Tag Archives: Channel relay

Windermere v3

This Sunday I’m hoping to swim Windermere.

I say hoping because there’s a lot that can happen between now and then (not least that we haven’t finalised the logistics) and a lot that can happen during the swim. But I’m committed to making it happen, so all things being well, by Sunday evening I will have swum Windermere.

If I do it, it will be my third length of England’s longest lake (at 10.5 miles) and that fact alone surprises me. I still don’t really consider myself a swimmer, but I seem to be doing a good job of fooling everyone, so I’ll keep going until the charade is spotted.

From a swimming perspective this year started badly with a mental and physical hangover from last year’s bad back. I couldn’t quite find the motivation at the start of the season and so the goals I set at the start of the year will be mainly unfulfilled (that’s for another post). However, over the last few weeks I’ve really started to enjoy my swimming again and have enjoyed both the physical challenge and meditative quality of swimming longer distances. Ever since the Ullswater swim I’ve had my swimming mojo back.

So after the channel relay I decided I wanted to do more. I did have a 2-person relay planned, but unfortunately that fell through, so Windermere was the next logical choice.

I’ve done it before. The first time I just loved being there, the second time I tried too hard to ‘achieve’ something and had a very bad day at the office. Hopefully for the third I can do something between those two. I have a goal, but I also want to enjoy it and have a good day. Fingers crossed.

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One last thing – I have been raising money for charity over the last few weeks with the channel relay and this Windermere swim. This is the last time I’ll mention it, but if you can spare a few pennies for the MNDA then I’d really appreciate it.

Please donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-swim

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Pals, Puke and Pebbles

On Friday at just before 6:03am Jayne jumped off the back of the boat Suva and set off swimming to Samphire Hoe beach. It was only a c. 200m swim and once there she climbed up the beach so that she was completely clear of the water. She waved her arms, the boat’s horn sounded and Jayne got back into the water and started swimming towards France.

After an hour Jayne got out and Rach got in. She swam for an hour and was followed in by Cathy who also did an hour and then I got in. We repeated this four times until after 15 hours and 23 minutes I had the honour and privilege of hitting land in France. I climbed up so that I was completely clear of the water and the boat’s horn sounded again – me and three pals had swum the channel.

Makes it sound easy really doesn’t it?

It wasn’t quite that simple.

It started with lots of waiting. Our tide started on the Monday and we knew it was unlikely we’d be off straight away as we were booked as the third swim to go out on the tide, but other than than that we didn’t know when it would be. At one stage it was going to be Tuesday morning, then not, then maybe Thursday evening, then not, then Friday morning and it was. But the waiting is hard work and emotionally very draining.

Jayne setting off

The confirmation finally came just before 7pm on Thursday evening and we needed to meet up with our boat pilot in Dover at 5am. So an evening of not much sleep followed with a 3am alarm clock. Then once we had met up it was time was a nerve racking journey of about 40 minutes on the boat from the harbour to the beach we were to start from. Jayne was clearly nervous, but toughed it out and did a great first swim, getting us out and away.

Rach enjoying her swim, before…

The weather was great, a beautiful sunrise and the water wasn’t too choppy. That said, for those of the team that don’t have strong sea legs it was choppy enough to cause some discomfort and both Jayne and Rach managed to feed the fish! Rach actually managed it while swimming (which is supposed to be easier than standing on deck) as she took the second leg for us. Fortunately for Cathy and I we were able to cope by staring at the horizon and taking a sea sickness tablet.

Cathy’s lovely swim

The water flattened out during our second rotation and for both Jayne and Rach another swim helped, while Cathy had her most favourite swim of the day in the beautiful water. It flattened until I got in that is. Within a few minutes of my swim starting I was thinking how much harder it felt compared to how it looked from on deck – I actually felt a bit of a wimp and vowed that I wouldn’t discuss it with anyone. But as I climbed out the rest of the team asked if I’d heard the thunder as a storm had started back on the coast and had churned the water up a bit. I hadn’t, but it justified my slightly tougher than expected swim.

Fortunately Caroline had some time to appreciate the view

The day drifted by and we continued to swim. France got closer, but still tantalisingly distant. We continued to swim in rotation and at all times we were looked after superbly by our non-swimming teammate Caroline. Towels, tea and unwavering support made the swimming so much easier. We were able to concentrate on ourselves knowing that Caroline was supporting the returning swimmer.

