As some of you will already know, last Thursday I had my second attempt at the Channel, and once again failed. I’m not going to write a bitter and twisted blog about it, nor a depressing one. I have had enough of miserable posts so I’m going to try and take any positives I can out of this whole experience. The main positive being that I am more than likely not going to have to do it again…
3am, 26th July 2012 and the time had come for my second crack at the Channel. I felt good, incredibly well fed (I am horribly obese) and at least had some sleep unlike last year. I was still nervous, but I can’t imagine anybody going into this swim without any nerves. I have noticed that when I’m nervous I produce a toxic gas from my bottom, not so much a problem for me, but an unpleasant morning aroma for my crew. Nick, Ange, Simon and of course Clare.
Nick had stayed over in Dover with Clare and me, as his last three days had been at sea. On Tuesday he had swam the Channel in 12:34 as that’s what he does. On Wednesday he had crewed for Kristy, his fellow Serpentine swimmer. Today he was crewing for me. He had been kind enough to let us know that he hadn’t been able to poo since his swim, and was going to walk to the Marina to see if he could rustle one up.
Clare and me packed the car and opted to drive to the Marina. After meeting the rest of the crew (Ange and Simon) and loading everything onto the boat, we had the nervous wait to see if Nick could produce. His attempt ended in failure, not a good omen.
I have already noticed a lot of toilet-based anecdotes in this blog. I will try to avoid it in future, as it is just a little too British for my liking.
|Filling out the necessary forms|
I was once again to be piloted by Paul Foreman, and his boat ‘Pace Arrow’. This man is an excellent Pilot and somebody who genuinely wants you to succeed in your attempt. I cannot praise the man enough. He had recently suffered tragedy whilst taking across Paraic Casey, who passed away just as it looked as though he had completed his crossing. A horrible situation for everyone, but one that could neither have been predicted nor ultimately avoided. R.I.P.
Anyway back to my almost irrelevant tale now…
After a bit of doubt as to whether we were actually going to make the attempt at all (Paul had been told the wind had picked up a lot more than the forecast had originally suggested) we had the all clear. We were ready to set sail, or the equivalent term for a motorised boat. It was time for the nervous trip round to Shakespeare beach to the start point. The fumes were awful.
As we drew near I was stripped and covered in Vaseline, what a delightful sport. I filled out a couple of forms and was told to jump in to the black depths as soon as I was ready. I prepared myself for the horrendous feeling of cold as I jumped over the side of the boat, and to be fair it met expectations. By the time I had swum to shore however, I was confident the cold wouldn’t be an issue. The crew shouted GO!
And I was off…
This bit of the story may appear a little rushed, but there really isn’t that much to say other than I swam.
|Swimming in the dark again, it's not a problem.|
The first hour is always the hardest, apart from the last hour of course where I generally completely fall to pieces, mentally destroying myself. The hours in between aren't that pleasant either. The first hour this time was fine, the sun was slowly making itself known and I was looking forward to a nice day of flat water and sunshine. The first feed went well and the second hour again was absolutely fine, I had never enjoyed swimming so much in fact. That’s not to say I enjoyed it, far from it, but I enjoyed it more than I had before.
By the end of the 3rd hour it was time for Simon, my first support swimmer, to join me. Last year I was around the same pace as him, but this year I am crap, so very, very slow. He had to swim pretty much one armed to stay with me and I thank him for that, he must have been cold. Anyway he got out after 4 hours and I was still feeling good.
|The sun rising, it was very welcome|
I had made the switch to 30 minute feeds and these were not passing as quickly as I would have hoped, in fact they seemed to be taking an age. By the time they did come round I was finishing everything I was given and was starting to feel a bit bloated. I started singing TLC’s waterfalls to try and help me wee, but it wasn’t happening. I had consumed litres and litres of maxim and hadn’t had a single wee. I was beginning to feel a bit horrible.
|Nick and Simon stand watch|
By 6 hours I still felt I was swimming well, I was nearly in the separation zone and was convinced I was going to get across. I still felt this way after 7 hours when Ange joined me for a swim. This happened at pretty much exactly the same time as the weather went to pot.
