The English Channel.

Two and a half years ago I’d just done long course weekend, Ironman Wales, Snowdonia Mara back to backed with a hundred mile bike and was starting to prepare for the hardest iron tri, the Norseman. My body said enough. There was a good six months of searching for solutions…and soul searching. All that time swimming was the constant. At first I tried to replace biking and running with swimming, which just started to take its toll on the shoulders. I built it a bit more sensibly and started to realise 3800m wasn’t the biggest swim you could do, you could go super long, you could swim two or three times a day. Unknown to me, the evolution from Ironman to swimmer had begun.

Fast forward to this time last week and me and my crew were on standby to swim the English Channel; the 21 mile straight between England and France. Historically only about 2000 people have ever swum it to channel swim rules, standard swimmers, a hat and goggles. No extra warmth, no extra buoyancy. A decent gap in the weather had shown in the forecast for a few days so it was looking promising, for a midnight start on Friday 2nd August. Its a bit of a weird build up as you never know quite when you will go and so the taper is an odd one to gauge. I felt like Id been tapering for ever and just wanted to go!

Midnight start is a weird one too, never done that! Ended up trying just to get as much rest as I could…although quite difficult to sleep during the day when your bouncing off the walls! Also the nutrition; I ended up just eating a couple of good meals, and trying not to be too full for midnight!

At about 10 we left the house to head for the marina. Car was absolutely rammed with stuff. Oops. On the dock, the first guy we met was Kevin Murphy, King of the channel; more swims than any one else. Ok, right. Then I found out he was my observer!! The pilot brought the boat round and we loaded all the stuff and went through the last paperwork and safety briefs. I wasn’t really nervous at any point in the final build up, I just wanted to get going!

As we left the harbour, the boat was rocking quite a bit. There’s nothing you can do about it so it doesn’t really matter but I was trying to squint through the darkness to see what the sea was doing as we motored round and I got sun creamed up; but weird at midnight in the pitch black! Five minute warning came and I stripped down and covered the hotspots with vasaline. This is it!

The air and the wind felt cold as I climbed down the ladder…but the water, the water was so warm! Water temp was one of my biggest fears when I started this road as a skinny weedy ironman. Luckily, the last two years I have bulked up quite heavily and done a lot of cold training…so hopefully it would be all good! I could see a light spot on the beach where the crew were shining a spotlight, I swam to it and cleared the water up onto the beach. At midnight exactly, the boat blasted its horn and I walked back down into the water, careful not to dislodge my hat or goggles in the chop, swam back to meet the boat and carried on out to sea!

Swimming in the dark!

I’d told the crew I needed to be yelled at if I went off like a rocket. For the first ten/fifteen minutes, I was waiting to be shouted at! When its choppy I tend to increase my cadence and I thought I was a little bit high…but they all seemed happy so I just ploughed on! The sea state was rolling swell. I quite like swimming when its like that as you are up one side, down the other…but its not the horrible chop that spoils your rhythm and makes you swallow water. Every time I turned to breathe I could see the stars. Great! I was fairly confident the crew were not having as much fun as me! First clue; I hadnt seen my dad for quite a while. Hadnt seen him on my side of the boat anyway, everytime it rolled, I could see him leaning over the other side…feeding the fish!

There really wasnt much to see in the first stint, high hopes had a light shining down in the water so it was just a case of trying to stay where the water was a bit lighter, other than that, the stars on one side and the boat on the other, there really wasnt much to see, just keep swimming and try and keep the cadence slow and steady!

I had no idea of the time as I had given my watch to one of the crew but in what seemed like a really really short amount of time; they flashed the lights and threw me my feed bottle. Now my plan was first feed at 1hour 30, then every 45 minutes after that. In my head there was no way that was an hour and a half, they must have messed up and gone 45 mins. Hey ho, doesn’t matter, smash the bottle down and get swimming. Really really quick feed and back to it, that’s how I was planning on playing it.

Seemed like a similar length of time to the next feed; they deffo messed it up! Smashed the second bottle, carried on swimming. Cool, all good. This continued for what must have been the next few hours, the only thing to entertain me was trying to ascertain if the dawn was starting to break or not; not I decided as I think it was just the glow from Dover!

As the dawn did begin to break, there was still no rest up from the swell…but I did see my Dad emerge on my side of the boat, I asked him if he had been sick, he seemed not to know whether to tell me or not; don’t think he realised I could see them hiding on the other side of the boat! I was trying to figure out the time from the lightness, must be around six I thought…or perhaps maybe five as there was no light pollution where we were. Knowing things is a double edged sword. If you are ahead of the targets in your head, its great to know! If you are behind, not so much (hence me not having my watch)! I tried to stop thinking about what time it was and where we were and just carry on swimming.