Then as dusk started we hit the tide and the unpredictability started. The swims themselves became tougher as we fought the tide and the serene progress was halted as forward momentum was replaced by lateral movement. The issue now was whether we would manage to hit land before the Cap (Cap Griz Nez and the famous lighthouse) or whether we would miss it and possibly give ourselves an extra 4-6 hours of swimming. The night was descending and the tiredness was setting in and it became a mental as much as physical challenge.

We were close enough to France that a strong swim in a straight line looked as if it would get us there in an hour or so. But the tide had other ideas and Jayne couldn’t break us through, then nor could Rach. By the time Cathy got in it was almost pitch black (apart from the beam from the lighthouse) and we were no longer really sure where we were. Then all of a sudden we realised exactly where we were – far too far away from Cathy as she was swimming. Panic, yelling and tooting of the boat’s horn on board; serene swimming as she thought the boat had stopped and she was swimming into shore in the water. We thought that she was fighting the tide to get back to us; she thought the boat had stopped on purpose to let her hit land. Eventually the boat moved over towards her, but had this ruined our chances of landing near the Cap? Extra worry and discussion on board; but excellent strong swimming in the water.

In the end Cathy wasn’t able to take us to land, but had done enough to see us safe and I had to get in and swim for the final leg. As I got in I wasn’t sure it would be the final leg. I had the lighthouse beam on my left (and I swore at it every time I breathed to that side, telling it it wasn’t going to win) and the boat’s light on my right. I swam like a cat that chases a laser pen, every time I slipped out of the boat’s light I chased it down again. Until one time when the boat suddenly pulled away from me – or had I dropped behind and lost our chance? Would I be able to make up the ground (water?)? Fortunately I did, but it was scary sprint from two or three minutes.

A French pebble

Then the boat just seemed to stop. My pessimistic brain immediately assumed that we had missed the Cap and swim was being aborted. But instead a beam was shone from the deck and there was the French coast. It was too shallow for the boat to go any further and I had to follow the beam of light until I could climb out on the rocks and make sure I was completely clear of the sea. I did. The horn sounded. I jumped back in, but before I swam back to the boat I picked up a handful of French pebbles as souvenirs.

All that was left was congratulations, updating social media and lots of conversations about “never again” (although not from me…).

Updating everyone back home

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Last Training Swim

On Monday I’m off down to Kent to wait for my channel relay, so this morning’s swim was my last training swim ahead of that.

I did a series of drills (to keep my stroke in good order) and then a gentle 1km to total 2,850m.

However, the best bit about today’s swim was the chat with the other swimmers and letting them know about next week’s channel relay. Having done a relay before (and lots of other open water swimming) next week’s swim, while exciting, doesn’t seem that big a deal. But to the pool swimmers it’s a big challenge and they were excited and very supportive of me. It was lovely to chat to them and to see it through other people’s eyes.

Having said all of that, I am excited and I am looking forward to it. I am aware and respectful of the challenge ahead, but I’m also confident in my training and fitness.

If you’d like to sponsor me for the swim, please go here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patrick-smith-swim

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Please support…

I’m not a great one for using my swims for fundraising. I’m gonna do the swim anyway, so it doesn’t always feel right to ask people to donate to something I enjoy. 

This time is different though. I’m raising money for the MNDA through JustGiving. Here’s what I wrote there:

Someone very, very important to me lost someone very, very important to her to this shi**y disease, so I wanted to do something.

What I’m actually going to do is swim a channel relay (swimming from England to France as part of team) – twice.

The first is a four-person relay which will hopefully take place at the end of August. In it we will swim for an hour each and I expect to get 3 or 4 swims (so four hours of swimming).

The second is a two-person relay at the end of September. For this one we will swim for two hours at a time and again I expect to swim 4 times, however this will mean eight hours of swimming.

If you think that this is something that is worth a few pennies then please donate. Thank you.

– – – 

If you would like to donate, please go to my JustGiving page to do so – http://www.justgiving.com/Patrick-Smith-swim

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Swimming Season Over

At least it is for me.

I’ve been injured for the last eight weeks or so and although it’s slowly getting better it’s a long way from fixed. Tonight I finally bit the bullet and cancelled my entries to the BLDSA’s Bala swim. I also withdrew from my place in a Channel Relay team.

The Bala swims were to be one of my training weekends for Windermere – the plan was to use events as long distance training opportunities. Without Bala I’m not going to be able to train enough for Windermere, so that’s out for this year.

Bugger!

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Channel Relay Thoughts

This post is intended as a summary of what a channel relay entails and will hopefully provide enough information for you so that you can decide whether it is for you or not.

