Wilson to attempt Tobago to Trinidad swim

David Quick/Staff Before starting the Swim Around Charleston in 2011, Kathleen Wilson (center) did the swim from Remley's Point to the I-526 bridge on the Ashley River the year before.

Local marathon swimmer and Charleston city councilwoman Kathleen Wilson is embarking on her big swim of the year — the first known attempt to swim from Tobago to Trinidad.

Wilson, 52, of James Island, says the distance is between 22 and 23 miles. And while she’s done seven swims of equal or greater distance, this one is different because, she says, it has never been done. Wilson’s swim was expected to take place Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Attempts to reach her Thursday were unsuccessful.

“I had an opportunity to talk with the ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago during a visit to Charleston and asked how far between the islands (and if anyone had ever attempted to swim it),” recalls Wilson.

After he said no one has attempted it, she contacted a friend who has a home on Tobago and who gave her a few leads on finding a guide pilot.

Wilson, who has completed all but one (Cook Strait, New Zealand) of her 14 marathon swims, described this attempt as the “most uncertain swim ever” for her because of the currents.

“There is a major current running between the islands, part of the much larger Caribbean system, and we have to account for a major westerly push while trying to swim south.”

She adds that it is “entirely possible to miss the island (Trinidad) if not calculating drift correctly, not swimming fast enough or weather conditions such as swells, wind and chop make for a slower than normal swim, like my Molokai swim.

“The Strait of Gibraltar involved a big easterly push but the pilots were experienced, the swim was half the distance and it is a bit harder to miss Africa,” says Wilson, who will be without the help of her husband, Fred Wilson, who ran out of vacation time this year.

Her other loyal support team member, Lesley Fanning, will be with her, but the wild card remains the experience of the navigator.

In other extreme current swims like the Channel and Gibraltar, longtime pilots have currents mapped out and know how to plan the swim for the swimmer. “This all falls to us now. I have a young guy, a diver, who is piloting for me. He knows the waters and will give me his best take on things, but there is a huge unknown component,” said Wilson.

The swim comes as Wilson, who founded an adult swim program called SwimCalm, puts on the fifth annual 12-mile Swim Around Charleston on Sept. 26.