Before too long, it was definitely ‘day’. There was a bit of broken sun and the sea started to smooth out a bit. I figured the tide must be turning. It must be six hours! Stop it! stop thinking about it! Another feed or two and I got my confirmation, I saw a big navigation bouy. I was 99% certain we were right at the top of the shipping lane. This was good. The sea was flattening and I could plough on, [fairly sure] we were now racing down the French lane toward the 3 mile marker; the sea was great, we’d be there for lunch! Deffo need to stop that kind of thinking!

When the sea flattened, the jellies came out. Big compasses (stingy ones) and the biggest blue jellies I’d ever seen! Not massive amounts of them but a couple every few minutes. Something had stung me in the face in the night but these, touch wood, were all down far enough to be out of reach. All but one big compass anyway, as I put my hand into the water, he was just there below my hand. I didn’t pull through, just glided….then rolled left without breaking stroke out of his way. As I lifted my head to breathe I could see the observer looking at me; he must have seen my little roll and wondered what the hell I was doing!

The mood on the boat seemed to have improved massively. In the flatter water the boat wasn’t rolling half as much and everyone seemed more lively. Everyone except Katrina anyway. I stopped for a feed and everyone gave me the positives…except her; she gave me a massive mouthful for being way too far away from the boat and adding loads of miles on by zig zagging in and out. Ok fair point but you didn’t need to be mean! I spent the next 45 mins, trying to stay right next to the boat…and was rewarded with an apology at the next feed. Fair point, she said I wouldn’t have listened if she had been nice about it…and I wouldn’t have!

They had been throwing out the solid food container at every feed nearly, but I hadn’t taken anything; the drink was working well and I didn’t fell like changing anything, or taking more time, so I didn’t. I did feel like one armpit was starting to rub tho, so I got them to put a big lump of vasaline in the food tub for a top up. Other than that, the body was feeling good. Forearms seemed to be taking the brunt of it so I was playing around trying to make it hurt less…to not much success! I figured Id swum a long way already and things should be a little bit sore!

As the sea flattened, I started to hit bits of seaweed. Nothing bad but it certainly makes you jump. A few times it wrapped around my goggles and my arm and I needed to flick it off as I swam. I didn’t really see too much tho which was a relief, just a big plastic crate I swam straight into which stopped me in my tracks, much to the amusement on the boat.

The crew were having a bit of a party, Lewis playing music through the megaphone (which I couldn’t make out the tune while I was swimming!) and lewis and maz piloting the boat, dancing away too! Sun was out, shirts were off, everyone was having fun!

I had been keeping an eye on the tankers as we swam down the lane. Initially they were all quite far in front, i,e, we still had a lot of the lane to get through (its five miles wide). After a good while, I realised I hadnt seen one for a while; this must be good, they must be behind me, we must be starting to get towards the French side of the lane! France was starting to loom, I could see it through the murk. Try not too look, try not to work it out, just keep swimming…!

I hadnt seen that much of the observer, he had popped his head up on quite a few of the feeds and Id seen him keeping an eye at various points, but he had just let my crew get on with it. At the next feed he was there, he asked me if I knew what ZC2 was and when I replied yes, he pointed and said it is just there. I turned and saw it, not too far away. Nothing else needed to be said, I knew what that meant. Finished my feed and swam on.

ZC2 is the bouy marking the edge of the shipping lane, exactly three miles from the cap, the shortest point. The swim is often described as an 18 mile warm up and a three mile swim…cos this is the bit that makes or breaks. Particularly on a spring tide, the water rushes so fast around the cap, you can easily get washed right back out to sea and swimming the hardest and longest miles, right when your at your most tired. I was fully aware swimmers are often asked for an hour of power to break the tide. I had told my crew I only want that call if its absolutely necessary as that could break me. I tried to swim as efficiently and as strongly as I could, saving energy but ticking off the distance. This was where it mattered. I hoped I’d done enough down the lane to put us in the right place…we were about to find out.

Before the next feed, the sea got angry. I could see the flags on the boat blowing and starting to change direction, we were turning; the tide was turning. We were starting to head into the wind. With wind over tide, the sea was getting nasty; horrible spikey chop, nasty to swim in, nasty to be on a boat, just nasty. Really not what you want after 12 hours (ish – two tides, must be about 12!).

The happy dancing was replaced with Lewis just sitting on the front of the boat, smiling and nodding at me and just pointing onward. The waves were battering me around so I was just trying to stay tight to the front of the boat where the was a little bit of protection. The downside is occasionally a wave bounces off the hull and hits you straight in the face as you try to breathe! It was now key to try not to swallow the water or breathe it in.

The sea was quite rough so France was in and out of view as the waves went up and down but I saw the lighthouse flying past; we were swinging round to the north…and still quite a long way out. The coast was dropping away and the tide was pushing us farther from the beach. Head down, keep swimming.

