English Channel Swim

It’s been too long since I updated this blog and following my Channel swim I have also swum the length of Lake Windermere! My last blog entry was Kate’s account of my swim. http://wp.me/p2lxiw-4l  I did write my own account of the swim shortly afterwards, and if I am completely honest, I found it quite hard to read it afterwards for various reasons and never posted it! So here is my account of my Channel swim, finally!

Sunday 22nd July 2012

We had the go ahead from Neil to meet at Dover Marina at 1am on Monday morning. After a very short swim in Dover Harbour, I received a final pep talk from Freda. She told me that I was much better than I thought I was and that she loved me. Bless!  I headed off to the B&B to get cleaned up and have a rest in anticipation of the mammoth challenge that awaited me on Monday.

I originally had five crew members (Kate, Mark, Jim, Ellery and Joanne), but unfortunately Jim and Ellery were unable to be there on the day. Jim was on holiday and Ellery was in a relay which was departing at exactly the same time as me! The start of my tide wasn’t until 26th July, so plans had to change quickly when I got the call to swim early. In addition, Mark had an important meeting on 26th July which he had rearranged for 23rd July so that he would be available for my actual tide! Joanne was supposed to be in work too on Monday. So, at noon on Sunday I believed that I had one crew member, Kate, and was just “a little” bit stressed out.

After a deluxe lunch of BLT sandwiches from the nearest petrol station, I went to bed at 1pm.  I was awoken at around 3pm by the arrival of Joanne and Mark. I was delighted to see them, then went back to bed but didn’t really sleep.

At 7pm we went for a walk to find something substantial to eat. We wandered all around Dover town but it was proving really difficult to find anywhere that was actually open and serving food on a Sunday night. I checked the weather forecast en route and it was still looking fantastic for my swim. Anyway, we ended up at Cullin’s Yard where I ordered Lasagne with Garlic Bread and a side order of chips. I managed about a third of it as I was getting extremely nervous by this point and admitted defeat.

We went back to the B&B and I went back to bed after despatching my three crew members to mix up my Maxim. I didn’t want to mix it up in advance and then be stood down for my swim. It took them nearly 90 minutes to measure it all out and mix it- At 11:30pm my crew told me to get out of bed and get myself ready!

I then spent the next half hour in the bathroom being covered in P20 sunscreen from head to toe. Once the first layer was dry, we repeated the process. It was due to be a very hot and sunny day and I usually get sunburn very quickly. Unfortunately, P20 has the most nauseating smell and I think we were all feeling a bit light headed afterwards.

Monday 23rd July 2012

I put my swimming costume on, got dressed and watched the crew load the car up with all my gear. At this point I was more excited than nervous. We headed to the Marina and got there at 12:15am – I was cursing a bit as I could have had another 45 minutes in bed. We weren’t due to meet until 1am. I then spent the next 45 minutes going to the toilet every 5 minutes, so at least I had something to do!

We saw SUVA arrive at the Marina Reception berth and I let my crew carry all my heavy boxes down to the boat. I had been advised previously not to carry anything heavy or anything over my shoulder as I didn’t want to strain anything just before my swim. That’s what I told my crew anyway! We also met my official Observer, Emma France, at the Marina entrance. So everything was ready and everyone was there – it was time to get the party started!

Some of my equipment and supplies for my swim

Just some of my equipment and supplies for my swim

We boarded SUVA and my pilots Neil and Jock had a quick chat with me. We left the marina and headed out of Dover Harbour towards Samphire Hoe for the start of my swim. Emma completed the initial paperwork and confirmed all of my personal details along with noting exciting facts such as what type of grease I was using and how much! (Answer: One small tub of Vaseline).

Nervous leaving Dover Marina

Nervous leaving Dover Marina

Time passed really quickly and we realised how close we were getting to Samphire Hoe. The next few minutes seemed very hectic. I quickly stripped down to my swimming costume, Joanne applied the Vaseline to my neck, shoulders and strap areas. Kate found my lights and attached them to my costume and my goggles. This all happened really quickly and we heard Neil telling me to get in the water as we were drifting towards the beach.

