Zoe’s Day Trip to France – by Kate Robarts

I asked a member of my crew, Kate Robarts, to keep a record of my swim. She emailed this to me today. I have to admit that I was in tears myself when I read it. It seems like an “out of body experience” to me. It’s also the first time I have cried since my swim!

Crew members were Joanne Postins, Kate Robarts and my husband, Mark Sadler. The observer was Emma France. My pilots were Neil Streeter and Jock.


Zoe’s Day Trip to France.

Zoe seemed quite serene and contemplative on the journey from the marina to Samphire Hoe. She sipped at Maxim while we all commented on how calm the water was. Joanne got her greased up, Mark attached her guardian light to her goggles and I pinned the tail light to her cossie.  This set the pattern on the boat. We all worked happily together, with Emma closely watching Zoe, right from the start.

At about 1.55am, she sat on the platform with her feet in the water for about 20 seconds before swimming back to the beach. A loud shout of laughter broke the silence as she fell up the beach. Good sign! Meanwhile, Ian was also on the beach a couple of hundred yards away, ready to start his own solo.

The swim started at 2am. Zoe came alongside Suva and stayed a couple of metres from the boat. The first half hour was uneventful.  Joanne, Mark and I attached glowsticks along the side of Suva, lighting her up like a Christmas tree. Zoe later told us she thought Suva looked like the Blue Oyster bar! Shortly into the second half hour, Zoe asked for different goggles at her first feed, as “These bu99ers are leaking.”

3am First feed, 300ml of Maxim in a cup and spare goggles/light in another cup, were attached to the pole with the two frames. Unfortunately, the pole was difficult to manoeuvre and Zoe found it hard to take the cup from the frame, leading to the loss of the whole feed and the forlorn sight of goggles and little green light floating off into the distance. Emma told Zoe not to worry, just to keep swimming while we sorted out a new feed. This was done within a couple of minutes, in a bottle with cord attached. We signalled to Zoe, feed was taken successfully and she carried on. The bottle was much easier for her to work with so we washed it out and stuck to it for all future feeds.

Meanwhile, the lost goggles were still flashing brightly in the night, prompting a hilarious discussion about what would happen if anybody found them and a reminiscence about the “Wilson” episode in Castaway. “Wilson, I’m sorry, Wilson!”

Goggles with lightstick attached – the Wilson moment

4am feed, the rope got caught on the thread of a glowstick. Joanne had to break it, so the glowstick floated into the sea with the bottle, lighting up the feed. Bit of a laugh but we were learning with every feed.  At 4.30, Jock pointed out dolphins off the stern. They followed us for at least 30 minutes but didn’t come close to the boat.

5am feed was trouble free, still 300ml maxim.

5.30am was a long feed, taking Zoe a full minute. We gave her two jelly babies and told her she’d overtaken two relays. The response? “They must be really cr&p!”

6am good feed. Emma was a little concerned that Zoe was looking back. We found out later that she was very pleased by how far she’d swum so far, so we needn’t have worried.

6.30 feed was the start of the seaweed patch. Which went on for some considerable time, with Zoe treating it as a bit of a slalom. Jellyfish seemed to be hiding in the big swathes of weed.

7am faster feed, 40 secs, 7.05am jelly fish sting and an exclamation from Zoe. Hardly surprising.

7.30am had strong tea and a mini-roll. Zoe was content and said she liked the tea but not the jellyfish!

8am trouble free feed.

8.30 feed with electrolytes. During the next 30 minutes Zoe was violently sick twice, the first time throwing up copious quantities of feed. “Better out than in” was her reaction, then she carried on swimming.

Emma suggested we should reduce the quantity and strength of the feed and checked this with Freda on the hotline. Mark decided Zoe needed a lift so we unfurled the “Bruffle Fproutff” banner from Will. Zoe lifted her head, grinned, and said it aloud before carrying on swimming.

9am 200ml, with only about 50ml of maxim, 150 plain water. It stayed down.

9.30am 200ml, half and half and we added some peaches in a cup. Zoe loved these. Very soothing after all the projectile vomiting!

10am 200ml, but Zoe’s stomach was still unsettled. She swam behind the boat and continued to throw up. At this stage we entered a period of quite rough water. Even Neil couldn’t work out where it had come from and it didn’t help our unsettled Zoe, leading to more throwing up.

At 10.30 we gave her more peaches and stuck to 200ml of maxim. She started to settle down into a good, solid rhythm with no further episodes of sickness.

