On Friday morning my alarm rang at 4am, it had felt only minutes that I had been sleeping after finally getting into bed at 12.30 after packing, preparing food and ensuring I had everything I needed – I also got woken at 3am by a massive thunderstorm which made me wonder if we would actually get to swim in the morning.
Paul and his friend Jen who had very kindly offered to crew for us arrived at mine at 4.45am and we headed down to Dover ready to meet everyone at the Marina for 6.30am. I was feeling a little nervous as I hadn’t slept much and hadn’t kept my breakfast down that morning (who eats breakfast at 4.15am – no wonder my body didn’t know what to do with it), I had also had some back issues at the beginning of the week and could hardly walk, thankfully my body had decided that it was going to be good to me for the swim.
Sea Satin our boat pulled up along the Jetty and after introductions we started to load the boat up with all of our stuff, you would have thought we were going away for 6 months with the amount we had bought with us. I had worked it out that we might be missing 4-5 meals so ensured that I was fully stocked with lots of food – it looked more like a children’s birthday party spread; Jam sandwiches, pizza, chocolate logs, ginger biscuits etc..
Before I start on the swim I want to introduce you to who was on the boat;
Me, Paul & Parviz – 3 of the original swimmers (you would have read about us before in a previous blog post.)
Rob – Rob was our stand in swimmer, he literally agreed to join 2 days before the swim. He had only just completed a solo Channel swim 2 weeks previous and had promised his wife he wouldn’t be doing another for quite some time. Thank you Penelope for allowing him to join us, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.
Patrick – I have spoke about Patrick, ‘the bionic boy‘ before. Patrick was onboard being our social media guru and tweeting on behalf of COSMIC throughout. It was great to have him aboard.
Rod – Rod was one of our crew, their role is vital in Channel swimming whether it is a solo or a relay. Rod had responded to a facebook request I had put on one of the channel swimming groups and offered to come and crew for us. Rod was amazing, he didn’t once sleep, he was there letting us know when we were next in the water, handing us towels, slapping Vaseline on us, hot drinks, letting us know how long we had been in the water by holding up signs/flashing torches at us – he didn’t stop once. Thank you so much Rod, you made our swim so much easier because of your support.
Jen – Jen is a friend of Paul’s who again volunteered to come and support us on our journey. She again was there supporting us every minute of the trip helping out with all aspects of keeping us swimmers well, warm and ready. Without our support crew there is no way we would have finished our swim so again Jen thank you.
Observers – Our Observers were Del & Mike. Their role is to ensure that we are adhering to Channel Swimming rules. They are checking we have the right swimming gear on that isn’t against the rules, that our change overs in the water are correct but also that we are well and healthy – they watch you throughout the swim making notes. They have seen many swims over the years and are a great source of information about Channel swimming and both thoroughly nice guys. Del loved that I had lots of brightly coloured swimming costumes and was the person that picked which one I was going to wear on the next swim (7 out of the 10 of them got to have a swim). Thanks both for your support and knowledge but most importantly good humour throughout our crossing.
Pilots – Lance was our main pilot, he is from a Channel swimming piloting family. He was also supported by Paul. They have two of them to ensure that one can get some sleep from time to time. Their role is to guide us across the channel working out the best journey to take maximising the tides to ensure that we get there and back. They also have responsibility for our safety along with the Observers and at any point would make the call to abort a swim – which could be because of weather or swimmers health. Thank you both for getting us there and back in one piece successfully, we all appreciated it so much.
Camera crew – We were joined by Jack & Amber from the BBC who are filming a documentary about the Channel. It was great to have them on board and to follow our journey, although I am hoping they don’t show some of the footage they filmed eg me being sea sick overboard. I will let you all know when it will be on TV so you can see some of our journey through the lens.
So off the thirteen of us went. Lance drove us around to Shakespeare’s beach where I had to jump off the boat and swim in to shore and clear the water. I stood there waiting for the klaxon to go and that was my cue to start swimming. Off I went, it was very misty throughout most of our swim. We swam in rotation throughout as stated in the rules, me followed by Paul, Rob and then Parviz. As Parviz got in for his 3rd swim (we had been going 11 hours at this stage) the mist started to clear and we could see France in the distance, this was such a great feeling as we hadn’t seen anything all day. Parivz hit French soil at 11 hours 41 minutes (this was so much quicker than my relay last year which took 14 hour 12 minutes).
