Colleen Blair Flying Solo Across North Minch

Colleen Blair Flying Solo Across North Minch

Courtesy of WOWSA, Big Minch, Scotland.

The Minch, also called North Minch, is a strait in northwest Scotland, separating the northwest Highlands and the northern Inner Hebrides from Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

One of the shortest distances across the Minch is the 24 nautical mile (44.4 km) width between Gob Na Miolaid (Isle of Lewis) and Rubha Reigh on the Scottish mainland which is also the boundary between the South Minch (Little Minch) and the North Minch (Big Minch).

Three swimmers set off on July 8th to become the first person to pioneer a solo crossing of The Big Minch.

As Colleen Blair, Colin Macleod and Norman Todd were about to jump in from the boats to start, Macleod and Todd deferred to the bioprening Blair and decided it was best if Blair started on her own and swim her own course. “This was the last time we saw each other on our swims,” recalled Blair.

Blair started her swim at 4:49 am under the auspices of the British Long Distance Swimming Association while Macleod and Todd started a bit later at 4:55 wearing neoprene.

Blair described the venue, “The water temperature varied between 9°C and 13.8°C with the shallower section in the middle of the channel being the warmest section. The wind was due to drop as the swim went on which it did. There was chop and swells at the beginning and just a swell by the end. There were jellyfish throughout the swim. As soon as I jumped in, I was in the middle of a shoal of moon jellyfish. There were also many different types encountered through the swim including Lion’s Mane, compass and blue jellyfish.”

Despite the marine life, Blair’s swim continued well enough following an optimal course until six miles from the end. Blair explained, “The tides are renowned for being difficult. The boatman was Jody McNeil, a local fisherman who knows the waters well, who works with Brian Wilson, a local sea kayaker with a wealth of experience. Both boatman and kayaker tried different options to break through the tide for over five hours with little forward movement.”

The navigational issue was that the swim needed to finish north of the lighthouse for the unprecedented crossing to be located in the North ‘Big’ Minch – but the tide was pushing south. Blair said, “The hope was at slack water, progress would be made. But there was no slack water and when the tide turned, the water flow direction did not change around the lighthouse. Eventually, the decision was made to aim for shore, then I would try swimming up the shore in the shallower waters back to the North Minch.

As the boat moved closer to shore, McNeil noticed an eddy current once in this section of water. Progress was eventually made and I was able to finish just north of Rubh Reigh Lighthouse at 11:35 pm

Her final time was 18 hours 46 minutes.

Unfortunately, due to issues out with their control, neither Macleod or Todd finished, although Macleod found himself in The Minch for nearly 20 hours. Similar to pioneering marathon swims of the previous century around the world, the local community of Giarloch came out to the cliffs above where Blair finished to cheer her on and celebrated her success. The local community council arranged a barbeque and entertainment for the onlookers.

Blair, the Regional Swimming Development Manager – Highlands, Islands & Moray for Scottish Swimming, was grateful for her support, “The swim could not have been down without a great support crew Jody and John, Brian Wilson, observer Ian Reid and crew member Bill Blair.”

Her swim was a charity swim to benefit Scotlands Charity Air Ambulance [see here].

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Steven Munatones