The waves and the chop were a little bit disheartening, but Id prepared mentally for the battle around the cap; this wasn’t the fight Id expected…but it definitely was a fight! A statement Lewis Pugh made kept running through my head, its going to be a lot easier to swim through it now than to do the last two years again and get another shot, on another day, when the weather might turn even worse. Head down, keep going.

Each feed kept coming and going, we wernt making progress. France was no closer than the last feed, and the one before that. I broke my own rules and started to question the crew. I didn’t mean to ask how far out, how much further…but I couldn’t articulate what I wanted…and they didn’t seem to know what to say, other than you are doing great, keep going. That didn’t help. Thinking about it now, the question I needed answering was are we making progress? I didn’t need to know, and I didnt really mean to ask how far to go, how long left… and I know (better than anyone) they couldn’t answer it. Eventually I settled for just carrying on. No one was telling me to push, no one looked overly concerned, Lewis was Just smiling and pointing me on, Maz driving the boat and Kevin the observer were just poker faced and my dad and Kat were just having a chat, seemingly not watching the battle. meh, Ill do this by myself then.

The only gauge I had on how close we were was the water temperature. I kept feeling small increases in temperature. It wasn’t cold at any point but it was now starting to feel quite warm. The cliffs were starting to get closer. Cliffs. Right, Petit Blanc Nez, just down the coast from Calais. You cant get too close to Calais or they will pull the swim to stop you getting in the way of the ferries. My badly articulated questions were now trying to find out if we were nearing Calais. Kevin just told me to fight my demons. Fight my demons. Fight my Demons?? I was quite indignant at the statement! I was a bit tired, a bit annoyed at the weather…but absolutely no-where near at the point of stopping or giving up. Body was tired but felt fine, nothing was hurting hurting, I wasn’t fighting my demons..cos I wasn’t anywhere near that point. I figured I must be giving off the wrong signals and I should shut up and just swim!

At the next feed Maz smiled at me from the cabin and said although I couldn’t see where we were going, the tide was turning. This was a huge relief, I knew we were ok from Calais…and I knew we were going to land, just a case of when. The chop seemed to ease a little bit and we ploughed on. My mind was starting to analyse my condition and started to think my ‘bad’ shoulder was beginning to hurt, my forearms were knocked…and was I running out of energy? All of a sudden 45 mins between feeds seemed an aweful long time. Yes I was definitely running out of energy. The last feed, I saw them preparing the bottle and not throwing it. FFS guys, Im dying here, throw it! In the end I stopped and shouted something sarky at them and they launched the bottle to me. Looking back, I didn’t need the energy, I just wanted a 30 second break. Sorry guys!

The cliffs were now really close. Really close, but not close enough! I could see Lewis getting speedo’d up so I knew we were close. Simon made some kind of comment to swim in, which I took to mean he was stopping. The boat dropped behind me, this was it! The boat pulled back level with me, on the other side. What?! Ok, cant be much further, he will stop anytime now. Seemed like an age….trundling on…but he just didn’t stop. Surely they must be nearly beached?! I realised I don’t have a clue what the tide was doing, the cliffs were there, there should have been a beach…but we were just getting closer and closer. Through the chop, I couldn’t see anything but the cliff. Finally he did stop and I was on my own. Lewis was supposed to be swimming with me…but I couldn’t see him? No matter, I tried to maintain my pace, not swallow the water…and not look!

As we edged ever closer, I realised the waves were braking at the foot of the cliff; the tide must be fully in. I went over a few barrell jellyfish, then something more solid; a rock! In the surf were a few big rocks, and no beach. I touched the rock and stopped as I had nowhere to go. A few seconds later, I heard the boat horn, Id done it! No way, not happy with this! I turned round and saw lewis ten feet behind me, he pointed to a small beach and me picked our way through the rocks and the breaking waves and I hauled myself out; now Id done it! Lewis threw me his dry bag which had the flag in, I hoisted it and hoped they had a camera pointed that way!

All that remained was to grab a handful of pebbles, throw the bag back to Lewis and try and scramble my way back through the rocks into the sea…and potter back to the boat! The rocks felt pretty smooth…but the very last one tagged me on the stomach! Ok that’s why you aren’t supposed to climb over the rocks!

The crew back on the boat sorted me out and got me dressed and we began the motor back to Dover. Challenge complete.

Such a long build up and such a lot of blood sweat and tears gone into this I think I need some time to analyse and digest the day, for now it was just smiles all round and a bit of a sleep on the deck on the way back! 3-8-19 England to France, 15hrs 35mins.

 

errrrr… did it!

