THREE hardy Lewis men are set to swim 21 miles from the Flannan Isles to the Outer Hebrides this summer in aid of the RNLI.
Charity open-water swimmers Colin S Macleod, Ed Smith, and Stuart Baird are busy preparing for The Flannan Isles Mystery Swim – three swimmers representing the three lighthouse keepers who vanished from the rocky outpost in December 1900.
The Team will swim in relay formation, in 45 minute legs, from the Flannan island of Eilean Mor to Uig on the Isle of Lewis.
“The Team can’t wait to get out to Eilean Mor to start the swim, we’re all very excited,” said Team Captain Colin.
“The thing about swimming in the ocean is that you don’t know what’s out there. We’re happy to put our lives on the line to raise money for the RNLI as they do it all the time.
“The RNLI are made up of volunteers who daily put their lives at risk to rescue others. And living on an island, you really do appreciate the work that these men and women do.”
Over 140,000 lives have been saved by RNLI volunteers since the charity’s establishment in 1824.
Reliant on donations and legacies to continue its vital 24/7 lifesaving work at sea, the 237 RNLI lifeboat stations around the coasts of Britain and Ireland last year launched 8,851 times and rescued 8,643 people.
In the Outer Hebrides, the Team’s home, there are three RNLI stations, at Stornoway in Lewis, Leverburgh, Harris, and Barra Island RNLI.
In 2012 experienced open-water swimmer Colin was part of the Big Minch Swim Team. The nine strong swim team raised £23,500 for the RNLI successfully swimming from Ullapool, north west Scotland, to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.
As well as undertaking a number of solo charity swims, Colin also captained the St Kilda Swim Team, which made history as being the first people to swim a 60mile route from Hirta, St Kilda, to Huishinish in Harris in 2015, raising money for four Scottish charities.
Flannan Isles Mystery Swim team mate Ed Smith was a member of the St Kilda Swim Team and again joined Colin and others, including Stuart, in The Shiant Swim (from Lewis to the Shiant islands) in 2016 in aid of the Hebridean Mens’ Cancer Support Group.
Speaking of the 2017 challenge, Colin said: “We often camp at Mealista in Uig and seeing the light flash on Eilean Mor sparked the idea for the swim.
“And anyone who knows the story about the Flannan Lighthouse Keepers, it had to be a team of three swimmers to represent the missing keepers.”
Built in 1899 on Eilean Mor, the Stevenson designed Flannan Isles Lighthouse was manned by Keepers Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and William MacArthur.
In December 1900, a year after the Flannan’s light first shone, the grim discovery of their disappearance was made when replacement Keeper Joseph Moore arrived at the lighthouse to find it empty, the clocks stopped, a half-eaten meal on the table, a chair toppled over, and one of the three oilskin waterproofs still hanging up inside the door.
The true fate of the three men remains to this day unknown, with theories ranging from a rogue wave washing them to sea, to the trio being captured by foreign invaders, or even abducted by aliens.
And the mystery is now being given the Hollywood treatment with filming of ‘Keepers’, starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan, currently taking place in Port Logan, Galloway.
There is no star-treatment for Colin, Ed and Stuart however as they are busy training for their summer adventure.
“We’re always training all year round as we love swimming outdoors in the Western Isles and there are plenty of cracking locations to train,” said Colin.
“We’ll be supported by three kayakers who are kindly giving up their own time to guide us along during the swim,” he continued. “The Team would also like to thank sponsors TalkTalk without whom this event would not have been possible.
“And our support boat Skipper Murdo ‘Murdanie’ MacDonald and crew of the MV Cuma from Island Cruising, have supported us on previous fundraising swims. They are brilliant and are on board again to make this swim another success.”
He added: “Ed, Stuart and myself are working to raise as much awareness about the swim in August, and to raise as much money as possible to the volunteer lifesavers of the RNLI.”
You can find out more about and donate to The Flannan Isles Mystery Swim – as well as more on the islands and their enigmatic past – online at www.theflannanislesmysteryswim.co.uk
And you can keep up to date with how Colin, Stuart and Ed are getting on with training via the public group Facebook page at www.facebook.com, search ‘The Flannan Isles Mystery Swim’.