All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dream with open eyes to make it possible. T.E. Lawrence
Report: Steve McMenamin
It is early Friday morning, on a blowy but clear August 7th. Whilst many are fast asleep, we nervously make our way to Samphire Hoe, a beach near Dover.
At 00:45 wearing just a regular swim costume, a latex cap, and a pair of swim goggles our first swimmer, Karen, leaves the comforts of the shore and slips into the icy cool dark waters. And so begins our journey to France.
The night swim is the roughest part with gale force winds reaching 5-6 making the already cold and very choppy seas even more foreboding. What else will the channel hold for us?
It's 01:45 and now it's my turn. The first thing I notice is the complete isolation and sensory deprivation. However I am totally enthralled by the plankton as its phosphorescence glows as your hand passes through it. This is probably why I set off in the wrong direction. It takes some time for me to hear the team shouting at me, I look up and wonder what on earth the boat is doing all the way over there?
With the second hour complete, thankfully Jamie takes over, as I now have a full body shiver going on. I think that Jamie had the worst start, waiting for 2 hours, dealing with the motion of the boat and contemplating what is about to happen.
On your day, in the dark, in the middle of the ocean, you can find out what kind of man you are - the one who quits or the one who swims. It would be so easy to quit. All I need to do is reach out and touch the boat, then it will all be over. I could climb aboard, put on some warm clothes and have a hot drink. But to swim on in the dark with my imagination going wild, motion sickness taking its toll, shivering uncontrollably with the cold, and depleted energy stores making my body desperately scavenge for more, what reason is there to continue? Then I remember the cause; the money we are raising for brainstrust and I notice that the sun is rising, the ocean is calming. That’s it, I'm a swimmer. Life is good.
We are feeling confident as we pass the midpoint of the swim. During this part of the journey, we make it look easy and carefree, well as carefree as you can be when traversing the ice cold waters of the English Channel.
By 11 hours we are less than a mile from shore but the tide has turned and is pulling us up the coast towards Calais. Each time we look up we are reminded how close to shore we are but the strength of the currents makes it so hard to swim forward to land. We know that our job is simply to swim hard now and think later. My throat is raw, reminding me that I am swallowing so much salt water. I feel like I'm slowly drowning.
Karen is swimming the 12th hour. She is nearly there but unfortunately for her hour is up. The final sprint to shore is mine. What a feeling. Standing up with out being rocked as a crowd of holiday makers make their way over to me. I quickly clear the water line because if one of them touches me before I clear the water line the swim will be classed as a fail. Karen and Jamie jump from the boat too and are close behind me making that final swim to shore. Now we are all on the beach smiling, happy and posing for a few pictures. We collect a couple of pebbles to keep as mementoes and swim back to the boat and back to Dear Old Blighty.
Steve McMenamin channel swimmer 13hrs 18mins
I have learned to set goals with "failure potential." Do not be afraid to fail. In fact, risk failing. If you have never failed, you are not trying hard enough. Mark Twain said, "twenty years from now, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn't do than by the things we did." It feels so much better when you achieve something that once seemed so difficult. The Channel seemed pretty impossible to me once, and I have had plenty of failures, losses, and bad races along the way. That's what makes the finish line so rewarding.
You may ask why do such things. I have a lot of varied answers to this question but basically sometimes you have to explore if you have what it takes. Will I reach out and touch that boat or will I swim on?
Many thanks to the dozens of people who took the time to respond and email/text me, you've been an inspiration. The amount raised is amazing and we are truly grateful to you. So far your donations (£2703.00) would buy approx 45 brainboxes or pay for three MRI scans or pay for 9 private consultations, which could save 9 lives. Brilliant!
Until next time, au revoir
H2O: two parts Heart and one part Obsession
Report: Jamie Goodhead
For those of you who donated - many thanks!
