Tag Archives: English Channel

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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A confession…

This one isn’t in the same league as the recent Ian Thorpe one, but here goes…

Since the channel relay people have asked me if I’ll swim a solo channel. I’ve always said no, because the idea just seems crazy. However, over the last couple of weeks the thought has seeped into my brain. In that time I’ve seen (via Facebook) people I know complete successful solo crossings and the ‘competitive spirit’ has been stirred.


Yes, one day I will try to swim the English Channel (I’m just not saying when).

France, here I come.

France, here I come.

And if you want to read some great blog posts by great swimmers about great Channel swims, read these:

– Emma France – http://www.emma2france.com/solos/2014-english-channel.html
– Mark Sheridan – http://reminiscencesofalongdistanceswimmer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/english-channel-swim-11th12th-july-2014.html

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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:



Paul, swimmer 3:



Mike, swimmer 4:



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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Channel Relay – Report

If you follow me on any form of social media you’ll know that on Wednesday I swam with a relay team across the English Channel. I sent some updates as we were going, but here’s a slightly fuller report.

– – –

I arrived in Dover early on Sunday morning to swim with the famous Dover training crew and to meet (although very briefly) the indomitable Freeda. I just had 90 minutes on the Sunday, but to be honest it was terrible. I felt a bit sick and could hardly swim – which was a little worrying. I put it down to being tired (a hard week at work, a very early start to drive down etc), and tried to put it to the back of my mind, but it was a concern…

Swimmers training

Swimmers training

On the beach I also met other members of the team and we were expecting a Thursday start.

I spent Monday just relaxing and resting, trying to beat the tiredness.

On Tuesday morning I went back to the beach for a swim with a couple of other relay teams I’d met on Facebook. It was great to chat to others in the same situation and to share experiences and motivation (and the great news is both of those teams had successful crossings). It was then that I was told that we were now likely to start late on Tuesday night. My plans for a walk up to the Castle were put on hold and it was more resting on Tuesday.

I even tried to get a couple of hours sleep in the evening – but that wasn’t very successful. So at 10:30pm I got up, showered, packed the last bits in my bags and left the BnB to get a lift to meet the rest of the team. From there it was a taxi to Folkestone Harbour and onto our boat with our amazing pilot Freddie.

My understanding of relay swimming was that you wanted your strongest swimmers to start for you to get you on the way and as that clearly wasn’t me I had assumed that I’d be third or fourth off. It turns out that the team had other plans and so at about midnight I was informed that I’d be the first to go. An honour and how could I turn it down? Although the slight fact that I’d never swum at night before and I didn’t want to mess it up for the team made me a bit nervous.

Our boat made its way round from Folkestone to Samphire Hoe beach and we got the “five minutes” call. No backing out now, so I stripped off, got greased up, attached the lights to my goggles and trunks (so I could be seen in the water) and got ready to get it.

I had to swim from the boat back to shore and climb out to be completely clear of the water to start the swim – which itself was a bit of feat on a pebbly beach. And then we were off, I stumbled and slipped back into the water (with the grace of an arthritic hippo) and started swimming – heading towards the spotlight on our boat. Although I headed directly for the spotlight and very nearly swam right into the back of the rowing boat we were towing behind us! A lot of shouting from the rest of the team on board helped me to avoid a collision and I settled into the swim.

And it was amazing. The water was pitch black, the sky was pitch black – but I was swimming the English bloody Channel!

For the first 15-20 minutes it felt as if I wasn’t moving at all. With no frame of reference on the water or the sky it just felt as if the boat was stationary next to me, but it appears I was moving and all too soon I was being told I only had 10 minutes left of my swim. I could see the next swimmer getting ready and then the ladder was lowered over the side of the boat the next swimmer was in and I was being called back to the boat as quickly as possible.

The boat slows or stops while the swimmers are changing over and so they want you in as quickly as possible so that they can then set off to follow the new swimmer. I hadn’t realised this and was hoping to have a moment to look around (and if I’m honest have a wee in the water – I’d been too busy swimming to go earlier, but by now I was desperate). But it was back in, get dry and dressed and then support the rest of the team.

– Sylvia – also a first-timer, she got quite sea-sick and so did an amazing job to get in and swim her leg each time – and swim them really well.
– Paul – he’s done a couple of solo crossings and has swum Windermere over 50 times, so he has a bit of experience at this.
– Mike – however, Paul’s experience is nothing compared to Mike’s. With 33 channel crossings to his name (not including relays) he is the ‘King of the Channel
– Joan – the organiser, the person who did all the work to get us all together and booked the boat etc. She did an amazing job and then once we got going made the decision that she couldn’t swim as she was worried she wouldn’t be able to climb in and out of the boat (she has bad knees). So all the organising and she didn’t even swim – thanks Joan.