About to launch off the boat at 2am for the start of my swim

Jumping off the back of SUVA for the start of my swim.

At this stage I do not remember feeling nervous at all. I just remember feeling so excited. The boat’s spotlight was shining at the beach and I knew it was now time. I gingerly lowered myself into the water and swam towards the beach. It didn’t take long – if we had gone any closer I think that SUVA may ended up on the beach herself!

When I got to the beach, I stood up and immediately fell over and landed on my backside on the pebbles. At this point I started laughing. I was stood on a beach in the middle of the night, with a sore backside, and about to swim to France. As you do. The whole thing just seemed so completely surreal and ridiculous at that point and I am sure that Neil and Jock were mightily impressed by their “professional” swimmer for the day! I could hear my crew laughing too.

I raised my arms to signal that I was ready and entered the water for my swim.

The first hour was wonderful. My swim started at 1:59am and it was a beautiful night with a very smooth sea. I love swimming at night and I found the swimming really relaxing. It truly was beautiful and I was a very happy swimmer at this point. Possibly a bit too relaxed, as I had to remind myself that I was actually swimming the Channel on more than one occasion. The first hour passed really quickly and I was genuinely surprised when it was time for my first feed.

And I'm off

Swimming in the dark

The first feed went horribly wrong. The crew tried feeding me with a cup, rather than the bottle I had practised with. We lost my feed and my spare goggles! I swam on for another couple of minutes and the crew passed me another feed – which was in a bottle attached to string! The feed was perfect and I was on my way again.

My first feed - losing the entire feed and my spare goggles!

My first feed – losing the entire feed and my spare goggles!

The second hour was slightly more traumatic. I started to feel chest pains about 15 minutes after my feed and was getting slightly paranoid. I slowed my stroke rate down and the pain subsided. I soon realised that it was probably indigestion from the 300ml of “delicious” Maxim that I had just imbibed. A few more minutes passed and the chest pains disappeared but then I swam into something. I think it was probably some fishing nets, but I said some naughty words and swam on again. The next feed came around quickly. It always seemed to take forever to get to the 2 hour feed in Dover Harbour training. There is clearly some form of time distortion when swimming out at sea.

I remember very little about the next four hours and this is why I am pleased that Kate recorded notes for me as I knew I would forget what happened. My feed strategy changed to every 30 minutes after the third hourly feed. I remember being told that I had overtaken two relay teams and joking about it. I remember the sun gradually coming up, and we have some spectacular photographs of this. I remember seeing the ferries in the distance all lit up like Christmas trees and thinking that the passengers were really lazy.

Starting to get light

Sunrise and a soon-to-be Channel swimmer

Sunrise

Sunrise and a ferry

I was told that two dolphins had been swimming behind me for at least 30 minutes but I was completely oblivious to them. When I stopped to feed I was aware that there were ships behind me, so I knew that I had made it into the first shipping lane. I was quite happy about that!

Now swimming in daylight

Settled down nicely into my swim

My feeds were getting very uncomfortable. After about four hours I was getting a very acute pain in my stomach about 2 minutes after every feed and this was lasting until just before the next feed. It was very unpleasant, and although I was still swimming well, I wasn’t feeling too great. With hindsight I now realise that this was bloating – 300ml of feed every 30 minutes was far too much fuel to be taking on.

At around six hours this pain really was becoming unbearable. At this point I hit the “seaweed patch” and there was a lot of it! This was also when I encountered the jellyfish. They were about 2 feet below the surface but there seemed to be a lot of them. The light was good by this point and I could see the jellyfish in front of me so I kept dodging them. My crew knew when I had been stung because I started swearing (again!). As it happened, I was only stung twice – once on my arm and once on my leg. The stings weren’t bad- they were more of a jolt and any pain had gone within 10 minutes.

Anyway, the bloating continued and so did the pain that went with it. At the six hour feed, my crew gave me electrolyte. It only took five minutes to work- I stopped swimming and projectile vomited with gusto. My crew later told me that they saw the chocolate mini roll fly six feet into the air!

