Charity swim from Farnes to mainland

From left, Sylvia Bland, Jill Henderson, Jane Hardy and Claire Thorburn, who swam from Inner Farne to Bamburgh in one hour.
From left, Sylvia Bland, Jill Henderson, Jane Hardy and Claire Thorburn, who swam from Inner Farne to Bamburgh in one hour.

A Bamburgh woman overcame her fear of sharks, jellyfish and what lies beneath to complete her Farne Island Mermaid Swim this week.

PR consultant Claire Thorburn, along with fellow ‘mermaids’ Jill Henderson, Jane Hardy and Sylvia Bland, touched the whin-sill rock of Inner Farne before striking out to swim the 3km channel between the islands and the Northumberland coast – a feat that has seldom been achieved – in just one hour.

Claire Thorburn

Claire Thorburn

“I can’t quite believe I’ve done it. It feels absolutely incredible,” Claire said.

“It has been a long-standing ambition for me to complete the swim and one I’ve been told so many times is impossible to do.

“There are very strong currents and tide races between the islands which is why so few people have attempted it. I only know a handful of people who have completed it, including one of my wing women – Jane Hardy.

“William Shiel, of Billy Shiel’s Farne Island Boat Trips, was absolutely invaluable.

The mermaids team head out to start the swim. Picture by Sophie Storey

The mermaids team head out to start the swim. Picture by Sophie Storey

“It is down to his expertise and phenomenal local knowledge of these waters that we were able to pinpoint Monday at 3pm as being the best date and time to try to attempt the swim because the tides were at their slackest.

“We were very lucky because, although there was a bit of a swell, William gave us the green light to set out on the day.

“Alan Leatham, who captained our support vessel – which William provided free of charge on the day – was amazing at helping us to stay on course during the swim.

“When you are in open water, the height of the waves can make it difficult to get your bearings on land, and Alan, along with our support team on the boat, including my dad, John Thorburn, helped guide us safely home.”

The team during the swim from the Farne Islands to Bamburgh.

The team during the swim from the Farne Islands to Bamburgh.

And as well as the core team, Claire was touched by the backing she received from others, many of whom were there to support her on the day.

“I was absolutely knocked for six by the amazing support of my family, friends and well-wishers who had gathered at the harbour to see us off with banners and cheers,” she said. “It was very emotional.

“I would like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart – which thankfully is not several fathoms deep – for digging deep to support me.

“Donations for my swim have poured in from around the world, as have the messages of support. I have raised more than £3,000 for The Alzheimer’s Society and British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which is simply staggering.”

The 'mermaids' celebrate with a well-earned drink after completing the swim.

The 'mermaids' celebrate with a well-earned drink after completing the swim.

But Claire admits it was not all plain sailing: “I had a major wobble earlier in the morning of my swim – there were tears.

“Although I knew I had trained hard and was more than capable of completing the distance, it was such a big psychological challenge to face, not knowing whether I would be able to manage to swim against the currents, what it would be like swimming in dark seas where you cannot see the sea bed, keeping calm and not panicking about my fears and just to keep swimming.

“We saw a few jelly fish along the way, but not a shark in sight!

“It was an incredible experience and I am hugely proud to have completed it.

“We were prepared to be in the water for two to three hours, so to complete it in such a fast time was amazing and is a testament to William’s expertise and the amazing ladies I trained and swam with.”

You can donate to the charities via www.justgiving.com/teams/ClaireThorburn