top of page

Bryan Finlay

Born in Coventry England in 1943, Bryan was taught to swim at age 10 by his uncle, Roy Sutton. Despite all of Roy's efforts, Bryan persisted in swimming breaststroke and 50 years later continues to favour that stroke.

At age 14 in 1957, Bryan won the 60 yard breaststroke championship (see photo) at Coventry Swimming Club. The win led to his representing the Midlands at the English Schools Swimming championships in 1957, where he placed sixth in 1:19.4 for the 100 yards Breast. He persisted with sprinting and played water polo for Coventry; however, his passion was open air swimming. In 1960, swimming with subsequent Channel Swimmer, Peter Fergus, he set a breaststroke record of 3 hours 0 minutes on the 8.4 km course of Lake Coniston. A week later he led the field of freestylers from the 2-mile mark to the 5-mile mark in 10-mile Windermere championship. The over-confident start to the race led to being pulled from the water unconscious from cold and hypoglycemia around the 7-mile mark. That was sufficient for Bryan to become hooked on a sport that has fascinated him for the rest of his life.

In 1961, Bryan completed the Windermere race on breaststroke in 6 hours 16 minutes and in 1963 he finally broke the Windermere breaststroke record with a time of 6:10. 

A come-back solo swim at age 35 on Windermere in 1979 encountered some quite rough and cold conditions (water around 15 degree C), resulting in a semi-conscious finish in 6:59:08 (see photo with Perce Bull (left) and Arthur Ayres (right)). Finishing 10-mile swims in this state convinced Bryan that he did not have either the stamina or build to survive a marathon swim of the English Channel, so he concentrated on 5-mile swims on which he excelled during the early 1960's setting a number of breaststroke records.

Bryan's Long-Standing Breaststroke Records

Coniston, 5.25 miles, 33 Years

  • Bryan's proudest Breaststroke record was for Lake Coniston.

  • For Bryan, it all started in 1960 with a 3:00:00 swim. 

  • In 1961, Bryan improved the Breast record to 2:33:56.

  • On 27 July 1963 he again improved on his Breast Record with a 2:31:54 . . . 

  • Amazingly, even with the incentive of Breaststroke trophies for the race, this 1963 Breast record withstood all-comers until Bryan returned to a BLDSA race on 16th July 1988 where, with perfect water-temperature and wind conditions, he improved the time to 2:31:34 - a time that still stood at the end of the 2018 season - holding the Breast record for over 58 years! 

Ullswater, UK, 7 miles, 47.9 Years

  • On 12 September 1964, Bryan (21-years-old) travelled on his motor-bike from his home-town of Coventry to Lake Ullswater and met with his Yorkshire friend Colin Proctor and Colin's Dad, Dougie. They hired a boat at Glenridding and started the 7-mile swim to Pooley Bridge. It was a cool swim and a head-wind frustrated Bryan's progress on the last 3 miles when the cold water also started to slow his progress; however, he did establish an inaugural Breaststroke record of 4:31:16.

  • On 29 July 2012, almost 48 years later, Mark Westaway at the age of 32, broke Bryan's 1964 record with a time of 4:25:01. 


Fleetwood-to-Morecambe, UK, 12 miles, 52+ Years

At age 23, on 12 June 1966, Bryan was the third man to finish the 12-mile race in the sea from Fleetwood to Morecambe. Swimming breaststroke against the freestylers, he established a breaststroke record of 5:36:03. Since races are now rarely held on this course, it is not surprising that this record has not been broken. Water temperature was 59-61 degrees F.

Sandsend-Whitby, UK, 3 miles, 55+ Years

The Whitby Seals organized these 3-mile North sea-swims up to 1993 along the shoreline from Sandsend and to Whitby harbour. Cold Water were always Bryan's forte and he was often competitive with freestylers under such adverse conditions of wind and cold. Bryan's set the breaststroke record of 1:04:06 in 1963 at age 20, when he placed fourth in the mens' event behind 3 male and one female freestyle. The water temperature was 55-58 degrees F. So this record stood the test of 30 years of organized championships.

