Solo Swims of Ontario Inc.
Hall of Fame
Born in Coventry England in 1943, Bryan was taught to swim at age 10 by his uncle, Roy Sutton. Despite all of Roy's efforts, Bryan persisted in swimming breaststroke and 50 years later
continues to favour that stroke.
At age 14, Bryan entered and won the 60 yard breaststroke championship (Photo, Row 1, left) at Coventry Swimming Club's annual gala. The win led within a few weeks to representing
the Midlands at the English Schools Swimming championships in Bournemouth in 1957, where he placed sixth in the final in 1:19.4 for the 100 yards Breast. He persisted with sprinting
and played water polo for Coventry; however, his love of open air swimming, and a perverse tolerance of cold water in a city that harboured a dozen long distance swimmers, almost
doomed him to being absorbed into long-distance swimming. In 1960, swimming with subsequent Channel Swimmer, Peter Fergus, he set a breaststroke record (and joint freestyle record
with Fergus) of 3 hours 0 minutes on the 5.25 mile (8.4 km) course of Lake Coniston. A week later he led the field of freestylers from the 2-mile mark to the 5-mile mark in 10-mile
Windermere championship. The over-confident start to the race led to being pulled from the water unconscious from cold and hypo-glycemia around the 7-mile mark. That was sufficient
for Bryan to become hooked on a sport that has fascinated him for the rest of his life.
The following year, 1961, Bryan completed the Windermere race on breaststroke in 6 hours 16 minutes - 4 minutes outside the breast record - seen in the photograph (Row 1, Middle)
with Peter Fergus just 6 weeks before Peter's 16 hour 31 minute success in becoming the 19th person to cross the English Channel from England to France. Two years later in 1963, Bryan
broke the Windermere breaststroke record with a time of 6:10 with Kendall Mellor as his crew (Photo, Row 2, Right). That same season, Kendall became the 79th person to cross the
Channel with his time of 16:53. Bryan's exhausted condition, seen in the later photograph, was characteristic of many of his swims in the 1960's. The large Huricane, glass-lensed goggles
that were so popular in those days are seen in the photograph (Row 1, Right).
A come-back solo swim at age 35 on Windermere in 1979 encountered some quite rough and cold conditions (water around 15°C), with the result of a semi-conscious finish in 6:59:08. The
photograph (Row 2, Left) shows Bryan propped against the wall of the Lakeside Hotel by his colleagues Perce Bull (Left) and Arthur Ayres (Right). Finishing 10-mile swims in this state
convinced Bryan that he did not have either the stamina or build to survive a marathon swim on the English Channel, so he concentrated on 5-mile swims on which he excelled during the
early 1960's setting a number of breaststroke records.
Bryan's Long-Standing Breaststroke Records:
- Coniston, 5.25 miles, 52+ Years:
- Bryan's proudest and most long-held Breaststroke record is for Lake Coniston.
- The first Coniston swims were recorded by the BLDSA with five swims in 1959. Jack Kerwin recorded 3:23 as the first man (and a 3:48 later that year), and the first woman, Veronica
Anderson, recorded 3:55 (and it may have been on Breaststroke?).
- For Bryan, it all started in 1960 with a 3:00:00 swim with freestyler Peter Fergus. They set a joint freestyle record that improved over the 3:15 set previously that year by fellow
Coventrian, Arthur Ayres. A year later in 1961, Bryan improved the Breast record to 2:33:56.
- On 27 July 1963 he again improved on his Breast Record with a 2:31:54 . . . amusingly while attempting to break the Freestyle record of 2:30:46 that had been set by John Slater earlier
that year !
- Amazingly, even with the incentive of Breaststroke trophies for the race, this 1963 Breast record withstood all-comers until Bryan returned to a BLDSA race on 16th July 1988 where,
with perfect water-temperature and wind conditions, he improved the time to 2:31:34 - a time that still stood at the end of the 2012 season - holding the Breast record for over 52 years!
Interestingly, solo swims finish when the swimmer exits the water, while races (like the 1988 race) finish between marker buoys in the water. Also Solo swims are required to break any
record by a clear minute, while times taken in a race can break a record by a second.
- So, was Bryan's 1963 swim (at age 20) really faster than his credited record in 1988 at age 45?
