A year ago I found out that Channel Swimmers are allowed to sign their names on the ceiling of a grand old pub in Dover called the White Horse.
A year ago I sank a very nice pint and took in all the names around me. It was then that I thought how cool it would be if I was allowed to sign my name up there too, amongst the lates and the greats.
So, following my successful channel swim on Saturday 24th September, I was looking forward to finding a space on the ceiling for my name!
On Monday 26th Sept 2011 saw me and (Uncle) Chris Keegan nipping to the White Horse to place the order I had dreamed of:
” Hello there! I’d like two pints of beer and a big marker pen please!!”
The bar lady chatted whilst she pulled the pints and double-checked that I was in fact a legitimate Channel Swimmer. Once satisfied, she handed the pen over with a big grin. Despite my arms being sore as hell, I certainly wasn’t going to let that stop me reach up and write my name on the ceiling!! I found a spot to write on next to the current female world record holder Becky Lewis!
Me signing my name
Not that I make a habit of graffiti, but that was a special moment…….
My name on the ceiling at the White Horse, Dover
The video says it all………..
Never did a pint taste as good to a man with a very sore mouth. What a lovely place to get rid of the taste of the channel water!
Job Done. Time for a Pint!
And on that note, Chris and I left Dover, driving our separate ways back home.
I grinned as wide as an over-excited tree frog all the way home.
On Saturday 24th of September 2011 I swum the English Channel.
I can hardly believe it!
Here’s the story of how the day panned out……………
After waiting for a week for my swim window, I finally got the chance to swim.
Friday 23rd, 8pm
Mix the maxim feeds, load all the boxes in cars. Go to sleep (or try to!)
Saturday 24th, 3am
We got packed up and went to the harbour at 4am to board our boat, Sea Satin.
Getting ready at Dover Harbour
I felt sorry for our poor pilot Lance Oram -- he’d only just got in from a previous swim! I don’t know how these guys manage to think during the silly season -- it must be as exhausting as a channel swim itself!!
Sat 24th 4.30am
Then as we pulled out of the harbour, the crew had the rules read out by our CS&PF (Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation) Official, Rachel:
Official talks to team (no, I don't know what Helen's doing!)
As my team fought for the right NOT to grease me up, Mike and Chris were the slowest to run away and got saddled with covering my hulking frame with the famous “Channel Grease” -- a mixture of Lanolin and Vaseline to stop my body chaffing, and to try to prevent the jellyfish stings getting through too often.
Slap it on guys!
Once covered in grease, Lance shouted that we were close to Shakespeare’s Beach and that I could jump in the cold deep water and swim to the beach. Unfortunately, I brushed my now grease-covered arm against my goggles and couldn’t see anything! Luckily we’d brought some Fairy Liquid, so Tanya quickly helped to clear my goggles.
Grease on goggles
Now I could see again, it was time to go. Although the night air was cold, when I jumped into the black water, it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would have done. As I swam to shore, I just tried to keep my nerves under control. My heart was hammering away and all I could think was “this is it, this is it!”
I climbed out of the water at Shakespeare’s beach and collected my thoughts as I adjusted my goggles. I remembered all the weekends I’d spent at Dover and missing the kids summer holidays. I remembered all the donations that people that had been made. I remembered a few negative folk at work who bet on me not finishing the attempt and putting really short times in the sweepstake. I then thought of my wife SJ and her certainty that I was going to do it. Then I remembered the amazing send off the staff and kids at Penny Fields Special Needs school gave me before I left.
And then I remembered that this was the ONLY time I would ever do this.
I was to make the most of it and keep going no matter what. It was now or never. I remember how worried SJ looked when I left. I knew why now. She knew that I wasn’t going to leave the water no matter what. I’d even upped my life insurance, just in case things didn’t work out, so SJ and the kids would be well provided for, such something go badly wrong.
Sat 24th 5:03am
As I walked into the water, I realised that I had made my mind up to get this done properly a while ago. There was no way I was going to stop. I was either getting out at the other side, or was going to be hauled out by someone else. There was no way I had come this far and was going to mess it up now. I’d done the physical training at Dover. I’d done the mental training and had many psychological tools to hand, should I need them (huge thanks to Nick Kemp for those!)
