Not this time!

I’m sorry to report that the result of this weeks swim was ‘Repeat Offenders 0 – 1 Mother Nature’.

I left work (in Tamworth) on Friday night, called in at home to pack for an hour or two, before giving my wife Christine and daughters Megan & Sarah a big kiss and driving down to Dover. I arrived at 22:30 and managed to sleep (well doze on and off) for 90 mins before meeting Emma and Ian for the scheduled midnight rendezvous. Before sleeping, being the cautious safety person that I am, I locked the car (from the inside) just in case the local Doverites took a fancy to my blackberry or wallet on show!  Just before midnight as my alarm went off, I unlocked the back passenger door where I was and walked out onto the Marina car park to greet Ian, Emma and half a dozen other people, official observers and others who’d come to see us off. I returned to the car… attempted each door… which ‘all’ proved locked! seeing the keys on the centre console I said “Oh Bother” (or words to that effect!).  We attempted a few options to enter the car before reverting to the AA, who came in record time, who in good old fashion style broke into the car with a hammer, wedges and a metal hook! (Thank you AA).  I retrieved my gear and before long we were on our way round to Samphire Hoe. As we left Dover Port, Ian and Emma informed me that our team swimming order was Me, Ian and then Emma, so I quickly got changed into my Speedo’s (jammers not budgie smugglers) swim hat, goggles, nose clip and ear plugs and had a quick bite to eat. 

At 13:30 (30mins behind schedule) I entered the water, swam to the Beach and awaited the klaxon to mark the official start of our 2 way channel swim.

This was my first ever night-time swim, nice calm waters, not too cold (circa 16-18’C) and the start of our challenge to be the first team ever to make a 3-person 2-way crossing. I focused on my stroke technique and allowed my mind to contemplate how many living creatures there were with me – keeping me company!  Being the dark of the night, my vision was restricted to the blinding torch light shining on me from the boat, the silhouette of the boat itself and in front of me my own arms pushing through the water, which looked bright green from the flashing green head light I had attached to my swim cap.   

After 6 hours (well in fact it was 2 but it felt like 6) I got the signal that my time in this (what now felt like zero degree) water, was up and that Ian was entering for his 2 hour stint.  After Ian entered the water, I climbed out of the steps and made it up on deck for a dry, dress, some food and a warm drink.

The next few hours passed, each of us taking it in turns for our 2 hour swims, enjoying each others company on board when we were not swimming, or taking it in turn to curl up on the bench seating and get a few minutes ‘shut-eye’. We each found our 2nd swim easier than our first and by the time I got in for my 3rd swim (12 hours completed) we were heading for the Cap Gris Nez, our intended landing point on French shores. A short moment of deja vu as Pilot Neil Streeter told me “give it everything you have got Stuart, for an hour or more in order that we hit the Cap”. I entered the water and sprinted for what felt like over an hour, I watched the Cap lighthouse as I breathed to my left, willing it to stay on my left hand side, knowing this meant we would hit land very soon, but the closer I got the quicker the lighthouse was moving in front of me and then to the right, I knew this meant at least an extra hour on our swim and possibly up to 3 hours more. I had only completed one of my two hours and for my next hour still swimming hard (against the swirling tide) I managed to advance our party zero miles – in fact I think officially I recorded a few feet, not even 100 meters (later Neil told me that the boat was in gear on 3 knots and didn’t move an inch, “well done for an hour on the swimming treadmill” he said).

Ian took over after my 2 hours and on his session – he did get us onto French dry land and heading back to Blighty.  For the full 2 hours of Ian’s swim, I curled up in my sleeping bag and slept like a baby, When Ian came in and Emma entered the water – Ian curled up in his sleeping bag and slept too.  We continued with our rotations as the conditions got worse and worse.

I entered the water again at 19:35 and pushed on for my next 2 hours, Swimming in the dark of the night swimmers have to keep closer to the boat, but on this occasion not too close, as I watched the boats torch light and silhouette, I was very much aware of how much it was rolling from side to side, on occasions it felt like the boat was about to capsize down on top of me as one minute I was staring at the boats hull and the next minute the upper deck. My two hours were up as Jock, Neils assistant came to the side of the boat and called me in.

