Barry Watson – Tribute
Born in 1938, Barry passed away at the age of 82 on the 11th August 2020. The President (Amanda Bell) Officers & members of the British Long Distance Swimming Association wish to offer their sincere condolences to Linda, all Barry’s family & to his huge adopted family of younger swimmers & athletes.
Barry learned to swim in 1948 at the Bradford Lido, not aware that the open water was to a major feature in his future. He swam at the Shipley Baths in his teens & met Keith Unwin (a BLDSA Founder member, along with Barry), who encouraged him to join the Otley SC where he met Fred & John Slater who were instrumental in the creation of the BLDSA.
In 1958 Barry & John both swam Windermere on the same day. Barry was so proud to be able to wear the BLDSA badge. In 1959, he was a competitor in the Torbay Championship, which was pulled part way through due to conditions. Barry reported wryly with a smile that he was awarded 3rd place, which is where he lay at the turn but he was well in the lead when the event was cancelled, so he always felt that he had won.
After his National Service (1960/62) demob on 6th June 1962, he returned to train at the Bradford Lido, meeting many other open water swimming addicts who persuaded him to enter Windermere & he took 3rd place behind Mike Jennings & Anthony Moorey. The following year he won the Inaugural Fleetwood to Morecambe 23 mile swim which was swiftly followed by a two way Windermere Swim. He swam the Fleetwood Morecambe course many times in the following years.
Many of us remember 16th August 1964 when Barry swam from France to England in a new world record time of 9 hours 35 minutes. (Some BLDSA members tell me they were still at school then although I know I was training for my first attempt to cross Morecambe Bay having left school the year before). Barry’s memories of that day are slightly different to most folks’ memories which recall a day when the Channel was flat.
Quoting Barry’s from personal memories:- ‘On the same day, Harry Huffaker (USA) was taken from the water & then flown by helicopter to hospital. My friend Arthur Ayres also retired that day with stomach cramp & sickness. Some other swimmers failed also’.
His association with Channel Swimming Association was strong as he went on to make three two way Channel attempts in 1968 (stopped after 23 hours by the Pilot, Val Noakes in appalling weather condition & jelly fish swarms having turned at Cap Griz Nez in 16 hours 19 minutes):- 1969 when a serious shoulder strain which he had carried for a time forced him from the water 8 hours after turning at Cap Griz Nez in 13 hours 56 minutes. Another attempt in 1970 when again he turned on the French side in 15 hours 14 minutes but 3 hours into the return leg the wind had risen to Force 7 & sadly, Val Noakes had to order him from the water and a long struggle ensued to get him aboard and for the boat to battle its way back to Folkestone in Force 10 winds.
In 1971 the weather thwarted him even getting into the water, so he dreamed up the idea to swim Coniston, Windermere & Ullswater in one 24 hour period, going from South to North in each Lake. Bedevilled by fog & Lake District Sunday traffic so when we review his times, they are remarkable. Coniston took 4 hours 2 minutes. Windermere took (wait for it) 5 hours 35 minutes & Ullswater4 hours 33 minutes, an amazing achievement.
He was proud to tell me that in his career he had swum Coniston 47 times, Windermere 39 times & the Channel 4 times.
On a sad return journey to Folkestone in 2012 for Bet Noakes’s funeral (Val’s wife) Barry was surprised to be greeted by someone after the service as ‘ BW Bad Weather, its Barry Watson’. John Gale worked at the Folkestone Harbour Fish Market & he hadn’t seen him for 40 years. John told him the Channel Pilots based in Folkstone used to call him ‘Barry Bad Weather Watson’ as they often couldn’t fish when he was swimming due to the weather.
He was deservedly inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1973 & remained in touch with many of the great inductees.
As the years progressed Barry’s interests diversified & he climbed all the Wainwrights in the Lake District & ticked off 77 Munros (Mountains over 3000 feet). Then came an abiding passion for Triathlon, Fell Racing & Cyclo Cross & supporting Bingley Harriers with their Fell Relays but his deep passion became watching & supporting Alistair & Jonny Brownlee at their track in the local area, often accompanied by friend & former elite athlete Chris Cariss (first Briton home in the 2004 London Marathon as Barry proudly confided) who remained a very close friend. Barry & partner Linda loved to watch the International Triathlons featuring Alistair & Jonny.
What more can we say about this very special man – fabulous swimmer, dedicated walker & supporter to so many folk, young & not so young, generously sharing his knowledge, skill & humour, making each & every one of us feel very special to know him & call him ‘friend’.
Margaret J Smith
Channel Swimmer Barry Watson with Kendal Mellor, Geoff Oddie (his coach)
Geoff Oddie was a former BLDSA President & Kendall Mellor was one of great swimming legends, along with Barry.