WE DID IT – To France & back in a day (well almost)

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.

Mike being interviewed by the BBC as we have swam through the night and daylight appears

Mike being interviewed by the BBC as we have swam through the night and daylight appears

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.

Jack filming as the mist cleared

Jack filming as the mist cleared

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.

The proof we made it!

The proof we made it!

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!

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Mystical Swimming

So we have started, it’s very misty out here and the fog horn keeps going off every few minutes as there are boats close by we can’t see.

My first swim was against the tide but made some good ground. Paul has about 5 minutes left and then Rob our last minute swimmer is just about to jump in.

Two weeks ago he swam his solo channel swim to France 12hrs 57 minutes. He received an email from me this week when we realised we might be going on Friday and our reserve swimmer Brian wasn’t available and agreed to help us out by swimming for us. He wasn’t expecting to be in the channel again so soon 🙂


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The time has come…

Tomorrow morning at 7am, I and three friends (Team COSMIC Rays) will be heading off down to Dover to start our challenge, which is to swim as a relay to France and then back again.  We are only one of 3 teams this year to attempt such a challenge as most relays just swim to France.

As you know we have been waiting 6 weeks for a good enough weather window to go and it seems our time has finally come.   The rules state that we are able to only wear a swimming costume, a swimming hat and a pair of goggles each.  We will take it in turn to swim an hour each rotating an hour on and three hours off till we have swam to France and then back again – the shortest distance to France and back is 42 miles (that’s about  2700 lengths of a pool) however we are likely to swim further  and we estimate somewhere between 6 & 8 hours swimming each, taking about 26-30 hours – that’s a long time to be awake and that isn’t taking into account the travel time to Dover – I am getting up at 4am in the morning to drive down.  The other rule that is worth noting is that if a swimmer is unable to swim their hour then we get disqualified, we also have to swim in the same rotation throughout the challenge (I am swimming as No 1 swimmer in the rotation) if we don’t the official observers on board will declare our challenge over so we really rely on each other to be not just fit but also strong mentally.  There are then the joys of being stung by jellyfish, being sea sick, having to swim at night (the bit I like least) as well as the English Channel being the busiest shipping channel in the world.

So why I am doing this.  Well it is simple really, to be able to help other people that are in need of it.  By swimming and training as we have we are able to raise money for a very special charity.  COSMIC –Children of St Mary’ Intensive Care is the Charity that supports the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), it incorporates eight intensive care beds and a two-bed high dependency unit. The unit cares for children with life threatening conditions, including severe infections such as pneumonia and meningitis, severe trauma, airway problems, neurological conditions and those who have undergone surgery.  COSMIC relies completely on donations and provides life-saving equipment and funds for vital research to ensure children in the unit get the best treatment possible.

Please do donate to a great cause – www.justgiving.com/lisaswims it really does help us when we are swimming and are tired and sore and would rather be elsewhere to dig deep and continue on.

And here is the fun bit you can track our journey across the channel and back, don’t worry if it looks like we are going the wrong way, we won’t swim in a straight line to France (or back) as the tide will take us in an S type shape (the tide changes around every 6 hours) as we swim towards France and back again.

The following links you can use to track us on our journey;
http://cspf.co.uk/tracking (we will be on the aqua coloured boat ‘Sea Satin’) http://cspf.co.uk/swim-routes (you can watch our route here, just add in the date, 7am, Sea Satin)
http://vaughanee.co.uk/cosmicrays2014/ (the charity have set up this link to track too)

I will also be tweeting when I am out of the water on @lisa_j_williams and will try to update my blog (do have a read if you haven’t yet)  lisaswims.wordpress.com, so keep an eye on what is happening as it happens.

We will also have on board Patrick (also known as the bionic boy) whom the charity supported when he contracted meningitis when he was months old, he lost part of his arm and lost a leg but his life was saved by Dr Habibi one of our team swimming with us. He will be using COSMIC’s twitter and Facebook handles @cosmiccharity and https://www.facebook.com/cosmiccharity.org.uk to keep everyone updated.

Finally, as well as us, our crew, the official observers, the pilot and team we will also have on board the BBC following our journey ready for part of a series which will be shown later in the year, so you will be able to watch that to see what we went through- hopefully I won’t be too grumpy when I am tired!

Thanks in advance for your support and happy tracking!

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A Sad Day

Feeling Sad

Feeling Sad

Today marks 5 weeks that we have been waiting to go on our swim, many have gone and succeeded and some have gone and failed within this time but they have gone in their assigned slots or have had a long enough weather window to go one way, there just hasn’t been the opportunity to go there and back.  However, we are hoping that we will get out this coming week.

Today, however, we lost a member of our team as they left yesterday to head off on their holiday in South East Asia.  Hilary like us all thought that 5 weeks after our allotted slot we would have swam, even if we had to be delayed so had booked her summer holiday.  Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case and yesterday she flew off.  It is tough knowing that you have trained, raised money and put your heart and soul into something and now aren’t going to have the opportunity to swim – that is if we get out this year and our swim isn’t deferred until next year which is still something that might happen.  The season will finish around the first week of October.

