Like many aspiring Channel swimmers (& those whom already hold the grand title of being a Channel swimmer) I find myself always being asked questions about what it entails. We often spend time laughing at some of the questions we are asked as they seem ridiculous to us but for those not living and breathing the life of a ‘Channel swimmer’ wannabe they must be reasonable questions.
For this blog I have decided to answer all those questions I am always asked and also opened up the question to my my facebook group to see what they might like to know, so here goes….
Do you wear a wetsuit?
No, I will be crossing the Channel under the rules of the Channel Swimming & Pilot Federation (CS&PF) their rules state that you are able to wear a swimsuit (one or two piece) that does not extend past the shoulder or knee, one pair of goggles and one swim hat. For the full rules they can be read here. There is also another Channel swimming authority –Channel Swimming Association.
What is the most comfortable costume to wear?
I think this is completely individual and as we are all different sizes different people will find styles that keep them all in place depending on their shape. I have often seen people falling out of their costumes through training swims or getting bad chaffing from the lining or the straps being too tight. For me it is costumes that have a diamond back and not too many seams that will cause chaffing. For those of you that know me well you will know that I also love really bright costumes with funky designs – many of which are from Funkita.
Do you cover yourself in goose fat/grease?
No, most people just tend to use Vaseline to help reduce chaffing and high factor sun cream to help prevent sunburn.
How much Vaseline do you use? Can you re-apply it?
I apply it liberally under the arms, under my swimming costume straps on my shoulders and round the back of my neck where my hat my rub. Very few people re-apply it during a swim but if you needed to you would need to be passed the Vaseline and apply it yourself (usually with a glove otherwise you get it all over your goggles). You are not allowed to touch anyone through the swim so your crew wouldn’t be able to do it for you. I very rarely get chaffing these days even after my 12.5 hour swim it was minimal on my neck, I think my skin must have toughened up and the cold water seems to numb it so you wouldn’t notice it till after the swim.
Who is on the boat and how do you know where to go?
I have a boat that I follow, Anastasia, which is part of the CS&PF and my pilot is called Eddie. Eddie has been guiding swimmers across the Channel for over 10 years. The CS&PF has 6 pilots and their role is to look for the best weather windows for you to attempt the swim and whilst swimming get you across with the tides and ensure we avoid all the other vessels in the Channel (as well a ensure we swimmers are safe). There is usually a co-pilot onboard and then also an observer who is there on behalf of the CS&PF to ensure you stick to the rules. They are also a great source of wisdom and always there supporting the swimmer and helping the crew out if need be. They have to write a report to the CS&PF about your swim which will be read and the swim will only be official once they are happy with what they have read. I will also have two crew aboard. Brian and Abby who have been supporting me and crewed for my 21 mile two way Windermere swim
How do your crew support you?
My crews role is to ensure that I am fed when I am supposed to be and to motivate me when I need it. For me this is through smiling lots, giving me messages of support, feeding me on time and for me to see one of them at all times. Having had Brian & Abby both support me on my Windermere swim they both did all these things and I have no concerns that they won’t during the Channel. They are both fun people and will be doing everything they can to make me laugh and enjoy the swim as much as one can!
What do you eat?
During my Windermere swim I fed on the 1st hour, 2nd hour and then every half hour after then. My feeds consisted of a carb powder called CNP mixed with, fruit sugar, squash and warm water. With each of these I then have a little treat such as, a jelly baby, peach slice, fruit baby food, piece of chocolate or banana. My crew keep track of everything I eat and every now and then to give my stomach a rest from the CNP a cup of black tea and fruit sugar. The crew fed me from a cup attached to a reel which was lowered down from the boat and meant that I could just drop it afterwards without having to try to reach the cup back up to the crew. This is how I plan to feed during the Channel too and is very similar to many Channel swimmers.
How much does it cost?
For the actual swim which includes the boat, fees for the swim and membership of the CS&PF is about £3,000. However this doesn’t include all the costs spent on training such as trips down to Dover most weekends, food for swimmer and crew etc. I have paid for everything myself so that the charity gets all the money that I raise.
How long will it take?
The fastest Channel swim is 6hrs 55 by Trent Grimsby and the slowest 28 hours 44 minutes by Jackie Cobell however the average is about 14 hours but it is all so dependent on the tide that day and the weather you are given. We are always told never swim with a time in mind, just swim to each feed, one arm in front of the other until you run out of water.
What day do you go?
Each swimmer is given a week slot and then a position in that tide. Mine is week 5th-11th September (my 38th Birthday week) and I am third position, therefore the third swimmer to go that week. However, if the weather is bad and I don’t get to go that week then I join the bottom of the list for the following week and it keeps going on like that until I get to swim. Last year for our two way relay we waited 6 weeks, for the one way relay we went on the last day of our slot – it is all weather dependant which makes it hard to plan for. Fingers crossed for great weather the week of 5th-11th Sept.