Immediately I felt so much better. The vomiting continued for quite some time, but I could deal with it and each time I was sick I was much happier. Unfortunately, a little while later I started to feel a lot of pain lower down and had four episodes of diarrhoea over the next couple of hours. My words of wisdom to female Channel aspirants – do not wear a kneesuit for a Channel swim! I actually did put my kneesuit on, but my crew told me it was too tight and to switch to a standard costume. I never considered that a kneesuit would be appropriate for other more unsavoury reasons!

Anyway, my crew changed my feed strategy completely and they alternated my feeds between 200ml of weak Maxim and 200ml of hideously strong tea with fruit sugar added. I only drink weak tea usually and apparently I gave my crew a look of utter disgust when they handed the first bottle of strong tea to me.

Feeding time!

Feeding with a bottle and string – simple, but effective!

I lost count of how long I had been swimming during the episodes of sickness and diarrhoea. I had no idea whether it was 8 or 9 hours by this point. However, I could see France and it was definitely closer than England! This spurred me on a bit and I was aware that I was now in the French shipping lane. My stomach was still unsettled but it was remarkably easy to be sick and carry on swimming. I had got myself into the frame of mind that the sickness was an inconvenience but nothing else.

Playing with the big ships

Just keep swimming…

I turned down all my treats and would only touch tinned peaches. They were lovely and soothing – unfortunately the crew had to ration them and we ran out by the end of my swim! I had packed all of my favourite treats: Jelly Babies, chocolate mini rolls, Percy Pigs, Reversy Percys and bananas and I turned my nose up at all of them. My poor husband looked very disappointed when I refused the Jelly Babies that he was holding out on the pole for me!

I kept on swimming and I became aware at one of the feeds that I could see The Cap. It was ahead of me, but far to my left. I suddenly realised where I was – I was heading well to the west of Cap Griz Nez. I knew that I was swimming on a big Spring Tide, but I hadn’t realised how far it would take me west of the Cap. Anyway, I could see the lighthouse on the Cap and I thought that I had maybe a couple of hours to go (it actually turned out to be another six!).

I carried on swimming and at the next feed, I could see the Cap again, but it was definitely looking closer. A couple of feeds later, the Cap was ahead, but just to my right. I realised that I was now heading to the east of the Cap and at some speed, but I didn’t appear to be getting any closer to land. It was very frustrating and at one point I whinged to my crew and asked if I was actually going to get to France.

Emma, my observer, relayed a couple of supportive messages from Kevin Murphy and from Freda Streeter. I felt really surprised that they were following my swim and that they knew where I was. Kevin’s message really helped- I can’t remember the exact words, but he basically said that this was the hardest part of the swim and that I just had to keep swimming and I would get to France.

I was spurred on enormously by Kevin and Freda’s messages. Both had been so supportive of me in Dover training, and it was wonderful to know that they were thinking about me and following my swim.

The sickness and diarrhoea had stopped by now and I was feeling very comfortable and happy. At each feed, I looked ahead and I could see the French coastline but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer. When I looked at my swim chart afterwards, it’s because I was swimming parallel to the French coastline for around 4 hours, in fact at some point I was actually getting further away from the coast.

The track of my Channel swim. Thank you to the CS&PF website for this.

The track of my Channel swim. Thank you to the CS&PF website for this.

I became aware that I could see the beaches of Wissant Bay and I thought I was going to land there. Anastasia and Sea Satin both came to visit me and give me a cheer. These were the two relays that I had overtaken earlier in the day, they had now finished their swims so they had obviously overtaken me again at some point. It was lovely to see them but I didn’t really acknowledge them and I carried on swimming.

Photo taken from Sea Satin of me swimming beside SUVA

Photo taken from Sea Satin – me swimming, with Cap Griz Nez in the background

At my next feed I realised that I was definitely getting closer to the shoreline and this was the point when I believed that I was going to finish my Channel swim. I could see the white cliffs of Cap Blanc Nez and they were definitely getting closer. I know because I kept checking! My progress was very slow and steady but the white cliffs were definitely getting bigger.

I could see fields and small dots in the fields which I realised were animals. I could see houses and cars. I was convinced that it had been more than 30 minutes since the last feed (I found out later that my crew had decided that I was so focused and” in the zone” that they weren’t going to feed me any more!). I remember feeling really cross with my crew because they had forgotten to feed me, but I didn’t want to waste time and stop to tell them.

