President’s Challenge # 4

15 June 2021
Andrew Diving
Andrew Diving

Orkney’s John Rae Society’s Fundraising group had the bright idea of asking supporters to do special sponsored challenges to raise urgently needed funds for our active Society.

As President of JRS, I chose a sea-swim challenge. John Rae on his brave Arctic explorations walked an incredible 3,645 miles. I decided to swim one stroke for every mile in the open sea. Not with a wetsuit, but just in my trunks. Bernie Bell with her sponsored silence, James Chalmers chose to virtually row the length of the North West Passage: A 300mile cycling task by Liz Macinally: Fiona Gould writing the history of The Hall of Clestrain, John Rae’s birthplace and family home. These are just some of the feats achieved. All of this gave further recognition to the society and its aims of restoring the now derelict Hall and creating an international Arctic Centre.

Donations through our Just Giving pages on our website started to stream in. This was so rewarding! Then a surprise cheque for £1,000 turned up from Canada!

Well, I finished my challenge on October 7th. 2020 and was at a total loss as to what to do next! I looked up the records and saw that John Rae sailed an amazing 6,700 miles in his Arctic expeditions. This was not in big ships, like Sir John Franklin and plenty other Arctic explorers. No, he did it in small craft. York boats, a new inflatable Halket boat, Inuit craft and all that really suited the freezing seas and fitted in with the conditions of Arctic sailing. That’s why he was so successful. Once this figure of nearly 7,000 strokes filtered into me, I was hooked.

I started on the 20th December 2020 with 444 strokes! Then on 27th December I swam 222 strokes. I noticed the water was cooling a little and by 13th January I could only manage 111 strokes. This diminished to 55 strokes on the first of February.

An injured back in a blizzard curtailed my efforts. I recovered from that and bust a rib by falling off my brother’s tricycle! {I’m never playing in his garden again} So… No further swimming until 17th April when it was 55 strokes again. Comments in my diary like ‘Very cold!’ ‘Eggstreemly cold, frozen ribs, even more cold! Then, ‘Still cool: Not too chilly: Hail and wind: Rough and rocky: Skinny-dipped: Bright and breezy, 1st June. Followed by ‘Warm! Jelly fish!’ and ‘Chilly for June.’

My swimming tally began to rise from the 55 strokes to 110, 220, 444 and then, when I couldn’t stop 1,111 strokes on the 7th June. I only have 214 strokes to go now. Hopefully we can get a photo finish. I have done just those valued 214 stokes on June 12th. Now what will I do???

I’m thinking of something, of course. And so too are others. We had a splendid donation from The Kilt Walk. It bought us a generator for our temporary Visitor Centre.

AH!!! It has dawned on me! John Rae mapped 1,700 miles of Arctic Coastline. I will do those one thousand seven hundred strokes as rapidly as I can, specifically to raise funds for our Archaeological excavations. These take place in the second half of July and we need to buy tools, barrows, spades, brushes, trowels and all sorts of things.


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