SAUL HINDSON hauled himself into the boat and collapsed in a soaking wet, breathless heap worn out but most of all heart-crushingly disappointed.
He and the rest of his Little Minch charity swimmers had given it their all and were within four-miles of touching land in Skye when a severe weather warning forced them to call time on their heroic efforts.
The Stornoway seven had taken to the sea at Rodel, Harris, late on Thursday night to swim the 13 miles to Skye before touching land to swim back – all in the name of charity.
But even before they set off their hopes began to unravel with a mix of weather concerns, sea sickness and darkness ganging up on the pals who had raised more than £4,000 for Cancer Research.
They had planned to cover the 13-mile stretch in half-an-hour relay stints but when four of them, Chris Baker, Fraser Millar, Andrew Johnson and Tariq Hussain, were left wiped out by sea-sickness it mean Saul and two other swimmers, Colin Macleod and Rodney Jamieson, were forced to do longer swims in the choppy Little Minch.
It had been a near eight-hour sea adventure for the gang who had a couple of near misses with a nosey whale and an oblivious yacht who were subsequently introduced to the Pirates of the Hebridean.
Despite losing more than half the team to crippling sea sickness the remaining trio were confident of finishing the job until the weather warning came in of rising gales which took the wind out of their sails.
Hindson though has vowed they will finish the job they started and raise even more cash for the Cancer Research coffers next year where they will use the experience of their first attempt to reach for Skye.
“We are going to do it again, most likely next June, and we’ll make it all the way this time,” insisted Hindson, with a steely look of determination.
“We learned a lot from this attempt though which we will use next year. One of the biggest things we’ll take from it is that it is more productive to have longer stints in the water followed by longer rest periods and next time we will do at least 45-minute stints.”
It was pitch black when the boys entered the water off Rodel Pier in Harris and Hindon says conditions were idyllic and dream-like which fuelled their hope that it would be an adventure to remember.
““No one had swum at night before but when we got in the water at around 10:30pm it was pitch black. But the swimmer had a glow-stick on their back, they were supported by a kayak alongside them, a rib behind them and the boat out in front with lights on,” he explained.
“When we set out it was like something out of a fantasy movie. The water was flat calm, the night was clear without a cloud in the sky and there were piles of shooting stars up above.
“I’ve seen Bioluminescence before but never the way I saw it when we set out as when we splashed the water it was like an explosion of glowing lights and Chris (Baker) was as excited as a kid splashing around. It was beautiful.”
The swim team had practiced hard for their marathon minch crossing with a host of trial sea swims around Lewis and Harris but their well-thought out plans sunk when half the team were left out of action due to sea sickness.
“We had estimated about ten-hours each way for the swim which is around 13-miles in a straight line but it is impossible to swim that way with the tides and swell so it is more like 15 or 16 miles each way instead,” began Hindson.
“We had originally planned to do half an hour relay stints but we increased that to 45-minutes then to an hour as it went on as we had to try and make the time up.
“With four of the team sick the biggest problem for the three swimmers left was getting long enough to rest between swims sp we opted for longer stints in the water followed by longer rest periods.
“The sea began to get a little choppier as the daylight came in but although it was getting a little worse it was never bad enough to make us want to stop.
“But then the forecast came in for a Force 6 which we couldn’t risk with a rib or a kayak in the water.
“We had a Lifeboat crew member on the swim team and also another in the boat so we had to heed to their advice as they clearly knew the dangers of the forecast and we had to stop.”
Their adventure wasn’t without the odd heart-in-mouth moment and never more so than when Rodney Jamieson’s swims were interrupted by a whale and a yacht.
“Our two hairiest moments both came when Rodney was in the water,” Hindson revealed. “The first was when one of our kayakers heard a whale coming up in the darkness nearby but the other was when a yacht steered straight into our path.
“It was a big double-masted yacht which came straight in behind the support vessel where both the swimmer and the kayak were.
We had to phone the boat the tell them and they had to pick Rodney out of the water then charge up to the yacht to ask them to change path and bypass what was happening.
“I’m sure they saw us approaching and thought we were the Pirates of the Hebridean coming after them.”
When the weather warning came in the team could see Skye in the distance with Hindson admitting he was hell-bent, as were his now recovering team mates who had been ill, on pushing on through the ever-rising waves to reach the island before he realised he had to bow to superior knowledge and experience of the sea.
“I did want to carry on regardless and finish the final four miles to Skye just to do it. Chris did too and despite having been desperately ill he pulled his wetsuit back on to offer to jump back in too but we just couldn’t risk it.
“It was a very difficult decision to make but we simply had to listen to the advice of the people on board.
“The weather warning was for a Force 6 to come in anytime in the next 12-hours and it proved right as I was on the boat which travelled from Rodel to Stornoway and when we reached Scalpay the boat was almost surfing the waves so to be out in that in a rib would have been far too dangerous.
“It was a great effort though and thanks to all the boys on the swim team and to PJ McLaughlin and Mark Stokes (Kayak), Ken Macarthur (rib) and Alastair Macinnes (boat) and we’ll be back to finish the job next year and raise even more money for charity by then too.”