Long-distance swimmer Anna Wardley says she was in ‘pure hell’ after being stung by a swarm of jellyfish.
The horrific incident forced her to abandon her bid to swim 23 miles between Menorca and Mallorca .
It was like having hydrochloric acid thrown all over my body, layer after layer, as I got stings on top of stings on top of stings.Anna Wardley
Anna, from Gosport, was over 11 hours into her mammoth challenge last week when her support team pulled her out of the water after she went into shock due to hundreds of jellyfish stings, experienced convulsions and lost the use of her right arm.
She said: ‘If you want to create a picture of pure hell, I was in it, with the cross-waves throwing the jellyfish against me in the dark and giving me excruciating pain all over my body.
‘It was like having hydrochloric acid thrown all over my body, layer after layer, as I got stings on top of stings on top of stings. I was completely exposed to the onslaught in just my swimsuit.’
Anna started the swim, which was expected to take around 20 hours, on Tuesday afternoon at Cala’n Bosch in Menorca. The experienced endurance swimmer’s on-the-water support team comprised a total of 18 highly-experienced crew including a medic.
The 40-year-old, who was swimming through the night, had no protection from the jellyfish as she was wearing just a swimming costume, hat and goggles – in line with strict Channel Swimming Association rules.
Anna was pulled out of the water by Yves Watt and Joao Gomes de la Costa at at 2:45am on Wednesday, 11 hours and 19 minutes into the swim after she was stung to the extent that she became unable to use her right arm and her body went into shock, causing breathing problems and violent shaking. In the final 30 minutes before she was taken out Anna’s body was shaking to the extent that she was unable to take a high-energy drink from a net passed to her by her support team.
A lifeboat was dispatched from Ciutadella, Menorca to the Menorca Channel and arrived at the scene at 04:27 CEST (03:27GMT) to transfer Anna by stretcher from the 12-metre motorboat where her support team and medic were administering medical treatment to shore.
She was transferred at speed to the port of Ciutadella in Menorca where an ambulance was standing by to take her to hospital.
Anna had only been hospitalised last week due to jellyfish stings and described the experience as her ‘worst nightmare’, yet she was determined to press ahead for the sake of the three charities she’s raising money for, Joves Navegants, Marine Inspirations and Palma Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Programme.
“My motto is Never Duck Out and I was absolutely determined to keep going. I was throwing everything I could back at the jellyfish. I used every strategy I could to cope, but I knew I had at least four more hours of the same hell to go until first light when I would at least be able to avoid them, but that seemed like an eternity in the circumstances. I kept telling myself that I just needed to keep swimming and making progress towards Mallorca but in the end my body started to shut down,” she said.
Anna’s team could only watch in horror from the support vessels as she swam through a huge wall of jellyfish, many of which were being pushed on to her by oncoming waves.
As she was swimming in the dark nobody could see where the creatures were or how Anna could avoid them.
“My team could only offer words of encouragement as they are not able to make any physical contact with me when I am in the water, and I am not able to make any contact with them or the boats either. It is incredibly difficult for them to see me in such distress and pain and not to be able to do anything about it. Many of them have been with me for other long swims when I have swam through jellyfish for long periods, but we have never encountered anything like what we experienced out there in the Menorca Channel in the early hours of Thursday morning.”
As the swim progressed across the Menorca Channel towards Mallorca the wind built to 15 knots from the south producing 1.5-metre cross-waves. This made it extremely difficult for Anna and her support fleet to stay on her intended course for a number of hours until the wind died off - as was forecast in the early hours of the morning.
Anna was admitted to the emergency department at Clinica de Canal Salada in Ciutadella, where medics carried out tests and administered steroids intravenously to stabilise her condition before discharging her later on Thursday morning.
Anna’s Balearic Swim Challenge involves three stages linking Menorca and mainland Spain – a total of 215km. The first, from Menorca to Mallorca, began on Wednesday morning with an 18-strong support team, after weather advice from meteorologist Simon Rowell signaled the conditions were good enough to attempt the crossing. Toni Huguet Arguimbau of the Menorca Channel Swimming Association, who was onboard one of Anna’s four support vessels, observed the attempt.
Anna said: “I want to express my huge thanks to my amazing support team – both here on the ground in Mallorca and my many supporters back in the UK and all over the world.
“The messages of support and encouragement I’ve received have been incredibly heart-warming. After having a communication blackout for 24 hours when I was swimming and medivaced to hospital, I’ve been overwhelmed by how much support and interest there has been from all over the world.”
Over the coming months Anna will tackle Mallorca to Ibiza and Ibiza to mainland Spain. She is currently reviewing with her team whether there will be the opportunity to make another attempt on stage one.
Anna said: “It still feels a bit unreal and I think I will be haunted by the memory of what happened in the early hours of yesterday morning for a long time to come. However, I hope all the interest will help to raise even more money for the three charities I’m supporting through my swims: Marine Inspirations, Joves Navegants and the Marine Animal Rescue Programme. We’ve raised more than £1,600 already which is fantastic and I’d like to thank everyone who has generously donated – hopefully we’re going to be able to raise lots more. To make a donation please visit: http://fnd.us/116iL8.”
Throughout the attempt supporters were able to view Anna’s progress via a tracker which updated her position every ten minutes. To view the tracker visit: http://www.annawardley.com/information/progress-tracker
Details on Anna’s fundraising are available at: https://fundrazr.com/profiles/anna-wardley-2.