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…