Tuesday, 14 October 2014

{ Channel Swim } ~ Personal Blog

This was an amazing day in September.....

My brother Richard and friend Alan had booked to attempt the channel swim (Richard and Alan have also trekked in Antarctica together).  It was an early 4am start to drive down to Dover to meet the escort boat Suva and crew.
This was their first attempt to swim the channel, so had booked a relay team of 4 people to see how they all faired.  It was to be a big learning curve, consisting of what to eat, wear and how the process works. Joining Richard and Alan were a couple from Jersey who are keen open water swimmers.

Each swimmer had an hour swim before the next jumped into the sea and overtook, there are many rules and regulations in place from the Channel swimming association. The channel is approximately 21 miles from Dover to Cap Gris Nez in France.  Difficulties lie when the current moves you for many miles side to side and you can end up further down the coastline.  The fastest time completing the swim coast to coast is 7 hours, the longest 27 hours! we were aiming somewhere in the middle!

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We set off at sunrise at 6.10, we sailed out of the harbour and had to get close to the Dover coastline to drop off the first swimmer Sarah, who had to swim to shore then start from the shoreline..... it was cold at this time in the morning, the sea however was around 17 degrees.

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Sarah was first in and made a great, if not cold start to the relay,

into water

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There were 3 other boats we could spot around us all doing the same trip, some solo and some other relays.  The boat coasted at 1 mph if at all, its a looooonnnnnggggg way!
Each boat has the pilot and support team plus an observer from the CSA.  They are there to observe that the rules are followed to make the swim legitimate.

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Soon the Dover shoreline was dissapearing
Next in was swimmer two ~ John
John loved swimming a distance from the boat as to not be in any wake.

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Alan was third in the relay and swam along side the boat, Alan suffers from Macular degeneration which has rapidly destroyed his vision, so it was imperative that he could spot where we were in the ocean and that we could communicate with him.

3rd swimmer

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My younger brother Richard was fourth in the water.  I admire him so much for this swim, Richard was never the swimmer of the family (that was me) and has only within the last 4-5 years learnt to swim as he wanted to take part in many triathlons and iron man competitions.  What he lacks in style and technique he makes up for in strength, determination and bloody mindedness!

4th in

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I was on the boat as their helper and general go getter.... I fetched towels, tea, food, got them comfy after their stint in the water, applied a great deal of Vaseline to prevent chaffing in many different areas! I got to know the team well!  It was hard work (not as hard as being in the water) with no let up, I was generally constantly busy.

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We were swimming well, hour by hour was being ticked off, all swimmers had been in twice, we were on the third swims of the day, light was fading, temperature was dropping and the weather was closing in.  The tide was strong and we had a side wind, the boat was beginning to rock and the sea became very choppy.  It was around 6pm that things took a turn.

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I don't have any photographs when the weather turned bad.  It was all I could do to stand up let alone take a photo.  The sea became rougher, many of the team were seasick and it was cold, very dark.  It became dangerous to switch in an off the boat as the waves were taking the swimmers too close to the hull of the boat.  We had heard an hour before hand that one of the three other boats had already aborted the swim due to the conditions.  We carried on for another hour but at the end of the 3rd to the 4th relay each we decided that it was unsafe to continue.

This was a painful decision as by this time the team had completed 14 hours of swimming and we could just make out the lights of france.  We had swam through one shipping channel and we were just coming out of the second.  It was a real blow to be so close, but safety of the swimmers was paramount and the right decision was made to abort.

The video shows a glimpse of how bad the conditions were getting, this was just before it got darker and a great deal worse!



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The team did brilliantly, you can see from the map below the 's' curve where the tide takes the swimmers (and the boat) we may not have reached the tip of France at Cap Gris Nez.  After a 2/3 hour boat trip back to Dover, we were back on dry land by about 10.30 tired and still had a 2 hour drive back to London.
It was an amazing experience and the challenge should not be underestimated.  The team did brilliantly and although it may not be for everyone, I shall very much look forward to being on the boat when my Brother and Alan repeat the challenge next year!

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