Sarah Thomas Completes Two-way Swim Between Northern Ireland and Scotland

Marathon swimmer Sarah Thomas has become the first person to complete a two-way crossing of the frigid North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland. During her swim, the water temperature fluctuated between 12˚C and 14˚C. The water is also rough and full of jellyfish.

On July 9, the Colorado swimmer waded into the water on the Scotland side. She completed the 34.4km one-way crossing to Northern Ireland in exactly 10 hours, breaking the female one-way record by two minutes.

When she set off, she had no intention of doing a double-crossing, but her pace was good and she felt confident. She decided spontaneously to try to complete the first two-way swim. The double-crossing took her 21 hours and 48 minutes in total.

Photo: SarahThomasMarathonSwimmer/Facebook


Jellyfish torture

After the swim, she said, “I am well, other than an entire body covered with jellyfish stings. That might have been the hardest, most painful thing I’ve ever done.”

Thomas is unstoppable in the water. In recent years, she has broken multiple records and completed a number of firsts. In 2017, she became the first person to complete a 100-mile, current-neutral swim. Then in 2019, she made international headlines when she completed the first four-way crossing of the English Channel.

Evan Morrison of the Marathon Swimmers Federation called her North Channel feat “a stunning addition to Sarah’s extraordinary collection of firsts”.

Photo: SarahThomasMarathonSwimmer/Facebook


How it all began

Thomas has been swimming her entire life. Originally a competitive swimmer at school, she discovered her love of open water when she entered a 10km swim near her home. Since then, she has arguably become the world’s most formidable ultramarathon swimmer.

At the beginning of her marathon career, in 2012, she completed the Triple Crown of swimming: crossing the Catalina Channel, the English Channel, and encircling Manhattan Island.

But when she first swam the English Channel, she realized that she was capable of far more. On the beach in France, she knew that she would have been able to complete the return journey.

The end of the swim. Photo: SarahThomasMarathonSwimmer/Facebook


Now she has her sights set on the Oceans Seven, made up of seven of the world’s toughest swims: the North Channel, the Cook Strait, the Moloka’i Channel, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, the Tsugaru Strait, and the Strait of Gibraltar. The North Channel was Thomas’s fifth swim on the list.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.