Hilary not being in the team makes me particularly sad because if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be doing this challenge this year.  I had thought about another channel relay/long distance swim this year before my solo next year to get some more experience and it was talking to Hilary one day in the changing rooms after swimming that Hilary mentioned that Parviz was looking to put together a team for a 4 man two way relay and would I be interested… the rest is history.  It therefore seems strange that we may now be swimming without her.  I am making it my mission that if we go this year without her to get a team for her to swim in next year so she gets her Channel experience especially after such a horrible time waiting and then not getting to go. It isn’t the same but I want her to get a good experience from the Channel rather than feel let down by the experience which I can only imagine she must be feeling.

As you know we have a reserve swimmer in place, Brian, who has been training with us during this time so he is now ready to swim instead of crew, which has meant we are now crew members down.  On top of that our other crew members are now unavailable so we have had to find others.  Crew members are so important to the success of the swim, they help look after us before and after we get in the water making warm drinks, ensuring we are kept warm, making us eat enough food, helping us if we are sea sick and generally being there for us over the 30 hour period that we will be on/off swimming for.  The open water swimming community constantly surprises me with it’s generosity.  I put out some requests on some of the swimming forums on Facebook and within minutes had people offering to volunteer to come and help us out.  They don’t know us but want to help us achieve our challenge. Thank you to them for their time and generosity. So we now have a few crew on standby, Brian stepping in as our fourth swimming member and we carry on waiting….but it is a sad day.

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A road trip ‘up North’ (whilst we wait)

Swimmers in the distance heading up Coniston Water

Swimmers in the distance heading up Coniston Water

We were told last week that we wouldn’t be doing our relay over the weekend so on Friday a group of us descended upon ‘The Lakes’ to complete the length of Coniston – a 5.25 mile swim being organised by Chillswim.

Friday was my birthday and after a tiring 8 hour drive driving past accident after accident we arrived in Coniston and headed straight to the pub for some dinner.  Our little swimming crew comprising of Manda, Kate, Brian, Paul, Dave, Selina and Tom stocked up on plenty of food ready for the swim in the morning – it wasn’t going to be an early start for once apart for Selina who had volunteered to help out on one of the feed stations. without the volunteers many of these events couldn’t go ahead so we always appreciate the support these guys give us.

The team also presented me with a lovely birthday present, it now has pride of place on my wall and will help to inspire me everyday to get off my lazy arse and go and train ready for my solo swim next year.

My birthday present ready to inspire me over the winter and next summer in my quest to become a Channel Swimmer

My birthday present ready to inspire me over the winter and next summer in my quest to become a Channel Swimmer

On Saturday morning Tom headed off in a slightly earlier wave to us but we got to the start in time (we were bused over from the finish) to see him off.  Until this summer Tom had never swam further than 2km so this was a big step up for him and he had trained hard all summer – as you can see from the photo below it looks as if he is wishing he wasn’t there.  It was also the furthest Kate would have swam so although she did a channel relay this year this would be a great swim for her to add to her list of achievements this summer.

Tom wondering why he is about to swim 5.25 miles!

Tom wondering why he is about to swim 5.25 miles!

After driving for 8 hours the day before, not being well in the morning of the swim and our looming (hopefully) two way relay I decided to take this swim easy and just enjoy it – this was easy to do as there was no horn for the start just a ‘enter the water’ so no big rush to run into the water and get off on a sprint start.  As the others headed off Kate and I decided to take an easier pace, the water was a toasty 17.3 degrees and although many had wetsuits on I wasn’t the only one not wearing one – Paul decided last minute to ditch the wetsuit plus many others who had done channel swims etc. this year.  At one point in the swim we headed to the left of an Island which we had been told was the setting for Swallows & Amazons.  Shortly after this point Kate decided to push on a little harder, I wanted to take it easy so stayed at my current pace and watched her swim off.

At feed 3 where Selina had been since early in the morning I bumped into Paul and Kate, Kate and I joined back up again and stayed together for the rest of the swim to finish together – despite the weeds after feed 4 trying to pull us down into the depths of Coniston Water.  As Kate and I exited the water we saw Tom, Brian, Manda & Dave waiting for us at the finish.  Paul came out just a short time after Kate and I.

Me in skins and Kate next to me just coming in to finish together

Me in skins and Kate next to me just coming in to finish together

It was a lovely swim and a beautiful day and setting to do it in.  Tom had bought me a massive gluten free chocolate cake and a big bottle of bubbles so we celebrated us finishing swims, volunteers, birthdays and a lovely weekend and after a little rest headed off for another dinner.

A lovely weekend spent with great friends in a great setting.  It was a lovely change of scenery whilst we wait for our two way relay – of which we are still doing!

