CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

The Swimboat

PUBLISHED: 14:00 08 March 2016

Open water swimmer Neil Tubbs with the Swimboat

Open water swimmer Neil Tubbs with the Swimboat

Matt Austin _

A Beer boatyard has created a colourful idea to help open water swimmers with safety and endurance, as Sue Cade discovers

Open water swimmer Neil TubbsOpen water swimmer Neil Tubbs

To be frank, the idea of going for a three-hour swim in the deep sea does not fill me with enthusiasm. But for some, open water swimming is a real thrill. It’s an increasingly popular activity not only amongst tri-athletes but also people who simply love the challenge of swimming in the sea, including our bracing Devon coastline.

If you spot these swimmers out at sea, the chances are they’ll have an inflated plastic bag bobbing along with them. The bag contains a waterproof zipped section for items such as money, towels and shoes. Pretty basic, these bags can give swimmers a lot of drag.

Last year, two Devon-based open water swimmers, Neil Tubbs and Nick Reed, went to Sardinia on a Swim Trek holiday where as well as plastic bags, a tiny boat was used. They loved the thought that these boats gave the potential for swimmers to go further, more safely and with more kit. On their return, full of enthusiasm, they visited Kevin Driver at The Boatyard at Beer to see if he was interested in making something similar. The result was the Swimboat.

Kevin and his business partner, Ian Teasdale are well known in the boat building sector. Kevin is originally from the watery Lake District and moved south in the 1980s. He worked for well-known boatbuilders Jon Turner Dinghies in Ashill and Exmouth’s Rowsell & Morrison before setting up in Beer where Ian joined him ten years later. The business, which builds racing dinghies, is thriving.

Kevin says that when he started out he worked on wooden racing dinghies. “These were mainly Merlin Rockets made from traditional planked plywood. The pinnacle for me was building a number of Salcombe Yawls which performed brilliantly at Salcombe Regatta with Spud Rowsell, who I crew for. Inevitably, though, our boat building moved into GRP, built to order using our own moulds.”

These days, The Boatyard at Beer builds for RS Sailing as well as dealing directly with customers, mainly building plastic single and double handed racing dinghies that are fun to sail, easy to handle and fast. It’s all very busy, and I ask Kevin why he agreed to diversify and make this niche product. “It caught my imagination – it’s a nice thing to build, and I think it will help more people get enjoyment out of the sea.”

The Swimboat really is a thing of beauty; a perfect miniature boat in canary yellow, just 1.4 metres long with a big hatch and impressive storage area with plenty of space for mobile phones, a waterproof radio, provisions, flip flops, dry clothes and even hot drinks. “Open water swimmers like to stop off at quiet coves for a break. So a flask of tea and some food for energy, like bananas, is ideal,” explains Kevin. The boat is pulled on a 10 metre length of floating rope, using a waist harness.

I ask if I can test the weight of the boat and when I pick it up it really is amazingly light, around eight kilos. On the back is a jaunty yellow flag on a mast – which is not just there for show. “When you’re out in open water you can be pretty vulnerable if other seafarers can’t see you. The flag really stands out.”

Increased safety for swimmers is a definite plus - not just the flag, but the storage means swimmers can take flares, a knife in case they get tangled up and water bottles for rehydration - and the boat itself can be used as a buoyancy aid in an emergency.

Although Swimboat’s official launch was from Beer beach on a calm day, it has also been trialled locally in gruelling conditions during a swim off Budleigh. Despite a four-foot swell, one bold swimmer made it safely round the headland towards Ladram Bay with the boat in tow.

“The boat is useful for all levels of swimmers, from beginner to elite level, and we’re hoping it will pick up interest from Triathlon clubs to use for training,” Kevin says.

It’s an impressive little innovation, and if it was me swimming in the deep sea I’d be much happier with this bright yellow boat floating quietly behind me.

Essential kit for sea swimmingWetsuit

Essential to keep you warm – opt for a snug fit to make it more efficient

Swim cap- Keeps in heat and stops long hair getting in your face

Swim suit- To wear under your wetsuit

Goggles- Choose a pair that are comfortable. If it’s sunny, tinted goggles are a good idea

Ear plugs- Silicon ear plugs can help prevent ear infections and keep you warmer

Swim gloves and socks- Hands and feet get cold first!

Find out more about open water swimming The website has a comprehensive map with information about where to park, swimming conditions and whether you can skinny dip! It’s the tenth anniversary of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Find out where to swim and discover local swim groups Find out about open water swimming across Europe Everything you need to know - for serious open water swimmers as well as those taking part for fun Helpful information and links to niche books, including Wild Guide Book, Guide to the South West


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:33

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tue, 15:17

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Away from the hustle of places like Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, North Devon is peppered with tiny coves, empty beaches and wooded walks leading to secluded bays that feel a million miles away from the tourist trail. BECKY DICKINSON reveals her pick of the best kept secrets on the North Devon coast

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

As part of her regular series where she visits Devon’s best places for 24 hours, Lydia Tewkesbury has this time been to Sidmouth

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ranging from rocky and windy walkways along the South West Coast Path to the sandy beaches on the picturesque coastline, the district of North Devon is one of the prettiest coastal areas in the South West of England. In no particular order, here are 10 of the prettiest villages in the district of North Devon

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Devon’s towns and cities there’s an awful lot you can do in just 24 hours. For her regular feature, Lydia Tewkesbury travels to see what you can do in a day in Kingsbridge

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Villages in Devon are some of the prettiest in the South West. From beautiful little hamlets on the outskirts of the moors to seaside communities, we pick 10 villages in Devon you need to visit

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search