Yesterday I completed the Bournemouth Pier to Pier Swim in 45 minutes, raising £461 for the British Heart Foundation (BHF). I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who has supported me and donated to this excellent charity. If you’ve still to make a donation you can do so right up until 13 October 2013 by clicking on this link:

The annual pier to pier swim is the largest charity swim in Europe and requires participants to swim 1.4 miles in the English Channel between Bournemouth Pier and Boscombe Pier. At this time of year water temperatures are 14°C on average.

My Experience

My training for this event began 3 months ago just after my registration. I had always wanted to do an open water sea swim and this event offered up the perfect opportunity to fulfil this ambition, raise money for a good cause and get in shape for my upcoming wedding.

Training consisted of weekly swimming sessions at the David Lloyd Leisure Centre in Stevenage, whereby I would aim to complete 100 lengths of their 25 metre swimming pool without stopping or touching the sides / floor. I built on this with trips to the gym, working on general fitness and endurance.

My preparations were going well until a few days before the event my wetsuit flooded. As there wasn’t time to find, test and acclimatise to a suitable replacement I made the decision to brave the open waters in my shorts.


During my training I had read several blogs about open water swimming, technique and this event in particular. By far the best blog I read was Swim Smooth which helped to improve my technique considerably. Most blogs mention how cold the English Channel is and this coupled with my wetsuit issue became a source of worry for me.

On the day of the event, the build-up to the swim could not have gone any worse. I got caught in a traffic jam, was then given incorrect directions to Bournemouth Pier and on the way to the pier cut my leg on a railing (Great White Sharks can sense a drop of blood from a mile away ;-) ). This meant that I only just arrived in time for the swim, had no time to test out the water temperature or adequately prepare.

As the swim started I ventured into the water in my shorts, swim cap, goggles and ear plugs. I stepped into the water and my first thought was that this was one big mistake and how on earth am I going to manage to swim to Boscombe? However, after submerging myself I decided to keep swimming, rather than jumping out, which is what I really wanted to do. After about 20 minutes of swimming my body stopped stinging from the cold, I started to relax and thought to myself if there are any sharks then they can go ahead and eat me as nothing’s going to stop me reaching the finish line.

Throughout the swim I used landmarks on the shore as a guide to let me know how well I was progressing. I primarily swam breast stroke and occasionally switched to front crawl if I needed to overtake another participant or gain speed.

There were 4 buoys dotted along the route and after what seemed like no time at all I approached the last and began to head for the finish line; increasing the speed of my breast stroke and finishing with some front crawl.

Upon exiting the water (in the usual Daniel Craig fashion) my Dad informed me that I had completed the swim in 45 minutes. I felt a mixture of pride that I’d completed the challenge without the aid of a wet suit and relief that I was now warm and could enjoy a wonderful day sunbathing with my Mum, Dad, Brother Josh and Fiancée Debbie.

Josh O'Neil & Stephen O'Neil

Josh O’Neil & Stephen O’Neil, The Finish Line, Boscombe 2013

If you’re considering participating in this event next year I’d recommend that you sign up and give it a go.

One final thought: as I exited the water I felt that if I had completed the swim in a wet suit then I would have missed out on a wonderful experience; I’d also be £150 down. Considering swimming skins? Go for it!