Dear readers, apologies for this long Blog. I have so much to share from the swim that I couldn’t do in any less words! This is Part 2 of my account from my channel swim, Part one (an introduction) can be found here www.chloemccardel.com/blog/page/2/. Check all my 2010 English Channel photos in my gallery and this a great little Utube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scckQ_TSNcQ - Thanks Mikey!!
It had been 19 years since an Australian (the only Australian) had completed a double crossing of the English Channel, that was Susie Maroney- one of the best marathon swimmers in Australian history. I wanted not only emulate her amazing feat but also to use this swim as a warm-up for bigger, more challenging swims.
It was officially 8:18pm UK time on the 22nd of July 2010 when I started my Double Crossing of the English Channel, according to the time keepers. The observers were in charge of timing the swim, and assessing my stroke rate and the water and weather conditions at periodic intervals (in conjunction with other duties mentioned in my last blog). I started stroking fairly strongly as I wanted to complete the double crossing as soon as possible to avoid the Northerly which would be pushing wind into my face during the last few to several hours of my second crossing (when I would be swimming from France back to England).
There were several reasons I was eager to swim within my booked Neap tide (which I couldn’t last year due to terrible weather conditions). As I live in Melbourne, Australia and the average flight to London is 20 hours (excluding stop-overs), I could not afford to hang around Deal waiting to swim, mainly for financial reasons. Another reason I was eager to get out was due to the nature of swimming a double crossing. This type of swim needs the lowest tide possible so I had to take a risk and chance the best Neap conditions I thought I could get within my window (18th-25th of July). So the day I ended up going wasn’t forecast to be perfect but it was forecast to be very swimmable and I had a fair idea of when the wind would be stronger, armed with this information it was easier to deal with the slightly frustrating conditions when they arrived.
The first few hours were a little choppy with the wind up to 12 knots dropping back a few knots from 11pm all heading in an unfavourable South, South Westerly direction. When the wind direction is opposite to the tide you get chop, which is annoying. So it was a little choppy, but I was still happy!! Paul and I had anticipated this wind from Windguru. I managed the wind very comfortably. Channel swimmers should expect rough conditions. The Channel often throws swimmers curveballs and we should train our bodies and mind accordingly.
Because I had just started the swim I was fairly ‘fresh’ and since I had a large volume and quality training behind me I could easily swim through the chop. I moved into a rhythm fairly quickly and Paul and I moved into efficient 15 sec feed stops, every 30 minutes.
Because I had started at 8:18pm in the evening the sun was slowly receding into the horizon, with the air temperature dropping too. After a few hours it was dark. Last year I could see a beautiful display of stars sparkling in the night sky, due to the few small lights on the boat. This year the boat was so well lit that I was swimming in a virtual ‘light box’, as Reg likes to call it. I could no longer see the stars very well but I felt very safe and visible. Cargo tankers came and went. At night they were VERY bright and glowed as though light bulbs were hanging all around them (or at least that’s how it seemed from the water!). Paul guesses there were probably 20 tankers and 10 ferries he saw over the entire journey.
Due to the month I was swimming in I had much more daylight than my late September Channel swim last year. As a trade-off for lighter days the water was on average one degree cooler than my swim in 2009 – for the entire swim. The temperature ranged from 15.8 to 16.2 degrees. In comparison at the end of the last Neap tide in the English Channel the water temperature averaged 17 degrees which is much easier for your body to handle, especially if you are in the water for a longer period of time. Daylight came very quickly, but night time didn’t bother me psychologically at all. The only real difference between night and day was less visibility at night and a cooler air temperature. Aspiring channel swimmers should practice swimming in the dark to become familiar with this type of swimming. Between 2am and 8am the wind speed dropped to a comfortable 5-7 knots. It was about this time that Paul tweeted ‘6 hours in and still cruising along, Small amount of rain and a breeze’.
I kept swimming along maintaining a consistent 66 strokes per minute. During this first crossing I was focusing on bilateral breathing (breathing on both my left and right sides) which I actually find quite difficult because I grew up breathing to one side, my right! At about this time I swam through a few jellies (according to my Twitter) but I don’t remember them :) Soon after the jelly incident the Libyan relay team (which I mentioned in my last blog) passed our
boat. I don’t remember seeing them either but Paul took a little picture (see right). Apparently they were cheering for me too! This team (of six men) is the first ever Libyan relay team and they finished their crossing in 9 hours 26 minutes, great work!!!