For those of you who are interested in how it turned out - read on;
The channel is a lot darker and colder than I would have let myself believe before the challenge (especially at midnight) and it does appear to get colder the further away you get from dry land. Jumping into the water in the middle of the night against every one of your body's instincts and trying to follow a spotlight on the boat which systematically burns out your retinae was not pleasant. In fact, memories of when I went parachuting a number of years ago and letting go of what appeared to be a perfectly good plane came flooding back, however the elation of feeling the ground under my feet took somewhat longer to materialise.
The 20+ knot breeze and associated swell designed specifically to destabilise the slow moving boat was not pleasant and proved less than helpful when you were trying to remain within 5-8 feet of safety - we only lost sight of Karen twice (once she ended up on the other side of the boat) and I was too busy getting warm following my swim to worry about Steve (they say you can see the lights strapped to our goggles in water up to 30m deep anyway;-));
Trying to warm up while watching the majority of your colleagues on the boat evacuate their stomach contents was not pleasant.
Feeling jet lagged without having gone near a plane was not pleasant, it was then I thought that maybe I should have taken more public transport in an attempt to catch "Pig Plague" in the weeks leading up to the swim.
Spotting France at daybreak and thinking you have cracked it and then being told you are approaching the half way point was not pleasant. Combine this with the apparent lack of progress you are making for a few irritating hours then you get the picture.
Reading the Hapag Lloyd, Merck, Sea France, etc Logo's from an uncomfortably close distance was not pleasant.
Grabbing chunks of sea weed and avoiding the occasional dead fish, unlit buoy, plastic bottle, etc kept you focussed and was not pleasant.
Missing France by a few hundred yards, being swept backwards and having to do a few extra miles was not pleasant either - we could see the pebbles on the beach in the 11th hour!
I have never done a team event where a pained nod said more than an emotional slogan ever could; I must thank Karen and Steve for those nods!
It took us 13 hours and 18 minutes and I believe I counted it all!
Would I do it again - absolutely, as it was a brilliant and memorable experience but it would have to be a solo attempt - all I need is a bit of resource action so that I can afford the 40 hours a week to train (I can manage the few dozen pies each day), memories of getting back on that boat with the diesel fumes and the buckets should keep me in the water!
The Challenge: On August 7th 2009 at approx 03:00 hrs (depending on weather conditions) two teams made up from Mid Sussex and Coventry Triathlon Clubs will enter the chilly waters from Dover to swim the English Channel. The first team know as the 'Customs Dodgers' consisting of 3 people, including myself and the second team consists of four people known as 'All this for cheap fags n booze'. For more info on the teams see the buttons opposite.
How many people have been there before you?
The English Channel is a unique and demanding swim, considered by many to be the ultimate long distance challenge. Known as "The Everest of open water swimming", it is said that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have successfully swum the channel.
In the last 134 years there have only been approximately 1200 successful attempts. Tough going with a low success rate.
Why is it such a big challenge?
As the crow flies, the shortest swim distance is about 20 miles (32km or 1300 lengths of your local pool). However add to this tides, currents and the fact you can't swim in a straight line and the distance is closer to 25–30 miles (40-48km, 1600-2000 pool lengths). Further challenges include changing conditions from idyllic flat seas to gale force winds; waves of up to 3 metres; water temperatures ranging from 15C to 18C and the fact that part of the swim takes place in the dark.
How do you avoid the sea traffic?
In addition to overcoming the physical and mental challenges, other things to avoid are the 600 ships and 80 ferries that use the Dover Straights every day. Our route takes us across the shipping lanes (at 90° to the traffic) and it is the pilot’s job to stay out of the path of commercial vessels.
What about the tides?
Tides are strong and change direction approximately every 6 hours. Tides can flow at up to 4 nautical miles per hour, so if you are not in France before the tide change you will be pushed back by the tide and spend at least another 4 hours swimming.
Can you wear any protective clothing?
The Channel Crossing Association dictates that you are not allowed to wear any thermal protection or flotation devices; so that’s just a pair of Speedos and a set of goggles!
Put all these things together, the mental stress, the physical challenge, the cold, the jelly fish and dark waters then you have one of the world’s hardest swims -- "The Everest of open water swimming".