I haven’t updated for a while; the first trip to dover turned out to be a false start, got part way there and the pilot rang to say the forecast had turned and we needed to go home. Another few maybes over the next few weeks really messed with my planned taper; never wanted to do too much just incase we got the call…but also worried I wasn’t doing enough! In the end we went down during the actual window Id booked and we went on the second day! Weather was mixed…but long story short, I made it! Will do a proper write up shortly…!

The dovercoaster!

Ok so, you book yourself a spot on a tide, usually that’s four swimmers to a week. If day one is good, swimmer one goes. Day two good weather, swimmer two goes, etc. If the weather is good, the pilot can get ahead. My pilot is ahead.

Ha rang me last week to ask how I was fit for this week…then rang again to ask if I could swim last Friday! Last Friday being a month early and only a week from my back to back! I did seriously consider it…but eventually turned it down as it was a huge spring tide. I figured if I was a bit tired from the back to back, the weather got up and there was a huge tide making things harder, id kick myself. Then hoping I wouldn’t be kicking myself for missing the shot!

One of the reasons that swung the decision was the pilot told me he had one swimmer booked on this weeks neap tide (smaller and theoretically easier). Long range weather looked good…so I agreed to potentially being second swimmer from Wednesday.

The real real difficulty in this game is the simple fact you do not know when you are going to go! I had a really nice long taper planned and have been disagreeing with people regarding when to start that for some time. This weekend I went and swam 3hours 20…which was probably more than I should, but it was all controlled and easy and I’ve had a lot of other days off.

Prepared to admit I was possibly wrong with starting the taper…as the pilot rang me again to ask about Wednesday; do I want to be swimmer one!

A few frantic calls to my crew…and it is on. 2 days time, 4am in the morning in the water! eeeek! Is that enough rest time since the weekend? Don’t know! Is that enough taper? Don’t know! Am I ready? Don’t know! At some point you need to roll the dice…and that’s now!

I think its ok. Ive done the training, I think ive recovered from the B2B, I think Ill be recovered from the weekend, I think the weather is perfect….theres a whole lot finger crossing, but we are going!!

 

Now arranging to get to dover; the crew will be posting on this facebook page on the day so follow that if you want to get updates from the boat! https://www.facebook.com/Toms-Channel-Swim-369343773755785/

Back to back.

After the relay I really wasn’t very well! Had a bad cough and chest and spent a few days in bed. Bleurgh. I’m never ill. Combination of tiredness and perhaps getting the lurgy off someone….and maybe too much channel water! The weekend after was due to be the humdinger 6 hour swim followed by another diy six for back to back sixes/split channel. Humdinger happened, but wasn’t great. My new hat and not enough lube ate the back of my neck so Sunday morning really was just a dip and I called it a day to fight again. Not Ideal. The date (1st week of August) is now looming large.

Chatting with the Varne Ridge Class of 2019; Ness who is swimming the channel the week after me had a similar back to back that didn’t go to plan. The weather was showing blazing sunshine this weekend so I thought Id head to Durley sea swims for the best chance at a good B2B. Ness checked the flights and found a cheap one from Ireland so decided to come too!

Durley is a group on the south coast near Bournmouth, a little bit like the dover group but a smaller group and a nicer setting. Compared to Wales (and Ireland) the water is warm and the beach support feeding you is amazing! Makes it quite easy to do a long swim as you can do a lap. come in for a warm feed and some smiley faces…and repeat!

We rocked up on Saturday morning and were met with bright sunshine, flat water and a couple of others doing six hours…and one guy doing a seven. Immediately, competitive Ness points to the seven with a cheeky smile. Arse, this is going to be a seven! When we jumped in at 8, i couldnt believe how warm it was. Watch said 18+. It felt boiling! I swam straight out and with a big smile on my face (because it was so warm) swam right up and right back, timing my run back int the beach for an hour and a half. Not uch to say RE the rest of the swim, lots of 45 min laps back to my feed, lots of sunshine and lots of insanely warm water! Pretty sure my watch was reading high but it said nearly 20 near the end! Water was a little bit swelly at the start, which is great for swimming in, flat in the middle and a little bit of chop at the end. Ideal. At five hours I came in for a feed and was told Ness was doing seven. Normally that might have dipped my head but I was enjoying it so much (and id already accepted it was going to be a seven) onwards to seven!

Seven hours is a significant swim…but I got out still smiling, it was just so warm, it was too easy! Dont get me wrong, Im not complaining…and that was the whole point of going to Durley…but it shouldn’t have been that easy! Tommorrow would be the day tho, this puppy is only half done!

Sunday morning, really surprised I wasn’t really sore or hurting at all. Weird. I know I didn’t swim as far as perhaps I would normally expect in 7 hours…but there was a current pushing you back and I was taking it easy for the second day…but still, I shouldn’t be feeling this good should I?