I made my way to the back of the boat and looked around for Ian, “climb out” said Jock, I called back “where’s Ian” – “hes not in” came the reply, ‘OK’  I thought, I’ll carry on until he’s ready, and continued to swim… “Stuart come in” came the call again, I again asked where Ian was and was informed that neither Ian nor Emma were well enough to swim, not least in these conditions. Both suffering from seasickness (for the first time in their lives). Ian had been throwing up for over an hour and everyone on board was clear it would have been seriously irresponsible to consider allowing him into the water in what was now really bad conditions. I accepted our fete and grabbed hold of the steps knowing this would officially terminate our attempt. I reached for the steps of the boat and as I did was again reminded of how much the boat was rolling from side to side, within seconds I was dragged down 3 feet under water as the boat rolled one way, I fortunately, had the sense not to let go until the boat rolled back again and pushed me back to and through the surface of the water, several more times I tried before managing to hold on for a few precious seconds of relative calm and climb on board.

I made my way up onto top deck and within a minute realised the full force of what those on board had endured, I was thrown from the seat on one side of the boat, against the wall on the other side (Ouch!), I scrambled across the floor and back down the steps to the lower cabin and requested assistance to get a towel, some dry clothes and some food.

On board I saw my two team mates equally disappointed as me in our knowledge that our record breaking attempt was over, but what was also apparent was the fact that (ridiculous as it sounds) I had probably been in the best place in the water, bobbing up and down – even trying to put one arm in front of the other, was less demanding than trying to stay safe and well on this mother natured roller-coaster.

Thank you to my two team mates, Ian and Emma for an incredible adventure, Thank you also to everyone for their support of our efforts, as I have replied to a number of you, I do hope that our attempts and efforts (not just our successes) encourage people to dream, believe, plan and achieve their own goals, the ‘Repeat Offenders’ got 3 out of 4 on this occasion but, for me I’ll always accept 75% of success over 0% of trying!

Until the next Chapter…             

Stuart x

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Ready, Steady, wait for it… Go! Go! Go!

After the false start of last weekend, we’re off… Tonight (well technically tomorrow morning 01:00am) we’ll be setting off on our 3 person – 2 way relay (France and back) Emma, Ian and I hope you’ll be following our GPS tracker (see previous blog – below) and following on twitter @stuartsswim   If you need to you can email – stuartbranch@gmail.com or text to 00447770637048

Wish us luck, we’ll keep you posted on our record setting attempt… (Hope you have a good nights kip –

Yours jealously….  The Repeat Offenders!

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Not again Stuart!

He’s only going to go and do it again – there and back!  This time with a little help from his friends.  The relay crossing is scheduled for this weekend.  Hopefully one of more of these links will allow you to track their progress …

Spot Tracking Link

Endomondo (and click ‘Workouts’)

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Pride of Northamptonshire

I am delighted, somewhat humbled, but honoured to have received the call from the ‘Pride of Northamptonshire’ committee to be informed that not only had I been nominated (anonymously) but that I have been judged as one of 5 finalists in the charity fundraising category.   if you were the nominee – Thank You!!!

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youtube video now loaded…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCHO1vYeHKs

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Stuart Branch English Channel Solo – 28th July 2011

On Thursday the 28th of July 2011, after 13 hours and 54 minutes I joined a very exclusive club.

Swimming solo across the English Channel, Almost 136 years to the day since Captain Matthew Webb made the first successful crossing I became one of less than 1,400 people in the world to swim solo across the world’s busiest shipping lane – less than the number of people who have reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

The start was ‘perfect’ as I was joined on the beach by my wife Christine and daughters Megan & Sarah. I waded out and started to swim towards my support boat – onboard was my former LEJOG team-mate Tony McMurray, my cousin Claire Wright and two good swimming pals (both successful English Channel solo swimmers – Ian Down & Andy Dickson. I entered the water at Shakespeare’s beach, Dover at 07:10 we’d had a bit of a delay to the start of the day due to the less than perfect conditions and the confab in the harbour whether to go or not. The conditions were not good to begin with, Force four – variable winds meant the sea was rather choppy, but the forecast was more promising.

