August 31, 2017
Channel Blog #8
Briefly: I’m in the UK, have been for nearly 4 weeks. Now playing the weather window waiting game
When I arrived here on July 5th I was astonished to find temperatures into the high 80’s and 90’s F and the grass had all turned brown due to lack of rain. Swimmers were able to swim all their windows and everything was peachy. Clearly I had caught the weather by surprise with the transatlantic flight and it would take time for the Andy Conditions to make their way across the Atlantic and displace the Tommy Conditions the UK was experiencing. They did. It’s been terrible for swimmers since . We are into Tommy’s tide window but the weather is not cooperating. Way too windy.
Also: I’m posting much more to “YNS Sharks in the Channel 2017” on Facebook. Check it out.
What have you been doing in the UK?
I came over early to train in Dover Harbour with Dover Channel Training (DCT) as well as see family and friends.
DCT meets to swim in Dover Harbour each week on Saturdays and Sundays from April through to the end of September (although this year they have been swimming at Hythe on Saturdays as the piling work to extend Dover Marina would damage a swimmer’s ears underwater). DCT is famous worldwide and was initially founded by Freda Streeter (the “Channel General”) in 1982. Freda is now retired but many of her quotes live on in Channel folklore in perpetuity. For example her advice to an apprehensive Maura Twomey, just before she swam the Channel in 2015 (in her early 60’s!) about what to do and how to manage the swim over its duration, was:
“Just keep swimming until your [insert anatomical part here e.g. chin, belly] hits the sand”. Classic!
Emma France has led the group since Freda’s retirement at the end of 2015. Emma has swum the Channel twice and, as I write this, is off to swim Lake Zurich. Good luck Emma! Since most Channel swimmers shorten “England to France” to “E to F” I had to ask Emma if her middle initial was a “T” – but alas! No it is not.
What training have you been doing?
My plan was to knock out long swims with the group and Sun and then have an hour long recovery swim or two during the week. In swimming with the group I get to meet new people, pick up tips and tricks, etc. The swims are also facilitated i.e. someone stops your shoes washing away as the tide rises, feeds you after 2 hours and thereafter hourly, greases you up beforehand and counts everyone in and out.
Thursday July 6th swim in the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park with fellow Swimtrek LDT and solo channel aspirant Anita.
morning July 7th receive a Whatsapp from Anita asking if I could crew for her that night, her pilot (the same as mine) called to ask if she could swim at (two days earlier than expected) since a relay had the #1 slot and was going , but thereafter the weather was deteriorating. Yes I could. She stormed across 58 mins and landed on the Cap [Gris Nez]. By the time we got back afternoon all I wanted to do was sleep! Here’s the photo every Channel swimmer wants (racing a ferry):
Sunday July 9th – I was given a 6 hour swim (you don’t know how long you might have to swim for until they tell you – this is all part of the psychological training) and when I came in at the end of 6 hours they handed me another feed and told me to “get out there and swim for another hour”. So I did. My first 7 hour swim! I felt great – not a problem. The water over here is warmer than back home too!
13th July. One hour recovery swim in an open air pool that I remembered going to as a child until it closed when I was about 12 – but now it had re-opened! Marbury Country Park
Sat July 15th – my first swim at Hythe. I was given 4 hours but swam for 6 hours until the swim was stopped as it was no longer safe. You can see how calm it was at the start, and then in the feed in the picture below (at hour five) resulted in the loss of two pairs of goggles, a swim cap and an apple watch.
Sun July 16th in Dover Harbour. Given 6 hours and swam 6 hours. Great to see friends on the beach. Nick Murch (who I crewed for last year), Nicki Murch his wife who swam the Channel in early July, and Anita (who I’d just crewed for on her successful swim). They kept me entertained in hours 3 and 4 by taking it in turns to race me up and down the harbor. Suffice to say I had some tired arms after this and yesterday’s swim! Hours 5 and 6 were good practice at swimming tired.
20th July. One hour recovery swim in Tooting Bec Lido (yes it’s a real name those of you who are American. The equivalent in British of to “toot” is to “Trump”. I kid you not!). The Lido there is 100 yards long by 33 yards wide. Yes 100 yards long! It still felt short given all the open water swimming I’d done. Very proud of Toby and Harry who swam with me at the start and the end even though the water was “too cold, Daddy”. Amazingly the promise of an ice-cream from the café galvanized them into action at the end of my swim and, to the amazement of the other swimmers present, they raced a 400IM (one length of each stroke). I felt every minute of last weekend’s swims – it was uphill both ways in the pool.
