Tag Archives: English Channel

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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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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Four times across the Channel

Screenshot 2015-08-26 14.08.43The Aspire Channel Challenge officially ends today (if you’re still swimming your last few lengths, or raising your last few pounds, then keep going!). The challenge is to swim the same distance as an English Channel crossing (22 miles) in your local pool. The challenge started on 14th September and ran for 12 weeks, until today.

I decided that I’d set myself an additional challenge of doing the distance in 22 days, which I managed to do (I also swam in 20 different venues). I also managed to get a little bit of extra publicity for the challenge (here, here and here).

However, I didn’t stop once I’d done my 22 miles. I may not have counted them directly towards the challenge, but I kept on swimming, so I thought it would be interesting to see how much I swam throughout the twelve weeks of the challenge.

The first thing to note is that although I completed my part of the challenge as a mile a day over 22 days, I didn’t swim only a mile. Most days I swam a little bit more – I just didn’t count it towards my Aspire miles. In fact I swam an average of 2kms per day for those 22 days. After that, I went to Crete with SwimTrek. Then recently I’ve been getting a bit more serious with my training as I want to get a good base level of fitness ready for events in 2016.

The great SwimTrek group on the last night.

The great SwimTrek group on the last night.

So, the total amount of swimming I’ve done in the last twelve weeks is… drum roll please….

134.5kms, or just over 84 miles.

That’s nearly four crossings of the English Channel. Not bad I suppose.

And if that’s impressed you to sponsor me for Aspire, then please, please do so by going here: https://www.justgiving.com/patrickJPRaspire/

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A day without swimming

For the first time in 23 days I won’t be swimming today.

For the last 22 days I have swum a mile each day as part of my Aspire Channel Swim. I have now landed in France and so I’m taking the day off to enjoy the cheese and wine. (Unfortunately for me, this is as true as the fact that I’ve actually swum the channel – but I have swum 22 miles).

Screenshot 2015-10-06 12.36.04For me the swimming was never going to the big challenge – I’ve actually swum no less than a mile each day, but often more and have averaged at just over 2km per day – however the logistics and repetition of it were a big challenge. No matter what else I’ve been doing I’ve had to make time for a swim every day. And of course to make it harder for myself I’ve tried to do it in a different venue every day – what an idiot!

Anyway, it’s done now. I’ll post more about it later, as despite what sounds like a moan I’ve really enjoyed it.

In the meantime I’ve been featured in my local paper, so you can read the article in the Nottingham Post.

And of course, it’s not too late to sponsor me.

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Half way to France

My mile a day challenge has reached day 11, and therefore mile 11 and so I’m half way. As the challenge is designed to be an ‘English Channel’ swim, that means I’m half way to France. Not sure how I’ll get a keepsake pebble for this swim though.

Mile 9

A bit of a trek for me this one, out to West Park Leisure Centre near the M1, but I got there in plenty of time for the 8:30pm start of lane swimming. However, we weren’t even allowed into the changing rooms until 8:32pm so that we didn’t get in the way of the swimming club. It seemed that that was regular policy and while it didn’t matter for me this time, it’s something I’d be annoyed about if this was my regular pool.

Once in though, the swim was lovely. The pool is an unusual ‘T’-shape and the main bit of the pool was being used by an aqua aerobics class, so the lane swimmers has three lanes at the top of the T. Due to the shape, we still got a 25m length and it was a lovely swim.

Mile 10

I hit double figures at Cotgrave Leisure Centre yesterday morning. A lovely clean pool that was kept nice and cool – probably one of the coolest indoor pools I’ve swam in – perfect for lane swimming.

Three lanes we re marked out and that left room for ‘general’ swimmers as well. However the medium speed lane was taken up by two slow breaststrokers swimming side-by-side. And as soon as they finished, literally as they were leaving the lane, two more got in and again swam side-by-side. Fortunately the pool wasn’t big enough that it slowed anyone down or stopped anyone else’s swim, however surely that’s what the unlaned area is for.

