You might be able to see France from Dover, but it's a long old way to swim and its definitely not a straight one either. Malc takes up the story.
A couple of years ago Chris Walsh, Dave Granger and Jessica Straw completed a English Channel Relay Swim. This inspired me to think about forming a team myself and having a crack at it.
Jessica went on last year to complete her solo crossing and as you all probably know we have Andre Roberts and Dave Granger in our club who are also channel soloists. What a pedigree this club has within its members!
Well after some thought (probably not enough),Tim Shattock and Tom Curwell were up for the challenge with me. DG and Chris were our support team. There is quite a lot of planning involved as well as a lot of swimming! We were lucky to be able to secure a slot from the 28th July to the 2nd August with Michael Oram and his crew on Gallivant.
Prior to the swim we did a great deal of preparation with cold water acclimatisation, long sea and river swims and multiple swims in one day on the coast. The last obstacle to overcome was our 2 hour qualification swim in temperatures of 16 degrees or below. Tim took his chance at Lyme Regis on a glorious day (sea temp 13 degrees!) and was signed off. Tom and I went down to Durley Chine beach in Bournemouth. Tim joined us anyway and did it again. Caroline kindly gave up her Sunday to travel down with us to sign us off as an official observer. Bournemouth gave us a taste of things to come with rough weather and a touch of sea sickness!
Because of the incredible weather Michael Oram was able to bring our swim forward. He had no backlog of swimmers and suggested the weather opportunity might not last. He did warn us that the weather might turn stormy in the evening and was hopeful we would be finished by the time it arrived. The choice was ours. He said we might even have an "experience" (he said he charged extra for those!)
We met locally at 02:00 in the morning and headed down to Dover in two cars packed with food and gear, Tom brought his future Father in law Ian along who was additional support and a great help. After a big breakfast at McDonald's (I highly recommend the pancakes to line one's stomach!), we arrived at Dover Harbour and met Michael and his crew. We were in very safe hands. His crew, including another channel solo swimmer gave us a brief. We also had Gabby on board who was the official observer from the CSPF (Channel Swimming and Pilots Federation). The rules are strict and she was there to watch and report our swim and if successful get it approved by the CSPF committee. We headed off on a beautiful sunny morning to the famous Shakespeare Beach - the start of many Channel swims. The boat stopped to allow Tom off first as we had agreed the order of Tom, Tim and me, each swimming one hour shifts.
Tom swam ashore ready to start on the signal of Gallivants horn. He was off; swimming a solid pace away from Dover. There were even dolphins and seals to be seen. All good omens we hoped. We watched jelly fish and seaweed pass by as we rotated in our swim shifts. We had packed plenty of food and refreshments and a lot of sun block. As the day wore on we started to detect changes in the weather. The first clue was Gabby going inside the cabin! The sea went from almost a flat calm at the start to a more choppy affair. The French coast remained tantalisingly close. It was getting cloudy and we appreciated the shelter afforded to us by Gallivant.
It was my turn to start my 4th shift. We had made great progress when a squall hit. I really can't describe the feeling of watching the pilot boat blowing on top of me in howling gusts of wind and a rough choppy sea slapping me in the face from all sides. A spectacular electrical storm lit up the sky as the driving rain arrived.
One of Michael's crew started to give me clear instructions and I managed to get control of myself and swim! The thought of letting the team down in panic is not a feeling I will forget. Thankfully the squall passed and I got back into rhythm and finished my shift off. Michael said we might get an "experience" he wasn't wrong! I was dimly aware of everyone shouting encouragement to me. It really helped.
Fortunately after this excitement we were soon back on track. Tom started his 5th shift and had goggle trouble which was quickly sorted. He was swimming strongly but the French coast just didn't seem to get any closer. Tim did his 5th shift - It was dark now and we watched his green guardian light flashing brightly through the rain and lightning. It came around to my turn in what seemed like the quickest 2 hours in history.
The plan under CSPF rules was I had to swim past Tim to take over my shift. Tom got in to finish with us and act as safety swimmer as Gallivant couldn't get any closer to the French shore.
As I swam I suddenly realised I could stand up!
We were all ashore and had made it. I remember laughing hard while watching Tim running around trying to find his pebble to take back. Tom had had no luck either! I found a rock in the sand and balanced it down the back of my trunks on my swim back to the boat. We are going to get it cut into 3. A great success in a time of 14:03. All that remained was a very rough and stormy passage back to arriving back in England at around 01:00.
My thanks and admiration to Dave, Chris and Ian for the support and encouragement they gave.
Also to those back at home who made this possible for us. The support we got from the club was epic. We could not have had a better pilot and crew with Michael Oram.
Please don't forget our charity page as we have almost made our target of £1500 for Cyclists Fighting Cancer and Sandford Park Lido.