After 3 hours the sun started to shine and I was well into my rhythm notching up a steady 2mph. The feeds of Maxim (carbohydrate drink) and either 2 Jelly Babies, quarter of  banana or half a chocolate swiss roll increased from hourly to every 30 minutes as I passed out of the English waters crossed the South-West shipping lane and progressed over the halfway mark. I had never wanted to ‘just’ swim the English Channel, I didn’t want to just ‘join the club’, I wanted, as they say… ‘to enjoy the journey not just the destination’ and I did, the swim across was wonderful, I loved feeling so small and insignificant in the world – especially when the tankers went past, I loved watching the living world of algae that is the English Channel, I loved battling with mother nature being tossed about by the waves and I loved taking on this challenge with some of my closest friends.

As I was swimming and occupying my mind I started dedicating my 30 minute bursts,
between feeds, to various people starting with my Diabetic Nana, Dad and everyone living with Diabetes, next to my Mum living with Alzheimer’s, and continued to: my brothers – Ian and Darren, sisters Stephanie and Alison and my lovely nieces and nephew, to all my family, to our friends in Silverstone and Australia, to work colleagues in Masco & The Bristan Group, to everyone who had donated and lastly to my wife Christine and to Megan & Sarah.

There was an amazing response throughout the day as Tony’s tweets, texts, emails, facebook and LinkedIn messages were picked up and people from the US, France, Canada, Australia and all over the UK replied with encouraging comments. My webpage www.stuartsswim.co.uk received more than 1,672 hits during the day and our fundraising went up by more than £600.

After passing the separation zone crossing the North-East shipping lane and entering
the French waters, and after 12 and a half hours and 7 jellyfish stings I was instructed by Neil, the Pilot, to dig deep and give everything I’d got for a final hour or more – I was told to sprint against the tide in order to reach the intended landing point – Cape Griz Net. It was hard – the only point in the day when I wasn’t relaxed and enjoying myself (apart from the Jellyfish stings), I felt completely in the zone, I could see the Cape all the time,
while I was breathing to my left and I knew the consequences of missing the Cape. My crew told me after that my stroke rate went up from 46 spm to 55 during that last 90 minutes.

I knew they were happy with my response when Ian dived in and joined me for the last few hundred meters – swimming with the waterproof camera, he and I pushed for the rocks and after I stood up and cheered – we hugged, took pictures, collected a pebble (well small rock (that Ian swam with)) and headed back to the boat.

Writing this on Saturday night I can honestly say I have truly been in awe of the response to my challenge – so many good wishes, messages of congratulations and very generous donations, so many people following my progress – I want to thank you all.  For the people who have donated “THANK YOU” Together (including some complete strangers) we have raised more than £6,000 for these two very worthy causes.

These two charities, so personally close to us as a family, mean a lot to me and I thank you for your support.

Many of you will know I was not booked to complete his challenge until September
this year – but went early due to being in good shape (for swimming the channel (which means too fat)) and after the extensive training plan, at its peak just a few weeks ago I was swimming 35 miles a week, including sessions at Dover and in the pool with Northampton Swimming Club.

My website  www.stuartsswim.co.uk and my fundraising page: www.virginmoneygiving.com/stuartsswim will remain open for a few more weeks.

There are a number of people I would like to mention, some of them I have spoken to
personally and I am sorry they will not all get a specific mention by name, but here goes:

Neil Streeter my pilot – what an awesome job to land me straight on the Cap – Thank you!

My Crew: Claire Wright, Ian Down, Andy Dickson & Tony McMurray – you guys were great!

Darren, Roy and Trev – support crew who had committed to be there in September – sorry I went early!

Freda, Barrie, Irene, Emma, Michelle and so many other members of the Dover Swimming Club Beach Crew – who give up their time so selflessly

All the swimmers I have trained with and been inspired by too many of you to mention by name but a wonderful group of people you are

I want to thank my brother, Ian, who has been so supportive setting up this webpage and been my on-call IT support desk

To so many of you for the sheer number of tweets, texts, emails, facebook and Linkedin messages I have received they have been so touching

I want to thank again everyone who has donated so generously.

