As soon as I made the decision to attempt the English Channel swim, my brain started racing and one question was at the top of my list – Can I handle the ‘cool’ waters of the English Channel for a long period of time?

The first and most important decision was to leave the trusty wetsuit at home for all of my training leading up to this challenge. I want to become a cool water diesel engine that can handle anything thrown at me (not literally – I have enough concerns without that!). My first experience of ‘skins’ swimming was accompanied by an immediate sense of freedom! Swimming without the suit allows a more natural swim style for me, and a synergy with my surroundings that the suit seems to ‘mute’. My first true skins test was my solo Windermere swim in July. The water was in the region of 16 degrees and thankfully caused me no problems.

As the summer progressed and the seasons began to change, my poetic love of swimming without the suit was put to the test. Natural synergy with your surroundings is certainly less poetic when you can no longer feel your hands or feet!

I had experienced the more extreme end of skins swimming at Tooting Bec lido during last years ‘Cold Water Swimming Championships’ and Box End’s ‘Nippy Dip’ (Boxing day race that provided a welcome relief from Christmas family games), but these short bursts of exhilaration do not compare to longer tests. I wrote the following after a particularly ‘cool’ swim in Felixstowe at the end of 2015. My hands has stopped shaking enough to tap this into the notes field of my phone as a reminder to keep pushing forward with the acclimatisation plan ……

Degrees of swimming 

19 Degrees                         “ahhhh this is like swimming in a bath” “let’s go get an ice cream”

18 Degrees                         “awesome – this swimming outdoors thing is Fantastic – look at the beautiful scenery here – oh look a fishy!”

17 Degrees                         “ok – nice – I think I’ll swim another 8 laps”

16 Degrees                         “refreshing guys – but, lovely once your moving”

15 Degrees                         “of course I don’t need a wetsuit – I’m a skins swimming machine”

14.5 Degrees                      “how long shall we stay in – I love it of course… I’m fine”

14 Degrees                         ” yeah – so I admit it’s a little on the nippy side”

13.5  Degrees                     “I don’t think I should’ve had so much wine last night – I am sure it’s the same temperature as last week, – I’m fine – honestly – fine – really”

13 Degrees                         “OK. – whose idea was this again ? I have a wetsuit in my bag ! A really fast and warm Wetsuit! “

12.5 Degrees                      “just endure it Stu – you’re a TIGER – Tigers don’t cry!”

12 Degrees                         “I just threw coffee all over my damn face after swimming – and my face couldn’t detect the boiling heat. I think my face is broken”

11.5 Degrees                      “*&**ing *&^* – My hands have turned into frozen claws! ……. WHERE IS MY DRYROBE – WHERE IS IT?”

11 Degrees                         ” I can’t find my testicles!!! – where are my damn testicles!!! – you don’t need em Stu – you’re a TIGER remember”

  1. Degrees                        “it’s still double digits man – don’t be such a wimp. Did I remember my Dryrobe this time? Oh – who the hell does this? Tigers can **** off – I want to be a Whale instead! I wonder if ten buckets of KFC will help me fight this next week” “what’s KFC? Arghhhhh

9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 Degrees (they all feel the same!)  …………….. “How can something soooooo cold, burn soooooo much!”

………Despite all of this, I love the cool water and the huge high that follows each swim. I look forward to testing my limits further as I move through races and training this season. I am off to Israel in February where the water will still be 16 degrees – I can’t wait