I’m glad I’d made my mind up, because the first few cold hours were horrible, the waves were slapping into my mouth, I gagged a bit on the strong salt water as it burned the back of my throat and nose, and I struggled to get into a good rhythm.
Leaving the lights of Dover behind
Once I’d found my stroke rhythm, I was a much happier chap. My goggles were still airtight, my swim cap was staying put. And the trickest (in my experience) piece of equipment -- my swimming earplugs were holding fast too (thanks to Phil Spencely at Specsavers Huddersfield for giving me specially moulded earplugs to the swim for free -- what a star!!).
So I started to enjoy myself more in the water, and even more surprising, even started to enjoy swimming in the pitch black! My head light flashed away on the back of my goggles, whilst the green pencil shaped light glowed from my waistline.
Swimming in the Dark!
I always thought that swimming in the dark would be scary, but it turned out to be surprisingly relaxing. In fact, in many ways it was more simple, as there are simply less distractions and more opportunity to focus on stroke and form.
Swimming in the Dawn
Sat 24th 6:37am
As dawn broke, I was treated to a rare and beautiful experience -- sunrise over the ocean that you’re actually swimming in. My crew mate Mike Forster captured the moment beautifully………..
Swimming into the Sunrise
One thing that was a lovely surprise was how clear the water was. I was used to swimming in the perpetually cloudy waters of Dover harbour, and was unused to seeing much ahead of me other than my elbow. The water in the channel, whilst a very poor beverage indeed, is much clearer than I thought. That clarity was handy later for dodging jellyfish!!
Chris Keegan (see many other posts for how helpful he’s been!) another very good mate who was part of the crew, took a great video as I swam into the dawn.
Sat 24th 2pm
On channel swims, you are allowed to be joined by a companion swimmer for a maximum of 1 hr to keep you company. Then they must leave the water and not rejoin you for at least 2 hours. The CS&PF (Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation) Official also checks that they don’t break any rules -- i.e they can’t touch me, or swim in front of me (which counts as assistance).
I was in the very fortunate position of having two of my crew mates being nice enough (and mad) enough to join me in the channel -- both Paul and Helen are highly competent athletes in their own right. Paul decided to brave the depths first and despite having a wetsuit on gave a satisfying yelp of shock as he jumped into the baltic water!
Paul pauses to wonder why on earth he decided to do this!
It was lovely to have Walesy in the water -- after all, we’d been in the same class at school since I was 11 years old, we’d trained at the same swimming club, had my first pint with him, and we used to pester girls together at the local nightclubs in our formative years -- you name it. He was even my best man when I married SJ.
So, to be joined by Paul in my biggest adventure to date was truly a brilliant thing. Just to have someone to swim next to does make it so much more pleasant. Especially if he’s your best pal. It also helps to have a material witness when you explain to unbelievers how bloody cold the water is in the Channel!!
All too soon, Paul’s time was up and he had to exit the water and back to the warmth and comfort of the boat.
A few hours passed, where I lost all track of time (which is a good thing when swimming for 18hrs!). Later on I was joined by Helen. Now Helen is uberfit. She’s competed and won a number of top flight triathlons, so all she had to do was remember not to dash off without me!
Helen joins me for a dip!
Now, apologies to Helen -- I hardly looked over to her as she swam next to me -- I was wary of seeing how far away France was if I looked up to my left! It was really good to have some company in the water again, and it certainly lifted my spirits. I’m sure not many people could name two of their friends who would be prepared to jump into the channel and swim alongside them for a time. I know I’m a lucky man indeed. Thanks guys!
Again, Helen’s time ran out far too fast and she retreated back to the boat for warm, towels and a Pot Noodle!
Although I missed my companions when they’d gone, both Paul and Helen’s front crawl stroke style was so meticulous, it reminded me to keep my stroke nice and tidy…….
I was letting my thoughts idle way and was fairly happy until I saw what I first thought was a small jellyfish underneath me. As I focused my eyes a little better, I could see that it was an absolutely MASSIVE jellyfish way down deep beneath me. I had no idea they got that big -- this bugger was a tan colour and looked like it was about 15 feet across!! And it was it my imagination, or was it getting bigger -- in other words coming up to the surface to greet me?