Finally, this personal commitment was not taken by me alone I am immensely grateful to Christine, Megan and Sarah who have been so incredibly supportive of my jaunts down to Dover, who have allowed me to neglect my responsibilities around the family and home.

Thankyou to so many of you – who have been part of this wonderful journey – I look
forward to catching up with you soon.

Stuart Branch – Channel Swimmer July 28th 2011

PS – Weekends after swimming…  Cleaned the car, mowed the lawn, 20 miles on
the bike, BBQ and glass of wine – WONDERFUL!!!!!

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WELL, HE DID IT!!  All the post-swim analysis to come no doubt but for now, we simply say “WELL DONE STUART – AN AMAZING ACCOMPLISHMENT!”
… from all your family, friends and crew!

Track here:  http://www.endomondo.com/workouts/tugmgtvRKfY

More photos here: http://yfrog.com/user/stuartsswim/profile

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My fundraising so far …

My total so far with The Bristan Group’s support… over £11,000

“Thank you” if you’ve contributed to this… and “Thank you” if you’re about to!

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Stuart’s Cross Channel Swim

On these pages you can find out more about what I did, who I did it for and most importantly, how you can support my target to raise a whole heap of money for charity.

Sponsor me on Virgin Money Giving

Please visit each of the pages above, and below you can read many more of my blogs…

YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG BY ENTERING
YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS ON THE ‘SIGN ME UP’ BUTTON ON THE RIGHT

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Not this time!

I’m sorry to report that the result of this weeks swim was ‘Repeat Offenders 0 – 1 Mother Nature’.

I left work (in Tamworth) on Friday night, called in at home to pack for an hour or two, before giving my wife Christine and daughters Megan & Sarah a big kiss and driving down to Dover. I arrived at 22:30 and managed to sleep (well doze on and off) for 90 mins before meeting Emma and Ian for the scheduled midnight rendezvous. Before sleeping, being the cautious safety person that I am, I locked the car (from the inside) just in case the local Doverites took a fancy to my blackberry or wallet on show!  Just before midnight as my alarm went off, I unlocked the back passenger door where I was and walked out onto the Marina car park to greet Ian, Emma and half a dozen other people, official observers and others who’d come to see us off. I returned to the car… attempted each door… which ‘all’ proved locked! seeing the keys on the centre console I said “Oh Bother” (or words to that effect!).  We attempted a few options to enter the car before reverting to the AA, who came in record time, who in good old fashion style broke into the car with a hammer, wedges and a metal hook! (Thank you AA).  I retrieved my gear and before long we were on our way round to Samphire Hoe. As we left Dover Port, Ian and Emma informed me that our team swimming order was Me, Ian and then Emma, so I quickly got changed into my Speedo’s (jammers not budgie smugglers) swim hat, goggles, nose clip and ear plugs and had a quick bite to eat. 

At 13:30 (30mins behind schedule) I entered the water, swam to the Beach and awaited the klaxon to mark the official start of our 2 way channel swim.

This was my first ever night-time swim, nice calm waters, not too cold (circa 16-18’C) and the start of our challenge to be the first team ever to make a 3-person 2-way crossing. I focused on my stroke technique and allowed my mind to contemplate how many living creatures there were with me – keeping me company!  Being the dark of the night, my vision was restricted to the blinding torch light shining on me from the boat, the silhouette of the boat itself and in front of me my own arms pushing through the water, which looked bright green from the flashing green head light I had attached to my swim cap.   

After 6 hours (well in fact it was 2 but it felt like 6) I got the signal that my time in this (what now felt like zero degree) water, was up and that Ian was entering for his 2 hour stint.  After Ian entered the water, I climbed out of the steps and made it up on deck for a dry, dress, some food and a warm drink.

