Pains put paid to tough channel swim for Belfast's Simon
It was just like a London bus. After waiting for ages for a solo swimmer to conquer the treacherous North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, FIVE have come along in just a short time, from Jersey, Guernsey, Moldova, Newcastle-upon Tyne and India.
And two relay teams have also been successful in mastering the arduous waters, which are notoriously cold and full of jellyfish.
But Belfast man Simon Fullerton (right) narrowly failed in his bid to become one of only a handful of Ulster solo swimmers to finish one of the world's most challenging journeys, from Donaghadee to Portpatrick.
After swimming for 16 miles on Tuesday, Simon had to abandon his effort six miles short of Scotland due to shoulder pains.
But one of the first things he did on returning to dry land was to congratulate the solo swimmers and an Irish relay team who swam the North Channel.
Simon (39), who has already swum the English Channel, has vowed to return to realise his ambition of making it across to Portpatrick from his homeland.
Until this month, Irish Long Distance Swimming Association annals showed that only 29 people had ever completed the trek. But in recent weeks the names of a virtual tidal wave of gutsy swimmers have been added to the record books.
Simon said: "I was really pleased to hear that the other swimmers had got there in the last days and weeks. And after initially swearing that I wouldn't be back on the North Channel, I woke up yesterday and resolved that I would give it another try.
"But next time I will work more on my fitness to ensure that my shoulder doesn't pack in again."
Everything had been going well for Simon after he set out on the swim on Tuesday morning. "But six hours in, my shoulder started to ache and when you are turning your arms over continuously the pain will only get worse, especially as you have to swim at a relentless pace to keep up with the tides.
"The regulations allow swimmers to take painkillers, but they only dulled the pain. By 11 hours I had slowed right down from 62 strokes a minute to about 55 and the tides were pushing me back.
"I had to be honest with myself and it was really my call to quit, though I was quite grumpy when I climbed up the ladders into the boat and the shivers kicked in until I wrapped myself in four layers of clothes and a foil insulation blanket."
Guernsey swimmer Adrian Sarchet finished on Friday in an unofficial 14 hours and 13 minutes, but was in hospital for several days due to hypothermia and the effects of jellyfish stings.
Also on Friday, Indian swimmer Rohan More, who trained with Simon, completed the swim in 12 hours 52 minutes.
On Tuesday, Ion Lazarenco also got across to Scotland. "He passed me at about the 11 mile mark and his time was apparently around 17 hours," said Simon.
There was a second successful crossing on Tuesday. The Infinity V relay squad who were brought together by a love of swimming in Camlough Lake near Newry were the first five-person team to cross the North Channel.
Their members are Gillian McShane, Joe Belton, David Burke, Thomas O'Hagan and Noel Grimes.
Within two days in July, Jersey man Graeme Lowe and English woman Vicky Miller from Jesmond in Newcastle also completed the marathon swim.
A couple of days later an international relay team called Fast and Frozen swam from Ireland to Scotland and back again.
Simon Fullerton's disappointment was alleviated by the fact that he still raised over £3,000 for a charity set up in memory of his mentor Mike Moloney, the Australian co-founder of the Prison Arts Foundation here, who died after an accident at his home two years ago.