Anyway, another mile done. And in fact I did an extra length as the changing rooms were at the deep end, so I swam up there to get out.

Mile 11 – halfway

Mile 11 was done this morning before I attempted* to catch the train to London. For that reason it was at the Grove Leisure Centre in Newark, close to the train station.

This leisure centre is attached to my local one and so my membership got me in for a free and it was a nice big pool with at least six lanes marked out for swimming – with two fast lanes. The far fast lane was occupied by two guys doing sprints, so I joined a woman in the other lane and the two of us swam peacefully around each other.

Another lovely mile to set me up for the day before I got to the train station to discover all the trains were delayed or cancelled.

*They were so messed up I ended up driving to London!

Half way happy face

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Aspire Swim in the Paper

As I’ve mentioned not only am I a swimmer for the Aspire Channel Challenge, but my PR agency Joshua PR is also doing a bit of work for them.

The two worlds collided yesterday as Patrick the PR person arrange for Patrick the swimmer to have his photo taken by the Nottingham Evening Post.

This is the photo:

Screenshot 2015-09-15 11.45.20

And here’s the full article: Good Deeds Notts: Patrick to ‘swim’ English Channel in aid of charity

And please don’t forget to sponsor me on JustGiving.

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First Aspire mile done

Today was the start of the Aspire Channel Challenge and the start of my own personal challenge to do the 22 miles in 22 days in 22 different venues.

2015-09-14 11.00.34Not only that, but as Joshua PR is supporting Aspire with this, I’d arranged for a photographer from the Nottingham Post to come along and take some photos of me swimming. He did some photos of me by the side of the pool, then some of me swimming. Then he disappeared (to cover a Forest U21s match I believe) and let me swim.

Today’s swim was at Bingham and it was a lovely leisure centre and pool. Clean, spacious changing rooms and a nice pool with three very wide lanes in. There was plenty of room in each lane to swim up and down and overtake in the centre of the lane. Not only that, but the pool was just nicely busy – busy enough to feel as if the pool was viable and making money, but not so busy that it disrupted the swim.

1 down, 21 to go.

1st mile at Bingham completed.

1st mile at Bingham completed.

Don’t forget, you can sponsor me here – Just Giving

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It starts today…

Screenshot 2015-08-26 14.08.43Today is the start of the Aspire Channel Challenge – asking people to swim the English Channel (22 miles), but in their local pool, to raise money for people affected by spinal cord injury. And I’m doing it.

Although I’ve decided to add a twist to it as I want to do the 22 miles in 22 days in 22 different venues. Put simply, that’s a mile a day in a different pool or lake for 22 days. I’m starting today with a lunchtime swim in Bingham Leisure Centre.

I’d really appreciate it if you were able to spare a few quid, you can sponsor me here.

And good luck to everyone taking part.

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Two Channel Experiences

Yesterday was a bit of a channel day for me.

It started with me reading this account of a recent channel swim by Jane. It’s funny, I know the writer but not the swimmer, but I still got all emotional reading it. It’s a great post and obviously a huge achievement and a hugely personal one for Tony.

The day then continued with me tracking a very good swimming friend of mine as she set off to “bother the French” just before 8am. I was glued to her tracker and the Facebook updates I could find in between meetings for the whole day. I made sure I could sign into Wifi on the train home to keep checking and as soon as I got home up came the tracker again.

And then after about 13 hours of swimming there was a kink in the tracker that didn’t look good. The next refresh confirmed it – the swimming had stopped and the boat had turned for home.

So near, but yet so far. The track that no-one wants to see.

So near, but yet so far. The track that no-one wants to see.

I was heart broken for her. Yet, as I posted on Facebook, for some reason I had to keep following the tracker until they got back to Folkestone harbour. I didn’t ask them to give me ‘three rings’ to let me know they were safe, but it was a similar feeling – I needed to know they were safe.

But I guess that is a typical channel day – for some it provides a defining moment of glory, for others frustration and disappointment.

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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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