The Boulter’s to Bray Swim can trace its origins back to the ‘Long Swim’, which was held annually in Maidenhead from the 1890s. True to the swim’s community roots, it is now run by the Boulter’s to Bray Swim Trust, a registered charity set up to provide grants to local amateur sports projects.
The Boulter’s to Bray Swim was the idea of three members of Maidenhead Rowing Club: Tom Jost, Rob Davies and Keith Dixon. Planning to head over to Henley for the Saturday of Royal Regatta week in July 2011, they figured an early-morning river swim would be a good way to start the day. The initial idea was to swim from the Rowing Club to the Waterside Inn in Bray.
Tom mentioned the idea to a few people at the Rowing Club and one of them, Ally Brooks, said that a friend of hers had seen an old trophy for a swim from Boulter’s Lock to Bray in an antiques shop. Intrigued, Tom decided to investigate. A small article in the Maidenhead Advertiser got a great response from people who had competed in the ‘Long Swim’, which used to be a big event in Maidenhead. Radio Berkshire heard about it and invited Tom in to talk about it. Before the boys knew it, the swim had gained a life of its own and they decided to resurrect the old ‘Long Swim’ and organise it as an official event.
Unfortunately there wasn’t time to make the necessary arrangements for an official event that year so, on the Saturday morning of Henley Royal Regatta, the boys and a small group of their friends just did the swim themselves, following the Boulter’s to Bray course that was swum all those years ago. ‘It was a fantastic morning,’ said Tom, ‘and great to get this age-old swim up and running again.’
The first ‘official’ event was held in 2012 and was a huge success. More than 120 swimmers completed the course, reaffirming the organising team’s wish to make this an annual event. The Boulter’s to Bray Swim Trust was formed and achieved charitable status in time for the 2014 race. As well as being a founder of the event, Tom was a key member of the team from the beginning, but stood down as a trustee in 2014.
Rob has been a rower for over 16 years, and has coached Juniors and Seniors for Maidenhead Rowing Club. Rob, who works for Johnson & Johnson in Maidenhead, took up open water swimming in 2011 and participated in the inaugural Boulter’s to Bray swim.
Always up for a new challenge (he rowed the Channel in 2013 and rowed from Ireland to Wales in 2014) Keith took up open water swimming in 2011 and competed in the Marlow 3km swim as well as the Boulter’s to Bray swim. Keith, who is a partner at Bruce Lance solicitors in High Wycombe, has been a member of Maidenhead Rowing Club since 1989. A regular competitor at Henley Royal Regatta and medal-winner at the National Championships, he helps to coach the Junior Boys’ squad at Maidenhead.
Ben Collins has rowed since 1997, winning medals at Henley Royal Regatta and the National Rowing Championships. He took up triathlon in 2009 with Berkshire Triathlon Squad. A former Army Officer, he now works for the NHS. He lives in Maidenhead with his wife Anna, and sons James and Joshua.
Fee has never tried open water swimming – at least not deliberately – and before the first Boulter’s to Bray Swim in 2012 had only ever seen it on TV. A geography teacher by trade and once a professional rowing coach, Fee is often to be found at regattas marshalling the madness. As well as her year-round contribution, Fee directs the swim on the day, cajoling, charming and shouting at people until they do what they’re supposed to do, whilst Rob, Keith and Ben just go for a nice swim.