He saw, he swam, he cone-quered
A few days ago, William The Cone-queror, aka William Stevens, he of the famous ice-cream bicycle who literally peddles his wares (Di Paulo’s ice cream from Bexhill) along our seafront promenade and at local events, achieved his goal of swimming from Royal Sovereign Lighthouse to St Leonards’ beach by Azur. All in the name of charitable goodWill, raising money for The Seaview Project and FSN. HOT’s Zelly Restorick asks him some questions about himself and his successful but exhausting mission.
Why swimming, Will?
Swimming outside invariably makes me feel good.
And why this particular route?
Over the last year, I have been swimming longer and longer distances. I noticed the top heavy lighthouse tower on the horizon while selling my ice cream. It wasn’t always visible but I got more and more intrigued by it. Dick Hogg forwarded a fantastic video, so I began to research the possibilities of landing on it and swimming back.
How many miles and how long did it take?
The Royal Sovereign is 8.3 nautical miles from Marine Court (9.5 land miles), but my support crew reckon I ended up swimming about 11 miles because of the tide. At 10.30am I climbed up the rusty, barnacle-covered ladder attached to the lighthouse column before diving in and starting the swim. My toe hit the pebbles of St Leonards beach at 4.30pm, six hours later.
Did you do a lot of pre-swim training?
I fitted in swims between ice cream shifts… the longest I did was from the cafe at the old Lido to the Harbour Arm and back. That took about four hours. I also did a couple of training sessions in Rye with the 1066 triathletes.
How did it feel – the swimming part? Different to how you’d envisioned?
Long-distance swimming can be mentally monotonous, but your mind does interesting things when the body is engaged in repetitive activity. After a while swimming can feel like a meditation. I’ve had some interesting thoughts during training swims. However, on the day, I went into robot mode. The water was so calm, I was able to get into a wonderful rhythm. It was only when I drank a homemade energy drink, which had gone a bit fizzy, that I began to feel nauseous. This was a mile off Bexhill. My stroke then fell apart. I really thought about getting into the support boat and giving up at that point. All I wanted to do was reach the land.
You had some people accompanying you on the journey. Who were they?
My support boat was helmed by Hugh Ashford of Hastings Sailing Club. He and Dick Hogg navigated my course using GPS and monitored the tide. Dick also got the plum job of smothering me in lanolin (sheep’s-wool grease) and vasoline before I set off. Chloe, my girlfriend, was the third member of the crew. She is a professional photographer and documented the journey. She also gave me sustenance, but I wanted to stick to ‘Channel Rules’, so didn’t ever touch the support boat. Chloe threw me bottles of orange squash on a string and jelly babies in a shrimping net. Andy Francis was on land, coordinating the standby crew and plotting our course. I am indebted to them and the HSL Sailing Club for hosting and supporting the event. Also the Lions Club, who paid for the boat fuel. Lots of other people volunteered time to assist me in the days running up to the swim for which I am very grateful. As you can see, although I did the distance, overall it was a big collaborative endeavour involving many people.
How did it feel to arrive on the shore?
The stomach problems from fermented banana cocktail sapped all my energy, so I could barely stand up when I finally reached the beach. However, the reception from all the people who had gathered, cheered and even strung up welcome banners, made it one of the happiest moments of my life. Thank you to everyone who came down.
Why these charities? (Seaview and FSN)
These two charities do a lot of important things in the town.
The Seaview Project is now the only facility for people struggling on the margins of society. The invaluable work they do and the services they provide are in jeapordy because of cuts to funding. Someone told me the other day about a seven-year old child they knew in Hollington who had never seen the sea. The Fellowship of St Nicholas (FSN) does a lot of good work for local children like this, as well as for young people suffering bereavement, mental health and neglect. I have specified that 50% of the money I raise should go to pay for outings, activities and day trips for children and families who might not otherwise have the opportunity to leave the confines of their daily lives. I’ve already raised over £3,000 but am hoping that figure will rise to £4,000 very soon. You can still donate! (Here’s William’s donation page. Why not more than £4,000!?! ZR)
Smiling, Annie Whelan, chief officer at Seaview, told me about meeting William, who “came in to see me with his fund-raising idea: to swim a very long way to raise money for a local charity. He wanted to research potential charities with his own eyes and ears and decide which charities to swim for. So he asked me some questions about Seaview and spent some time walking around the place to see how things felt. A while later, he came back to me and said he wanted to split the money between the two charities, Seaview, plus FSN, as he wanted to do something to benefit children as well.”
What’s he like, this Watery William The Cone-queror? “Very kind and innovative. Someone who’s humanistic and cares about others,” said Annie.
What do you like about living in this area?
St Leonards is a fantastic town with a broad mix of people. There is a genuine sense of local cohesion here. Last Friday was testament to that: not only did people turn out for my swim but they also attended the Time To Shine show at the Masonic Hall and the Illuminated Bike Ride. What a spectacle! At a time when wider society seems so fixated with online gratification, status and making profit, there is a get-up-and-go and general spirit of unorthodoxy that thrives in Hastings and St Leonards. Of course things can be improved, particularly for those at the bottom of the pile, but hopefully the veneer of ‘shi-shi’ that makes other places feel bland and homogenous won’t penetrate too deeply here.
Donations are still welcome on William’s Fund Me page until November 2016. His target is £5,000. Let’s help him reach this and possibly more! Here’s the link to his donation page.
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