It’s not an exhaustive list and I’m sure that there will be many things that I haven’t included. I’m certainly no expert. I’ve only ever done one relay and I loved it – although I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible in my summary.

Part of the reason for writing this is that I’m keen to organise and take part in another relay – especially for the Team Bear lot, if there is enough interest. I loved my previous experience, so I’d like to repeat it, plus I think that it gives a great perspective of what a channel crossing is and what it involves, which is great mental preparation for a solo crossing – something that I have on my ‘to-do’ list.

I have been offered the chance to take part in a relay this year, which I can’t do (sorry Michael), so I’m keen to do another one in future years.

What it is

A channel relay is quite simply a swim from England to France in a team (rather than on your own). It can only be done in that direction as the French authorities don’t allow you to set off from France any more.

To start you must be clear of the water on English soil (setting off from Dover, or an adjoining beach) and to complete it you must swim all the way to France and get out and clear of the water on French soil – the closest point is Cap Gris Nez.

You swim in a team of between two and six, with each swimmer swimming for an hour at a time. You rotate through the team until everyone has swum and then you start with the first swimmer again and swim in the same order.

Everyone must swim for a full hour and everyone must swim in the order they have been assigned. There can be no changing this once the swim has started and if any swimmer can’t start or complete their hour then the whole relay is over.

During your swim you can only wear a swimming costume, swim hat, goggles and night lights if it is dark – no wetsuits are allowed. You are also not allowed any assistance from the boat – you cannot be touched, or touch the boat or crew. You can feed during your swim (vital for solo swimmers, not needed for a one hour swim during a relay), but the feed must be passed down to you without you touching your crew – it’s usually attached to a rope and then pulled back into the boat.

Making it Official

The only way that a channel swim (solo or relay) is officially ratified is to do it under the authority of one of the two channel swimming bodies, the CSA or CS&PF. And they only way they will ratify it is if you do it with one of their registered pilot boats to support you.

This is very important as the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with enormous cargo boats travelling up and down it. You need someone that is experienced and qualified to get you through that lane – it has been described as being like a snail trying to cross the M25!

The pilots

Not only do the pilots have the knowledge to steer you over to France, they also have the experience of taking hundreds of swimmers over – they know the tides, the weather, they can spot if a swimmer is struggling, they can predict if the weather is going to change and make the swim dangerous and they can be the difference between a successful swim or not.

Once you set off the pilot is in control of the swim, they have the ultimate power to pull you out of the water if they think you won’t make it, whether it’s the weather or you that is deteriorating, their first concern is the safety of the swimmer and the crew on board.

In fact even before you set off the pilot is in charge. They pick the start time, based on the expected weather and tide – so you can’t choose to set off at a leisurely 10am, you start when the pilot tells you to. Equally though they may not let you set off. Sometimes swims are ‘blown out’ and the weather may kill your chances – it is one of the ‘joys’ of channel swimming.

Cost

So now we come to one of the sticking points for many potential solo and relay swimmers – the cost. And there’s no way to butter this up as it’s not cheap. The pilots can differ slightly, but expect to pay £2,750 for your crossing. And that is just the pilot’s fee, you will also need to factor in accommodation, food, kit and any training fees etc. It’s not cheap, but compared to a brand new tri bike it’s a snip!

Requirements

The other major sticking point seems to be the qualifying requirements. You will obviously need to have a medical form signed by your doctor, which needs to be done in the year of your swim (and can be another cost given the way most GP practices are run).

However, it is the swimming qualification that catches some people out. For a relay swim you must complete a two-hour swim in water below 160C (for a solo it’s a six-hour swim) within 18 months of your relay. If you’re training up and a channel relay is to be the pinnacle of your swimming efforts, then this can seem like a lot – again though it is for your safety, you must be able to show that you can cope with both the temperature and the swimming that will be required.

Training

Other than being able to do the qualifying swim other training to think about is:
– exposure to cold water – don’t just do your training in a pool where the water is a lot warmer than you’ll be swimming in on the day. If you’ve not swum outside before it will feel cold at first, but I promise you your body will adapt if you repeat the process often enough
– sea swimming – sea swimming is actually more buoyant that fresh water (thanks to the salt), so it some ways it can be easier. However it’s a good idea to practice in salt water so you can get used to the taste of it (!) and also the rolling waves – a lot different from the local pool
– night swimming – at some stage during the relay your team will almost certainly need to swim at night and it may be your turn to swim, so practice it. In my experience once you get used to the dark then it is a beautifully peaceful experience and possibly my favourite bit of my relay
– distance – make sure that you can swim for an hour, then another hour and possibly another hour or two after that

Wildlife

We can’t ignore the fact that the English Channel has some ‘wildlife’ in it. It’s rare to see any large wildlife – the busy shipping lane tends to put them off – but you will almost certainly see some fish and worse than that some jellyfish. If you’re unlucky you may even ‘shake hands’ or ‘kiss’ a jellyfish.