The next few hours passed, each of us taking it in turns for our 2 hour swims, enjoying each others company on board when we were not swimming, or taking it in turn to curl up on the bench seating and get a few minutes ‘shut-eye’. We each found our 2nd swim easier than our first and by the time I got in for my 3rd swim (12 hours completed) we were heading for the Cap Gris Nez, our intended landing point on French shores. A short moment of deja vu as Pilot Neil Streeter told me “give it everything you have got Stuart, for an hour or more in order that we hit the Cap”. I entered the water and sprinted for what felt like over an hour, I watched the Cap lighthouse as I breathed to my left, willing it to stay on my left hand side, knowing this meant we would hit land very soon, but the closer I got the quicker the lighthouse was moving in front of me and then to the right, I knew this meant at least an extra hour on our swim and possibly up to 3 hours more. I had only completed one of my two hours and for my next hour still swimming hard (against the swirling tide) I managed to advance our party zero miles – in fact I think officially I recorded a few feet, not even 100 meters (later Neil told me that the boat was in gear on 3 knots and didn’t move an inch, “well done for an hour on the swimming treadmill” he said).

Ian took over after my 2 hours and on his session – he did get us onto French dry land and heading back to Blighty.  For the full 2 hours of Ian’s swim, I curled up in my sleeping bag and slept like a baby, When Ian came in and Emma entered the water – Ian curled up in his sleeping bag and slept too.  We continued with our rotations as the conditions got worse and worse.

I entered the water again at 19:35 and pushed on for my next 2 hours, Swimming in the dark of the night swimmers have to keep closer to the boat, but on this occasion not too close, as I watched the boats torch light and silhouette, I was very much aware of how much it was rolling from side to side, on occasions it felt like the boat was about to capsize down on top of me as one minute I was staring at the boats hull and the next minute the upper deck. My two hours were up as Jock, Neils assistant came to the side of the boat and called me in.

I made my way to the back of the boat and looked around for Ian, “climb out” said Jock, I called back “where’s Ian” – “hes not in” came the reply, ‘OK’  I thought, I’ll carry on until he’s ready, and continued to swim… “Stuart come in” came the call again, I again asked where Ian was and was informed that neither Ian nor Emma were well enough to swim, not least in these conditions. Both suffering from seasickness (for the first time in their lives). Ian had been throwing up for over an hour and everyone on board was clear it would have been seriously irresponsible to consider allowing him into the water in what was now really bad conditions. I accepted our fete and grabbed hold of the steps knowing this would officially terminate our attempt. I reached for the steps of the boat and as I did was again reminded of how much the boat was rolling from side to side, within seconds I was dragged down 3 feet under water as the boat rolled one way, I fortunately, had the sense not to let go until the boat rolled back again and pushed me back to and through the surface of the water, several more times I tried before managing to hold on for a few precious seconds of relative calm and climb on board.

I made my way up onto top deck and within a minute realised the full force of what those on board had endured, I was thrown from the seat on one side of the boat, against the wall on the other side (Ouch!), I scrambled across the floor and back down the steps to the lower cabin and requested assistance to get a towel, some dry clothes and some food.

On board I saw my two team mates equally disappointed as me in our knowledge that our record breaking attempt was over, but what was also apparent was the fact that (ridiculous as it sounds) I had probably been in the best place in the water, bobbing up and down – even trying to put one arm in front of the other, was less demanding than trying to stay safe and well on this mother natured roller-coaster.

Thank you to everyone for their support of our efforts, as I have replied to a number of you, I do hope that our attempts and efforts (not just our successes) encourage people to dream, believe, plan and achieve their own goals, the ‘Repeat Offenders’ got 3 out of 4 on this occasion but, for me I’ll always accept 75% of success over 0% of trying!

Until the next Chapter…             

Stuart x        

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I’m back – 2 way relay in August

Hey! Have you missed me and my swimming blogs?  Well, the good news is I’m back to blog about the 2 way relay that we have planned for August (‘we’ being… Ian Down and Emma France) our 3 person 2 way relay (to France and back) will be enhanced by the fact we’re racing two other teams! (I “love” racing!)  My blog will probably contain updates of my training for Ironman Wales which I will be completing in September too.

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The Truth Hurts!

Anyone who has ever trained for the channel or has lived, worked or been a good mate to someone who has, will appreciate this, Anyone who knows someone who is going to train should take note…

enjoy!

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