Scot sets new record for swimming the English Channel

A Scot has set a new record for swimming the English Channel – a feat that was inspired by the healing properties of the open water on his own mental health.

Andrew Donaldson, 31, crossed from Shakespeare Beach in Dover to Cap Gris-Nez in France in exactly eight hours, breaking a 34-year-old record by five minutes and claiming the fastest time of the past decade

Mr Donaldson is originally from West Kilbride, where he spent much of his days training in the Vikingar pool in Largs, the Auchenharvie in Saltcoats and the Tollcross National Centre in Glasgow.

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After relocating to Perth, Australia, he retired from swimming in 2016 to focus on a career in chartered accountancy, but ended up back in the water after struggling with his mental health.

Mr Donaldson, now relaxing at home and enjoying the odd trip to Greggs, described crossing the Channel as “the toughest thing I have ever done”.

He said: “I have done a few marathon swims before, but nothing compares to the Channel. They say the Channel is the Everest of swimming and it lives up to its billing.

Andy Donaldson is raising money for the Black Dog Institute, which funds global research into mental health. PIC: Contributed.

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“It’s a bucket list item for a lot of people. Obviously from a physical point of view it was very demanding, but also from a mental point of view it was a challenge. It’s not just when you are in the water, but during the week before you go, when you don’t know when you are going to swim, you are waiting for the right conditions, the right tides. That’s tough.”

The English Channel crossing was the first stretch in the Oceans Seven challenge, which will take Mr Donaldson around the world to swim in open water, from the Cook Strait in New Zealand to the North Strait of the Irish Sea, to raise money for the Black Dog Institute and global research into mental health.

The swimmer described how his own mental health started to deteriorate while training as a chartered accountant, when long days of work and study dominating his free time left him with “no balance” and his wellbeing slipping away.

After a period in South America travelling, Mr Donaldson returned to Australia as Covid hit and then got back into the water after an old friend encouraged him to do so. He switched from the pool to the open waters of Western Australia.

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Andrew Donaldson swims the English Channel and sets a new British record by completing the crossing in 8 hours exactly. PIC: Andy Donaldson.

“You are talking about some of the purest, some of the clearest waters in the world,” he said. “You are out at 6:30am, the sun is coming up. You are surrounded by natural elements and it is hard to beat. It is very freeing.”

Mr Donaldson said he hit the big challenge in the English Channel around the six-hour mark.

"I had never swam for that long before and I was running on fumes,” he said.

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“My team held up a whiteboard. I see a message that I need to lift or I am going to miss the coast. By then, the current and the tides are pushing you so much that if you are not fast enough, you can’t get past them.

Andy Donaldson and his team after he successfully crossed the English Channel. PIC: Contributed.

“That’s a demanding thing to make happen when you are running on fumes, but luckily managed to find an extra gear. I was going hell for leather.”

Mr Donaldson after reaching the coastline of France following his eight-hour swim. PIC: Contributed.
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