This is astonishing. - Donal
FEAR AND LOATHING JAPANESE STYLE
Saturday 14/7/12 in Tapi Japan 4.00. I am going blind from checking the weather on my phone. Every one of the weather apps tell me today is going to flat calm with light north-westerly winds, hard to believe after the gales of winds we have had for the last two days. Yesterday was very sad as we said goodbye to our German film crew. Very very lonely here now, only Noel and myself. Jesus the pain of being defeated by this channel again is beyond words. I know people talk about the black depths but I am living them every long second.
5.30am all packed and ready to go home, we are getting the shuttle bus to Amouri at 8.20. Cannot believe that our chance is gone again, we have lost, I have let everyone down again after all the support and fundraising done on my behalf in Ballydehob and Skibbereen, we have been beaten, it weighs like a weight in my soul. God damn the Tsugarui any way, if it would give us half a chance we would get over the bloody thing. The doubts about my ability to swim it have been banished.
I take a call from a friend who tells me if there is any chance at all I should stay and wait. Her positivity is the spark. Thank you Gráinne.
I have a look out of the window. We are in room 313 on the third floor, you can only open the windows about 4 inches, just as well as I would have been gone out through the bugger. I am stunned by the scene that greets me, flat calm sea and a great sun, all the small boats out checking nets. What the bloody hell is going on????? I tell Noel, who is delighted to be woken at 5.00 am
Just the smallest glimmer of hope for a mad man far away from home is all I need.
I shoot down to the breakfast room to see if [the] one English-speaking hotel worker is working [and thank God he is. We have very little time, 7.30am leaving at 8.20 At least I know the skipper is up as in Tapi at 6.00 am. Everyone is greeted with what seems like the music from the ward scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, at full volume blasting from speakers all over the village. This is Japan.
My translator Ryo says he will ring the skipper Captain Mizushima. I am eternally grateful to him and I stare out the windows of the main foyer in disbelief. Surely this is a chance to even swim it tomorrow. Let the swell from the last two days calm but it has to be a chance. He returns and tells me the skipper still does not think the weather is good but is coming up to see us. Another ray of hope . Here I must thank Mimako and Ian Crowley for their work. They were incredible to come all the way up from Asaka and break down the barriers and explain to the skipper and his wife how important this was to me and how it meant so much. Whatever Mimako said it really helped as we had a genuine bond and friendship that did not need any words.
The skipper arrived, a small hard little man weather-beaten by the winds of this merciless place. With Rye translating I stressed that we could stay a few more days. The skipper came back with the tides being too strong next week and some more bad weather rolling in.
Tsugarui must be the most unpredictable place for weather in the world and has driven many forecasters to the bottle, I should think. I ask one more time, does he think we have any chance on Sunday morning? And I explain that I do not mind swimming through the night. Once more a long interlude, with Ryo coming back with this ” how long would it take us to be ready to swim today?” My ears are not sure I heard him correctly. “I can be ready by 10.00am”. Holding my breadth I wait for the reply.
Holy God, the skipper says we leave the pier at 10.30 to swim at 12.00. Noel has a smile as if he won the lottery and never have I been so happy about trying to kill myself. This is Japan be prepared for the unexpected. This Channel is never swam like this. Normally the swim starts at 4.00am to give the swimmer the day’s light to get across. Swimmers do not get this chance to swim through the night. I grab it and hold on like a drowning man. The skipper explains that he must ring the coastguard but he does not see a problem as they are not fishing where he sees me swimming to with the current and the tide. I am in such shock I retire to the bathroom. This is the truth and I start jumping like lunatic in the cubicle. This is our chance no one will take this from us now.
The hotel worker help fill bottles of water for us, supply bin bags and food for Ryo. I hope he knows this is no fun but there is no point telling him. He is such a great chap for offering to come, we could not have done it without him. Bathroom again. This is my future. In shock I eat the last three Weetabix and thank God that Ann my wife packed them and some Barry’s tea. Noel is like a whirling Dervish, packing and looking out the window, another mad Irishman far from home, but with hope once more. We check and recheck the swim bag stores for Noel on the boat water and for feeds.
