This was endurance swimer, Anna Wardley, still smiling, back in the escort RIB, virtually mummified to get her core temperature back up after 16 hours 9 minutes and 8 seconds in the chill waters off Tiree.
She had just been pulled from the water, having swum over two thirds of the way - against the tides and with Lion's Mane jellyfish and basking sharks [harmless but huge] - in her attempt to be the first person to swim around the island out in the Atlantic.
Anna had been swimming by the rules of the British Long Distance Swimming Association - which prescribe a swimsuit, not a wetsuit, with one cap - in action below. Easy to see why she needed the mummification when they got her back in the boat.
She had got so cold that the chattering of her teeth was preventing her from breathing properly; her core temperature was dropping - on the way to hypothermia; and she was hallucinating.
'I always knew that Tiree was going to be the toughest of my five islands and it certainly didn’t let me down on Tuesday. My attempt to become the first person to swim the 30 miles around the Hebridean isle ended at 2128 BST on Tuesday evening after 16 hours 9 mins and 8 seconds during which I covered more than 20 miles.
'The cold had been a major factor from the beginning, and swimming in temperatures ranging from 13-15 degrees Celsius in just a swimsuit and a liberal coating of lanolin (yellow waxy sheep’s wool grease to the uninitiated), it really started to bite into my core as the hours passed by.
'As darkness closed in, the prospect of swimming through the lion’s mane jellyfish that I’d been dodging all day was daunting and with the tide set to turn against me before I reached Gunna Sound, which separates the islands of Coll and Tiree, I decided to call it a day.
'From the 15-hour mark I was shivering as I was swimming, and my teeth were chattering so much that it was hard to breathe. For a long-distance swimmer, if you lose the ability to breathe properly it’s game over.
'I was consumed by an overwhelming urge to roll up into a foetal ball and go to sleep. I know that to be a classic sign of hypothermia, and I knew that as my pace dropped off as the cold ate into me, things would only get worse.
'I’m sure the all-consuming fear had a great effect on my ability to cope with the cold, as always on long swims, the mental has to override the physical or else you’d very quickly be climbing onto the boat as it would be a pretty rational decision to get out of bitterly cold, jellyfish-infested waters.
'When I’m swimming I don’t concern myself with where I am or how far there is to go, as that can waste precious minutes that can mean making a tidal gate or missing it, so I just get on with swimming and let my team worry about all that complicated stuff.
'But given my condition and the prospect of it deteriorating further as the air temperature dropped, I decided to talk to Corinne, my swim coordinator, to weigh things up.
'We calculated we had at least another eight miles to go, the tide was going to turn on us, and I faced another 8-10 hours in the water. I was already extremely cold and was feeling full of fear at the prospect of swimming through Gunna Sound in the dark, where the giant basking sharks that frequent the waters around Tiree tend to hang out to feed on plankton, along with blooms of jellyfish, which are channelled into the narrow stretch by the tide. We would then have had to negotiate the treacherous rocks around Milton Harbour to get back to Gott Bay pier, where I started the record attempt at 0519 BST just before daybreak.
'With all this in mind, and my shaking becoming more violent as I trod water, I told the team that I was going to get out. It’s never an easy decision, and it’s the first time I have ever made the call myself rather than being pulled out by my team, but we all knew it was the right decision.
'As nobody had ever even attempted the swim before, we were starting with a blank piece of paper. We only arrived in Tiree at the weekend and had little time for recces ahead of my swim, but the weather forecasts meteorologist Simon Rowell had been providing us with on a daily basis over the last few weeks pointed to there being only one opportunity in our two-week window for my attempt so we knew we had to go for it.
'After Corinne’s weeks of research and spending lots of time studying the charts, the tides and the weather with island locals Iain MacDonald and Iain Hamilton, we decided to opt for a clockwise route starting at Gott Bay Pier to take advantage of the forecasted winds. We knew this would mean we’d be hampered by the tide for large chunks of the swim, but we weighed up that the weather advantage would outweigh the tidal hindrance.
'I was filled with terror at the prospect of starting the swim in the darkness in an area where locals had told me the lion’s mane jellyfish had been spotted this week, so I went to swim that stretch the night before with Matt Pryor in the kayak. I practiced putting on the mesh stinger suit I’d brought up here when I heard the reports of the lion’s manes being around. If I put it on during the swim, my attempt would not be ratified by the British Long Distance Swimming Association, whose rules state that I must swim in just a swimsuit, cap and goggles, but I reckoned it was better to finish the swim in a mesh suit than not at all if I was getting badly stung.
'On Tuesday morning we set our alarms for a painful 0230 wake-up, and I forced down some porridge, and swilled down the special gastric pill that was provided by the University of Portsmouth to enable my team to monitor my core temperature via a radio signal transmitted to the support boat during my swim, all washed down with some juiced carrot, apple and ginger.
'The start didn’t run too smoothly as we had problems loading the boxes of kit on to the support boat down a slippery 10ft ladder in pitch darkness, and then gearbox problems necessitated Iain Hamilton, the RIB’s owner who generously loaned it to us, coming down to the harbour to wallop it with a big wrench to get us underway. It meant the 4am start time slipped back by around 80 minutes.
'I was secretly delighted as the minutes passed and the time I’d be swimming in the pitch darkness ticked away. I took the opportunity to make a last minute loo dash to the Scaranish public loos as my team sorted out the issues with the boat… and the special pill I’d swallowed was gone before it even had the chance to spring into action.