So all of a sudden my next swim was only three hours away and not four. But I was dry and rested, the sun had come up and it was a lovely day – let me get back into that water!

We completed another swim each and were making great progress, France was getting closer and although there was a bit of wind and chop the weather was beautiful and we were swimming the English bloody Channel! Such was the progress we were making that if we were lucky we might even make it under 12 hours. So I got in for my third swim and swam strong and hard and again I loved it.

Then the tides started to change and the wind picked up a bit more. Paul took us past the 3 mile buoy (ie 3 miles from the French coast), but we moving more laterally than we were towards the coast. It was now almost certain that I would have to swim again, but I might even be the one that gets to swim to shore – imagine that, being able to start the swim and then finish it for the team.

Our route - with the effect of the tides. My swims are marked and you can see I hardly moved forwards (just sideways) on my last swim.

Our route – with the effect of the tides. My swims are marked and you can see I hardly moved forwards (just sideways) on my last swim.

I was told to get in and swim as hard as I could and we could hopefully get into the more sheltered area before the tides caught us – so that’s what I did. I have never swum so hard for an hour as I did then. I’m not sure I’ve ever swum as hard full stop. I couldn’t see anything in front so I just kept the boat to my left and went for it. And then I could see Sylvia getting ready and putting her costume back on (she hadn’t expected to swim) – bugger I wasn’t going to make it. Oh well, let’s get us as close as possible, so I knuckled down and got on with it. By the end of the hour I was desperate to see the ladder – please let this stop!

I got back on the boat and looked around – we had hardly bloody moved! France was still as far away (if not further)! I felt awful – I was exhausted, broken but I hadn’t managed to move us forward at all. I really felt like I’d let the team down.

But that’s the nature of channel swimming and the power of the tides. Sylvia experienced almost the same thing and the strength of the tide meant that we moved even more laterally during her swim. But what Sylvia had done was get us into a position where the tides and wind dropped a little and so Paul was able to swim to the beach. And we had done it in 14 hours and 43 minutes.

Paul on the last leg

Paul on the last leg

We had swum the English bloody Channel.

Paul was rowed back to the boat and we had just had the 2 1/2 hour journey back to Dover. I nodded off a couple of times during that, but once we were back it was handshakes all round and I walked back to the BnB. A bit of time collapsed on the bed, a shower, liberal applying of after sun (and not shower gel) and I went out for a celebratory pint – which I couldn’t even finish, so back to bed and dreaming of being at sea!


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Tonight we ride

About 90 minutes ago I got the call:
“Meet at Folkestone Harbour at 12:30 tonight.”

It wasn’t a secret spy code, it was a not so secret swimming code – our relay swim is off tonight. Or to be more exact in the early hours of the morning.


… Gulp …

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Dover: Sights Unseen

The plan for today was to have a quick dip in the harbour with the Irish guys I met last night (hi guys!) and then spend the rest of the day seeing a few sights – mainly the castle.

However, I woke up this morning to a message that tells me that we might be swimming tonight or tomorrow morning (as opposed to Thursday which was the last info we had). So instead today will be spent resting (can you ever feel well rested enough), preparing my kit (probably a little over-obsessively) and of course panicking slightly! I’ll still have the dip though.

I wrote yesterday about the waiting and I’m fine with the just-hang-on-for-a-few-days kinda waiting. I can relax with that and not get too wound up by it all. I can cope with the mindset of “it’ll happen when it happens.”

But today is different, it now moves into the soon-really-soon-but-not-quite-yet kinda waiting and that’s harder.

It does mean that I don’t really want to go wandering around the castle – partly in case I get another call, partly to conserve energy and partly because I’m not sure I’d really appreciate it anyway.

Poor old Dover. It doesn’t have a lot going for it in the way of tourist sights, and even then hardly anyone gets to see them anyway!

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Preparing to swim

One of the key aspects of channel swimming, that most people forget, is the waiting. Swimming the channel (or other sea swims) is not like swimming in a lake as there are so many more variables with the weather, the tides and the other boat traffic and how they all react to each other.

