Whittaker undeterred by storm warnings ahead of canal swim

James Whittaker, director of Peel Holdings, sounded determined if a little dismayed at the forecast of heavy rain and strong winds for the start of his gruelling charity swim tomorrow along 36 miles of the Manchester Ship Canal.

James Whittaker"The weather forecast is not looking good at the moment; there is heavy rain expected which will bring the water temperature down. The wind is due from the south which is better than coming from the west and funnelling down the canal against me," said Whittaker, 37, pictured, who is a veteran of two Iron Man contests and a marathon in recent years.

The swim will take place over two days with 21 miles covered on Friday, taking around 12 hours, the final 15 miles taking another nine hours on Saturday.

"The endurance factor doesn't worry me as I've raced in the Iron Man before and have been doing some big swims in the Lakes in Windermere, Ullswater and Coniston to get used to the cold open water conditions," he added.

"However, if the rain comes down hard it could take the temperature down a few degrees [the canal typically ranges from 14 to 18 degrees Celsius] and then maintaining sufficient core body temperature could become a serious problem."

Whittaker began training for the event in November last year and has been doing up to 13 hours – swimming between 20 and 45 miles – a week.

The swim is in aid of the £15m appeal for the New Children's Hospital in Manchester. Whittaker has raised pledges of around £65,000 so far.

The event is also being used to launch Peel's Ocean Gateway programme, a series of regeneration projects from Salford Quays to the Port of Liverpool which it values at £50bn.

More than 250 public and private sector guests will spend five hours cruising the ship canal tomorrow listening to Peel's owner – and James's father – John Whittaker and his colleagues present their typically bold and ambitious plans.

James, who sets off from Salford Quays at 7.30am tomorrow and will be passed by the VIP cruise after about five miles, at Barton, added: "We want to highlight the benefits of the canal in economic and environmental terms and try to bring people together to work with us in realising the Ocean Gateway plans to drive the North West on to even greater things."

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