Can you swim with someone else?
No, it is a solo swim. However, during solo swims a swimmer may be accompanied in the water by 1 person only & not accompanied at all until after the first 3 hours. This can be for a maximum of 1 hour & cannot be repeated until at least 2 hours have elapsed after the finish of the accompaniment. The accompanying swimmer may swim alongside, but not in front, of the solo aspirant & must not impede the solo swimmer. I don’t intend for anyone to get in with me through my swim, however I am hoping one of the team will be able to swim the finally hundred metres with me so I have someone to celebrate with me on the beach – and of course take that final photo!
Do you do it in one go or do you stop? Can you get on the boat?
The swim is a continuous swim and the swimmer is not allowed to touch the boat or any other persons during the swim. I will stop to feed but I will be treading water through the feed.
How do you go to the toilet?
You just go!
Do you get cramp?
So far I haven’t suffered from cramp in any of my swims or training swims but it is vital that I get my nutrition right to ensure it doesn’t happen in my swim. In other sports people take on electrolytes to help prevent things such as cramps, in sea swimming you take on plenty of salts from the sea water so there is no need to take additional salts through electrolytes so I need to ensure that I take on plenty of other fluids and not to get dehydrated. However, I do know others that have suffered from cramps in the calves whilst swimming so it can happen.
Does your mouth/lips swell from the sea salt?
The salt can swell your lips and tongue and can be difficult to talk and you may end up slurring. I personally also find that for few days after long sea swims it is difficult to taste anything. To try to help with this we may use diluted mouth wash and my favourite is fruit pastilles to try and help get some taste buds back.
What happens if you get stung by a jellyfish?
This year there have been masses of jellyfish, there isn’t much you can do bar swim through them and deal with the stings which feel like nettle stings. During your feeds you may ask your crew to give you some pain killers or anti-histamines.
Where do you land?
The shortest distance across the Channel is from Dover to Cap Gris Nez which is where the pilot will try to guide me to. However depending on how fast a swimmer you are and the tides on that day you may land anywhere either side of it which will make the swim longer. If you land in front of the restaurant in Cap Gris Nez it has been known for them to come down with a glass of Champagne for you – here is hoping!
Will you be staying in France?
The rules state that you can only be on land for ten minutes, so unless you choose to then go by boat to Calais and through passport control then a swim back to the boat and the 3 hour boat journey back to Dover it is.
Where do you keep your passport?
It stays on the boat along with everyone who is on the boats passports. The French authorities do board the boats from time to time to check everyone’s passports and the pilots won’t leave Dover till they have seen everyone’s passports.
What do you think about when you are swimming for all that time? Do you not get bored?
I tend to watch my stroke, I watch my arms and hands through the water every stroke and tend to feel like a metronome as I get into a rhythm. When I feel bits hurting I have conversations with myself and tell the pains to go away and after a while they generally do. The power of the mind is a wonderful thing! I also remind myself that I can do it and there is no reason for me to stop and that really I am in the Caribbean in lovely warm water and not cold at all! Other people I know like to do little challenges such as their top ten favourite songs, books, places etc or complex maths sums… a bit too challenging for me! I do from time to time remember the reason why I am doing the swim – in memory of my wonderful friend who lost her battle with Cancer two years ago. When I am in pain or suffering I think about everything she went through over the 7 year period and remind myself that it really isn’t that bad in comparison and just keep swimming… just keeping swimming is the only thing that is going to get me to French shores.
How much cold water preparation/training have you done?
This is my third summer of doing cold water swimming in preparation for this swim. I start in May in the sea, Lido or Lake when the water has been about 8-10 degrees and started with 30 minute swims to now where the water is about 16 degrees and swim about 6 hours at the weekend but recently did a 12.5 hour swim in 16 degrees in a lake. I haven’t swam through the winter nor have I had cold showers as for me I don’t feel I need to but I know others that have. I have also put on almost two stone to help combat the cold.
What do you believe makes the best Channel training coach?
I personally haven’t had one. I used to train with a masters group and last year used a coach who used to write my sessions for me but this year I chose to go it alone. In the winter I trained with friends and on my own and then over the summer as well as training on my own I also head down to Dover where Freda (whose daughter Alison, is the Queen of the Channel having crossed it 43 times – including doing it there, back and there again!!)tells us how long to swim for and we just get in and swim. There is a huge amount of experience down on the beach and everyone is so supportive in giving you advice that I haven’t felt like I needed one. I have just taken on-board all the things those with Channel experience have told me and used the information and made it work for me. However, I have ensured that I have a good support team around me to try to prevent injury. I have a massage fortnightly and am very lucky to be sponsored by Natural Health Chiropractic and Franco the Osteo and Abby the Chiro have kept my body in check on a weekly basis. Which has massively helped and to which I am really thankful.
So I think that cover it all – any other questions post them in the comments and I will add them to list. Just six weeks to go!