With this done we talk about the swim. Steve Munatones having been advising us all week we knew what had to be done. A true gentleman, Steve told me I needed to raise my stroke count and bring back kicking. Great, seeing as I have not done that for about three years. I am not a fast swimmer. Breathing every third stroke and bi-laterally, I can go on for ever. This swim would be very different and the biggest gamble of my swimming career.
Another man I have to thank is Steve Black, my sometimes training partner in my training base at Lough Ine in Cork, Ireland for helping me with my stroke and speed work for this swim. I knew it would be different. I just did not know if I would be able to stroke at 60 per min or more and breath in twos and kick for the whole swim. My years as a kid in Lime Grove swimming baths in England and my triathlon racing stood to me.
THIS WAS MY CHANCE
It was agreed that I would go out hard for the first 4 hours to get into the Channel proper then see how I felt and revert back to my normal pace. I swear I would sooner die than not finish this bitch. It has dealt myself and my team so much pain over the last month that I was committed to paying it back twice over and swore to Noel that there would be no moaning or asking how far or any other bullshit. This would be perfect. These are the words of a smiling fool remember.
Bathroom again. Deep Heat sprayed on shoulders and legs, these being a worry. I cramped in my hamstrings on the previous 6 hour swim. To hell with it, no doubts. Sorry you all know the language was much more industrial than this, but you get the picture. The fumes nearly kill us both, great stuff. On the bed in the room stretching quads, hams and back, all worries but none today this would be perfect.
On with iPod, my usual Simple Minds’s Waterfront, Walk in Silence (Joy Division’s Atmosphere – Donal), Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus and Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime (turns out Steve & I have the same taste in music, a small thrill – Donal) remembering what my Kineseologist Dave Quinn had told me, that I was going to be effortless in the water and what my Sport Psychologist Maureen Duffy had said about how the water would welcome me and I would cut through it easily. Thinking of everyone at home brings tear but I vow not to break down till after this is over. They are all better people than I will ever be, they got us back here. This is the loneliness and the time of doubt before you get in the water. Remember we could go out and the weather could change and we would fail again.
NOT TODAY. NOT TODAY.
Noel is a shining light. We have both waited and prayed for this chance as we load the car. The girls in the hotel wish us luck as we depart for the pier. The skipper is there already loaded. We slip away from Tapi and out to sea. Around the head and we are greeted with fine swells. I put this down to reefs around the rocks near the shore and I’m glad we have our motion sickness tablets down. We steam on towards the start prepping away. My major concerns flying around my head. Time to stop thinking and remember this is going to be the best swim of my life. Poor Ryo is seasick already, the poor bugger. This will be his longest day on Earth. It is not terribly rough but there is a rolling north-westerly swell.THANK YOU GOD for this chance.
We reach the start in flying time. Noel greases Me up. The Japanese and Irish tattoos will remind through the day why I am here and why I am doing this. Because I was told I had no chance, an amateur from Ballydehob in Ireland up against the best distance swimmers in the world. It was time to show the IRISH HEART.
Time to swim into the water after some prayers for strength and guidance from the people who have gone since I started this madness. Paddy,Bernard and Thomas swam every stroke with me in my heart. Into the rock to start. Good swell, pretty tricky to get in. Manage to hold onto the rock and Noel and the skipper give me the thumbs up. Great we are off. Into my stroke pattern of two and a breath. I must watch that I do not go off too hard and exhaust myself. Noel is straight on the ball after 15 minutes and give me the thumbs up that stroke rate is where he wants it. Great relief once again, thank you god. Now only another 15-16 hours to get through!!!
The skipper takes up position right along side me and his swimming ribbons (pennant flags) are great as they kind of prepare me for the swells coming and I can time my breadth. I get my second wind, everything feels fine and I try to relax as I know my neck locking up is a danger, another one for the list of doubts. First feed goes fine, 12 seconds and thumbs up from them both and gone again. I feel good and strong. My mantra for this day was Thank you God. Every time I took on water or a swell threw me, I said that and got into the rhythm. Pretty rough going taking on a bit of water but I accept that no problem.