We jumped in under cloud…but the water was still 18+. It was reasonably windy and quite choppy so it was a bit difficult to get into a rhythm but the first half hour was assessing the body….and playing with the barrel jellyfish that seem to have come in. Was surprised we didn’t see them the day before when it was flatter but nice to see something!  Pleasingly, pretty much all good. I was however feeling a little chill which I’m putting down to the body working quite hard the day before and being in recovery mode. That’s how this swim is supposed to work tho, push the body when its tired. Again, hour and a half lap followed by 45 min feed. Easy back with the wind, hard out with the chop constantly slapping in the face. No point getting annoyed, it is what it is, swim the best you can and deal with it; it could be like that on the day! After 5 hours I was getting a bit tired but no way I was even close to getting out, no dark patches, no hard points, just a nice easy swim to finish it off.

 

Again, too easy. It was force 4 wind at the end so slapping us in the face with chop but the temperature and support made it so easy, it wasn’t ever in doubt. Slightly bittersweet as I was kind of hoping it would have been a bit harder to put in a mental box for later labelled ‘really really hard training swim’. As it was, Its in a box labelled ‘really easy really long training swim’. It might help me mentally if it gets tough on the day…or it might not! No matter, big back to back, done. That’s the last big box that needed ticking. Really consistent and long build up, monster big swim (G24), big back to back/split channel. Now in a really good place mentally and physically and in theory, one month exactly til my window opens to get a nice long rest and tapering down period to go into this fully 100% as ready as I can be. 

 

Testing the water relay (4)

In theory, the relay window was pretty good. We were the only ones on the tide so it could be a case of just waiting for the best day. In practise, the forecast had low pressure systems in charge all week which means unsettled weather, and not enough gaps inbetween to get the swim completed. Stuart the pilot of Sea Leopard kept calling every 12 hours saying the forecast had updated and the changed again and his advice would be to hold off. In the end it looked like Tuesday and Wednesday were going to be OK with rougher weather coming in at the end of the week. Tuesday looked like a windy/rough start but settling down to a perfect finish and Wednesday looked like smoother water but worse weather all day. We decided to meet at the boat at 3am on Tuesday and go and see how rough, rough was…

Dover looked reasonably calm at 3am as we moved a small mountain of stuff onto the boat. Stuart had decided to motor round to the start to take a look before making the final call…but we were moving and there was a huge sense of excitement! There didn’t seem to be any real discussion of shall we turn round when we got to Samphire Hoe; it was on and we all knew it! Water was choppy…but with last weeks PMA training in the back of my mind, I knew that I could easily push through rough stuff for an hour and after that, it would depend if the channel gods were with us or not!

I greased up, jumped in and swam to the beach. Rules dictate you need to clear the water so I waded up the pebbly beach and raised my arm to signal I was ready. At around 4am to a blast from Sea Leopards horn, I hobbled back down the beach and splashed through the breakers, swimming back out to the boat and pushing out through the breaking dawn, we were off!

Sea leopard is quite a small boat reasonably close to the water but in the semi light and the chop, it was quite difficult to pick a spot next to the boat and hold a straight course, the waves and the splash bouncing off the hull seemed to swamp my breathing every breath; all I could do was try and hold a nice stroke and make as much progress as I could whilst avoiding swallowing too much water! Almost as soon as it had started, it was over and I was being signalled my first shift was over, I slowed up and swapped with Andrew, climbing out and having a little bit of a shiver! Water had been 14.5 ish; fresh, but not too bad.

Andrew swam strongly through his hour, again pushing through the chop and doing his best to make us some progress. Everyone on the boat seemed to be holding onto their breakfast as the boat bounced around so that was a small positive! The sun was also starting to peak out, fingers crossed for a lovely day!

Sallie jumped in on two hours and swam a brave hour battling the chop. She was getting hit around quite a bit and took on some water; after her changeout it was apparant she had drunk too much and lost her breakfast over the side. Really important at this stage to try and not let this take over. We are all swimming a long way so the last thing you need is not to be able to take on any fuel or drink…and she did a valiant job of holding down what she could!

Hour four was Lisa, swimming breaststroke. I think the fact she was swimming breastroke, and the chop (she was used to lakes) meant she looked quite nervous getting in. We had discussed beforehand that everyone just needed to get in and finish their hour and whatever progress you could make would help. She swam her hour without a complaint and when I jumped back in, we were on the edge of the first shipping lane.

As I was about to get back in Stuart told me it had picked up a little bit again; pretty annoying if im honest as it was supposed to be flattening out but probably best for the team the stronger swimmers get the rougher sea! I think the second hour was worse than the first but I wanted to push as deep into the shipping lane as we could to put the team in the best place; again the hour seemed to go really quickly but the temperature had noticeably dropped and I had a real good shiver afterwards, coldest water temp was 13.2!