I wasn’t going to hang about and discover that this wasn’t a hallucination! I kept looking at it as I kicked harder and pulled faster through the water to get clear of it. I didn’t look forward until I felt a sharp sting on my forearm and looked up.
Jesus -- there were dozens of much littler pink jellyfish -- but they were EVERYWHERE!!
I shouted at the pilot and said something like “Ahhhhh -- jellyfish!!”. Then one stung me on the palm.
Then it happened again
Then the pain kicked in
Gary, the pilot at the time (Lance had gone for a well deserved sleep) saw what was happening and made a snake motion with his hand. He was meaning that I could probably avoid most stings by trying to weave and dodge the worst of them.
Since the water was so clear, I could see most of them coming and dodged them. Mike and Chris had put a good lot of grease on the back of my hands, so I used them to knock the ones I couldn’t avoid out of the way. I saw a few of the “purple nasties” type-of jellyfish, which I respectfully avoided like the plague. Luckily, none of those type got me, so I got away pretty lightly considering. The ones that got me felt like a strong nettle sting -- so nothing to fuss about really.
I continued ducking and dodging for another fifteen minutes or so, when gladly the jellyfish became less and less frequent. God knows how many there were -- I’d lost count after 200. I was glad that neither Helen or Paul were swimming then, but sad that they couldn’t have seen them (if for no other reason than to verify what I’d seen!!). Although they were unnerving up so close, they were still a thing of beauty -- some of the purple ones looked like translucent chandliers.
What a crew!
One thing I never worried about was my safety -- and I have the team to thank for that. Every single time I looked up at the boat, there was always at least one team mate keeping a watchful eye. I can’t tell you how important that was -- it’s so important to know that you’re crew are taking care of you -- they were absolutely brilliant from start to finish.
Paul Wales keeping a watchful eye!
As well as counting stroke rates, preparing and delivering feeds and writing nice messages on the whiteboard, the team also did a fantastic job of managing all the modern media stuff -- taking loads of photos, videos and updating the twitter account - it’s enough to ask your mates to look after the feeds on a rocking boat for 24 hours, but to do all the other stuff as well is fantastic. What a lucky chap to have such brilliant and capable mates. Helen and Mike I think did most of the “twittering” and responding to texts -- in addition to other duties as they cropped up!
Helen updating twitter with the latest swim news!
Sat 24th 5pm
After 12 hours, my arms and shoulders were hurting a fair bit (understatement!), but the best crew on the planet kept showing me motivational messages to keep me going!
Just think - this is Just One Day in Your Life!
I loved that message. However much things were hurting, I had to keep it in perspective -- it was after all just one day in the whole of my life. As Kevin Murphy said to me once;
“The pain is temporary -- the glory lasts forever!”
I was also practising a lot of the stuff that Nick Kemp had taught me about emotional state control. I can’t say enough good things about Nick -- I went to him when I was concerned about how many fears and panic attacks I was getting during training in May. His various methods of dealing with such anxieties were brilliant. They required little effort to implement and they worked perfectly. If the channel is indeed 80% mental and 20% physical, it would have been madness to neglect getting my mental state right for the challenge. I’d recommend Nick to anyone in a similar position.
The crew were doing brilliant too -- the feeds were spot on, and 5 minutes before each feed, they would show me the sign I loved to see………………….
The 5 Minute sign!
Ah yes! The 5 minute sign. Whenever the crew dangled that over the side of the boat for me to see, it meant that I only had 5 minutes left until my last feed. Bliss!
Now, Freda (as in Freda Streeter, “The General” who trains us on the swimmers beach at Dover) did warn me against using a whiteboard, as it had proven to be a distraction to the swimmer as they tried to read it whilst swimming. Taking that advice in to account I decided we would still use a whiteboard, but at two times only. Firstly, it’s only use when I was swimming was to signal “5″ so I knew a feed was coming. Then, when I got closer to the boat to have my feed, the team could write one simple message (i.e. not loads of tweets, which would be too hard to read and would be distracting). I’m happy that we had the whiteboard -- it was a great help to me, and we didn’t overuse it.
