2016 Challenge – Swimming The Channel
The Challenge of Swimming the English Channel and the frequently asked questions!
My 2014 attempt was on 19 September and started well, but thick fog developed and the swim was called off after approximately 3 1/2 hours. 2015 was fully booked, so I have had to wait until 2016 for another slot.
Why? – is the question I am often asked and there is no easy answer. It is partly that I have always fancied doing it without ever really thinking I would have a go, partly because I was only able to swim for nigh on 20 years before I had the replacement hip, but perhaps the deciding factor is when one of my sons bet me £5 I couldn’t do it!
When? – Hopefully between the 25th to 31st July 2016. It works on tidal slots and I am third off the tide, so I will be the third person to have a go in the tidal window, assuming the weather is ok.
How long? – I certainly won’t be setting any records. The average swim time is between 13 and 14 hours and I expect to be slower, possibly nearer to 16 or 17 hours. Mentally I am preparing for a 20 hour swim.
How far? – 21 miles. You start from a beach near Dover Harbour and aim for Cap Gris Nez (the headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne), but could land at a number of beaches in the area. The swim is not straight across as the tides up and down the Channel will ensure that I swim in a S shape and I expect to cover a few miles more.
Wetsuit or speedos? – Speedos, I have decided to do the swim under the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) rules and they restrict you to normal bathers, goggles and a swim hat. You can use goose fat, but I am told it just makes a mess and doesn’t help with the cold. You can’t touch the boat or another person during the swim and the swim has to be certified by an official from the CSA who will be on the boat.
Will I be on my own? – Yes, solo attempts are one swimmer per boat and the rule is that I follow the boat. Mine is the Louise Jane www.louisejane.net which is a charter fishing boat skippered by Andy King, Andy is an experienced pilot and registered with the CSA. Apart from the crew, I will have my coach Fiona Southwell (a Channel swimmer), the CSA observer and three family/friends on board. Whilst they cannot touch me they can pass food and warm drinks over the side and having the right nutrition and feeding programme during the swim is vital. Fiona will organise this, it is all very complex and I will just do as I am told.
Can anyone have a go? – Yes, so long as they complete a 6 hour qualification swim in under 15C temperature water.
How much training? – Lots. On average 3 swims a week, including one longer swim of up to 6 hours. I go in the sea throughout the year, just for a few minutes during the winter for cold water acclimatisation and then start proper sea swimming from around April onwards as the temperature increases and July approaches. These are generally off Worthing Beach, but I am also a member of Brighton Swimming Club who swim all year round and are based near the pier. Then there is the cross training with a weekly bike ride and a 6 mile run.
Other than the physical effort, there are few other challenges to overcome;
Cold – The sea temperature in the summer can range from 14 to 18C and 1 degree makes a big difference. As I am not wearing a wetsuit, I have to put on weight to get a layer of blubber as insulation from the cold. My ‘racing’ weight when doing triathlons was just over 12 stone and I will be looking to break the 14 stone mark again for the swim, but unfortunately the blubber only seems to want to go to my stomach!
Physical Obstacles – Crossing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and there may also be jelly fish and flotsam (timber, oil or worse!) and then there is the weather! Generally you are allowed to swim in up to force 5 winds and hopefully there will not be any fog this time.
Tides – The tides in my week are due to be neap (as opposed to spring) tides so the currents should not be as strong as they could be, but will still be stronger on the French side and if you get there at the wrong time you may have to wait for the tide to turn (up to 6 hours) before you can land.
The Mental Challenge – It is as much a mental challenge as a physical one and more people have climbed Everest than swam the Channel. Before the 2014 attempt I went on a Swimtrek ‘boot camp’ trip to Majorca in March to complete my qualification swim and received great advice from the coaches (who were Channel swimmers) running the trip and there was as much talk about the mental part as the physical and the need to try and break the task down by swimming to your next feed. Although as one of them said, ultimately it comes down to ‘one arm in front of the other until you run out of sea’. Simple!