In the 1966 British Long Distance Swimming Association annual report [see here], produced by G. Trevor Smith and John K. Slater, Kevin Murphy discussed getting lost during a two-way crossing between Weymouth and Lulworth.
In a heavy rain, rough seas and a Force 4-5 wind, Murphy disappeared amid the mist and downpour which had reduced visibility to less than 50 yards.
He explained the situation back when he was a young 17-year-old swimmer [read here], “There were no lights on swimmers in those days and no GPS on the boats. There were occasions when swimmers got lost and were found by the boats searching in ever increasing circles or a grid pattern.”
It would not be the last time Murphy was lost at sea.
On April 25th 2000, Murphy attempted a crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar when he took off from Spain headed for the Moroccan coast 14.4 km in the distance. At the age of 51, he had already completed 27 English Channel crossings, 3 North Channel crossings, several swims across Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the Bristol Channel and the Menorca Channel, around the Isle of Wight, and swims from South Africa’s Robben Island and Italy’s Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli. So unlike the young teenager in Weymouth, the British legend was undeniably an experienced veteran of the open water as the 21st century opened up.
“The Gibraltar incident in the year 2000 was a bit bizarre. I was being escorted by a yacht owned and piloted by a fellow Channel swimmer.
There had been big swells all the way across. Coming in on the Moroccan coast, it was very rocky with waves, whirlpools and lots of rip currents. There was no way the boat or a dinghy could go any closer than 500 meters from the shore. Either I had to abandon the swim or I had to try to make it in on my own. I was told to head in, land, then swim back out to the boat.
Within 30 seconds, I completely vanished from sight of those on the boat. A rip current had picked me up and moved me bodily sideways by one mile in what seemed like only five minutes. I swam ashore and landed, looked around, and there was no boat.
Perched on a rock I wondered whether I should climb the cliffs and see whether I could find anybody up the top. Then I spotted my boat searching a stretch of coast a mile away from me.
On board the boat, my wife was wondering how she would tell the kids that their father had been lost.
I found a old piece of blue plastic and started waving that. Also on board the boat there was a Spanish television crew and the cameraman saw through his telephoto lens a movement which was me waving the plastic. The boat found me just as a Spanish air sea rescue helicopter, which had been called out, arrived overhead.
It was all okay in the end, but I believe after that some swims were declared successful without landing on the rocks and as far as I know it was the last swim done without using the Gibraltar Strait Swimming Association’s own appointed pilots.”
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