The team did a great job of this -- I had a pre written list of quotes that rang a bell with me (let me know if you want them). They could choose from those, or write the latest donations figure from www.justgiving.com/peteswims. Although I loved their improvised message, as it really lifted my mood:
A nice message from my crew
Sat 24th 6pm
At about 6pm (or what I estimated to be that time, as I didn’t have a watch, so was using the position of the sun to guess), my arms were pretty tired. I did for a split second think that the challenge was getting the better of me, but then I thought
“If I do get out of the water, I’m only going to have to do all this, all over again. I’ll have to swim to this very point again. I’ve just swum 12 hours in the channel that I will NEVER have to do again. Get a grip, and keep going.”
Following that internal discussion, Walesy (Paul Wales) with perfect timing dangled this message (from my 6 year old son, Jem) over the boat:
A message from Jem!
I imagined how proud the kids would be in the future if they could say their dad was a Channel Swimmer. It was just the boost I needed!
Sat 24th 6:30pm
Everything was going well at this point. I had swum into the sunrise and was about to start swimming into the sunset. Although channel swimming is hard, it also has some wonderful moments if you make a point of looking for them.
I mean, how many people ever get to experience swimming in the ocean for a whole day and see the rising sun and the setting sun in the same swim?
Not many. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to do it. Again, because my pilot and my crew were so good, it does give you the necessary “head-space” to take in the good stuff, as you don’t worry so much about what could go wrong.
Sat 24th 9:30pm
As I swam on in the dark, I noticed a movement on my left out of the corner of my eye. Now, during the day, I refused to look to my left for fear of seeing France (or rather seeing how far away it still was!). But now it was dark, I reckoned I could risk it.
I’m glad I did! The movement to my left was a couple of little fish (about the size of sticklebacks) that were glowing a bright luminous green! They must have seen the green stick light attached to the back of my trunks and thought they had a new mate! There were other fish alongside them too, all swimming at exactly the same speed as me. I actually reached out to touch them to check I wasn’t hallucinating (which happens after so long in the water, I’d heard).
I caught one the the green fish in my hand and it wriggled out and continued swimming next to me. Brilliant -- so it wasn’t my imagination! It was a lovely experience, and really cheered my soul to think that real wild glowing fish were swimming alongside me.
Sat 24th 10:30pm
Again I had a quick feed and then I noticed Paul had jumped in to swim alongside me. I thought that maybe I’d slowed down a bit and assumed Paul had been put in next to me to make me swim a little faster. I wouldn’t have been surprised, as since it had got darker I really began to feel the cold. Unknown to me, the crew (on Tanya’s advice) had also bumped up the maxim dosage -- in hindsight, this was a very wise move indeed.
Pete and Paul - the home straight/strait!
I held my hand up to let the team know I was going to try an have a pee. By now I was cold and trying to pee was getting more difficult. Since I had to stop swimming to try to pee, I drifted away from Paul and the boat. I started to realise that the tide taking me away from the boat was running very fast indeed, so I’d have to be quick.
Since I was looking at the boat, neither the boat nor Paul could see my lights, as they were attached to my back. Paul shouted out and told me to swim back quick, and then the boat crew started shouting too. So there I was, floating away from the boat at a fair rate of knots, tyring to pee whilst 8 people shouted at me and scoured the waves with a spotlight to try and find me. Hardly conducive to being able to do said task -- talk about getting “wee stage-fright”!!
Anyway, after what seemed like 10 mins, I’d finished the longest wee ever and swam back to get alongside the boat. When I got there, I noticed all my crew had moved to the front of the boat. I didn’t think it strange, I just thought they wanted to splay out on the deck to enjoy the the stars of a wonderful (if chilly) cloudless night sky.
As I swam alongside the boat Mike yelled
“Keep going Pete -- you’re nearly there!”
At first I thought “Damn it Mike, I told you not to tell me anything about being near -just in case the tide turns”
Then Mike shone a light in front of the boat about 300 yards away. It was a tree.
“Funny,” I thought, ”a tree in the Channel. Fancy that.”
Obviously my brain was starting to show the effects of swimming for so long. Paul was alongside me and shouted that we were nearly there.
“What?” I shouted, ”You’re joking -- Really?”
“YES!!!” yelled the whole crew on the boat “GO GO GO!!”