Sat July 22nd – swim at Hythe cancelled, too windy. We swam in Dover Harbour instead. Very happy (and slightly amazed) to be only given a 3 hour swim.
Sunday July 23rd – 5 hour swim in Dover harbour
28th – One hour ‘keeping loose’ swim in the sea at Kingsdown. The house backs onto the beach!
Sat 29th – too windy for Hythe. Piling work was suspended so a 3 hour swim in Dover Harbour.
Sun 30th – Another 3 hours in Dover Harbour. Tommy joined me for the first 2 hours. We’re into his window already.
Tues August 1st – a one hour recovery/keep loose swim in the sea by our house.
Going forward: Every day/other day we’ll do a one hour swim to keep ticking over until we get to swim.
So now I’ve had the privilege of crewing twice and I’m 2 for 2 in my swimmers landing on Cap Gris Nez (though really I give this credit to the swimmer and the pilot). I have to say it’s a great, though slightly surreal experience as each time we’ve left at night with no sleep and so when the sun came up the tiredness, and the constant pitching of the boat, just made it all a bit weirder.
You must know beforehand all your swimmers needs and plans and then be prepared to improvise when the plan goes awry. Feed schedule, medications, changes of goggles for light conditions, motivations, etc. On Anita’s swim she had to stop for a few minutes as three massive tankers came down the shipping lane, abreast of each other so there was no wiggle room. We used the time to feed her early and pass on messages from well-wishers while she treaded water.
You also need to make sure you’ve taken seasickness tablets before you get on. I don’t get seasick normally but the boat isn’t really moving forward much so it wallows and pitches and tosses with the waves and it can be very lumpy out there. I took them as a precaution and was glad I did – you spend a lot of time at the start looking down into the kit boxes instead of at the horizon (which makes you feel queasy), you can’t take them when you are throwing up, and it is all much worse at night since you can’t see the horizon! The other two crew on Anita’s crossing were badly seasick (though always rallied to help out at feeds) and it was a miserable experience for both of them for the first few hours or so.
It is possible to manage with one crew if they are really experienced but I’d say at a minimum you need two, more if you want your crew to be able to have rests, take pictures, post on social media, communicate with the swimmer in the water. Someone has to have eyes on the swimmer at all times.
The more organized you are and the more you know or have experienced of open water swimming, and what the pilot expects, the better you’ll get on.
No pictures of the happy swimmer on French shores? No. Nick was too far away (the boat couldn’t follow into the shallow water) and we didn’t have a zoom lens. Anita was right up close to the boat at the tip of Cap Gris Nez but I couldn’t take any pictures because I was in the water with her at the end as a safety swimmer (she was landing on some nasty rocks).
What are you doing while you are waiting?
Taking the time to see the sights. We spent yesterday at Dover Castle – the origins of which go back to an Iron Age hill fort about 3,000 years ago or so, then through Roman times, dark ages, medieval period, the Napoleonic wars (when all the classic castle crenellations and towers were removed and the walls lowered as newfangled cannon were used instead of bows and arrows) through to WW1 and WW2 when the tunnels were enlarged to make an underground field hospital and various command centers (the evacuations of Dunkirk were planned and operated from there, as well as operations in the Channel by sea and by air).
Roman light house on the left ~ 1,900 years old. Saxxon church on the right – the part next to the Roman light house is ~ 1,000 yrs old
The view from the WWI fire control platform and bunker:
WWI fire control platform and bunker is the square thing poking over the top of the cliff to Tommy’s left. The brick arches you see in the cliff face are ends of some of the Napoleonic tunnels.
The famous White Horse pub, on the walls and ceiling of which successful Channel Swimmers write their names and the date and time of their crossing. Nice beer too!
Your house on the beach?
Both the Gainers and the Joneses (4 adults, 4 kids) are all together in the Victory House in Kingsdown, Kent. The Victory house used to be a pub. I’m sad that it is not a pub any longer but the good news is that there is another pub next door but one (The Zetland Arms), there is another pub 50 yards behind us (The Rising Sun) and another one further back up the hill (The King’s Head).
Above: Our house is the black, grey and, green one towards the right, the Zetland Arms is on the Left. Below: The view standing outside the Zetland Arms and looking towards Dover