My English Channel Relay Swim August 2020

A childhood dream?…. a crazy idea?….. a dare?….. a challenge?…. a fund raiser?…….. a reality check?…….. a mid life crisis?

The Celebrations

I am choosing the “childhood dream” explanation as to why I wanted to swim the channel aged 45. It was definitely something I said as a child that I wanted to do, back then I had no access to open water (or so I thought, I actually lived round the corner from Roundhay park, a very popular wild swim destination, if the wardens are not working). Does a dream have to be something that you are always striving for? Does a dream have to be on your mind all the time and your main focus? I don’t think so because, for 30 years this dream has laid dormant, asleep inside me and even forgotten for about 20 years due to the fact that during that time, swimming was only a holiday activity for me.

As mentioned in other posts, my outdoor swimming journey only started 8 years ago when my artist friend Andrea Hall and I decided to enter the Great North swim mile distance Back then, I’m sure she didn’t realize how popular her swimming art work would become and I definitely didn’t think that I would be a channel swimmer running my own swim school and coaching business, wild swimming in locations around the UK. Dreams sometimes need time to grow, develop and if they are meant to happen, they will happen naturally.

2019 – Around May time – my Total Immersion colleagues suggested we entered a channel relay. Of course I would be up for that. We needed a qualifying swim (2 hrs in cold, under 16 degree water, no wet suit, no gloves, one cap, goggles and a normal swim suit) We needed a medical, £120 for a routine check up and ECG. The swim cost was about £4000 split between the number of swimmers. This was all arranged so quickly as we were filling a slot left by other swimmers. I was never in doubt, the dream was alive again. It was a whole new world for me….there are Channel swim camps, training swims, night swims, it is a huge sector of the industry that I am now lucky to be involved in.

Last year, I didn’t do cold water, I swam in a wet suit (a very thick one), I wore gloves and wet suit socks, I was totally unprepared and I didn’t realize the challenge ahead, but I knew my fighting spirit and my drive and determination to achieve what I set out was enough, and off to Dover we went. I only needed to swim for an hour at a time anyway (this didn’t need much training for). Only 2 days later having only swum in the harbour and spent a gorgeous day at St Margaret’s Bay with my fellow coaches, we headed home. The swim had been called off due to bad weather and that was our “window” closed. I cannot say that I was that disappointed with the prospect of another year to prepare. I began to realise, I needed a plan!

Winter Swimming in Preparation

Winter 2019/2020 became a swim outdoors winter for me. Whenever I could, I would get my fix of cold water. Once the temperature dropped below 10 degrees, it was a 2 minute dip with a lot of screaming and by January, I could manage 100m at 5 degrees and was planning to get my official ice swimming 100m badge. All swimmers love a sew on badge! I started another dream – an ice mile! The cold feeling you get from icy water is the best ever! It has replaced that great night out feeling that I used to get in my early 20’s! (It’s got to be better for your health too). As the water in the lakes began to warm up and as Lockdown hit and put a stop to it, a cold shower was the only replacement for that feeling. Lockdown had also got in the way of our channel swim for 2020. Our June date came and went……would it ever happen?

Invite from another team

The swim community is so friendly, open water swimmers come in all shapes and sizes, their bodies and their personalities, I haven’t met an unfriendly one yet, and everyone is accepting of each other and their abilities. So when asked by a fellow swim coach, Jackie at if I would fill a space on a 5 person relay with a team I had never met, I didn’t think twice. There was also a space for another swimmer so I invited one of my swimmers, Kristina who has been having Total Immersion swim lessons with me since November 2019. Kristina has done the channel relay before and is scheduled to do a 2 person relay in 2021. Like me she is swimming the Ti way now to avoid any shoulder injury and we swim regularly in an attempt to master the efficient stroke technique.

The Dover Coaster

Check out my facebook page to see all the live video feeds of our swim and the journey on the Dover Coaster (known in the swim community as the emotional ride before the channel), the ups, and downs, the emotion in my voice! I’ve been told (by the mother in law) that I should be a T V presenter! “Going Live” to me used to be a Saturday morning TV show in the 80’s with Philip Schofield. I did enjoy filming the videos and being able to share the experience with so many people. I felt a bit of a fool telling facebook live that we were going, then we weren’t and then we were! all within 10 hours. That’s the Dover Coaster. I’ve learnt to only announce a channel attempt, once you have set off on the boat and the first swimmer is in the water, on the way to Dover beach to start the adventure.

So how does it work?

We met our pilot in Dover, boarded the boat after some safety checks and off we went! 4 am meet time for a 5 am swim start. Gosh how the weather scared us, pouring rain, all wrapped up in our dryrobes and Swimzi jackets (a must have if attempting a channel swim) I hadn’t taken advice about sea sickness tablets, I bought 3 different types but having never been sea sick, I didn’t bother with them, this was a good decision (for me), I didn’t suffer sickness and became the one swimmer able to fetch equipment, water, food and everyones needs from below deck where the feelings of motion sickness were strongest!

A pilot, an observer and a helper

On board every channel swim boat, there is an observer, there to ensure that we follow the rules, to check our details, monitor our attempt, to ensure it became a valid crossing. We were asked our swim order (once decided, no changes can occur) we were asked which stroke we were using and obviously, our contact details and personal information. The observer writes a report and even counts our strokes to ensure we are maintaining our abilities in the water. 46 strokes a minute for my first swim seemed pretty chilled and about my average so I was happy with that. Our 2 pilots were amazing Paul and Jay, not the most sociable at 4 am but neither were we and we definitely got on well as a team as the day progressed. The knowledge Paul has of the waters in the channel is amazing and Jay encouraged every swimmer with such loud applause on every swim.

The changeovers

For a successful changeover, the swimmer taking over must jump behind the swimmer in the water and swim past them (they cannot swim between the swimmer and the boat or they are disqualified, this seemed like an easy task but on our trip we saw dives causing goggles to fall off, belly flops and swimmers who couldn’t hear us telling them they had finished, or did they just want to swim for longer?, who knows!! Despite the 5 and 15 minute warnings by our time keeper Kate it was hard to alert some swimmers that their time was up!! The hours spent on the boat between swims were filled with story telling, eating, sleeping and keeping a watchful eye on the swimmer in the water.

The wildlife tour

Porpoises, jellyfish, seals, jellyfish, dolphins, jellyfish, seagulls and more jellyfish. We saw then all, and some were lucky enough to be in the water when these animals showed themselves. I was only lucky enough to share my swims with the tankers, ferries and other boats, I maybe saw one jelly, but they stayed well away.

Landing in France

No, we didn’t have to quarantine when we returned home, only one of us landed on the beach in France, Jackie had to ensure both feet were out of the water and then swim back swiftly to the boat to ensure the tide didn’t ruin our plans for a safe return . A small crowd had gathered to say “hi” on the beach which I believe is a normal occurrence when the French see these crazy swimmers getting closer to their shores. The live video shows clearly the emotion we felt when we knew we had achieved the dream. Perfect conditions, a friendly tide, the best weather this year and 5 amazing ladies swimming consistently well with smooth Total Immersion technique. For a first channel crossing, it couldn’t have gone any better,

My role in life is to inspire anyone and everyone to be the best they can be and to challenge themselves as much as they feel they can. I’ve always done this in every job role i have had. Everyone has a different comfort zone, if we stay in our comfort zone, we will never really know what we are capable of. This was definitely the first of many trips across the channel.

Check out the Swimfinity Tour and Channel crossing on Facebook

Any questions about the experience, anyone think they want to join me on a swim? get in touch via email