©Paul McCambridge

Words by Michelle Macy 15th July 2021

July 15th, 2013 seems a world away from where we are today.  In some ways, it is hard for me to remember that day at all.  I do know that this was a 2nd go at the North Channel after an attempt where I mentally freaked myself out thinking about sharks and then attempted a very early swim in June.  The whole shark freak out was that there is the very rare case of white sharks in the North Channel, but basking sharks are more common.  They apparently look very similar and one way to tell the difference is by the number of gills.  Not super relaxing as I didn’t want to get that close to a shark to be able to count the gills.  Side note:  I have a highly irrational fear of sharks. 

American marathon swimmer Michelle Macy became the first American to complete the Oceans 7 Challenge and the 3rd ever. Michelle’s last swim was the notoriously tough North Channel between Ireland and Scotland which she did in a new record time of 9hr 34mins, a record that has stood for 25 years when Alison Streeter clocked up a time of 9hr and 53mins.

On this swim to reduce anxiety and to feel I had support closer to me in the water who might be able to count shark gills, I worked with Quinton and local friends to have a kayaker in the water with me on the swim.  While it added some logistical operations to the swim regarding swapping of kayakers, it did alleviate my nerves and provided some unintended benefit of allowing us to not have to be as close to the escort boat reducing wave backsplash and any residual smell of diesel. 

Leaving Donaghadee

And my friends quickly adapted to the change out in the kayak from Quinton’s boat.
From that point on, I knew that I had the strongest team in place to support me in my swimming mantras for the day:

  • We are going to have a safe and relaxed swim.
  • You are made for cold water and excel there.
  • You have prepared for this swim and are focused.
  • Control what you can control and let go of the rest.

That last mantra became key as it quickly became apparent that this swim was going to be plagued by jellyfish.  I couldn’t control the jellyfish.  I couldn’t stop being stung.  I could only control my mental reaction and hope that my physical body would hold up against the onslaught of stings.  I did quickly add a new mantra to the list above…The jellies should not kill you.  
With those mantras in mind, my strong belief in my crew, Quinton’s team, and my kayakers, it was my job to just swim and do the best I could on the day.  They would do everything else to ensure success.

We also did our best to instill some fun into the day.  We had a seal that seemed very interested in our adventure and it followed closely for a long time.  It was only after we found and “rescued” a random soccer ball floating in the middle of the channel that the seal disappeared.  Perhaps that was the seal’s Wilson and we had removed it’s friend.  I still have the soccer ball to this day in my office signed by all the people who were responsible for success that day.  It is a treasured reminder of the day.  

Did I go out to break a record?  No, I did not.  I believe my crew had this possibility in the back of their minds.  For me, I had created enough anxiety in my previous attempt so really my focus was on the mantra above and staying in the water without giving myself a heart or panic attack.  Am I glad that we got the record, yes it was a shock and super surprising on the day, but it really is a testament to what my crew and Quinton and his team accomplished.  They kept me calm.  They kept me in the game and they kept the swim light and fun.  I believe for those reasons alone, it created the space for me to swim and the record came along for the ride. 

©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media

It is to Quinton, his crew, Erin, Paul, Conleth, and Maureen (the official observer) that we were successful on the day.  I just put one arm in front of the other and didn’t let the jellies win on the day.  Thank you just doesn’t begin to describe my gratitude.

A few words from boat pilot Quinton Nelson of Nelson Boats and Pilotin

Michelle Macy first came to attempt the North Channel swim in 2012.

We set off on a glorious day, flat calm and brilliant sunshine on a route I had pioneered way back in 1988 with only the second female swimmer ever to conquer the North Channel, Margaret Kidd  and still the youngest female swimmer to complete it.

The swim was going extremely well, we had covered 12.5 miles in a little over 4 hours when Michelle decided to give it up.

I was a bit surprised as we were doing so well, but Michelle had it in her mind that this was only to be a trial swim to check out the conditions and possibly me. My crew and myself could see this was going to be something special, we must have done alright as she booked for the following year.

The swim in 2013, again set off in as ideal conditions as the North Channel allows and it became very clear, very soon, this was indeed going to be something special.

The pace was excellent, never faltered and at lunchtime we could see the end in sight.

The finish in 9hrs 34 minutes set a new world record for the North Channel, a superb attempt, which has not been equalled.

It was a privilege to meet and pilot Michelle on this epic.

Further reading on Michelle’s Record North Channel Swim and completion of Oceans 7 Swim Challenge

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