The water was starting to flatten out now, Andrew swam a steady hour and climbed out with a huge smile on his face! Looking back at the cliffs of Dover, a second boat was chasing us down. A soloist had gone out on the boat Anastasia. Starting an hour behind us she was putting in a huge effort and reeling us in. As Sallie and the Lisa swum their second hours, Anastasia caught and passed us. Lisa’s second hour started on the edge of the separation zone; a one mile wide gap between the shipping lanes. Usually this is where all the flotsam collects and when I swam it last year, was jellyfish soup! This year the rough weather had broken everything up and it was too cold for Jellies so plain sailing towards the French shipping lane!

My third hour, the water had calmed down quite noticeably so I eased my stroke rate back and tried to relax into my all day pace. As much fun as battling the swell is, its hard and tiring and not what I should be doing on my solo! My third shift took us into the French shipping lane.

Andrew and Sallie both seemed to swim at a similar speed and their third hours just made solid steady progress southward. The weather was now pretty good with the sun out and the water calming down. The air was still cool and we were all wrapped up well but we couldn’t really have asked for more! The tide had also now turned and our run eastward into the ferry lanes was now over and we were beginning to run to the west, down the French shipping lane to the three mile marker which indicates the edge of the shipping lane and is exactly three miles off the cap. Lisa took us past the bouy just to the west; the tide runs incredibly strongly here and this is where people say the swim really starts!

Hour four was just head down, push hard, try and make as much forward progress as we could. The tide had pushed us to the southwest of the cap and the lighthouse and we were just waiting for it to turn to sweep us back round north eastward. Stuart said it was slack when I jumped in but I was getting pushed a long way from the boat so I don’t think it had! The water was nice and flat though and starting to warm up nicely into the 15’s.

Anastasia had been there or there abouts since she caught us a few hours before…but now we seemed to be reeling here in a rate of knots. The soloist had put a heroic swim in considering the rough start and the temperature. In the distance as Andrew swam we could see two hats in the water which meant she had a support swimmer in helping to push the pace. As we got closer we saw the support swimmer climb the ladder…and then a second swimmer climb out. It was over for her, she was done. We were all really really gutted for her as it was a phenomenal effort to get to where she did, and really brings home how hard a solo swim is.

Sallies fourth hour was a really strong swim;  the current was pushing us North past the cliffs at Cap blanc nez, Sallie managed to push us though it and change our track so we were now drifting in to the bay of Wissant; as long as we could carry on now we would be home!

Lisa had one mile to swim on her hour, the water was now flat calm and the sun a beautiful orange glow; this was going to be an awesome finish! She was cold sitting on the boat so we did our best to get her warmed back up with a hot water bottle and warm drinks and credit to her, she jumped back in and swam without a complaint. We were almost close enough to tough the beach but unfortunately for Lisa, it was just too far away….but that did mean I got to jump in and finish the swim off!

As I jumped in I started ploughing off towards the beach. Stuart was launching the dingy to follow me in so for a minute or two I was on my own, France in front of me but nothing to the sides. All the hurt in my muscles had gone and I was full steam ahead! The tender soon caught me up and Sea Leopard then powered past to take up a grandstand spectating spot. I thought I was a lot closer than I was; just didn’t seem to be getting any closer! As I sighted I could see some people on the beach and before too long, I felt the sand in my fingers. We were home! I ran out the water and threw my hands up! Not sure if sea Leopard sounded her horn but she was too far out for me to hear and the tender didn’t want to come in through the breaking waves so I didn’t know if they had seen me ashore or not!

I’d thought about the landing for my solo several times but this really did seem like a practise run! On the beach were about ten people including a couple from the facebook group dover channel training; they had been tracking us all day and had come down to welcome us in and take pictures. It was a fab fab end to a really great day! Only thing left was to gather some pebbles, say goodbye to my new friends and swim back out to the tender to start the journey home!

There are a load ore pictures here:  https://www.facebook.com/tom.chapman.773/media_set?set=a.10218587058165837&type=3

I made a quick video of the day with all our clips and the clips from the finish!

The game commences!

So after Varne ridge I was booked onto a relay. The window opened a day or two ago and we are waiting for the weather gods to play ball! Ideally you want high pressure and settled weather; we have a series of lows and are playing the game; pick the best window inbetween the weather!

We have had a great few days touristing around Dover, taking nervous call from our pilot and more touristing! The other problem with the game is you don’t know whether to swim….or not to swim! You don’t want to be too tired to play the big game, but you don’t want to not be training!

Every six hours the forecast seems to change and its on, off, on, off! Latest update (6pm 10-6-19) we are on for 3am tomorrow! Forecast is showing wind first thing so we are going to go down to the boat and see what it looks like, if its too much, we will go back to bed! If not, WE ARE ON!!!! excited beyond belief…but really need to sleep!