I didn’t need telling twice -- as the crew whooped and hollered, I fairly sprinted to the shore and for the first time ever swam faster than Paul! I must have been flooded with adrenalin. As I swam I felt so excited that I was actually just about to put my toes into French sand after having touched nothing since I walked into the water on Shakespeare’s beach at Dover so many hours ago. As I clambered over the sharp rocks, I cut my legs and feet on the rocks, but didn’t even notice.
Sat 24th 11:58pm
I cleared the water and I could hear the crew on the boat going nuts!
Satellite tracker path for our boat, Sea Satin
Paul walked up to me and gave me a massive hug.
“Well done buddy -- that was bloody amazing!”
Pete landed here 24/09/11 22:58
That was a moment. Having a manly bear hug on a random French beach somewhere between Wissant and Sangette with my best man, old swim club team mate and best mate. A moment to savour. But not for too long -- the air was absolutely freezing, and I was already pretty chilly by now.
I finish my Channel Swim
We carefully made our way back into the water and swam back to the boat. Getting on the boat after I’d finished was fairly easy -- I think the adrenalin had kicked in, and so I had a lot more energy than I would have supposed. Walesy, ever mindful of the dangers made sure he came up the ladder last, just in case I fell backwards.
What an experience! And what a crew. I could hardly believe I’d made it.
I felt OK considering and phoned a jubliant (and champagne-sodden) SJ, but had to hang up fairly soon as the maxim and sea water suddenly made their presence felt in my stomach. After a pukey 5 mins, everything was ok again and I had a can of Coke to settle my tum, which worked just fine.
Here’s a brief video we made as the boat powers up and heads back to Dover.
And despite swimming to shore with me and ensuring I didn’t come to grief on the rocks, Paul still had enough energy to leave message for his family. Paul had flown over from Geneva to support me and had sacrificied his Cambridge Annual Dinner to help me get across the Channel. What a generous friend indeed. Cheers mate.
We got back to Dover Harbour and the crew unloaded all the gear (I was claiming to be too tired to lift anything!!)
If you ever wondered what the best swim crew look like -- here they are:
The Dream Team!
From the left we have Paul Wales, Mike Forster, Helen Parris and Chris Keegan. All total stars. They put up with my bootcamp style training, total calendar disruption as the weather played havoc on our swim tide and never complained once. What a great bunch -- I know it’s my name on the certificate, but you all played a part.
Speaking of crucial team members, there was one missing on the day. By astonishing bad luck, Ben Clayton got chicken pox the very week of the swim. Ben had already more than helped by being my canoeist and feeder in our practice swims across Coniston. He’d also cleared his diary and came to the Dover training sessions. What a shame that he’d been felled by something totally beyond his control. Whilst we were gutted that Ben couldn’t come, he was still a vital part of the success that day. Cheers Ben!
And what a lovely welcome back to Varne Ridge -- they’d put up a banner saying “Congratulations on Swimming the Channel” on the caravan AND had put the gas fire on so it was lovely and warm inside, so we could thaw out quickly.
Back at Varne Ridge. Knackered but happy!
How thoughtful -- David and Evelyn must have stayed up late to find out if my swim was successful and then set about preparing our welcome in the wee small hours. Amazing!
And then off to bed. Well, I couldn’t sleep much, so I reviewed the twitter messages and mobile texts. Crikey -- it really hit home then. Loads of people had been following the tweets from the boat and dozens of tweets and facebook updates from SJ (despite a dangerously high blood/alcohol level towards the latter stages of the swim!!). It was amazing reading through the messages. Those of you who know me well know that I’m a sentimental thing, so I don’t mind admitted shedding a good many grateful tears as I reviewed those messages. Thanks so much to all of you!
Pete's Path Across The English Channel
There are many, many people I ought to thank for contributing to my getting across the channel, but I’ll leave that for another day and another post.
I should thank Archie though. When you find out your child has got special needs, it needn’t mean the end of your life. Sure, I did think that for a while (2 years to be exact). But then you realise everything can be positive if you are determined to see it that way. There’s no way on earth I would have ever seriously contemplated doing something as ambitious as swimming the channel, had we not had Archie. And Archie himself, whilst blissfully unaware of the channel madness that has engulfed his daddy for the last 2 years, it going to directly benefit from it (we have raised enough donations on www.justgiving.com/peteswims to buy a new disabled-adapted minibus), and have a happier more satisfied Dad to boot.