Now I know Ange is not responsible for the weather change, but it all seems a bit too coincidental to me. The wind picked up creating a slightly unpleasant chop, and the sun had disappeared. The other person who may have been responsible for the weather change was Clare, who had taken a quick power nap. Put both of these incidents together and I believe you have your answer as to why the weather had gone so down hill. I am of course starting legal proceedings against the pair of them.
I must stress the conditions were nothing that I hadn’t swum in before, and nothing compared to what some people have swum in. When it comes to swimming though, I am weak. As soon as the sun disappears I absolutely mentally implode. The only chance I have of getting across this stretch of water is if the conditions are absolutely perfect.
The next hour was horrible, I was still staying at a reasonable pace, consistently very, very slow, but that’s my pace. By the time I got to 8 hours I was falling apart. I no longer thought I was going to get across, this was gutting. This is a terrible thing to think when you have around 8 hours swimming ahead of you. I had been convinced for about 7-8 hours that this was my day, and suddenly I couldn’t even muster the courage to lift my arms.
I stopped to puke and try to force out a wee, the puke happened, the wee didn’t. I shouldn’t be forcing out wee at my age anyway, but this was an interesting insight into my future. As soon as you stop on a swim like this, it is very hard to get going again. In fact as soon as you look up, it is hard to get going again. It is for me anyway. Everyone on the boat was telling me I had to keep going, just to give them half hour etc. etc. I couldn’t and I am ashamed of that. At the time though I was getting really annoyed with them all. I must confess I did mutter the odd swear word at this point, for my younger readers the word rhymed with tuck and was shouted rather loudly several times.
My mind was no longer on the task, I was once again a broken man.
|I love you Sun|
I managed to bob along for another half hour before taking myself out of the water. A lot of people will say they would never pull themselves out, well done, you’re better than me. However, I said the exact same thing. If you have never tried to swim a massive distance like this, you have not got a clue what happens to you in the water.
As I said, I don’t want this to be a miserable post, as it seems to be an ongoing theme recently. I will say that I am unlikely to attempt this swim again. I can’t afford it for one, for two it takes over your entire life and destroys it. For three I want to see my girlfriend, something that I haven’t done on a summer’s weekend for 2 years. Maybe I will in a few years when I am rich, and possess the ability to swim.
I will probably miss Dover in a weird way, but I don’t think I’ll miss it that much. The people I will undoubtedly miss. Freda, Barrie, Irene, Michelle and the whole beach crew are some of the greatest humans I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I won’t miss being freezing in brown water and waking up at stupid o’clock every weekend, I will not miss that at all.
The truth is I am nowhere near getting across to France. A million miles away, which is a significant distance on a 21 mile swim. I’ll have to improve on my style a lot. Although it is more about the mental side, if I could get across in 10 hours then I wouldn’t have to fight my demons quite so hard for quite so long.
|At least I got the classic photo|
I want to make it clear I’m not putting forward any excuses for this fail. I had no injury, the weather was more than acceptable, I had the perfect crew, and I fed well. It was down to my ineptness in the water, and the fact that it is a hard as nails swim. If it wasn’t hard people wouldn’t do it, or everyone would do it, or some people would do it and find it easy, or the people that do it wouldn’t bother to tell anybody, or… well there are many scenarios for if it wasn’t hard.
Anyway in conclusion, I am far from ready to swim the Channel. Swimming wise I could probably get across, it would be a wild flapping mess of a crossing but technically it could happen. Mentally I could not. However as I say, if I could swim properly then I think the mental side would be greatly helped. They go hand in hand with each other, and are not necessarily exclusive. You will always feel mentally stronger if you are more confident in your ability, and you would probably swim better if you were mentally stronger.
It is in the end just a swim, and could have ended a lot worse. I can’t be too down about it. I am building up quite a character after the amount of character building experiences I have now had. It’s just a shame the character I am building is a fat, negative, ginger bearded bastard, who is currently deaf in one ear. Well not quite deaf, I have a constant ringing and the feeling of a small squirrel trying to climb out of my head, a very unexpected bonus from the swim.
At least I can diet…
While I'm here I have to say congratulations to everybody that has got across so far, and commiserations to everybody that hasn't. It's a tough lesson to take, but that's all it is. Especially well done to Zoe Sadler, who had the misfortune of being selected as my sun creme provider during the season in Dover. Well done to her for not absorbing my negativity and smashing her swim in 16hours...