Iain Armitage and Ben Jowett – The Cross Continental Swim Challenge
With a passion for sport, challenges and raising money for causes they believe in, friends Iain Armitage and Ben Jowett are no strangers to taking on epic challenges. Keen to tackle something different from the usual run or bike ride challenges they decided to take on a swim…from one continent to another of course!
The Cross Continental Swim Challenge starts in Istanbul and the pair were excited to try something different and put themselves out of their comfort zone. “What better way than swimming from Asia to Europe,” said Iain, “which we thought has a suitably dramatic ring to it!”
So since spring this year, Iain and Ben set about preparing to swim such a distance, by swimming at Thorpe Park ski lake every weekend, upping their familiarity with open water swimming and gradually increasing their distances and time in the water.
“The Cross Continental Swim Challenge is an annual event in Istanbul that has been running for over 30 years,” explains Iain, “some 4000 swimmers swim the 6.5km route along the Bosphorous, which Istanbul straddles, starting on the Asian side and finishing on the European side just before the Bosphorous enters the Sea of Marmara.”
Once the friends arrived in Istanbul, they joined all the other challengers on a reconnaissance of the route, travelling along the river by boat and taking in the advice of experienced race directors pointing out landmarks and sight lines to ensure they were on the right track! “We were somewhat perturbed by the massive oil supertankers and cargo ships that steamed past us but happy to hear that despite this being one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, it was going to be shut to traffic on the morning of the swim,” said Iain.
The big day arrived and dressed in optimum swimming attire they were loaded onto two huge ferries, motoring up to the start line which was flanked by police jet skis, helicopters and press boats. “The event is a huge one in Istanbul broadcast on national TV and followed by many supporters along the route, so we felt very humbled to have been allowed to be among the few non-Turkish residents allowed to take part!”
“After a brief manoeuvring of the boats at the start pontoon, we waited for the gun to go and suddenly, we were off! Conventional wisdom is that you strike out at right angles from the shore towards the centre of the Bosphorous, itself some 1000m wide for most of its length. This allows you to reach the fastest flowing part of the river in order to maximise the ‘tailwind’ you get from the river’s flow,” explained Iain.
After the initial melee as the swimmers jockeyed for position, the pair were on their own and able to settle into their strokes comfortably, keeping an eye out for landmarks and pacing themselves for the distance.
“Despite being out in the centre of such a large body of water and with huge suspension bridges above us making us feel very insignificant, the sheer mass of swimmers and the support craft around us made us feel safe and secure, and allowed us to enjoy the view. We finally reached our destination after 1hr and 14mins, with Ben and I finishing only about 3 mins apart (Ben being both a little faster and better looking than me!),” said Iain.
Iain is a stalwart supporter of Shooting Star Chase, and early in the year, was recognised in the Queen’s Honours list with an MBE for his extraordinary achievements in supporting the children’s hospice charity. He first became involved when he experienced first-hand the support provided by Shooting Star Chase. Iain and his wife Charis’ son Lachlan, had an extremely rare genetic disease called Tay Sachs. Following Lachlan’s diagnosis the couple were introduced to our Guildford hospice, Christopher’s. On the day before Lachlan’s third birthday, while surrounded by friends and his favourite toys, Lachlan passed away peacefully.
Since Iain’s involvement in 2006, he has helped raise over £560,000 by hosting incredible fundraising events for the charity. Including numerous cycle rides with his friends and work colleagues all across the country and Europe. In 2014, Iain and his family raised funds to celebrate what would have been Lachlan’s 10th birthday year. The family fun day attracted hundreds of people and during the year an unbelievable £100,000 was raised in celebration of Lachlan.
And of his most recent swimming challenge, Iain said “We were again honoured to have been able to take part in an event with the support of Shooting Star Chase and are looking forward to our next challenge which we are currently plotting for!”