At her 11am feed, Zoe declared she hadn’t peed for about 4 hours so we gave her very strong tea with 2 tsp of fruit sugars. This was far removed from the “baby tea” Zoe had on her feeding plan. It would probably have stood up on its own …without the bottle. No maxim this time.

By this time, she was well into the French shipping lane.There followed a couple of hours of head down swimming, with smaller feeds, strong tea and occasional treats of peaches and jelly babies.

At 12.30, we gave her 2 extra scoops of maxim in a feed, as she’d had a lot of tea and had now settled after her earlier bouts of sickness.

At 12.45 we heard on the radio that Ian had aborted his swim and was returning to Dover. This made us all feel a bit low and we hoped that Zoe hadn’t noticed Ian’s support boat turning back. Ian had been in sight from the start and we all felt for him, as he and Zoe had trained together. Zoe continued to swim like a machine.

1pm Maxim plus 2 teaspoons of fruit sugar plus peaches. Zoe really wanted those peaches!

1.30 Maxim but Zoe was behind the boat after this, explosively getting rid of as much of the stuff as possible. At this point I said to Emma, “She’s been sick again,” and Emma replied, “That’s not sick!” Zoe’s reaction to her explosive evacuations was “Bl**dy Maxim!”

We took down one banner during this time and unfurled Gem’s “Go Mummy Thing” banner, which stayed attached to the boat until the end of the swim.

At this point, our Pocket Rocket told us she was tired and she did look as if she was flagging just a little. At the 2pm, 2.30 and 3pm feeds we added 2 extra scoops of Maxim. She started swimming very well again but was obviously frustrated by where the tide was taking her. Shortly before 2pm, Cap Gris Nez was clearly in sight a few miles away to our left. Neil told me that Zoe wouldn’t be landing at the Cap, but at Cap Blanc Nez, to the north, past Gris Nez, right across the bay, past Wissant.  This meant that it looked to Zoe as if she was just going sideways. It was hard for her to see any forward momentum. She knew to expect this but it’s hard to face when you’ve already been swimming for 12 hours. Treading water for a minute, she said, “Am I ever going to get there?” more to herself than to any of her crew.

In the midst of her frustration, Emma gave her a message from Freda, “I still love you and you can dig deeper than you think.” We all told her how fantastically well she was doing, which was absolutely true. She was doing an awesome job and we hoped Freda’s message would tell her what she needed to know.

3.30pm We gave her strong tea with 2 x tsp fruit sugar

4pm, 3 extra scoops of Maxim to help with this really hard push through the tide. Messages of support were coming through thick and fast but we had discovered early on that our Pocket Rocket was in the zone and it was better not to disturb her. She noticed out occasional theatrical forays, masks, costumes, ears etc.  but was a quiet and determined swimmer and that took all of her concentration and energy.

One message we did give her at this stage was from Kevin Murphy. “Remember what we talked about on the beach. You have done the training, you can do this. You may get carried up the coast but you will get to land eventually.” 

Zoe had visits from Sea Satin and Anastasia after their relays. There were lots of cheers from Ellery, Ali, Dunc, Roger and the others. They all got a little wave from our rocket but she really wanted to just get on with it. It was an interruption to her concentration but Emma did notice that she picked up speed after each visit so the brief visits by the two boats did her good.

Just before 4.30, Emma asked who we should get to tell Zoe when it got to her last feed. We unanimously decided it should be Mark.

4.30pm, we gave Zoe Maxim with 2 extra scoops but she chucked the bottle away after taking half of it and didn’t seem interested.

At this point, Emma suggested that we should stop feeding Zoe and just let her finish this under her own steam.  Mark wasn’t going to have the happy privilege of relaying the last feed message after all. Still, the outcome was going to be very happy, and we had been certain of this, so we knew we were safe to let her just keep her head down and go for it.

Emotions did start to overflow on the boat. I was tweeting pictures of Zoe with the French beach ahead of her. Her stroke rate never wavered and we could see the beach getting closer and the cows in the fields above the cliffs. A sunny, hot day felt even sunnier because of her imminent success. We chatted, tweeted, texted and watched her slowly get closer. I felt complete delight when Emma said she was in shallow water. Zoe had asked me a few days earlier to bring my waterproof camera for “that shot”. Neil was happy for me to get in and swim behind her to the beach.