And last but not least I should thank SJ. Not only did she do a magnificent job of fund-raising and getting me in the newspapers and on the radio, she also looked after the kids pretty much every weekend during the swimming season whilst I was in Dover. I know who had the harder task!! Thanks SJ -- I could never have done any of this without you! xxx.
So, since I’m still waiting, I’m killing time doing videos for posterity!
Here’s my summary video of kit we’re taking…………
So now you know how much stuff we’re taking -- let’s hope all this planning actually gets used……….I don’t even want to think about the possibility of not getting my swim before the end my tide -- time is running out!
I’m waiting for a decent weather slot before I swim the English Channel, and the British weather is being it’s usual fickle self.
Chris’s constant challenge is to think of things to do to occupy my butterfly mind -- and today was Dover Castle!
It’s a bit expensive at £16.50 per person, but if you do everything, you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth.
Here’s me and Chris at the Admiralty Point -- the platform that overhangs the Dover Cliffs -- a great vantage point from which
you can see the Dover Harbour in which I have been swimming for the last 17 weeks!
You can tell why were weren’t allowed to swim today -- it was soooo windy -- you can tell from the audio on the video below!!
And here’s the earlier attempt at the video -- the uncut version -- abandoned due to me being too scared with Uncle Chris threatening to jump off. Honestly -- I thought HE was the responsible adult!!! Apologies for the poor language!
Well, the weather in the channel is currently very choppy with 45 mph wind blowing the wrong way!
Needless to say, my pilot (the skipper who navigates the support boat next to me) is not taking me out just yet. The latest estimate is possibly Thursday, but most likely to be Friday or Saturday.
What keeps me going whilst I’m waiting? Well, my mate Chris Keegan is with me at the caravan site keeping me occupied and cheerful. I’m so glad I’m staying at Varne Ridge – it is THE place to stay for Channel Swimmers. David and Evelyn run it so well, and have plenty of experience of keeping people chilled and happy. Bless Evelyn, she raced across the site and gave us some Parmesan cheese when she found out we were having spaghetti bolognese for tea!
Another thing that definitely keeps my mind on track is the fact that I keep on getting updates from http://www.justgiving/com/peteswims. So many people have donated, it’s mind-blowing!
Thanks to everyone who have donated to Archie’s special needs school. It means the world to me and the school.
I just can’t wait to get the go-ahead and justify all these wonderful donations!!
3 years ago, surrounded by good friends and way too many empty wine bottles, I announced that I’d like to swim the Channel.
And they heard me! And what’s more they remembered what I’d said the next morning.
Well, I thought, it can’t be that difficult, after all – that comedian fella from Little Britain did it. It should be easy.
Well. Since then we all know that David Walliams isn’t a comedian who swims now and again. He’s an elite athlete who does a spot of comedy.
So, after my first arctic dip in Dover harbour in April, I have been training in Dover pretty much every weekend. 6 hours drive down. 11 hours swimming over 2 days and drive the 6 hours back. Basically, if the kids haven’t had a birthdays on a particular weekend, I’ve been in Dover.
AFter countless lengths in swimming pools, Swimming Coniston (twice), Albert Docks, Lake Bala (twice, there and back), and 13 weekends in all elements in Dover, the time is finally upon me.
It was an exciting weekend! First, we heard that for the first time ever, Freda sent out a message calling off the training session for Saturday.
Freda never does that. Ever.
So we knew that the C of Cs would be rough.
The start was delayed, whilst the organisers ummed and ahhed about the course. They normally do a square course around the harbour but they were concerned about the reported Force 9 gale headed our way. They were probably concerned because if Freda gets worried about sea conditions, then it’s best to pay heed!!
They ended up deciding to change the course to a triangle (that we had to go round 10 times to make 5 miles – though I think their maths was a bit screwy!), as they wanted us to be sheltered. They had the first buoy close to the Watersports centre, the next one was parallel to the beach, past the second red basket, and the last one was against the right-hand side harbour wall, but beyond the corrugated iron part of the wall – that was a stretch to get to. I do 15 strokes per length in a 25m pool and it took well over 500 to get to the far buoy in those conditions.