Rathlin Island to Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, 4.5 miles, 54+ Years

This is a tidal swim so the actual distance of this swim is debatable. The first race, organized by the BLDSA in 1964, was challenged by rough water, a start from rocks to the west of the southern point of Rathlin Island, and a sea temperature of 53 degrees F. Channel swimmer, Michael Jennings immediately took the lead but withdrew after 77 minutes due to the cold, leaving Bryan (swimming breaststroke in the lead); however, the cold eventually took effect on Bryan and, in the final mile, he was passed by Kendall Mellor. Bryan finished in 2:46:41, dazed but in second place just 4 minutes behind Kendall. It was reported by the news media that there were as many as 6,000 spectators around the finish at Balycastle harbour.

BLDSA International Swim, Holland, 1961

  • In the early 1960's, Bryan was occasionally enthused to swim Freestyle. One such challenge was to represent the BLDSA at the annual international event held across the Scheldt estuary, finishing at Flushing in Holland. 

  • Based on performances in previous events, Bill Thrall (Rotherham) was the prime candidate for the BLDSA representative in 1961; however, Bryan had completed an impressive May 1961 swim in 1:24 in 48 degree F water on Bala Lake, where Joe Smith's record stood at 1:21:03. 

  • In the absence of a lady representative for that year, the BLDSA chose to send two male representatives . . . Bill Thrall and Bryan Finlay.

  • Bryan placed fifth in the men's event in 1:18:54 behind the winner's time of 1:10:01. Bill placed seventh in 1:23:27.

  • This swim was Bryan's first encounter with jelly fish and he suffered with the stings for 24 hours after the swim.

The Later Years

Bryan and his wife, Helen, emigrated to Canada in 1972, where he met Bob Weir in the late 1980's and was introduced to Solo Swims of Ontario and marathon swimming on the Great Lakes.


An abortive attempt on Lake Ontario in 1992, and several storm-related failures on Lake Simcoe led to a 15-hour, 131 km failure on Lake Simcoe in 1995. Bryan got his training together, mastered feeding problems, and beat notable head-winds see photo with Bob Weir) to complete the 35 km from Barrie to Orillia on Lake Simcoe in 21 hours 9 minutes. A tough stage at the 17-hour mark involved low blood-sugar and an empty stomach that were characterized by hyperventilation, hiccoughing, and shivering; this problem was only overcome with the intake of solid food (cantaloupe) and a change from his ERG-Gookinaid electrolyte drink to tea with 8% glucose. Even at 56 years of age, there are things to be learnt about your body - especially when it's never been taken to those levels of performance before.

Lake Erie:

At age 58 in 2001, Bryan swam 22.1 km from Leamington to Pelee Island on Lake Erie breaststroke. His time of 10:44 also broke the Free record.
The swim started from Leamington at 9:21 am on Saturday 23 June 2001.
During the swim, 4 freighters passed between the boat and Pelee Island, with one of them creating a significant swell. 

At the 6-hour mark, Bryan was having to duck to miss numerous streams of dead Fishflies (Mayfly, Shadfly). On the return journey to Leamington, the crew were hit by masses of the live flies which, at the marina, also lay dead in piles at the foot of the overhead lights.

English Channel


Bryan made an attempt on the English Channel on 4-5 August 2002, at age 59. He discovered that his protein-electrolyte mix had an inadequate amount of dextrose and led to regurgitation for the last 10 hours of his 20-hour swim. His pilot, Duncan Taylor, waited for perfect wind conditions that provided essentially flat water and this was aided with water temperatures from 63-66 degrees F; however, in a severe state of hypo-glycaemia and lapsing into sleep, the pilot eventually ordered Bryan from the water, after 20 hours and just 800 metres from the French shore.

With his exclamation "But Duncan, we're so close!", Bryan viewed the kneeling pilot (with his gaff in hand) and obeyed the pilot by raising his arms to be pulled from the water. In the exertion of being pulled onto the deck of the support-boat, he passed-out . . . recovering with a below-deck snooze. 

After a career of research in Medical Engineering, orthopaedics and respiratory work, Bryan indicates that, even in 2013 at the age of 70, he is still learning about his physiology !

Solo Swims of Ontario

Bryan has been associated with SSO since 1991, and was its Treasurer from 1992-2016c, and served as Swim Master.

He also competes regularly in Masters Swimming, and held the Masters World Short-Course Breaststroke record (2:50.27 and 2:48.22) for the 40-44 age-group between 1986 and 1988.

And he still dreams of Marathon Swims, during his lap-swimming in "Chlorinated Pint-Pots" !

International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame

Bryan was inducted as an Honor Administrator in 2020 (See IMSHOF).

Finlay Pelee_edited.jpg
Finlay Pelee course.png
bottom of page