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The swimming costume team sheet

Some of my many costumes were recently told that they would be making the cut for the journey across the English Channel & back.  These are the ones that have made the team sheet, they still won’t know till the day which will be getting wet as the shorter time it takes us the longer some will remain on the bench but they are all happy about being given the opportunity.

The swimming costume team photo

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Any news?

This seems to be the most popular phrase that friends, family, work colleagues and work clients greet me with these days.  Our slot was 9th-16th August and as I write this it is now 26th August, we have been waiting quite some time.

The problem started just before our slot started when the remains of Bertha decided to rear their ugly head, however, since then we have other issues.  Firstly being that we are no longer in our slot which means that those swimmers whose slot it is has priority and we sit top in the ‘waiting’ queue behind them.  The other issue is that the weather just hasn’t been good enough to get these swimmers out either so we haven’t been anywhere near going as each week we have to wait for those in front of us to go.

It has been hard for people to understand why we haven’t been as they sit in London where at times the weather has been blue skies, so when you say we can’t go because of the weather they think we are being fussy!  But the issue is the wind which is causing high seas, if it is raining we will still go – we just need the wind to stop coming back.  The other problem we are contending with is that when the wind is dying down it is only doing so long enough for swimmers to get across once which is the most popular option.  As we have chosen to go there and back we are having to wait longer.  We have been asked by the pilot if we want to do a one way swim instead – we have all declined.

Our boat pilot Mike chats to Parviz every couple of days to give us an update.  The update before the weekend was that it was looking hopeful for this weekend but our update tonight has said ‘not likely’.

The longer it is that we wait the more issues and decisions we will have to make.  Issues such as; one of our team mates has holiday booked from 12th August and we have others of us have weekends booked away such as my birthday weekend swimming the length of Coniston which Paul, Brian and I are booked to do along with other friends.

I do keep being asked if I am okay, is it frustrating, how is morale, how are you keeping motivated, how are you able to taper your swimming but carry on keeping fitness… It is all difficult and you feel at times that your life is on hold but it is part of signing up for channel swimming.  Next year for my solo I may have the same issues but I won’t have a team around me then going through the same issues to talk to but it is helping me to prepare myself for the issues that might rise next year and is giving me the opportunity to deal with it now and learn for next year how best to cope with the situation.

Despite all of the above I remain confident that we will swim this year we may just have to sacrifice other things to ensure it happens. In the meantime the water starts to get colder and the days shorter increasing the issues that we will have to deal with throughout the swim.  I was recently reminded of this advert for Guiness which I thought was very apt given our situation

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And the waiting continues

And we wait some more.

Our slot is due to close on the 16th and our pilot has told us that it is highly unlikely that we will be going before then.  So what does this mean?  It doesn’t mean that we won’t be going but it does mean that we are now likely to have to wait longer as there will be people booked into the next slot.  We are hoping to go in the next two weeks but again this is weather dependant so watch this space.

In the meantime I have been trying out some new recipes.  Using normal recipes to make gluten free equivalents – it seems to have worked.  We need to go soon otherwise I am going to put on far too much weight! It will help with feeling less cold – every cloud and all that 🙂

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Whilst we wait…

So what we are doing whilst we wait?

Last night Parviz, Brian and I (as well as other friends Amanda, Katie, Kate and Montserrat) headed off to Henley to swim in the Henley Swim – Club to Pub swim.  A lovely swim 400m up stream with the rest coming down the river with the flow of the current.  A nice way to stretch the muscles out on a Saturday evening.  The post swim goodies included a bottle opener and beer personalised for the event which was a great idea. My beer is still unopened till the swim is over.  Brian also was kind enough to buy me some gluten free cupcakes which was lovely to have as a post swim treat.

I also have a massive list of things to do as I am so disorganised this year.
My list includes;
Pack my bag – I know! I should have done it days ago
Get to the supermarket to buy some food for the journey
Hope my clear goggles arrive in time that I have ordered online (not happy with my current ones and last year I ended up swimming in the dark with my dark goggles)
Get plenty of sleep
Eat lots of food!

Don’t worry I will be ready to go when we get the call.

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The Bionic Boy

Check out this video of Patrick aka the Bionic Boy (click on the following link – The Bionic Boy) who will be joining us on the boat for our swim, it really is impressive.

Patrick contracted meningitis when he was just 9 months old but his life was saved with the help of COSMIC the charity I am raising money for.  It really is amazing what technology can do these days to help make peoples life’s easier after the loss of limbs.  This is the reason I do the challenges I do to help people like Patrick, without charities such as COSMIC existing would have been much harder for him and his family.  I am really pleased that he is going to be part of our journey it makes it seem all the more worth it and will give us all the drive and determination to ensure we succeed.

Patrick will be updating the COSMIC Facebook and twitter account throughout our swim so do say hi to him when you read the updates so he knows you are listening.

You can donate by clicking on this link

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