As Parviz cleared the water a French guy came running down the beach and pat his back saying ‘Braveau Englishman’ little did he know he was going to get back in the water and carrying on swimming. Many of my friends didn’t realise that we would be turning around and swimming back straight away. The sun was setting and there wasn’t much light left which meant when I was to get in at 8pm that it was going to be pitch black. Lance had gone in a small rubber dingy to follow Parviz into land and was now leading him along the coast to the point so that we could try to get onto the current at the end of the Cap to push us out to sea a bit.
So at 8pm I jumped in for my 4th swim in the pitch black. This was the bit I was dreading the most, I had worked out that I would be swimming at 8pm, 12am and 4am – 3 night swims. My nightmare! The first night swim I really didn’t enjoy. As we were coming out lobster pots kept getting in the way of the boat so we were having to manoeuvre around them. Once we got out and past them I was then swimming next to the boat with a spot light on the side to guide me. I kept having a bit of a freak out every time I swam past it into the dark. It was like I kept swimming into a wall and would just stop swimming, at one point I looked up at Paul (support pilot) and asked if he would go a bit faster and keep the light in front of me which from then on he did which I can’t thank him enough for. Paul hadn’t swam in the night before either so it was a first for him and I think he wasn’t the biggest fan of the experience either. It is funny as I know people who love the night swim but it is something that I am really going to have to work on for next year.
My second night swim at midnight wasn’t so bad, I hadn’t managed to get any sleep and earlier on in the day I had been sea sick and still didn’t feel much like eating so I grabbed a few jelly babies and jumped in the water. I really noticed how much colder the water was and it took my breath away as I jumped in. At this point most people on the boat were asleep but it was always good to know that Rod, Paul and Del/Mike were looking over me. To try and take my mind off swimming in the dark I started racing the boat. Paul had agreed that whenever I got close to the light he would speed up and therefore I would end up off the back of the boat and then spend my time trying to swim back up to the light again.
My last night swim I really wasn’t looking forward to. It was incredibly misty and I still hadn’t slept meaning I had had about 5 hours sleep over 48 hours and only managed to eat 2 slices of pizza and a few jelly babies. As I jumped in I felt the cold again but decided to swim quickly to try and get warm and also try to push us forward more so that I might not have to swim again. It was very eary swimming not just a night but in the mist as well. I could hear fog horns going off all around me and one seemed to be getting closer and closer, just as I thought it was too close the boat stopped (meaning I went ahead of the light…arrgghhh!) so I stopped and asked what the problem was. It seemed there was a massive vessel a couple of hundred metres in front of us and they had decided we were a bit too close so I had to tread water for a bit until they were happy to proceed. That was the weird thing about swimming in the dark, you knew there were massive boats all around you as you could feel the waves they left behind from time to time as they passed but you had no idea how close they were. At one point I also got headbutted by something, I reckon it must have been a jellyfish or fish of some sort but it gave me a massive fright and I did ashamedly let out a girly scream as I took a breath! Ha ha…
When I got out we had 5 miles left to go, so it was touch and go whether I would be getting back in again. As it turned out I was lucky enough to get the last leg into land, it was my 7th swim and I was determined not to have to swim for a full hour. I didn’t know if I would make it or not as it was so misty I couldn’t see a thing but as we got close to land the mist cleared and I could see the White Cliffs of Dover ahead, I decided that I was going to try and land. I could see land but had no idea how far it was and how long it would take me. As I got closer to the beach Sea Satin stopped and I looked around and saw Lance in the small dingy boat leading me into shore. We had almost done it, I was so excited. As I walked up on to the shore the klaxon went marking the end of our swim. We were successful – 24 hours 45 minutes. Next minute I saw my dear friend Paul swimming in and I gave him a massive hug. Paul and I have swam many swims together over the years including the relay last year so I was so pleased to have been able to share that moment with him. It would have been nice for the whole team to have swam in but Parviz was feeling cold and Rob hadn’t been very well for the last few hours but we heard them cheering from the boat.
It was an amazing experience with a fantastic team of people and by that I mean every one of those 13 people on the boat who were part of our success. There wasn’t a hint of grumpiness or negativity across anyone on the boat at any time throughout the swim. Everyone was so cheery and supportive. We did the swim a lot faster than I expected landing at 8.44am – we would be home for lunch!
I learnt a lot about myself during this swim;
– Firstly my body can cope with not having much sleep, lack of food and still accomplish amazing things.
– Secondly I still don’t like swimming in the dark
– And thirdly I am not always grumpy when I am tired and hungry!
Now some time to rest until I start thinking about my training for next year’s even bigger challenge!