Milford Haven swim coach Makala Jones is about to take on the challenge of a lifetime: to swim the Channel. She will undertake the crossing next month to raise money for The Bluetits Chill Swimmers, who part-funded her open water swim coach training.
Makala’s coaching business, Calm Seas, provides swim coaching all over Pembrokeshire, with impressive results – some of her pupils will be swimming a mile in the Long Course Weekend in Tenby at the end of June. Makala has always loved going in the water. As a child she swam breaststroke at a national level, then she fell out of the habit of swimming until she became a triathlete. This got her into swimming in a wetsuit – and then someone suggest she try cold water dipping wearing just a swimsuit.
“They told me they had just started a Bluetits Chill Swimmers group in Broad Haven and invited me along,” she recalls. “It was late October, early November. Being somebody who suffers from depression and anxiety, my head is never quiet – but the first time I got in the water, I was so scared and so focussed on what was happening, I thought of nothing else. My head completely cleared. In a wetsuit you do get a shock when you go in, but this was totally different; I just felt an instant connection.”
After that she went Bluetitting (as the Bluetits call cold water dipping) regularly, and then Bluetits founder Sian Richardson, who runs the social enterprise from St Davids, suggested Makala train as an open water swim coach.
“I was already a pool coach, and other Bluetits had started asking me for tips, so it just went from there,” says Makala.
The Bluetits Chill Swimmers is a social enterprise with over 100,000 members worldwide. It provides bursaries to train open swimming coaches like Makala – to date, 21 people have qualified through training part-funded by The Bluetits.
The Bluetits are currently raising money to train Bluetits in sea safety, with the aim of having safety specialists all over the country to ensure the safety of others and to train others.
Makala’s Channel swim will raise money for this initiative. The goal is to raise £6,500 to train 21 sea safety specialists.
It’s taken Makala a lot of training and a lot of waiting to get to this stage. To book a Channel swim, you have to act quickly, rushing to book a slot with a support boat when the books open at midnight on a designated date.
“It took me two years to book,” says Makala. “They have 20 swimmers they take over every year, so if you’re not in the top 20, you don’t get to go.”
She will be supported by a boat, Masterpiece, which will carry two pilots, two crew members who will give her food or drink at 30-minute intervals, and a Channel Swimming Association representative to ensure she does not break any rules.
“We’ve raised £700 so far and it will be amazing if we can reach our fundraising total,” says Makala. “I’m able to do the swim in a window between July 9 – 17, so that’s when I’ll set off. I hope to complete the swim in 15 hours.”
Bluetits founder Sian Richardson adds:
“We’re hugely proud of Makala for taking on the Channel challenge, and we’re so grateful she’s doing it to raise money to train sea safety specialists. We’re also massively proud of what she has achieved as a swim coach – she’s helped so many of our members gain confidence in the water so that they can really get the most out of cold-water swimming. We’ll be following her progress all the way across the Channel and will be ready to give her a hero’s welcome when she gets back to Wales.”
Asked what advice she would give for other people who are tempted to take up cold water swimming, Makala adds:
“Don’t think too much. Just go and do it. Find your local swimming group. Chances are there’ll be a Bluetits one. The cold-water swimming community are by far the nicest community you’ll ever be a part of. They’re great fun – it’s not all about getting their heads down and swimming. The best part of my job is getting people in the water. I love it! The instant difference in them is phenomenal.”
You can donate to Makala’s fundraiser here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/makala-swimming-the-english-channel