Daring Islington takes the plunge

Ancient Greek legends about sailors and ships being devoured by the treacherous sea between Italy and Sicily weren’t enough to stop an intrepid swimmer from taking the plunge.

And 66-year-old Richard Divers, of Hungerford Road, Islington, didn’t just take part in the three kilometre swim across the Straits of Messina last month – he was the first to reach the Italian shoreline, despite being the second from oldest contestant.

The sea is renowned for dangerous currents and Greek legend portrays them as Scylla, a giant multi-headed sea monster that devoured sailors and Charybdis, a huge, swirling whirlpool that sucked in ships.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though – half-an-hour into the race Richard, an art director, had left the escort boats and other swimmers behind and found himself in blind view of a cargo ship.

He said: “It was either going to pass behind me, or between me and the coast – it was impossible to judge its distance or speed. Without the escort boats to mark my position I would be invisible to the huge vessel.

“I am not an experienced sea-swimmer, and it’s very easy to get jittery in situations like this, and I did. As it turned out the ship passed about 400 metres ahead of me.

“Then a minute later I thought I was caught in the giant whirlpool of Charybdis, but I was being tumbled about in the wash of the huge ship.”

Most Read

Despite the frightening experience, he went on to finish the race in 49 minutes.

“A good deal of it was luck, I just happened to be in a strip of water that wasn’t that turbulent,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time Richard, who trains at the Caledonian Road swimming pool, has taken on such a huge challenge – prior to this he swum across the Hellespont, the channel that separates Europe from Asia.

And he is now hoping to develop a non-competitive triathlon project in Greece incorporating places of historical or mythical significance as opposed to “anonymous” stretches of tarmac or reservoirs.

It is likely to include climbing Mount Olympus, cycling between Athens and Sparta as well as one of the swims he has already completed.

He said the concept was about enrichment not competition and added: “It’s nothing to do with endurance or toughness. Anyone can do it and there’s no time limit.”