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.


9 thoughts on “Zoe’s Day Trip to France – by Kate Robarts

  1. I still can’t quite believe how I gave birth to such a character! Brilliant swim and great account. I hope her children and grandchildren keep a copy for posterity.

  2. Wow, goose bumps and watering eyes as I read this, there would have been tears if I wasn’t sat at work! Well done to all involved

    • Excellent account Kate, thank you – really enjoyed reading it, especially as I wasn’t able to follow the tweets and FB feeds on the day. As Zoe already knows from our chat on the poolside this week I for one wouldn’t have manged it given she had to swim through seaweed (let alone the miles!) Hate the stuff!! So very in awe of your achievement Zoe… Puts my paltry 16,000 monthly metres into perspective!

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