I finished my first crossing not long after the Libyans passed us…. When I started to see France I maintained a calm composure. On the inside I was really excited to know that I was half-way through my journey! After about two hours of seeing France we started to come close to Cap Gris Nez. The Cap is where every swimmer wishes to land, but only a few do. Luckily, I have landed there in both of my Channel swims.
Soon after Paul alerted me I started to see the Cap sticking out from land. I decided to increase my stroke rate dramatically (my own idea) because I remember being told to sprint and then to sprint even faster last year so that I would hit the Cap. I also remember being very exhausted once I finally hit the Cap last year. But this year was COMPETELY different, Reg and Ray guided me smoothly into the Cap as though we were magnets being drawn towards this small patch of land. I didn’t feel like I was ‘fighting’ the tides to get to the Cap this year, I didn’t even need to sprint! Tides and conditions are different for every Channel swim so I can’t compare my experiences between hitting the Cap last year and this year. But for any pilot to guide me so easily and seemingly effortlessly then they are unquestionably very talented pilots.
This year I hit the Cap 10hrs and 37min after I had started my swim. An hour and a half faster than last year!! I was very excited to have my very own ‘picnic basket’ sent to shore with me on the inflatable boat which Ray and Greg drove into shore. The ‘basket’ (a 30L white bucket) had some lanolin and water for me. I reapplied Lanolin and took about a 4 min break in total and then I took off for my second crossing!!
Crossing two begun very differently to my second crossing last year. Last year I swum backwards against a huge Spring tide (7.4m) for 2-3 hours after hitting the Cap. This year I was literally pushed off the Cap! After swimming for a few minutes (since hitting the Cap) Paul told me that I should swim faster to make best use of the push from France. I needed extra energy so I yelled out ‘Chocolate’ and not long after I had my first piece of chocolate, yum!! Within 40 min of hitting France I was propelled about 5km, which is incredible. I credit hitting the Cap in such fine fashion and the amazing push from France solely on the amazing piloting of Reg and Ray. Paul, my support crew for the double crossing was also very excited ‘1037 England to France!!! Time for lap 2 . We landed right on the cap- awesome job Reg & Ray !’
Because I had gotten a huge push from France I saw England within maybe 2 hours of hitting France. I am not quite sure if this is normal? Anyway, I put my head down and kept swimming. My second crossing wasn’t very eventful. Things were running very smoothly due the piloting and to the amazing feeds Paul was giving me! He managed multiple tasks on the boat being my only support person (e.g. tweeting, texting, phone calls, preparing feeds, administering feeds, cleaning drink bottles, liaising with the observers, media, camera-man and pilots,). In fact, Reg who has been piloting channel swimmers for over 40 years said that my feeds were among the quickest he has ever seen!
I kept swimming along, oblivious to the many wonderful texts and international phone calls coming in to Paul. The White Cliffs of Dover were always present but never seemed to get any closer. The conditions were good, but not perfect. For a few hours I got some yucky chop and drank a little bit of water but my arms were in great shape and I kept swimming on. My neck was a bit sore. In mathematical terms I probably swam 60, 000 strokes per crossing (120,000 in total). Since I breathe (and therefore turn my neck) usually every second stroke that’s 60,000 turns of my head in under 22 hours!! The other physical niggle was my hip flexes. Although my physiology isn’t fantastic I have picked up some knowledge in my sporting career… I rely very heavily on my powerful kick (my arms are weak compared to other fast marathon swimmers) so I am probably over-using these small ligaments. Towards the end of the swim the stronger muscles around my hips started to take over more of my swimming (due to my hip flexes failing). I had been regularly taking Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory to assist with my ligaments (as most marathon swimmers do) during the entire swim but I was restricted to how much I could have per day.
Despite some issues with my hips I was still stroking 66-68 cycles per minute and in good spirits. The last two hours of my swim were the most challenging. I was starting to feel low in energy and my stroke rate was steadily dropping. I had been swimming at a very strong pace for both of my crossings and I had used a lot of my fuel. I couldn’t increase my carbohydrate consumption because I was already at my recommended limit. Added to this, I needed to increase my stroke rate back to my normal 66-68 because there was a strong tide leading back into the English shore. If I didn’t increase my stroke rate I could end up swimming an extra hour or two which is the trap many swimmers fall into when the miss the Cap in France.
