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Dad becomes first person to swim across Bristol Channel using only breaststroke

“I’ve always swum breaststroke, I can swim crawl and fly and the rest but it’s the stroke I’m most comfortable with and once I’m in a rhythm I’ll just go on and on," he said.

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Phil Warren crossing Ilfracombe to Gower September 2022. (Nicola Court via SWNS)

By Josie Adnitt via SWNS

A dad-of-two has become the first person ever to swim across the Bristol Channel using only breaststroke despite suffering with severe hypothermia during the crossing.

Phil Warren, 52, has completed three crossings of the Bristol Channel this year, and has become the first person to complete a crossing using only breaststroke.

During his most recent crossing from Ilfracombe to Gower, Phil he was in the 18-degree water for just under 22 hours and suffered with severe hypothermia which saw him rushed to the hospital.

Despite the setbacks, Phil completed three of his four planned crossing – with one being cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Now, he has raised over £6300 ($6,959) for mental health charity Mind and says he undertook the grueling task to help raise awareness about mental ill health.

“Last year I took on a challenge to try to swim all four routes of the Bristol channel, which range from eight miles up to 24, in one swim season which had never been done," Phil said.

“[I swam] as a breaststroke swimmer - which again I knew had not been tried.

“It was to raise funds for Mind and try to raise awareness about mental ill health especially since the pandemic.”

The determined dad chose the charity Mind due to his own battles with his mental health which left him suffering from a break down 10 years ago.

A couple of years later, Phil began open water swimming and credits the activity with helping to manage his mental health.

In 2021, he decided to take on the challenge of swimming all four routes across the Bristol Channel from England to Wales – and decided to swim exclusively using breaststroke.

Now, the plucky swimmer has completed his challenges, finishing his final swim on September 20 despite having to miss one planned crossing due to poor weather conditions.

“The first one I ended up doing in June from Penarth to Weston-Super-Mare – I swam for seven and a half hours and it was supposed to be eight miles in a straight line," Phil said.

“It was rough and horrible and the water temperature was only 11-degrees which was really really hard.

“The tide was horrendously strong to the point at the end where I was swimming against a five-knot tide and missed the land by 500 meters.

“The second one in July was from Penarth to Clevedon and I swam for seven hours and four minutes – it was rough and supposed to be 11-miles in a straight line, but I swam 14.

“I landed that one and became the ninth ever person to complete it and first person to complete it breaststroke.

“The third one was cancelled due to the weather and there wasn’t another slot this year.

“The last one was Ilfracombe to Swansea which is 26 miles but I ended up swimming 31.

“The water was 18-degrees which is quite acceptable for training but over 21 hours is pretty cold.

“I swam that and landed it, becoming the fourth ever successful crossing and first ever breaststroke crossing.

“I started at 10:30 P.M. on September 19 from Ilfracombe harbor and swam for about 9-10 hours in the pitch black apart from the moon which was quite scary.

“I got stung on the cheek by a jellyfish – and at one point I was surrounded by dolphins swimming over, under and around me.

“I landed at about 8:30 P.M. on the Tuesday and my crew dragged me out, changed me, looked at me and rang ahead for an ambulance because I was almost out of it at the time.

“I was blue-lighted to the hospital once we got back to the harbor with extreme exhaustion, hypothermia, and water on the lungs as well.

“I’ve been open water swimming for over the past 8 years or so and I suffered from a breakdown about 10 years ago I suppose now.

“I’ve now managed to control it through medication and sport and one of the things is cold water swimming – that's why I swim and I love the outside, I love nature, and I don’t overly like the smell of chlorine.

“I’ve always swum breaststroke, I can swim crawl and fly and the rest but it’s the stroke I’m most comfortable with and once I’m in a rhythm I’ll just go on and on.

“I’ve raised about £6300 for Mind - it’s more out there now that both adults and children are suffering from mental ill health but it needs to still be talked about more and raise awareness.

You can find out more about Phil’s fundraising efforts and donate to the cause here.

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