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.

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