Varne Ridge (June 2019)

Havent posted for a while but things are starting to get exciting!

The plan for this year was Varne Ridge Channel Swim camp, relay, solo. First week of june was the swim camp, and it was awesome! Just backing up a fraction, I was getting a little aprehensive the sea wasn’t quite warming up as Id hoped so put in a big week or ten days in the pool (including a six hour) which made me feel a bit better! Then had a bit of an easy week before the camp.

Turns out the last day before I left was great conditions for swimming across to Ogmore so we did that; longest time in the sea for quite a while! Temp was fine…but it was playing on my mind a little bit how I would be able to nearly triple this at camp!

So to Dover! Its a big drive but camp starts with pizza night so was a reasonably relaxed drive down, followed by finding my awesome house mates Andrew and Ness and heading up to Tracy Clark and Roger Finch’s Chalet to meet everyone else and stuff so pizza down my face! A full camp is only 12 swimmers so plenty of time to chat with everyone else and talk all things English Channel! We also had a sneaky dip in the sea just off the holiday park with the white cliffs and France in the background!!

First swim morning followed and was to be half the group swimming off the boat, the other half lapping Shakespeare beach. We went first off the boat, I dived in and swam ashore to mock a real life swimstart, ploughed straight out towards france for half an hour before climbing back aboard and repeating for the rest of the team. The water felt cool and crisp and there was a bit of chop, but all good with the swimming and a great opportunity to remind myself how to swim next to a boat. As the morning wore on the boat rocked a bit more and the sea chopped up…but everyone did great!

Second half of the swim, after we swapped groups, and for us was just laps of the beach. I didn’t want to push things with the thought of 2 x 3 hour and the all important qualifier (6 hours) looming. In hindsight I perhaps should have put more effort into the qualifier at the end of last season. When I signed up to the channel I was a skinny little triathlete constantly thinking about the cold….and 6 hours in less than 16 degrees is a significant cold swim! Not matter, Id gone into the winter knowing it was still to do so it just had to be done!

The afternoons at the Varne Ridge camp are spent listening to talks, the first one was with Stuart Gleeson, pilot of Sea Leopard. Really interesting talk full of top tips about swimming…but also tips for crewing and things to get your crew to do and not to do.

Second day was the treadmill swim! We drove down to Deal for an early start, brief was up to three hours, swimming 4 maybe 500m up the coast, turning and swimming back to the pier. The swim started great, faster one way but not much. After an hour or two we noticed it was starting to get MUCH harder to go one way than the other! As the spring tide started to run, it became harder and harder and harder!! Almost like swimming against the tide in the Bristol Channel, incredibly powerful…but the brief was three hours, not a specific distance! Right near the end we had almost stopped. Swimming in for the finish, I overshot and had to swim ‘upwind’…barely made it! All good fun tho and a three hour swim cracked!

The afternoon was spent discussing further the channel and all things swimming with a lot of emphasis on getting your head in the right place and a lot of top tips regarding not measuring your own progress across the channel and not to look at time, distance etc as its pretty much irrelevant, the only thing you need to do is keep turning your arms over! This does strike a chord with me as I am very data driven and analyse (over analyse) everything. Ive noticed when things get hard, I look at every little metric on my watch and think about what’s happening. Chrissy Wellingtons book is an interesting read and she says at one point sometimes you are better to get rid of the watch and just go from the heart, you may well surprise yourself if you haven’t got your head telling you are going to fast and you know you cant do that.

Third day was another three hour swim. Two days ago I was a bit nervous RE three hours in the sea as I hadn’t done it so far this year but with yesterdays swim in the bank, no problem, lets go! Temperature did feel warm and I was a bit concerned at one point it may be too warm for the qualifier the next day but hey, head down keep swimming! The distance was a lot ore reputable than the day before on the treadmill but I’m not looking at that anymore remember!?

Each day the other guys on the camp also seemed to be building off the energy of the group and their self belief grew. Real mix of swimmers, some from hot climes, some not so good with the cold, some not have done much in the sea this year…but all with a connection to the channel in common!

Wednesdays talk was all about Roger Finch and Tracy Clark and the swims they have done. Tracy I had met the year before where she was observing the Brutal Green channel relay; if you read the write up I really do credit her with saving our swim and the passion and energy she had on that day really led me to the Varne Ridge camp. Her swim history is amazing and she has such a tough mindset; a lot of the discussion today was about getting your head in the right place and turning any negative into a positive. Very inspirational lady!