It was brilliant fun – I’ve never had the opportunity to experience 4 seasons in one swim – we had beautiful sunshine one minute, then gale force winds and torrential rain the next! It was great to do it and feel comfortable in the water despite the conditions. Although the 5 mile (everyone questioned whether it was 5 miles, as the buoys were on the move somewhat!) took a fair deal out of me, I wasn’t sure whether I was up for the 3 mile – but with Mark being there, I’m sure I would have done it!. As it turned out though, the 3 mile event got cancelled.
I think the kayakers were suffering in the high winds and rain, and one very experienced kayaker took a tumble trying to get out at the beach and ended up at A&E. Neil Streeter was also having a heck of a time trying the keep his boat Suva in the middle of the course. His winch bust at one point. I think 4 people had to be plucked from the water, with a few others making it to the shore themselves before retiring. As far as I’m aware all the swimmers are OK, and Martin the injured kayaker (who I shared a beer with later as his family where at the same campsite) was fine, and sporting an impressive bandage around his hand. All very exhilarating.
The 1 mile sprint was good fun too – I had a little race with Thomas “The Gladiator” Noblett, and beat him by a whisker! In truth, I got lucky as the wave that took Thomas out as he struggled to the beach brought me in and I got a lucky landing. It was great to meet the legend and find out that he’s as genuine and enthusistic in real life as he appears on TV.
Also met loads of other fine folk – Michael Read (now 70 yrs old, who has done the channel 33 times and can still move faster than most in the water), the Llewellyn sisters, Howard Keech, Chris Malpass – you name it – the best of the best were there. It was great to see Mark Robson again after he nailed his 24 miles in 24 hrs swim challenge in Guildford, together with Joe Hunter who’s doing the channel a week before me this year. It was good to meet Joe and compare notes. I think he’ll do it – he’s preparing well and can certainly shift in the water. And he’ll probably do it a bit quicker than me!! It was also great to meet Mark’s missus (the long suffering KGB) who for some reason was happy to watch a bunch of nutters splash around in a storm for a few hours.
So I did all the events they ran on Saturday and was happy enough with 4hrs 10mins to do 6 miles in those conditions. Best of all, I was swimming alone most of the time (which used to worry me) and didn’t feel apprehensive at all. A big improvement!
Whilst we warmed up in the salubrious surrounding of the Dover Water Sports Centre I also had the pleasure of meeting the cheeky chaps of channel swimming: Adam Walker and Chris Sheppard. Both highly competent swimmers, but great fun to be around too!! Both of them have done the channel. And in next to no time too!
The good thing about open water swimmers is that however good they are, they always seem to be approachable, funny and fine company. Perhaps is just because people are on a high after a refreshing dip, but even before everybody gets in there is always light-hearted banter, a bit of mickey-taking and laughter.
On Sunday, Freda insisted I only did 3 hours, as she said the C of C was a hard day and she knows I’m back again this weekend – then I’m sure she’ll get me to do a 6hr swim, so that will be good for me. I had a good swim with Sarah Tunnicliffe (or “Smiling Sarah Tunnicliffe” as she’s more commonly known!), who’s a great sport and a nice smiley partner to have in the water! Anyone would would have enjoyed swimming on Sunday – the weather was beautiful.
I spoke to Kevin Murphy about the bubble caps (I have a heck of a time with keeping swimming hats on my over-sized noggin) and he was fine about them, so I’ll get them ordered. I also asked him about a different type of cap that I found – the Aquasphere one
At first Kevin said no to the Aqua Sphere one, but that’s because he thought it was a neoprene one. Then he had a closer look at the ingredients (82% nylon/polyamide and 18% elasthane (with polyurethane coating)) and was intrigued, as he said he’d never seen one of that type, and it might be OK. I’m ordering one to show him, as it looks really comfortable. If he doesn’t go for it, I’ll have the bubble cap as a fall back.
Kevin said he didn’t get on with chin straps as they rubbed on him, so advised me to test them out and see for myself if they suit. Kevin said he actually got on better with thin ones, as he thought that the thicker CSPF actually “breathed” heat out and he believes them to be more porous.
