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.
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!!!!!