I got ready at about 5.20pm. About 20 minutes later, Neil could go no further and told me to jump in. Zoe raised her head but Neil told her he’d run out of water and she was on her own. I swam behind her until she reached the sand. She stood once, knelt again and then determinedly stood up and stomped hard up the beach. She tore off her goggles, turned to me and said, “What the f&*$*ng hell do you want to do this for? That was awful!”  Not quite what I was expecting!. She lifted her arms in triumph towards the boat and I managed to get a picture, although I did have a drop of water on the lens! I ran up the beach to find a couple of pebbles for Zoe to take back for Gem and Will. They were in short supply….as were French people. The beach was totally deserted.

Swimming back to the boat was accomplished without incident and she managed to get up the steps. Our Pocket Rocket was a Channel Swimmer.


Dover Weekend 12: The call and great sadness

I was expecting to head over to Dover on Friday evening for my final training weekend (21st / 22nd July 2012).

I was booked as the number 1 slot on the neap tide from 26th -31st July, and was hoping to use the last weekend for short swims and to get lots of advice and tips from those on the beach.

However, I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts and had an inkling on Thursday (19th) that the weather was improving and the swim might be brought forward. I thought I would text Neil to ask him what the position was. As I was texting Neil to ask him, my phone buzzed and it was a text from himl telling me to prepare for a possible swim at the weekend or early the following week. Gulp! Talk about ESP!!

I therefore changed my arrangements and went down to Dover on the Saturday afternoon to stay for a few days to rest before my swim. As I was unpacking at the guest house, I got another text from Neil to ask if early Monday morning was OK!

Wow, it was all happening so quickly! I barely slept at all and went down to the beach on the Sunday morning to speak to Freda about my swim.

The mood on the beach was very very sombre. Kevin Murphy broke the devastating news to us that, in the early hours of Sunday morning, a gentleman called Paraic Casey from Sandycove, Cork had passed away during the final mile of his Channel swim attempt. I do not know the details and would not wish to pry, but everyone on the beach was extremely sad to hear this news. We held a minutes silence on the beach as a mark of respect.

My thoughts go out to the family and friends of Paraic. I had never met Paraic, but he sounds like a fantastic man and a huge loss to the open water swimming community. He was one of us, a fellow swimmer wanting to achieve their own personal dream to swim the English Channel. Everyone on the beach could understand the dream that he held.

Rest in Peace Paraic.

Dover Weekends 10-11: Confused!

Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th July 2012

After the previous weekend’s 7 & 6 hour swims I was dreading the briefing on Saturday morning. I had around 3 weeks to go until my tide started and I was expecting another long back to back weekend.

The weather was pleasant and sunny. The sea was calm. The conditions were ideal for a long swim. I was therefore expecting to be given a 7 or 8 hour swim.

I was given 3 hours!

I was very very confused by this. The 3 hours went really quickly and I was out of the water in time for lunch. I also felt a bit guilty because I was staying in Dover all weekend and had only done a 3 hour swim!

On Sunday I headed down to the beach expecting another short swim. I was given 5 hours! Freda explained to me that it was the TBC (Total Brain Confusion) approach and she didn’t want me to get used to the same swims every session. The 5 hour swim was fine and uneventful, although I did see a dogfish swim underneath me at one point and that livened it up a bit!

Training Weekend 10 Summary:

  • Water Temp: I have stopped checking now!
  • Two swims: 3 hours / 5 hours

Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th July 2012

I didn’t know what to expect this weekend after the previous weekend. As it happened, I was given two 4 hour swims.  After doing the long back to back weekends, the training had stepped down several gears.

There were two highlights this weekend:

  • Mark Robson www.markswims.com and Rob Sutermeister came down from the North for a training weekend. We met up in the evening and went out for a lovely Italian meal at El Rustico in Dover. The food was really good in there and the service was very quick. Mark Robson will be known as “The Hoover” from now as he ordered a second main course of spaghetti bolognese whilst Rob and myself were still chomping through our first (and only!) main course. Mark even had room for dessert! Both Mark and Rob are due to swim the Channel later on this year.
  • A massive thunderstorm on Saturday! This caused Vaseline Barrie to blow the whistle and order all the swimmers out of the water after 5 hours. The beach crew were absolutely drenched and it was clearly unsafe to be swimming in a big electrical storm. I felt a bit short-changed, I had done my full 4 hour swim and the others were being allowed out early!!

