And she's off! 'Gosport's mermaid' embarks on 56-mile final challenge

Endurance swimmer Anna Wardley set off on her final Five Island Swim Challenge this morning.

The 37-year-old from Gosport, Hampshire is undertaking a 56-mile swim around the Isle of Wight, which in terms of distance, is almost three times the length of the English Channel.

To date to Anna has swam solo across the English Channel, competed at the World Ice Swimming Championships on the Finnish-Russian border, in the Hellespont Race from Europe to Asia, in the 21-mile Double Windermere in the Lake District, and has also swam the Gibraltar Straits from Europe to Africa.

Over the last five years, Anna has raised £35,000 through her swimming challenges.

Five Island Swim Challenge

Since 2012, Anna has successfully undertaken a series of endurance swims around Dragonera in Mallorca, Spain, Portsea in Hampshire and Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Unfortunately a combination of tides, cold water and lion’s mane

jellyfish forced her to abandon her attempt to become the first person

to swim around Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides. and Tiree in Inner Hebrides, Scotland.

Anna said that after swimming in the cold sea off the west coast of Scotland, the waters of the Solent felt ‘like a hot bath’.

Before her first Channel attempt in 2007, Anna was an occasional pool swimmer, logging around 40 lengths, twice a week in her local pool.

She taught herself how to swim front crawl in order to attempt the ultimate open water swim and succeded in swimming from England to France on her second attempt.

Isle of Wight challenge

Anna anticipates that she will be swimming for some 30 hours to complete the full circumnavigation around the Isle of Wight.

Track her progress at – http://yb.tl/fiveislandswim2013

The Isle of Wight solo has been completed by just three people, the first of whom was Kevin Murphy in 1971, who Anna said she was honoured to have in her support team as an ‘official observor’.

Kevin is the reigning King of the English Channel, having swam across the stretch 34 times – more than any other man.

Commenting on Anna’s bid, Kevin said: ‘A swim in excess of 24 hours is among the toughest in the world, and there aren’t many people who can do it.

‘Getting through The Needles is something of an adventure especially in the dark and the sea can be very rough off St Catherine’s point.

‘No solo swimmer has ever managed to get to Bembridge to catch the tide, which means we’ve all had six hours of swimming against it going nowhere before being able to make progress again.’

Anna has urged people to send messages of support and donations via her website www.annawardley.com to spur her on.