While I’m no expert on this, and intentionally left all the organising of this swim to someone else, my understanding of how it works is as follows:

– You are give a ‘tide’ for your swim – a slot of a few days when the tides are favourable and your attempt will [hopefully] be made

– You are then given a position in that tide – all the boats take multiple swimmers across on a tide and so you are given an order ‘first boat, second boat etc’

– You are then at the mercy of the weather and your pilot – you trust your pilot to get you over safely and so you trust them to decide when you should set off. Sometimes stronger swimmers / teams may swap with weaker ones (I think), but generally you wait for the weather to work for you and then go. It does mean that if the weather is bad for a particular tide some of the later swims booked in can miss the tide altogether (although wherever possible they are moved to different tides).

We are booked on a tide that starts on July 1st (tomorrow) and we are the first boat. Looking at things from the harbour and the beautiful weather we have here now there appears to be no reason why we shouldn’t set off as soon as possible. However, we are sheltered here and the pilot has a better view and more experience of what it is like out at sea. So currently we have been told to expect a Thursday morning departure.

Last night looking out across Dover harbour and into the channel.

Last night looking out across Dover harbour and into the channel.

For those that don’t know, how it works in a relay once we set off is that we swim for an hour each in rotation. Once we have all gone in then the first person goes back in again and so on. If for any reason someone can’t do their slot (illness, injury, fear are probably the main reasons) then the attempt is void. I believe that there is an observer on each swim and we can’t touch the boat or receive any assistance during our hour either. Of course all of this is done in swimming costumes only, no wetsuits, according to the channel swimming rules.

So now I wait.

Dover’s not the most picturesque town, but the BnB is lovely and the weather’s great and I can read and watch the sea… sounds perfect, I may not want to swim!


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Two weeks to go

Two weeks today I will be preparing to swim in the English Channel as part of my Channel Relay. I may even already have set off, given the nature of the tides and the weather I can’t say exactly when we’ll be setting off (or even if we will at all). And I suppose that is all part of the excitement and the challenge – not only are you fighting against your own fears and inadequacies, but you can often be fighting the elements too.

As always, I feel under prepared. I feel like I should have done more swimming, spent more time in the lake and got myself physically more ready. Yet at the same time, I know I’ve done all I can do given the rest of life.

I also feel worried about the non-swimming bit of the relay. Being on the boat after my sessions and getting ready for my next swim. I’m concerned about getting cold, not feeding properly, getting seasick and letting my team down. However, there are many things that we just can’t control and I know that I’ll do my absolute best to do whatever it takes to survive and achieve the crossing.

I suppose these nervous feelings are all part of getting close to the event and reaching that point where there’s nothing more I can do. That’s usually the point that you start to think about how much more you should have done!

Having said all of that, I’m really looking forward to it and I’m very excited to be taking part in such an iconic swim and to be part of a great team of outstanding swimmers. Bring it on!


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Other [fast] swimmers

When oh when am I going to be rich enough to be able to afford my own swimming pool?

Last night’s swim was [almost] ruined by two guys who got into the fast lane and proceeded to just swim over the top of me. They were good, seriously good. But they were also completely oblivious of any other swimmers around them. If I hadn’t stopped to let them past they would have swum into me – on more than one occasion.

My own plans for a swim (3km non-stop) were completely disrupted. At one point I even got out and had a word with a pool attendant to see whether they could police the situation.

The pool quietened down a bit and I managed to get back in and do as much as 2.5km, but it was still only possible by being on my guard for these two guys.

So in the changing rooms I decided to let them know it was me who’d said something – I didn’t want them to think I was hiding behind an attendant and I was keen to hear their reasoning. Unfortunately we then proceeded to have quite a good chat. They are serious swimmers (both having done the channel and numerous other sea crossings) and are training up to swim between the islands in New Zealand for charity. Which means they’ll be in the pool almost every day for the next 12 weeks. So any swim I do will be disrupted by them (even if they do be more considerate as they promised) and my training plan for the next few weeks will be tough to stick to – especially the threshold training.

When oh when am I going to be rich enough to be able to afford my own swimming pool?


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I touched France and came right back

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using the Speedo app to record my swim distances. One of the nice touches on it is that you can set yourself a challenge and then count up the laps on the way to achieving that. As I’m doing a Channel relay in the summer, I set myself the English Channel challenge and have duly swam up and down in my local pool imagining that I am in the pristine waters of the world’s busiest shipping lane.

This morning I tweeted:

“555m to go to complete my @SpeedoUK app challenge to swim the English Channel. Will knock that off (and more) this morning.”

And I did. I actually did 2,200m. So I got to the French coast and just turned round and set off again!

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