30min from touching England Paul asked me if I wanted to undertake a 3rd crossing. It was always a possibility we had
in mind if the conditions were favourable and I was feeling good. I wasn’t feeling fantastic, but one never does after finishing a double crossing, so I said ‘yes’. I finally made it through the strong tides around England and finished a few hundred metres where I had started at Samphire Hoe. I was really exhausted but still keen to have a go at the third crossing. I attempted to swim towards the boat but my hips felt like they were fused shut so we called it a day with a double crossing! My shoulders were fine but my hips and legs felt paralysed and I couldn’t keep swimming.
My swim finished with a double crossing which I am very excited about and I am keen to get back to Dover to be the
4th person and 1st Australian to complete a triple crossing as soon as possible!!! Since arriving back in Melbourne I have been slowly getting back into swim training and have been working with my personal trainer to strengthen my hips and a few other areas. I am very excited to be only the 2nd Australian, 11th woman and 21st person to complete a double crossing of the English Channel!!! I could not have done it without my AMAZING SUPPORT TEAM!!
I have been supported by many wonderful people from around the world in my swimming endeavours. If anyone reading this is interested in swimming the English Channel please feel free to email me for advice
I will be taking a short break from blogging for about 6 weeks. During my break I will be reflecting on my journey up until this date – including all the amazing people who have supported me and the wonderful people involved in swimming whom I have met. I am really looking forward to sharing some stories with you as well as my future swimming aspirations upon my return!!! Safe swimming
There are three VERY SPECIAL people I must thank first…
A very, very special THANKS to Paul my wonderful boyfriend who single handedly looked after all my needs as support crew during the Channel crossing. He also spent 2 months away from his family and reduced his work-load to assist my 2010 swimming adventures! In addition, he has supported me 24/7 and has made many sacrifices for Team McCardel – every success we share together!!
A special thanks to Reg and Ray Brickell who are undoubtedly the BEST pilots in the English Channel. If you don’t book your Channel swim with them then you are doing yourself an injustice! They are very friendly, extremely humble guys who fish in the channel when they aren’t escorting swimmers. They have an INCREDIBLE knowledge of this body of water and they were extremely dedicated to assisting me across the channel during those 22 hours. They made me feel very safe the entire journey and made my support crew and cameraman feel very welcome on-board. I must add Reg made me the most BEAUTIFUL tidal chart which he prepared in his own time the day after the swim finished (last year my pilot refused to plot my crossing on a chart). They both displayed a level of piloting skill that I have not seen matched in any other swim where I have relied on pilots. I was extremely impressed with their professionalism and from all contact Paul and I have had with them before, during and after the swim. Reg and Ray were all things I could ever for wish in a pilot. P.S. It goes without saying that they didn’t let observers pilot my swim, this actually happened last year (2009) and was extremely unprofessional and damaging to my swim let alone extremely UNSAFE.
Many thanks to the following people for supporting Team McCardel:
A HUGE thanks to my sponsors Bioeffectives, Siberian Red, Linfox, Air Asia, Burson Autoparts, Portal People and my suppliers 2XU, Speedo and the Middle Brighton Baths. I firmly believe the Bioeffectives and Siberian Red supplements I have been using contributed to my sustained speed throughout the English Channel Double Crossing especially during the last 25km of the swim and I highly recommend them to those wishing to increase their performance (www.solagran.com and www.pineneedleproducts.com ).
Many thanks to Julie (CSA secretary), who has been an incredible support and source of information and advice. All the contact I have had with her has been very helpful, inspiring and delivered in a very timely manner.
Many thanks to the Channel Nine team who were delightful, encouraging and a pleasure to have along this journey. To view one of the two Channel Nine news clips follow this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d0CuHcD2CU (Channel Nine is the leading national commercial television network in Australia).
A Special Thanks to Mikey ‘monelloswim’ one of my two official observers and joint 2009 CSA Observer of the year! He generously created this utube of my swim http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scckQ_TSNcQ A FANTASTIC VIDEO!! Thanks to Mikey, Steve (my other observer) and Greg (Channel 9 camerman) for assisting paul on the odd occasion during the swim.
Thanks to all those from Melbourne, Australia and across the world who have been so supportive of my swimming career especially Gary and Margaret Johnson, Dr Vagif Soultanov (Solagran), Andrew Fox and Coach Buddy.
For a full list of supporters please see the ‘Supporters’ area of my website.