- Ullswater, UK, 7 miles, 47.9 Years:
On 12 September 1964, Bryan (21-years-old) travelled on his motor-bike from his home-town of Coventry to Lake Ullswater and met with his Yorkshire friend Colin Proctor and
Colin's Dad, Dougie. They hired a boat at Glenridding and started the 7-mile swim to Pooley Bridge. It was a cool swim and a head-wind frustrated Bryan's progress on the last 3 miles
when the cold water also started to slow his progress; however, he did establish an inaugural Breaststroke record of 4:31:16. He remembers finishing at a beach where there was an
"old guy" with a parrot on his shoulder. This was not completely strange to Bryan, since his mother had an Amazon Green parrot that was older than Bryan and had survived with
them through the bombings around their home in Coventry during World War 2.
- On 29 July 2012, almost 48 years later, Mark Westaway at the age of 32, broke Bryan's 1964 record with a time of 4:25:01. Ullswater was typically cold for Mark's swim, with a water
temperature reported at 12-14-deg.C . . . the UK Lakes do not yield their records easily . . .
- Fleetwood-to-Morecambe, UK, 12 miles, 50+ Years:
At age 23, on 12 June 1966, Bryan was the third man to finish the 12-mile race in the sea from Fleetwood to Morecambe. Swimming breaststroke against the freestylers, he established a
breaststroke record of 5:36:03. One lady (Elaine Gray 4:58:04) and seven men started the race; two men withdrew during the race. Barry Watson (5:14:06); Kendall Mellor (5:23:00);
Bryan Finlay (5:36:03); Francis Allen (5:44:01); Graham McIntyre (5:55:00). Since races are now rarely held on this course, it is not surprising that this record has not been broken.
Water temperature was 59-61°F, with a rainy start and a sunny finish.
- Sandsend-Whitby, UK, 3 miles, 50+ Years:
With the drive and enthusiasm of Jim Robinson, the Whitby Seals organized these 3-mile sea-swims up to 1993 and they were always a cold challenge in the North Sea along the
shoreline from Sandsend and finishing in Whitby harbour. 3-to-5-mile swims in Cold Water were always Bryan's forte and he was often competitive with freestylers under such
adverse conditions of wind and cold. Bryan's set the breaststroke record of 1:04:06 in 1963 at age 20, when he placed fourth in the mens' event behind freestylers Peter Hatfield (55:15),
Brian Winn (1:00:15), and Ronald Kellerman (1:01:19, in a field of 12 men. One of the seven lady entrants, June Hanby, beat him to set a ladies' freestyle record of 1:02:09. The water
temperature was 55-58°F. So this record stood the test of 30 years of organized championships.
- Rathlin Island to Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, 4.5 miles, 50+ Years:
This is a tidal swim so the actual distance of this swim is debatable. The first race, organized by the BLDSA in 1964, was challenged by rough water and its start from rocks to the west
of the southern point of Rathlin Island was a real challenge for the swimmers and their boatmen. A steady water-temperature of 53°F was a challenge to a number of the swimmers.
Channel swimmer, Michael Jennings immediately took the lead but withdrew after 77 minutes due to the cold, leaving Bryan (swimming breaststroke in the lead); however, the cold
eventually took effect on Bryan and, in the final mile, he was passed by Kendall Mellor. Bryan finished in 2:46:41, dazed but in second place just 4 minutes behind Kendall. John Earls
retired due to the cold after 37 minutes, while Jimmy Gratton was only a few hundred yards from the finish when he succumbed to the cold. Cold-water marathoneer, Derek Turner,
finished in third place showing no signs of adverse effects from the cold or the effort; all three finishers were within the previous record of 3:10 that had been set by Jack McClelland.
Refreshments were provided by the Milk Marketing Board. While none of the competitors were smokers, the awards were presented by the cigarette manufacturers W.D. and H.O.
Wills; however, many of the boatmen and crew-members were keen supporters. It was reported by the news media that there were as many as 6,000 spectators around the finish at
BLDSA International Swim, Holland, 1961
- In the early 1960's, Bryan was occasionally enthused to swim Freestyle. One such challenge was to represent the BLDSA at the annual international event held across the Scheldt
estuary, finishing at Flushing in Holland. Typically, the BlDSA would send one male and one female representative to the event. In 1960, Joe Smith placed third with 1:16:36 against
the winning time of 1:06:27, and Joyce Bricknell (One of Bryan's home-town swimmers in Coventry) placed third in the women's event with 1:28:10 behind the 1:08:57 winner
- Based on performances in previous events, Bill Thrall (Rotherham) was the prime candidate for the BLDSA representative in 1961; however, Bryan had completed an impressive
early-1961-season (May 21) 1:24 in 48°F water on Bala Lake, where Joe Smith's record stood at 1:21:03. Bryan was lucky that Coventry had Bob Coleman as a very vociferous
representative on the BLDSA committee.
