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.