I have published a small account of my day in the English Channel;A day in the English Channel
It was a warm sunny Sunday morning at R.A.F. Manston in Kent. I was watching the Red Arrows taking off for the Eastbourne air show. My mobile phone rang and it was my pilot Eddie Spelling. He said the weather is looking good for tomorrow morning for your attempt to swim the English Channel. I had received four of these types of calls before only to be contacted again at 19.30hrs and told that the weather conditions in the channel had deteriorated and the swim was to be called off.
Eddie said that the conditions were settled and as usual he would confirm the go ahead at 19.30hrs. (The reason for this time is because most metrological offices’ send out the shipping forecast and the pilots can check against other local systems). After a nervous wait the call came for me to put my support team on standby. My kit was packed and had been for nearly a week.I informed my son James, friends Ian and Matt that we were to meet at the Dover Marina at 06.45am the following day.
It was Monday 17th August 2009. On my arrival I was greeted by close friends and family all wishing me farewell. I said that we would be leaving from Shakespeare beach Dover. My team assisted me to my pilot boat ‘Anastasia’.Before long the checks were made and we were powering our way from the dock to the beach. Eddie informed me to get ready. Matt assisted to apply the channel grease. This was a mixture Vaseline and Lanolin.
I stood on the platform at the rear of the boat was wished good luck and jumped into the water. I swam about 50 meters and climbed on to the beach. My wife Jill my daughter Kate, son in law James and friends Polly and Marion were present and wishing me good luck.Pleasantries were exchanged; I turned around faced the escort boat, raised my arm and entered the water on the biggest adventure of my life.
The time was 07.29hrs. The sun was shining and the sea was flat. I thought this was a great day for the swim.I instructed my team that I wanted to be fed on the hour for the first three hours then every thirty minutes after that.
Freda my mentor a much respected 70 year old lady said to me just before I swam not to look up and not to look back. The reason for this is that looking behind; the White Cliffs of Dover can be seen from a long way out and by looking up the French coast can also be seen. Many swimmers give up by feeling that they are not making progress. And less than ten percent who make the attempt, finish.I felt good and was enjoying the swim. The E.C. is well known that it will, and does throw what it can at you. This is why it is classed as the hardest swim in the world.
I passed a marker point and most swimmers reach this at about three hours. I passed it within two and a half hours. This indicated that I could be in for a fast time.The skies began to darken and the wind was whipping up. The predicted south westerly wind was getting stronger.
The support team were full of encouragement at feed times. As we entered the north shipping lane the white board appeared indicating that I was to be fed in five minutes. This consisted of a warm high powered calorie drink. I was burning up to 700 cal’s per hour. At odd feeds I was having bananas, Swiss Role, and soft chocolate cake. I spent no longer that 15 seconds feeding as more time spent could result in the missing of the outgoing tide on the French side. This could, and has added another five hours on an attempt. Many swimmers then give up.I had been fed and got on with swimming. Then I noticed that a white board was showing feed in five minutes? The team knew best. I swam over to the boat and the drink was lowered. (Touching the boat in any way would risk disqualification). I said to the boy’s that was a quick half hour to which they replied we thought we would feed you as we had to slow you down. The reason was we were to give way to three Russian war ships about 100 meters in front of us! As you can imagine the wash that they created was huge.
The weather got worse. I was now battling with two meter waves on my right. ‘Anastasia’ was being battered, the crew thrown on the upper deck it was getting rough. This continued for about eight hours.Matt then told me that we were within the French inshore waters and the sea would start to calm. This did slightly.
The encouragement continued and I was told that it was just two laps of Dover Harbour to go. I worked this out to be about three miles. No way was I giving up. The feeds continued and then I was told this was my last feed and meaning that there could be about another half an hour of swimming to go. It could be longer if the weather got worse. Having previously mentioned that I had slight cramp in the back of my leg they decided not to take any risks and to give me my last feed as a treble dose of high cal’s!I continued to not look up and only to the boat.
I could then see Dave the co-pilot and another crew member tampering with the dingy at the rear of ‘Anastasia’. They were beginning to lower her into the water. In my mind this was it. It told me that we were now getting close to the French shore as the support boat was entering shallow waters. I kept my head down and just swam.The dingy now had two crew on board as it spun around to the side of me. A voice shouted out “Dad follow the boat” I did. It peeled off and the next thing I knew a huge wave catapulted me forward and I could feel rocks below. I went to stand up and could not touch the bottom. I swam again for a short distance and another big wave pushed me forward. This time I could feel the sand. I ran up the beach and cleared the water. A signal came from the boat, the swim was over. I had swum the English Channel! How good was that?
The sun had now gone down. I picked up three small rocks put them into my swim trunks as a memento. I then swam to the dingy. We then raced back to ‘Anastasia’. I climbed aboard to a fantastic welcome. In no time at all the lads were covering me in blankets and warm clothing.Eddie informed the Coast Guard that the swim was complete and could he have permission to return to Dover.
The reply from H.M.Coastguard was” please proceed with care and congratulate your swimmer.”The time was 12 hours and 55 minutes.
I lost ¾ of a stone in body weight during the Channel crossing.The return trip took three hours in choppy sea.
We were greeted with Champagne and a fantastic reception.I felt tired, sore, and elated.
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Many thanks from the bottom of my heart.F.A.Q.'s
How far is it?
The distance of the English Channel is 23.69 land miles across from the White Cliffs of Dover at Shakespeare Beach in England to Cap Gris-Nez in France. I will most likely wind up swimming between 30 and 40 miles because the tides will push me from side to side a little. My path may look like the letter 'S', the number '2' or any combination. Most likely, it won't be a straight line. (Only the Hovercraft takes that route.)
There will be an escort boat right next to me from which my crew will give me hot liquids and encouragement. The boat pilot will plot the course during the swim. 600 commercial ships travel through the Channel every day and 100 ferries cross it . (often compared with escorting a snail across the M25!) I will be swimming in the dark or daylight or both. I will have light sticks attached to me for safety and to be seen in darkness.
How cold is the water?
The water temperature will be between 15 and 17 degrees Celcius. Since I am only allowed to wear swim trunks (Speedo type) one swim cap, goggles and grease, I may need to add some weight as up to two stone can be lost on the swim. Training to get used to the cold water is essential and this is called acclimatizing. This takes some time.I will get used to swimming in water in the low to mid-50s (10degrees C+) in Dover harbour and the cold plunge pool and suffer a little shivering afterwards.
The range is from 6 hours, 58 minutes ( the world record set by Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria in 2007) to 26 hours, 50 minutes. Obviously my conditioning and swimming ability play major roles in my overall time but the weather, tides, and water conditions during the swim are also other major factors.
Who did it first?
Matthew Webb first swam the English Channel in 1875. His crossing took 21 hours and 45 minutes. He occassionally sipped warm brandy while swimming breaststroke the whole way. In 1926, American Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the Channel, in a then-world record time of 14 hours, 39 minutes
Most start from Shakespeare Beach in Dover, England.
Where will you finish?
Somewhere on the coast of France between Cap Gris-Nez (or slightly further west) and Calais.