Cap Blanc Nez - I would get there eventually

The white cliffs are definitely getting closer now

And then it hit me.

I breathed to the right and I saw Kate in her swimming costume. Kate was to be my support swimmer for my Channel swim, but I hadn’t requested her assistance and the pilot hadn’t sent her in to support me. I realised that Kate was getting ready to swim into shore with me. And I started crying into my goggles – I knew that I was going to finish my swim soon and I suddenly became very emotional. The goggles were supposed to keep the salt water out!

I saw Neil standing outside the cabin and I stopped swimming temporarily. He told me that he had run out of water and that I was now on my own. Kate jumped into the water and started swimming behind me. I focused on a tree beyond the beach and decided to swim to that point.

Kate follows me in - sprinting!

Kate supporting me to the beach

I don’t know how long it then took to swim to the beach, I remember enjoying every single stroke and feeling so happy. I knew that Kate was still behind me and swimming incredibly slowly. The water suddenly became really warm and I knew that I was into the really shallow water.

I felt sand between my fingers!

I tried to stand up and walk, but couldn’t, so I swam a little further until it was so shallow that I had to stand up and walk. I walked the final steps and cleared the water, turned to the boat and raised my arms towards the boat. I HAD DONE IT!

Triumphant!

I’ve done it!

Kate exited the water and came to me to give me a hug. I felt incredibly sick and wanted to lie down and curl up on the beach. It wasn’t quite the grand finale that I had visualised during all those long, hard training sessions in Dover Harbour. I was just feeling really ill, swearing at Kate, and I only let her take one photograph of me. I couldn’t lift my arms up again, so we only have one photo of me on the beach. I sent Kate to go and find me a pebble from the beach – I really didn’t want to walk another step and there were no pebbles close by. I had landed on a beautiful sandy beach at Le Petit Blanc Nez and there were not many pebbles to be found.

Kate went off and found a pebble, then I said that I wanted to get back to the boat. So we only spent a couple of minutes on the beach. All that effort for two minutes in France!

Swimming back to the boat - big grin!

One of my favourite photographs from the day!

Managing to climb back up the ladder after my swim

My legs still worked – I climbed up the ladder unassisted!

We swam very slowly back to the boat. I was smiling all the way and the photographs show this! I managed to climb back up the ladder myself and then Joanne and Kate took my swimming costume off and dressed me. It was about 27C outside and I was wearing several layers of thick clothes and a wool hat. The crew prepared me a hot drink, which I completely forgot to drink and they tried to get me to eat, but I wasn’t interested.

This is what 16 hours of swimming in cold salty water does to you!

This is what 16 hours of swimming in cold salty water does to you! Not a pretty sight!

I remember feeling incredibly sick all the way back to Dover, but I wasn’t actually sick. My crew were incredibly excited and I was trying so hard to engage with them, but I spent most the time lying down on the deck in the recovery position. My shoulders were very painful, and then I realised that I had forgotten to request painkillers for my entire Channel swim – I quickly asked for some Ibuprofen from my supplies.

We arrived back at Dover Marina and I was surprised to see two people waiting for me at the reception berth. It was Helena and Chris from St Michael’s Hospice (North Hampshire). They were holding a banner congratulating me for my Channel swim. They had travelled from Basingstoke to congratulate me – good job I had finished then! (My Channel swim raised £4,722 for St Michael’s Hospice).

A good job I finished it!

My welcoming party

I allowed my crew to unload everything and then I said my goodbyes to Neil and Jock and we returned to the B&B. And then the worst moment of the entire day – I went for a shower, fainted and was then violently sick in the bathroom! Not the ideal end to a perfect day…..!

It took many weeks for it to register that I had swum the Channel and I went through a low period for quite some time afterwards. I wasn’t interested in swimming or in anything really. I have since been told that it is normal for Channel swimmers to feel low after such a big high. Everything all year had been building up to the Big Swim and it was now all over.

A copy of my official certificate is here. I did it! I don’t think I will swim the English Channel again, but never say never……

channel cert 1

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