Ailsa swimmer Ros takes 7.5 mile detour

A FUNDRAISING swim from Ailsa Craig to Girvan ended in real-life drama for plucky Ros Surtees.

For the 52-year-old social worker from Stranraer was swept away by the Saturday morning tide until it left her near the Pebbles health spa, south of Lendalfoot.

And by the time Ros had fought her way back through the cold Clyde Estuary currents and an Atlantic swell to the beach at the Shalloch car park, on the A77 just south of Girvan, the original 10-mile estimate had become 17.5.

Ros had been in the water for an officially verified eight hours, 27 minutes and 44 seconds. She will enter the record books as only the second person to have completed the gruelling swim from the iconic granite outcrop to the Scottish mainland. The first was Maggie Kidd, who made the crossing a quarter of a century ago, aged 17.

Patchy communications between the safety boat and shore led to an unplanned dummy run for the reception committee when a lone swimmer rounded the rocks and clambered up the beach.

It was only when pace swimmer Ian Hannah pulled back the cap of his wet suit that onlookers realised he had been unable to find Ros, who was still 'lost' at sea.

Two hours later, as Ros staggered up the beach at the end of her ordeal on behalf of Alzheimer Scotland, she was met by a couple of hundred supporters including fellow social workers Suzanne Mitchell and Eleanor Bishop.

She was piped ashore by Lochryan Pipe Major Andy Nicol, who lives near Ros and Eleanor at Kirkcolm, and colleagues from the Stranraer African Drummers pounding out Mzumba - roughly translated as girl-power music.

Andy had picked a medley of traditional airs for the occasion, including Scotland The Brave, Highland Laddie and, rather aptly, Will Ye No Come Back Again?

At the time, the exhausted but elated swimmer could only manage a few words for assembled wellwishers: "I don't think I'm looking my best," and "I've never been so hungry in all my life!"

After a day recovering, Ros was back at work in Stranraer on Monday and said during an afternoon phonecall to the Gazette: "My coach Harry (Harbottle] had trained me really hard, ready for any eventuality.

"Without that extra effort, I would never have been able to make it."

According to Ros, the first six hours had gone smoothly. Then she struggled against a strong Atlantic swell, caused by hurricanes and storms thousands of miles away.

However, for much of the way she had a real morale booster in the shape of 'Big Ed' the seal.

"Apparently there were others all around me when we left Ailsa Craig but the only one I could see was this dog seal with a big head and huge whiskers," Ros said.

"I could feel him on my toes and sense him swimming underneath me. It was a magnificent, magical experience."

She had another support swimmer for the last leg - Harry Harbottle: "He swam alongside to make sure that no one touched me before I walked up the beach," Ros said.

"That was the to make sure that everything was done by the book for the official records."

Her only disappointment was that swimmer Maggie hadn't been there to greet her. She'd broken a leg and wasn't able to travel but Ros hopes Maggie can be involved in a charity presentation later this year.

Now the long-distance champion plans to get back in the water within the next two weeks - but only at Stranraer's Ryan Centre pool for the immediate future.

Ruling out an attempt to cross the English Channel as "too expensive" at 2,000, Ros said there were plenty of other challenging stretches in Scottish waters .

Donations for Alzheimer Scotland are still welcome.

Organiser Suzanne said the current total based on the swim stood at 5,866 but it was hoped that other sponsored events would increase that to at least 10,000.

Anyone interested in making a contribution can do so via the websites http://rossurtees.blogspot.com /;http://www.ailsacraigswimchallenge.moonfruit.com/ and http:// www.justgiving.com/rossurtees/.