- In the absence of a lady representative for that year, the BLDSA chose to send two male representatives . . . Bill Thrall and Bryan Finlay.
- Bryan did not let-down Bob Coleman, nor disappoint the BLDSA selectors. He placed fifth in the men's event in 1:18:54 behind the winner's time of 1:10:01. Bill placed seventh in
- This swim was Bryan's first encounter with jelly fish and he suffered with the stings for 24 hours after the swim.
The Later Years:
Bryan and his wife, Helen, emigrated to Canada in 1972, where he met Bob Weir in the late 1980's and was introduced to Solo Swims of Ontario and marathon swimming on the Great
An abortive attempt on Lake Ontario in 1992, and several storm-related failures on Lake Simcoe led to a 15-hour, 19 mile failure on Lake Simcoe in 1995. After a year out-of-work in
1996 and two subsequent years of work away from home, Bryan eventually got a job back in his home-town of London, Ontario, got his training together, mastered feeding problems, and
beat notable head-winds (Photo, Row 1) to complete the 22 miles from Barrie to Orillia on Lake Simcoe in 21 hours 9 minutes. As in his past swims, a team of swimming experts provided
the confidence for the swim - with marathon swimmer Bob Weir (shown above), and SSO Swim Masters James Salter and Peter Stahlkopf. In contrast to his early days of distance
swimming, Bryan walked clear of the water (Photo, Row 2, Right) just suffering some beard-induced, skin abrasion on his left shoulder. A tough stage at the 17-hour mark involved low
blood-sugar and an empty stomach that were characterized by hyperventilation, hiccoughing, and shivering; this problem was only overcome with the intake of solid food (cantaloupe)
and a change from his ERG-Gookinaid electrolyte drink to tea with 8% glucose. Even at 56 years of age, there are things to be learnt about your body - especially when it's never been
taken to those levels of performance before.
At age 58 in 2001, with a low-key Breast swim on Lake Erie, his 10:44 also broke the Free record for the Leamington to Pelee Island swim of 13.8 miles (22.1 km).
||Frustration with the challenges of organizing a crew and support boats for swims on the Great Lakes,
Bryan made an attempt on the English Channel on 4-5 August 2002, at age 59. A four-month
experiment with a drink containing a protein-electrolyte mix was his upset, and an inadequate amount
of dextrose in his reserve food-supplies led to regurgitation for the last 10 hours of his 20-hour swim.
His pilot, Duncan Taylor, waited for perfect wind conditions that provided essentially flat water and
this was aided with water temperatures from 63-66°F; however, in a severe state of hypo-glycaemia
and lapsing into sleep, the pilot eventually ordered Bryan from the water, after 20 hours and just 800
metres from the French shore.
With his exclamation "But Duncan, we're so close!", Bryan viewed the kneeling pilot (with his gaff in
hand) and obeyed the pilot by raising his arms to be pulled from the water. In the exertion of being
pulled onto the deck of the support-boat, he passed-out . . . recovering with a below-deck snooze, and
readily climbing to the dock in Folkestone harbour.
The complete story, involving the banning from the pilot-boat of his chosen mentor, long-term friend
since 1960, and CSA-Observer, Joe Smith, is another story . . .
After a career of research in Medical Engineering, orthopaedics and respiratory work, Bryan indicates that, even in 2013 at the age of 70, he is still learning about his physiology !
Bryan has been associated with SSO since 1991, and has been its Treasurer since 1992. He also competes regularly in Masters Swimming, and held the Masters World Short-Course
Breaststroke record (2:50.27 and 2:48.22) for the 40-44 age-group between 1986 and 1988.
And he still dreams of Marathon Swims, during his lap-swimming in "Chlorinated Pint-Pots" !
Note: The phrase "Chlorinated pint-pots" was a tongue-in-cheek derogatory term for "heated indoor swimming pools"
that was originated by Bryan's good friend John Slater (Founding Secretary of the BLDSA).
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Created: October 1998
Last Updated: 21st February 2013