On the 23rd of July I successfully became the 2nd Australian and the 21st person in history to complete a Double Crossing of the English Channel!!
Here is Part 1 of my 2 Part Blog. Enjoy
After 3 weeks settling into England and a few days waiting for the weather Gods to be kind, waiting for my pilot to be available and after much intense studying of Windguru (www.windguru.cz – a wind and weather forecast website) Paul and I finally agreed on a start time for the swim with our pilot (Thursday the 22nd of July approximately 8:30pm).
We were leaving an hour before high tide; as the water starts to move in a favourable position an hour before each high tide of the day (there are two per day). Thankfully, I was swimming on a Neap tide this year (my swim days tide peaked at 5.4m), a slower and lower tide than the Spring which I swam on last year (7.4m). Most swimmers are booked on Neap tides but they can lose their tide spot due to unfavourable weather. In this scenario, swimmers are usually given another opportunity to swim on the Spring tide (which follows immediately after their booked Neap tide). Most pilots will be completely booked for their Neap tides, therefore the swimmer cannot move into another Neap position if they lose their original position.
As one never swims a straight line between England and France but rather moves in an ‘S’ shape as the tide pulls and
pushes the swimmer, the higher the tide the more pushing and pulling of the swimmer and the further total distance swum (and the stronger the tides one must swim against). Besides considering tide height the other main variable which impacts a channel swim is the wind force.
The common yardstick for measuring wind within the Channel Swimming community is the Beaufort Scale which ranges from 1, when viewed in the ocean one would observe “Ripples without crests” to 12, “Huge waves. Sea is completely white with foam and spray”. Windguru provides a wind forecast based on miles per hour which is a more specific and helpful tool when planning the best time to start a swim. Paul and I subscribed to the Windguru update, thereby enabling us to access data 12 hours more quickly than the free version. We had become very frustrated in the two weeks leading up the swim, as the wind direction and wind height would often look good two to three days in advance but deteriorate as these days moved closer to real time.
Although most channel swimmers in waiting look at wind forecasts and get stressed when they see any wind, Paul and I had spoken to our Pilot (Reg Brickell from the Channel Swimming Association, CSA) and quickly realised that wind in a Northerly direction when heading from England to France would actually be pushing me towards France – somewhat. This information empowered us to make more confident wind forecast predictions. We were very impressed with the support received and the collaborative relationship with our pilot during the tough decision making process of deciding when to start the swim. After the swim start was officially confirmed we needed to inform our special guest on board!
We were very fortunate to have been offered a Channel 9 (a popular Australian television network) camera person, Greg Martini, to be onboard the boat, filming, during the swim. Channel 9 had already filmed a ‘pre-view’ of my channel swim which had aired on their nightly news programme. Once the swim start date and time was confirmed we quickly liaised with Greg and met him at the Dover Docks and waited for Reg and his co-pilot and brother Ray to arrive at the Marina in the ‘Viking Princess’. Whilst waiting we had a jolly time catching up with Andy King (another CSA pilot) whom we had met last year and chatted about the Libyan Relay team which he was taking across soon after my Team was due to leave. Not long after our conversation, Stephen, one of my two observers (I needed one per crossing) showed up for the ride and then the Viking Princess greeted us.
Reg, Ray and Mikey (my other observer) were already on board the boat. Reg and Ray were very friendly and helpful (as always) and I was a little embarrassed that no-one would let me assist the packing of the boat but also a little bemused to see six grown men in a flurry of movement all busy getting my swim prepared as I watched idly!! The official observers were required by the association I was registered with (CSA). They are appointed to be an independent observer of the rules of channel swimming and to monitor my welfare when swimming. The basic rules are; the swimmer cannot touch the boat, cannot touch or be touched by another person and may only wear a basic swimming costume (think a traditional Speedo cut), goggles and cap during the swim.
Once we were all aboard we headed towards Samphire Hoe, an artificial beach created with the excess soil from the construction of the Channel Tunnel in 1997 (a very interesting read if you Google it). On this short journey to the swim start Paul put Lanolin on where we thought I would have problems with bather chafing (a type of rubbing which can create awful sores after hours of swimming in sea water which is particularly abrasive). Lanolin is commonly associated with Channel swimming but does not actually keep you warm – contrary to popular belief.
Besides the routine of putting my cap, goggles, ear plugs (made of Blue Tac) and light sticks on I said a very emotional ‘good bye’ to Paul who had been such an integral part of the Team which supports my swimming. This double crossing was very much a result of both our blood, sweat and tears which had been invested into this project (of sorts) and I knew I would also be relying on him heavily during the swim (he was my sole support person for the journey). Paul had accumulated a lot of knowledge about my swimming as he has supported my last few big swims and we now worked rather efficiently as a team whilst at sea.
After the final preparations were completed, a few goodbyes and a traditional hand shake with the pilot I jump out of the boat and let out a scream of excitement!! I warmed up while swimming into shore and clambered onto the rocky beach and cleared the water (according to the official rules). The sound of the boat’s horn indicated that I had officially started. With elation I dived into the water and picked up a strong stroke rate…..
Part 2 of my channel swim will be released in the next few days!!
Link to the Channel 9 pre-swim footage http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRBwkwREYDA&feature=youtube_gdata