What's in a swim?

Swimmer Anna Wardley with support boats
Swimmer Anna Wardley with support boats as she makes her way round the Isle of Wight Photo: Simon Jessop

Endurance swimmer, Anna Wardley, 37, has become the first person in almost 30 years to swim around the Isle of Wight solo and non-stop, completing the 56-mile swim in 26 hours, 33 minutes and 28 seconds.

Her time makes her the second woman to succeed at the gruelling challenge and only the fourth person to do so, beating the time of the first man to swim the course, Kevin Murphy, the King of the English Channel, who was one of the two official observers on board Anna's fleet of seven support boats.

Born in Sheffield, now living in Gosport in Hampshire, Anna has been training for two years for the swim, which was the final hurdle in her Five Island Swim Challenge, with the aim of raising funds three good causes: the Samaritans, Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust and Sail Africa.

So far she raised more than £47,000 for charity through her swimming challenges including the English Channel, a Double Windermere and the Gibraltar Straits.

As part of the Five Island Swim Challenge, Anna circumnavigated Dragonera off Mallorca, Portsea Island in Hampshire, and Jersey. Low sea temperatures forced her to abandon her attempt to swim around Tiree in the Inner Hebrides 20 miles into the 30-mile swim.

Anna walked in to the water at Ryde on the Isle of Wight on Friday morning, touching the end of the pier at 10.30am to begin the challenge. Intensive training sessions beforehand meant she was fairly confident she would could reach St Catherine’s Point on the south side of the island in favourable tides and she made it an hour ahead of schedule.

Before the swim Anna had told her support team, “I see The Needles down around St Catherine’s to Ventnor as the make or break part for me.”

This swim means so much to me, my plan is to get out at the finish. It’s a horrible feeling to have to get back in the boat like I had to in Tiree and I don’t plan to do it this time."

– Anna Wardley, speaking ahead of her attempt to swim round the Isle of Wight

The powerful start allowed the swimmer to continue to Ventnor by midnight before the tide turned and she faced a mentally and physically challenging six hours, swimming against the tide in the pitch darkness.

As the sun rose on the second day, a straight line course across the bay to Culver Cliff and on to Bembridge Ledge, saw Anna looking as though she had the strength to finish the challenge and her support team cheered her on round the corner and on to the home strait.

Isle of Wight residents had followed her progress throughout the swim and turned out in force on the seafront to cheer her on.

Anna struggled with the final mile, after completing 99,000 strokes in the previous 26 hours. She said each pull of her arms demanded all the willpower she possessed.

She finally touched the pier to complete her epic swim to blasts on the horns of the flotilla of boats, cheers from the passengers who had gathered on the top deck of the Wightlink ferry to wait for her to finish, and applause from the public gathered on the dock.

Anna Wardley with a support boat during her round the island swim
Credit: Simon Jessop

I’m utterly exhausted but over the moon. It’s a dream come true. I’ve trained so hard for two years so I knew I could do it. And to add my name to the list of the three long distance swimming heroes that completed the swim in the 1970s and 80s is a total honour."

– Anna Wardley, after completing her swim around the Isle of Wight

In a time of 26 hours, 33 minutes and 28 seconds, Anna was faster than the first man to complete the course, Kevin Murphy, but not as quick as Michael Reed MBE, who took 24 hours and 36 minutes in August 1973, and the only other woman to complete the challenge and last person to do so until today, Alison Streeter MBE, who took 21 hours and 2 minutes in 1984.

Kevin Murphy, who has completed 32 English Channel crossings, said, “It was an epic swim, an inspiration to watch, and a marvellous achievement. Anna's willpower is incredible. She kept going and never once faltered. It was a privilege to see it.”

After the swim, Anna said, “Thank you to all my supporters, especially the residents of the Isle of Wight who came out all the way round the course. It really did help spur me on, especially as those last miles were seriously tough. But the thought that I might have hit my fundraising target, thanks too to the generous people who donated online during the swim, kept pushing me along.

“There was no way I was getting back in a boat before I’d finished. I set off from Ryde yesterday morning and that was where I was going to finish.”

For more information visit www.annawardley.com.