Whitby Regatta: Sandsend to Whitby swim set to be revived for first time in more than 30 years for town's annual sea-faring spectacle

The oldest sea regatta in the north of England will be embracing a renewed phenomenon as it brings back an event to its programme for this summer that has not taken place in more than three decades.

More than 180 years of sea-faring and aquatic entertainment has made Whitby Regatta what it is today and some of that tradition will return for this year’s event with the Sandsend to Whitby sea swim challenge which has not happened for at least 34 years.

The Sandsend to Whitby swim started in 1960 and was last recorded in 1988 with an appeal in the Whitby Gazette for someone to take over the running of it.

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This year Ceri Oakes, founder of Whitby Sea Swimmers, which started three years ago amid a surge in popularity of cold-water, wild and sea swimming, is bringing back the two mile swimming challenge with Ally Brisby, open water swimming coach at Sea Swim Yorkshire and Whitby RNLI crew member.

The start of the Sandsend to Whitby Swim in 1960. Picture: 'By John Tindale, courtesy of the Whitby Museum'.

Ms Oakes, a photographer, said: “I didn’t even know there used to be one until somebody said and I wondered if we could bring that back. Wild sea swimming is now hugely popular and has grown massively over the last couple of years. This is an event that will attract different people, bring something new to the Regatta and revive something old.

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The distance is two miles and there will be a shorter race from the beach huts on Whitby’s West Cliff back to the harbour that is equivalent to 40 lengths of a pool - however, Ms Oakes warned it will be very different.

Should there be a sea fret or rough seas, it could be too dangerous for the swim to take place and checks will be made in the run up for jelly fish or weaver fish.

A Whitby Regatta programme from 1911 refers to swimming and in 1970, the Sandsend to Whitby swim was one of the Regatta's main events. Picture: Ceri Oakes.

Historic influence

These are a little different to the checks that took place before the events back in 1911.

An old copy of the rules that has been discovered states that only black or dark blue costumes will be worn, drawers shall be worn underneath the costumes and shoulder straps will not be less than two inches wide.

Whitby’s historic lifeboat, The William Riley, will act as one of the the safety boats, and its return to the sea will be a spectacle in itself. It served Whitby for decades until it was sold out of service in 1931. Its most famous launch was two attempts to The Rohilla passenger ship which ran aground off Whitby in 1914 resulting in the deaths of 83 people.

Ceri Oakes, founder of Whitby Sea Swimmers, which started three years ago amid a surge in popularity of cold-water, wild and sea swimming, is bringing back the two mile swimming challenge with Ally Brisby, open water swimming coach at Sea Swim Yorkshire and Whitby RNLI crew member.

Ms Oakes added: “We are only allowing people that have experience swimming in cold water as it is very different to being able to do a hundred lengths of your local pool. There are 30 in each section so we might be disappointing some people if they don’t get a place but it is the first time we have done it in recent years and want to do it safely, see how it goes and maybe next year we can have more places.”

Sea Swimming

It comes as the popularity in sea swimming continues to soar. Whitby Sea Swimmers started with six people in June 2019 but now has 1100 members in a social media group and a hundred regular swimmers.

When lockdown forced the closure of indoor pools - it was the sea that people turned to for exercise, recreation and comfort in nature on the very doorstep.

Sea-swimming in Whitby started with six people at its first meeting in 2019 and now there are a hundred regular swimmers who meet most days of the week to take to the water in and around Whitby. Picture: Ceri Oakes

Ms Oakes explained: “There was a whole year where we did it socially distanced. We met in little blocks of six but we were there for each other. Everyone found a new appreciation for what is on the doorstep, it is free and we have access to it most of the time.

“What I have noticed since is, most days in summer I go past the beach and there is somebody in the water and never noticed that before. There would be surfers but never see people, now it is all the time.”

Local businesses

Whitby Seals Amateur Swimming Club organised the original event in the past and the 2022 revival will follow much of the same format. In its hey day the swim challenge attracted competitors from all over the country and then Seals started to develop into an indoor swimming club.

Local businesses around Whitby who so far who have helped make the event happen include Furbellow & Co, Whitby Yard, Parkol Marine, Bothams and Claras.

The swim is on Saturday August 13, starting at 1.30pm.