I’m certainly no expert on marine wildlife, but my understanding is that the jellyfish in the channel are ‘babies’ when it comes to their size and stings. I’ve heard them described as like a nettle sting – so noticeable, initially disruptive, but nothing you can’t swim through. No-one will pretend that it is pleasant to swim into or through a jellyfish, but you can and should be able to carry on if you do.

If this element of the swim is likely to be something that you just can’t overcome your fear of then you are best not signing up for a channel swim of any sort.

My thoughts

In the channel

In the channel

As I said, I’ve had the good fortune to do a channel relay in the past and I loved it. We did a four-person relay and I would argue that that is the perfect number. With a six-person team it is very possible that you’ll only get two swims each, in the four-person team I had four.

I also started the swim at 1:30am and despite my advice above I had never swum at night before. After overcoming the initial fear (of both night swimming and the responsibility of starting the swim) I loved it! LOVED IT!

While relays are easier than solos, by completing one you will still join a select group of people that can say they have swum across the English Channel. The camaraderie and companionship of other channel swimmers is enormous – as is the jealousy of some swimmers that haven’t done it!

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A great haul

The open water season is over – or at least it is for me, I don’t swim in lakes and seas when it gets proper cold. So it’s time to look back on the season and see how it’s gone and what I’ve achieved.

I could write a lot of words about this – but I think this photo is a great summary.

The season's haul

From the back, left to right we have:

– Windermere certificate and swim hat – a tough, tough swim for me, but still another 10.5 miles under my belt and I can start to see it as more of a learning experience now.

– Colwick Park certificate and swim hat – the first event of the season and I can’t say I enjoyed the swim (probably due to poor nutrition), but it was a lovely and local day for me.

– Coniston certificate and swim hat – I always like Coniston, it’s just a beautiful swim.

Wykeham Lakes certificate (x2) and swim hat – a 5km swim, followed a little later by a 1km swim, hence the two certificates.

– SwimTrek hat – provided as part of the Long Distance Training course I did with them in April in Mallorca. A great, GREAT trip and I met some amazing swimmers.

– 100% swimming hat – provided by Paul of 100% swimming as we sat and chatted one day at Activities Away.

– French pebble – probably my most treasured swimming possession. A memento of the channel relay I did in July and although I didn’t collect the pebble myself, I will do one day.

Not a bad season all told.

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I’m Gonna Swim the English Channel

I’m hinted and murmured about this for a few months, ever since the successful Channel relay, but I’m going to state it out loud (or write it down at least):

I Will Swim the English Channel

I don’t know when yet, but it now a confirmed entry on my personal to-do list.

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Channel Relay Photos

Here is a selection of photos from my recent channel relay.

Me, setting off at 1:30am:

Night swimming

Night swimming – looking like an alien…

Sylvia, swimmer 2:

Sylvia

Sylvia

Paul, swimmer 3:

Paul

Paul

Mike, swimmer 4:

Mike

Mike

Leaving Dover behind:

The white cliffs, getting further away.

The white cliffs, getting further away.

Heading towards France:

I can see France

I can see France

Me again:

Check out the sunburn...

Check out the sunburn…

Swimming strongly

Swimming strongly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching France:

Paul swimming to France

Paul swimming to France

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Next Challenges?

Telling people that we’d completed our Channel Relay, the response from nearly everyone was: “solo next?” By that of course they mean do I want to swim across the channel on my own, without a team, swimming it all myself. And my answer has always been a resounding “NO!”

It’s not that I don’t want to, but I just can’t see a time when I could commit enough (money and effort) to completing a swim of that magnitude. I am in awe of the solo swimmers!

But I do want to do more swimming and face more challenges. But rather than swim further, I want to swim ‘more interesting’.

What I’d love to do is a series of [ideally global] swims that are iconic and interesting. Two on my list are the Escape from Alcatraz and Hellespont swims.

Can you help me out and recommend any more?

I’m also keen to do some presentations / speaking on the links between open water swimming and business. Please check out this link – http://bit.ly/jpropen – and if you know any business events that need speakers let me know. I’ve also written a couple of posts (here and here) for H2Open magazine and will hopefully do more soon.

Ok, self-promotion over.

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