Training Weekend 11 Summary:

  • Two swims: 4 hours / 4 hours

Dover Weekend 9: Back-to-Back weekend

Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July 2012

This weekend I was down for the full weekend and I knew that I would be getting a back-to-back weekend. It was no surprise at all when Freda told me I would be doing  7 hours on Saturday.

It was very hard. I remember getting to 3 hours and remembering that I wasn’t even half way. That was a bit demoralising. But once I got to my 4 hour feed I told myself that I only had a 3 hour swim now, and that seemed quite manageable. I then did my usual of swimming from feed to feed and amazingly I completed my first 7 hour swim!

I felt really good when I got out and I half hoped that Freda would tell me to do another hour. Thankfully she is more sensible than I am!

I slept pretty soundly on Saturday night.

On the Sunday I was given 6 hours. I was pleasantly surprised with this instruction as I thought it might be 7 again. The weather was absolutely foul. It was windy, very choppy and we had heavy, cold rain after about 3 hours’ swimming. I didn’t really mind the rain as I was wet anyway, but everyone on the beach got absolutely drenched.

I found it a real struggle after about 3.5 hours. I just wanted to get out, the waves were really scaring me and I was really put off swimming when the Dover Harbour patrol rescued a small dinghy right in front of me. I thought they were going to tell the swimmers to get out, but they didn’t!

I asked to get out after 4 hours and was told “No”, so I decided to swim for another hour. At 5 hours I managed to get one foot out of the water and was told by a member of the beach crew that I would be disappointed with myself all week if I got out and I was ordered to get back in! So I completed the 6 hour swim under duress, but was pleased that I had done so.

And yes, they were absolutely right. I would have been kicking myself if I hadn’t done the six hours on Sunday!

Training Weekend 9 Summary:

  • Water Temp: around 14.5C
  • Two swims: 7 hours / 6 hours
  • Hard work!

Dover Weekend 8: The Seahorse Swim

Saturday 23rd June 2012 – Dover Harbour

I had been really quite down in the dumps for the last few days. I wasn’t too impressed with my performance at Champion of Champions the previous weekend and even less impressed with my swim on the previous Sunday. Anyway, I felt a lot more positive again by Friday morning.

It was just like Groundhog Day when I arrived at the beach at Dover harbour for another training session. I had been watching the weather forecast all week and I knew it was going to be windy and miserable, yet again. Once again the sea lived up to expectations and looked really choppy and miserable.

Given that I had completed two 6 hour swims a couple of weeks ago, I had a pretty good idea what I would be given. 6 hours – surprise, surprise! So I just got on with it.

They say that things always seem easier with hindsight, but I genuinely found this six hour swim went quite quickly and it also seemed much easier than my previous three six hour swims this season. The first twenty minutes are always really hard and the first third of the swim is the hardest of the lot. We don’t get fed untill we have been swimming for two hours and I always find that after about 90 minutes I am running on fumes only. After the first feed we then feed hourly.

I was very pleased to get to two hours, receive my beaker of warm Maxi and my Jelly Baby. After that point, the swim got much easier. The saying of “swimming from feed to feed” certainly works well for me. I spent the next four hours swimming from feed to feed and the six hours passed relatively uneventfully.

I don’t know why, but I seem to find the longer swims a lot easier than the 2-3 hour swims. It may be because I see the 6 hour swims as getting down to serious business!

Sunday 24th June 2012

A change of scenery today. Instead of spending another day training in Dover Harbour, I entered the EDOWSC Seahorse Swim which was held in the gorgeous Studland Bay in Dorset. The race itself was a 3.8K triangular course, which starts by heading out of the bay, then returns towards the beach and the last 1600m is swum parallel to the shore.

Once again the weather was predicted to be wet and windy. The organisers had three Plans:

  • Plan A: Run the triangular 3.8K course
  • Plan B: Run an out and back course parallel to the shore
  • Plan C: Pub

I rather fancied Plan C when I was on the Sandbanks chain ferry crossing over towards Studland. The waves and the wind were very impressive and I was feeling rather seasick.

Anyway, by some miracle, there was a break in the foul weather and the organisers  actually managed to go ahead with Plan A. At the briefing we were told the water was 13.7C – there were a few gasps in the crowd.

I thought I would be absolutely rubbish having done a 6 hour swim the day before. (To be honest I went for the social!) But I actually had a really great swim, I felt really strong throughout, and I felt “at one” with the water.

I finished in 1 hour 10 minutes and 41 seconds. Results are here: http://www.edowsc.org/ed/archives/4054

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