A silly video of our day can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35jMjrINAHQ&feature=youtu.be
I will start with this: Anyone that is thinking about an English Channel solo should consider doing a relay first.
My goal is simple – I want to become a channel swimmer next year and have a tide booked for September. All of my training and events are an attempt to be ready for this challenge and I can honestly say that our relay swim in July was a big learning curve.
On Saturday the 30th of July, I set off for France with Crispin Thorold and Leon Box (one of the coolest names in Swimming J). I had spent most of the summer following channel trackers on my computer and cheering on friends that I have met on this journey. Quick shout out to Max Beer at this point – A brilliant solo channel swim this year and a fine example of what can be done with the right preparation. Max Beer wins the ‘Best name in swimming award’ too J
I had not planned to do a relay as part of my preparation, but the chance arose and I could not turn it down. Crispin, Leon and I met in internet land on one of the many channel swimming sites and began planning our swim. The learning curve started here – I needed a medical and a ratified qualifying swim (2 hours in under 16c). The kind folks at Queenford Lake in Oxford helped me out with both of these elements and I was all set.
The week leading to our swim was frustrating – I am glad that I have been through the infamous ‘waiting game’ before my solo as it is a test in itself. My bag was packed and waiting next to the door for a week before we got the call to go, and I spent most of my time reading weather reports and attempting to second guess the likely start day. Lesson one – Trust your pilot – They know what they are doing. Our Pilot was Mike Oram on the boat Gallivant. Mike has many years of experience in getting swimmers across this stretch of water.
Lesson 2 – Choose the right crew. It is not essential to have crew for a relay swim, but I would strongly recommend it as it allows the swimmers to focus entirely on their job of swimming, resting and eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Our team were very lucky to have the help of Nick Murch for our swim. Nick had completed his solo a week earlier and hardly mentioned this at all on our day J. On a serious note – Nick was fantastic and had a knack of getting the best out of us.
So the big day arose and we met in Dover. I quick pasta meal the night before and very little sleep before the alarm sounded and we set off for the harbour.
Leon Box is a cracking swimmer and brilliant at organising (unlike me). Leon had created an ‘essential kit’ spreadsheet and ensured that we had everything you could need for a channel swim – 2 tons of jelly babies, Sea sickness tablets, Peanut butter and jam sandwiches etc. J.
Lesson 3 – It is possible to have too much kit for a channel swim! (it is not possible to have too many jelly babies!).
Before we knew it, we were on the boat and heading to our start point at Shakespeare beach (8am). After a short swim into the beach, I stood and waited for the klaxon on the boat. My thoughts drifted to the solo next year. I can imagine that this beach could feel like a VERY lonely place for the solo!
8am – We were finally ready to go! Bring it on.
We were off – I don’t remember too much about this first leg. I tried to do my best for the team and before I knew it, Leon was jumping into the water and I was hauling myself back onto the boat. Leon’s goggles fell off as soon as he jumped in (much to the amusement of the rest of us!), but he immediately sorted this and swam as strong as ever. Leon swam a long way out from the boat on this leg and vowed not to do that again. All three of us swam close to the boat from here on as it provides some protection from the sea (if that makes any sense at all). We had 15 knots of wind on the day which makes the see quite rough. Difficult to tell from photographs but having waves crashing over you is very different to swimming in the pool.
Big Ricks swim team passed us on the way to the beach and took this picture of the first leg of our swim.
Next up was Crispin. Crispin is a solid swimmer and a thoroughly nice guy too. I salute Crispin’s efforts on the day as he battled sea sickness throughout! This can be seriously debilitating and has ended many channel relay swims! I did not hear Crispin complain once about this and I am sure that he was happier than the rest of us to make land in France for some relief!
The rotation of swims continued and we experienced many of the Channels challenges, including dinner plate sized compass jellies! The conditions during our swim varied from calm to ‘very lumpy’ as we neared French waters.
Lesson 4 – You can see France a long time before you actually get there!
Leon using his time on the boat wisely – Taking selfies J
8 or so hours into the swim, Mike (our pilot) explained that we were going to miss the cap by 500 metres or so. 500 metres isn’t much, but it’s enough to stop us getting there and we began to change course as a result. We were now heading for ‘Wissant’ as our new landing point. If I could choose a place to land on my solo, it would be Wissant!
As it turned out, I had the honour of swimming the last leg. I donned my lucky wolf cap and set off at a sprint! I climbed onto the first rock I came to and the swim was complete. Our swim had taken 12 hours and 13 minutes.
Crispin and Leon had followed me in and immediately pointed out that there were steps right next to the rock I had climbed onto J (oops). The locals in Wissant had come out to applaud our efforts and it made for a truly memorable moment for us all.
After a few minutes milking our new found fame, we found a few pebbles and dived back in for the swim back to the boat.
The journey back was wonderful and marked the end of a fantastic journey. I have a healthy fear of the solo next year, but am determined to be ready!
The journey home – What a day!