It just goes to show that everybody just has to find what suits them best!
I also got talking to a chap named Bryn (a regular swimmer at Dover) who looked cold so I poured myself and him a cup of hot chocolate. So whilst we chatted with chattering teeth we gradually warmed up again in the sun. Bryn has business interests in Horsforth just down the road from where I live. Small world!
When I started all this a few seasons ago, I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to do the channel more than once. I think I know now. It’s not just the challenge. It’s the people you meet that keeps you coming back.
After having bathed the kids on Friday, I left SJ to get them to bed and jumped in the car to head down to Dover.
Unlike previous weekends when I’d have to put up the tent at midnight and snatch a bit of sleep before the campsite rooster kicked off at 3am, this weekend was to be a LOT more comfortable thanks to Anna (one of Archie’s carers) and her very accommodating Mum and Dad!
After a relaxing sleep, I made up some maxim and headed off to Dover. It was very weird being in Dover to train on my birthday, but having already taken the last two weekends off for family holidays, I couldn’t possibly miss another session if I’m to stay on track.
When I arrived, the usual team of Freda, Barry, Irene and Emma were unloading cars full of provisions and chairs onto the beach. I greeted Freda, who fixed me with a wry smile and said
“Not seen you for a bit. 4 hours for you today my lad!”
Crikey. That was a jump up from my last swim at Dover of 1.5 hours. Still, the more swimming I do at Dover, the happier I am that I’m justifying the 12 hour drive to get there and back. One of my short-term targets is to spend more time in the harbour than I spend on the road getting there!
As the time drew closer to 9am, the bunch of cheerful/mad people had risen to about 25 red hats (solo swimmers) and 20 yellow hats (relay swimmers). The weather was beautiful – blue skies and warm sun. Perfect.
I got chatting to a fellow people, and was amazed at the efforts people made to get this kind of training. We had one guy who had travelled from Holland for the weekend and another who had come from the USA. It’s amazing to think that Freda and her team put in all this effort and that people come from around the world to spend time in the harbour and benefit from the wealth of experience to be found there. It’s awesome, and lovely to be with people who are happy to share their greatest tips.
When I was a competitive swimmer, few people ever gave any useful information out (presumably to protect their competitive edge).
On the swimmers beach at Dover the opposite is true. Everyone happily shares what works for them, give tips about anything you ask. It’s a breath of fresh air.
On the saturday I did 4 hours, which felt fine. It makes such a difference when the sun’s out!
On the Sunday Freda said if I did 4 hrs yesterday then today would be 5 hrs. Wow. A few months back that would have seemed too much, but when in Dover, anything seems possible. The weather in Dover on Sunday was very strange. Overcast and windy to start with and then very heavy wind and rain later on. I found it no more difficult swimming in the rain than normal – in fact, it somehow seemed warmer when it was raining!
In summary here’s what I learned this week
Swim caps with straps on (to stop them coming off) are allowed on a channel swim (good news as I have a hell of a time keeping caps on!) – thanks to Alan Macleay for that one
Milk cartons are great for ocean feeds (wide aperture, cheap, translucent, easy to handle) – thanks to Mike Ball for that one!
SportSlick is a good alternative to vaseline to prevent chaffing
Swimming in the far left of the harbour is always bloody freezing no matter what!
5 hours swimming in wind and rain can be a whole lot of fun!
Dover is most definitely the place to be for training for Channel swim. It’s the only place I feel normal!!
Don’t drive home straight after a big cold swim. I wanted to get back quickly to help SJ with the kids so jumped straight in the car. And promptly reversed into a wall. Whoops. I then waited to warm up a bit and let the brain thaw out before setting off back home! Next time I’ll engage my brain first, then the gearstick….
Nothing is taken out for the costs of my channel swim.
Every single penny gets very wisely spent on walking frames, sensory equipment (to get their brain synapses firing up!), assisted days out to place that are otherwise inaccessible to disabled kids. You name it!
But it ALL goes to the school. In fact, if you tick the “Gift Aid” box on justgiving, the government automatically add at least 20% to your donation!
Whatever you give, know that it is appreciated and that you have just done something wonderful that will directly benefit a disabled little kid in the days to come!