Roger I didn’t know too much about ahead of time but his talk was very much from the heart and again a very impressive swim history! The guy comes across as a really friendly, warm, bubbly personality…but I think that hides a massive strength and determination and mental toughness just like Tracy. One of his swims was across False Bay in SA where on the tag trackers he knew there were 250 great whites (and that was just the ones with tags) in the bay! Top guy and at the risk of repeating myself, another hugely inspirational swimmer.

Early to bed, qualifier tomorrow. Weather forecast shows sun but a bit of wind so it was to be in the harbour at Dover off swimmers beach. Bit boring maybe but a huge history for us to live up to!

Driving down for a 7am water start, need to repeat again here I had a bit of apprehension and pressure on this swim. Id left it til the camp but now had 8 weeks til my solo so it almost had to go well. With Tracy and Rogers words ringing in my ears, we dived in and began to swim. The water felt crisp but not cold, watch said 14.0.  Each lap of the harbour is approx. 2km so I swam round my first lap for a feed…and got sent out by Tracy for another lap, apparently I was too fast! Normally, Id have my plan and not let it bother me so much but perhaps Id get a little annoyed at changing things; attempting to practise what we had been taught, I just swam off and did another lap without giving it a second though. Down by the wall towards the water really started chopping up and there was a freezing patch! Again, nothing I could do about it so head down and swim hard through it. I later found out there is a freshwater outlet into the harbour, hence the chilly spot!

Each lap from there I came in for a feed and got a big boost of positivity from Tracy with the feed bottles and roger shouting instructions from the beach. Laps were ticking off and the time flying by. temperature was not ever an issue but by 4 hours it was up to 14.8 on my watch (again I need to get rid of this for the big swim as I’m constantly analyzing and comparing with what I know I can do).

On the fifth feed Tracy said I was a little less chipper; my arms ere quite tired with 9 hours on them before today…but I was still pretty positive as I knew that one more lap, plus a little bit and I would be in. Like Guildford, I knew it was in the bag.

At this point the wind had built and it was really quite choppy! As I swam down towards the wall I stopped swimming to take a look at the chop and had just made the decision to cut the corner and miss the worst of it when Roger popped up on a kayak, huge beaming smile and clapping his hands at me! HE told me shelly and a few others were just over there through the chop; this made me really happy as Shelly had started the week with a longest swim of an hour in the sea, she had done amazingly well to build the time as she did and to know she was going to finish the six was a big boost! I admitted I was about to cut the corner, he just pointed to the wall and told me to swim. No questions, no discussion, I just did it. Id built a he respect for the guy during the week and if he said I needed to do it, I needed to do it! It was a long slog back up and I didn’t even se him again to tell him I’d made it! There was a few minutes left for the 6hours when I got back so I did another third of a lap, mainly just messing around rather than swimming. When I got back to the beach there were an awful lot of swimmers milling around in t he water congratulating each other, ten from the camp had started with the intention of six hours, ten had completed!

The last evening was a certificate presentation and dinner in the channel swimmers pub les fleurs, great evening with some really good friends. Everyone was tired but everyone was really really happy!

New toy!!

Bought a dome for my go pro for those awesome half in, half out pictures and its awwwweeeesssooooommmmmmeeeeee!!

Play in the pool: 

Really not meant for the pool tho so took it up the super awesome secret spot for a proper play!

Relay Qualifier

So I got a spot on a five person relay in June. Qualifying for a relay is a two hour swim in less than 15.5 degs. The team had agreed to meet at Clevedon Marine lake as it was almost in the middle of everyone. I arrived late on Thursday to find the temperature at nearly 15 degs! Quick swim (felt disappointingly cold!) then bed; I needed to be thinking about a solo qualifier (6hours)…

First thing Friday myself and Andrew dived in…and found it was back to 13.9! No worries, swim swim swim. First hour was fine, then I came in for a drink and reealised I was rubbing quite badly under my arms and the back of my neck. New hat, ok, maybe…but arms? Weird. I swam on for another half hour or so but it was really burning! Didn’t offer much of a restbite from the water which was starting to feel decidedly cold! Stopping for another drink the rub felt really really bad setting off for another lap so I decided to stop after two hours and a relay qualifier.  Although I felt cold in the water and shivered when I stopped, I didn’t really have any major shivers afterwards so I think I need to be mindful its hitting the crossover from where it just feels cold and miserable…but its not dangerously cold. Hench up and get on with it…

The rest of the team had arrived at this point and others set off for their two hours whilst I contemplated my chafe. Ok I hadn’t swum two hours in salt water for a long time but its not like Id done anything that different. Having thought about it, Im concluding it was the short Thursday night swim and not washing the salt off. Schoolboy error. The journey is a big learning curve and that kind of mistake WILL NOT happen again!.

Quick warm up and then another 45 mins, out, warm up, back in for another swim, just like it’ll be on the relay…but this time lubed up! Everyone that needed their two hour swims got them done so it is on!