms were so big there was nothing they could do to help. I slowly slid between the jellies and long tentacles as best I could. My crew was brilliant and saved me from so many hits.
About 5 hours in, the impact of the jelly hits affected my breathing. My inhaler for my asthma provided some relief initially. but later did not help. I could not help to think about Attila who spent nearly 3 weeks in the hospital after his attempt last year.
I stayed close to the boat, just in view of Quinton and the observer who never stopped watching me.
Despite the breathing issue I felt very good. My spirits were great, I wasn’t cold, and my crew was brilliant. At 12:30 we saw the lighthouse. Nora kept the whiteboard filled with well wishes from around the world, from friends and family. This is the first time I have had active whiteboard. It was fantastic.
I am happy she didn’t mention the shark fin they saw around 2:30 p.m. It was likely a basking shark — the second largest, but not a carnivore. At my 2 p.m. feed Quinton said, “at this pace we’ll be done in two hours.”
With 2 miles to go, a thick fog rolled in. I could no longer see Scotland or the two boats behind us for a few minutes. The only thing the crew could see was the lighthouse, and hear the foghorn.
The fog lifted above the shore, and I saw where Quinton was trying to land me. I hit the rocks on the shore of Scotland and raised my hands to the sound of the horn. I finished: 11 hours, 13 minutes.
Liz Fry nears the Scottish coast.
As I swam back to the boat, I could only think about how many people helped get me to those rocks. Not just the 6 oceans before, but all the swims and training sessions. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your support.
To say the ride back to Ireland was full of exuberance is an understatement. Even now it is still surreal.
We arrived back to a large welcome crowd of Chunky Dunkers, who had a beautiful blue cake with the number 7 candle. It was fantastic!
After the swim, Liz reported:
All the Channel swimmers I spoke to said my sleep the night after would be restless, due to the jelly fish stings. They were right!
Despite more antihistamines, the stings fired through the night. I burned up one moment; the next I was freezing cold.
It helped that as soon as I got on the boat, I was covered with shaving cream and scraped with credit cards (expired) to remove the barbs and tentacles from my skin.
No words can express my deep love and gratitude for all who traveled to Ireland to support me in this craziness.
It is impossible for me to adequately thank my family, friends and swimming community that supported me, at home and around the world.
Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Every swim has its own level of stress and emotions, but none more than this.
I was terrified, seriously questioning whether even if I could tolerate the cold, would I endure the venom of the Lion’s Manes and other jellyfish?
I did everything I could to prepare for the worst, but still feared that this last Ocean 7 swim could be truly my last. This fear went away soon after I arrived in Donaghadee, not because the threat was no longer there but because my swims in the harbor calmed my anxiety and brought happiness.
I feel so blessed to have swum the North Channel. So the question always is: “Would I do it again?”
I think my next big swims are to complete the Great Lakes. I’d like to start next summer.
(Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)