'As the boat was being readied, Matt and I made our way to Gott Bay pier, on the towards the eastern end of the island, where I was to start the swim, and he greased me up with a liberal layer of lanolin in the dark car park. Thankfully there were no law enforcement agents in the vicinity to question our rather unusual behaviour. I put my port and starboard lights on my goggle straps and tied a turquoise lightstick to my back, local photographer Rhoda Meek took a few photos and it was time to get in and start swimming (but not before Rhoda kindly pointed out that we’d left my car at the front of the CalMac ferry queue, which would rival my faux pas of leaving my car parked in the middle of my village when I went to swim the Channel in 2009, unaware that the local Michaelmas Fayre was to take place in my absence which resulted in my car bonnet being used as a stall).
'Matt paddled beside me in the kayak through the inky water, and we met Corinne, Tom and Seonaidh McKenzie, who was filming my swim on behalf of BBC Alba, in the RIB out towards Scaranish Harbour.
'I was mightily relieved to get the first hour out of the way, and for daybreak to enable me to keep a lookout for the dreaded jellies. We were trailed by inquisitive seals, and I kept my eyes peeled for the basking sharks that I’ve read so much about over the last few months.
'The first three hours were tough as my body struggled to adapt to the cold, in water that is around five or six degrees colder than it is in the relatively tropical Solent at the moment, and I battled the heebie jeebies in the cold, unfamiliar waters. But around the four-hour mark I got into my stride and started to feel like my body was regulating itself better in the temperatures, and for an hour or so the sun even peeped through the clouds to lift my spirits. Fuelled by rice pudding, Tunnock’s tea cakes, pasta, gels and a whole host of other goodies, I tried to keep up the pace to fend off the cold.
'Corinne Gillard, who drove the RIB and coordinated things on the water, did an absolutely phenomenal job of navigating the shortest route around the island, which is surrounded by treacherous reefs. At points, I swam through rocks and shallows just with Matt in the kayak or at times alone, as the RIB took a wider course clear of the hazards. Some of these cut-throughs were magical, with triffid-like weeds and shoals of fish just centimetres below me as I was washed through tiny gaps.
'Throughout my swim Tom Savage on the support boat and Heather Ewing back home at basecamp in GosVegas did a magnificent job of our comms, keeping everyone up to date with our progress, or at times lack of it as I fought to get round pesky headlands. Helped by the GPS tracker supplied by Yellowbrick, they kept media and my supporters up-to-date, and all the messages of support and donations to my charities really spurred me on. It’s a very odd feeling when I’m out there swimming for hours on end – in one sense I feel utterly alone and in another I feel like everybody all over the world is willing me on every single stroke of the way.
'It is only because I have such an amazing team around me that I can even attempt these feats. Corinne, Matt and Tom have been utterly fantastic up here in Tiree, and although we were in unfamiliar waters facing all sorts of challenges I never had a single moment when I felt anything but completely safe. There was as much determination within my team for me to make it as I had myself, and they faced the prospect of 24 hours in a RIB or a kayak, which is a massive feat of endurance in itself. And the team up here in Tiree are only one small part of the equation - the toughest part of the challenge is the relentless training and I’d to thank everyone who has been helping me with kayak and RIB support for my forever-increasing sessions in the Solent, as well as everyone who has given up so much of their time with the media, fundraising and generally keeping me going when it all gets a bit much.
'Although I didn’t make it round in a ‘oner’, we’ve got every intention to get back out there and finish the stretch I didn’t manage to cover on Tuesday, as it doesn’t look like there will be another weather window to attempt the whole thing again. It looks like there might be a gap in the weather tomorrow, Friday, to do the last stretch so it might be as soon as then.
'I might not be able to put a tick beside Tiree on my kitchen wall when I get back, but it will be brilliant training for the Isle of Wight. Knowing that I can swim for more than 16 hours in water this cold with those horrid jellies, is a massive confidence boost in itself. For the Isle of Wight we will be in home waters, which will feel tropical by comparison, and without the lion’s mane jellies I won’t have the same fear of the dark that I battled a couple of days ago.
'My swim has generated a lot of interest in the media both here in Scotland, back home and further afield, thanks to Tom and Heather’s efforts. Quite a few journalists have asked me whether this means that my Isle of Wight swim is off, but I guess they don’t know me very well, and I can assure everyone that it is very much game on for the big one.
'Last night I had the surreal experience of talking to BBC South Today via Skype video from Tiree’s cattle market, the only placed on this remote isle with public broadband. To see the report click here (available until 1830 BST today) and for BBC Alba's report click here (mainly in Gaelic).
'After that we headed to the Tiree Lodge Hotel for a sneaky pint that I’d been craving since finishing the swim. It’s the same place that Tom and I headed to when we arrived on the island after our 17-hour epic road trip from Gosport last Friday. When we told the owner what I was planning to do he just puffed his cheeks out and shook his head in disbelief. Last night he bought me and Matt a pint, and there was more head shaking as we told him about Tuesday’s attempt. Another islander asked if I was ‘right in the head’, but the jury’s still out on that one.
'We've had great support in Tiree, and would like to thank Iain Hamilton, Iain MacDonald and all the other islanders for all their help especially Emma and the team who looked after little Jack during our attempt. Moran taing dhuibh uile!
'For now, I’m still pretty exhausted but I just wanted to say a massive thank you for all the messages of support and the donations that you’ve generously given for my three charities over the last few days. I haven’t had a chance to reply to people individually, but it is massively appreciated and reminds me why I put myself through all this.
'We’ll let you know how we get on with finishing off the job we started on Tuesday, as I swim to what Tom has affectionately dubbed ‘Quit Central’ at position 056 32.237N 006 53.136W.
'I'm still planning to be the first person to swim round this wee isle - it'll just have to be in two goes for the moment.
'Watch this space.'