Sea Donkey

Anyone familiar with Guernsey will almost certainly know the name Ady Sarchet, or ‘Sea Donkey’, as he is more famously known. Ady’s story is one of determination and a quest to grow and give back doing what he loves - wild sea swimming. Hand Picked magazine visited Ady in his favourite swimming spot, where he was dressed to impress, VIP-style, while enjoying tea and cake with a view.

If you enjoy swimming, tucked away in St Peter Port you’ll find a hidden gem prized by the local community – La Vallette Bathing Pools. These four saltwater pools date back to 1844 when locals would flock there to enjoy the British sunshine. Over the last few years, these beloved facilities have been upgraded, providing a luxurious space to swim, mingle, and enjoy stunning views. It truly is a safe haven, boasting the modern conveniences of hot showers and a contemporary café with spacious outdoor terraces to enjoy year-round seascapes.

When he isn’t swimming in far-flung parts of the world, this stunning setting is also home to Ady, one of Guernsey’s most famous sea swimmers. A humble man, Ady’s mantra, “You can do it, we can do it”, has inspired others to take the plunge and experience the ripple effect that anything is possible with the right mindset. While many have recently taken up cold water swimming, Ady has been pushing boundaries for years, with his efforts even inspiring a documentary, Sea Donkey, that coined his famous nickname.

Fighting the fear

Ady has some incredible stories of his global sea swimming adventures, including a particularly hair-raising encounter. “It was on my Santa Catalina Island swim, my first ever marathon swim in shark territory,” he recalls. “I was acutely conscious that the swim started at 23:30, and I had told the Skipper of the support boat (one of the saltiest old sea-dogs I’d ever met) that I was worried about sharks on a night swim. I was about to jump off the support boat into the pitch-black water, and I hesitated, unable to take the next step. The Skipper drew up next to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about the sharks, boy, we don’t have any man-eaters here …’ then the Skipper shoved me overboard, roaring, ‘… only boy-eaters!’ Those were the last words I heard before hitting the water … and I was absolutely terrified.”

Ady continues, “I spent the first two hours of the swim dealing with that fear and recoiling every time I swam into something in the dark, and every time I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. But I learned to overcome my fears on that swim, a skill that I have used countless times since.”

A different mindset

It is hard to imagine being fearless in shark-infested waters and keep swimming, so what mind-hacks do you use to achieve this? Ady’s response is quite simple, “First – perseverance defeats fear; second – disassociate your mind and body; and third – develop your ‘bubble of calm’.

“I learned the first mind-hack the hard way in Catalina, that your body and mind can only make you feel pure terror for a finite period of time. It’s almost like your adrenal glands give up after a while, and the fear wanes. During that long night in Catalina I persevered. The terror burned itself out, I got bored of being afraid, and the rest of the swim was a joy.”

“It took me a few marathon swims to properly appreciate the second mind-hack, but for me, it’s the key to endurance sport. If you can learn to disassociate your mind and body and to regard your body as a machine that is being piloted by ‘you’, then you can remain rational, focused and goal-oriented even when you are suffering terribly, with fatigue, sickness, jellyfish stings, muscular issues and the ever-present threat of hypothermia.

“The final mind-hack is more of a way of enunciating what your training seeks to achieve. When you are a novice swimmer, you have limited experience and if something happens on a marathon swim it can freak you out and you lose your rational, focused and goal-oriented self. To put it another way, a novice has a small ‘bubble of calm’. By training intelligently, you can expose yourself to all the things you might encounter on a marathon swim and develop your reservoir of self-belief that you can deal with whatever the swim throws your way – you increase the size of your ‘bubble of calm’”.

Powering health and wellbeing

Beyond cognitive empowerment, the sea can also boost physical fitness and emotional wellbeing. Mineral-rich sea water includes magnesium that can alleviate various skin conditions, while lowering cortisol and calming the nervous system. Swimming has long been heralded for improving muscle tone and lung capacity, but the outdoor elements of sea swimming add physicality, delivering greater benefits. An enormous part of the modern appeal of open-water swimming is the palpable feeling that you are joining a very special tribe. A uniquely inclusive, non-hierarchical tribe that revolves around a shared love of sea swimming … and cake. Ady explains, “I was introduced to that tribe by the legendary Roger Allsopp, who is my absolute hero.”

A fellow Guernseyman, Roger has swum the English Channel twice, the second time in his 70s and once held the Guinness World Record for the oldest person to swim the English Channel. Ady explains, “Roger’s personal commitment, drive and enthusiasm are beyond admirable, but it was his humbleness in the face of his massive achievements and his willingness to bring on a nobody novice like me that really shone”.

We are so lucky to have this facility, it really is pure luxury for swimmers

Supporting the community

Ady is impressed with the improvements to La Vallette Bathing Pools, which is encouraging considering that he did a 24-hour continuous swim in the Ladies’ Pool last year (covering nearly 60 kilometres) to raise money for disabled access.

“We are so lucky to have this facility, it really is pure luxury for swimmers. It is a place where hearts and minds come to be healed, and where dreams are born”, he enthuses. “I have coached many swimmers here, and it is a safe place offering everything you need to help others achieve the benefits of cold water immersion or to train for that once-in-a-lifetime swim in any weather. Luxury in the wild – I have never been to a place like it and we have it, right here, on our doorstep”.

Ady is proud to be Chairperson of Guernsey Disability Swimming LBG a Guernsey-based charity whose mission is to provide and enhance the swim experience of swimmers with a wide range of disabilities.

To donate, please visit and select Guernsey Disability Swimming LBG from the dropdown list.

The Oceans Seven

In 2020, Ady became only the 21st person to complete the pinnacle of open-water swimming – The Oceans Seven. These swims require immense physical and mental strength, and all have to be completed in a bathing suit, silicone hat, and a pair of goggles – without a wetsuit. The swims are:

  • The North Channel – 21 miles (34 km) between Ireland and Scotland
  • The Cook Strait – 16 miles (26 km) between New Zealand’s North and South Islands
  • The Ka’iwi Channel – 27 miles (44 km) between the Hawaiian Islands of Moloka’i and O’ahu
  • The English Channel – 21 miles (34 km) between England and France
  • The Catalina Channel – 20 miles (32 km) between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles
  • The Tsugaru Strait – 12 miles (20 km) between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido
  • The Strait of Gibraltar – 10 miles (16 km) between Spain and Morocco

As with any physical activity, Ady advises everyone to check with their doctor before cold water swimming, to start slowly before building up, and to always swim with a buddy.