Our poor translator is green and on the ground at the back of the boat, Jesus help him, this is the sea. Onwards through the swell the feeds continue great with no problem. I get to thinking I am flying through the water if only it was true. I think of my kids Siadbh and Steve, watching the tracker and vow not to fail this time. Onwards using their names as a mantra to release my adrenaline nice and slow, and keep me focused which is the most important thing on this swim. Concentrating on every stroke. Worrying is my following arm not doing enough. It’s great having the skipper out next to me instead of in the wheelhouse. The long Japanese fishing boats have a controller so that the skipper can be out on deck, a great idea, as I build up a great respect for this man during the swim.
My sense of direction in the water is terrible as it is for most swimmers but I will not ask how far we are and how long I am in, no way not today. As darkness falls I think of my German friends and am truly sad they are not here for this, they have been through the worst this Channel can throw at some one and never ever doubted that I would make it.
KEEP SWIMMING KEEP SWIMMING KEEP SWIMMING
That’s all there is to it. Noel is busy with phones, texts, stroke count and feeding, Jesus too much for one man.
I see lights in front of me I think, and fear that I am on the same course as my friend Darren Miller had taken on Tuesday and I’d be pushed down the shore. What a tough swim but he made it, so would I. Reasons for Divorce by Elbow keeps coming into my head and I sing away and thank God for my wife Ann who has supported me through all this. I cry away sometimes and break down more times but carry on these are the long seconds in the dark blue emptiness, the water grand and warm. The skipper is now giving me thumbs ups at the feed which is great. If he believes in me there is no stopping me.
That’s it I suppose. No-one ever told me I was beat and no-one would ever give up on me. I think about Father Cahill in Kilcoe, Skibbereen and my aunt, a nun Brigid, two of the most amazing people whose faith is beyond words. I think about Linda Kaiser who never gave up on me in Hawaii and who I wept with after completing the Molokai Channel. I think of my Irish friends in New Zealand and Philip Rush who showed me so much about grinding out a swim to the end. Fred Mardle in the English channel smoking and talking away to me out the window of the wheelhouse through the night. Brian Meharg in the North Channel and his attention to detail and belief in me. Forrest Nelson and his team in LA and more sorrow that I will probably never see these people again but they are here tonight.
Everything goes green, everyone is from Ireland and the sea is in us all.
I know that everyone at home in Ballydehob and Castledermot, my parents, will worry. My father will go and feed the cattle to keep busy, my brother Anthony who has been through so many swims will be on tenterhooks. Nerves are terrible, the whole country will be watching the track of the swim. Incredible people all over the world who got me here. I am glad they can watch and see this as it’s theirs as much as mine. I always say we instead of I about swims and never has it been truer than tonight. THANK YOU ALL.
My stomach is getting a bit raw from all the gunk feeds and five-hour power gels, painkillers, water and still I must keep going, no idea what time it is, hard to get feeds down, but still going in a 2 stroke pattern. I really thought I would have to revert to my old bi-lateral stroke. I thought about asking Noel a few hours ago but I remembered the promise, no moaning, no stupid questions, no bloody stopping, not tonight. I feel the current behind me sometimes and it feels like it’s willing me across this cursed Channel. And so it goes.
After what seems like a lifetime I see Noel and the skipper checking the screen in the wheelhouse. Is something wrong??? Jesus no, it’s not conditions so I must be going off course. Oh no no no. I swim harder and keep kicking afraid to ask. At next feed Noel tells me every thing is fine. Just keep going. Right sir no bother. Hard 45 and just before feed I see skipper head up to the front of the boat and start fiddling around with the pole for the swim ribbon. Bloody hell he’s taking it out, are we being pulled? I can see light all along the shore, I must be getting nearer. I swim harder, forcing the skipper to throttle on.
Next feed is terrible, I cannot get it down, my stomach has had enough, take water instead. Inching on I do not ask about where I am or how things are going. This is my deprived state and this is what I asked for, get on with it.
Noel told me before the swim that he would swim in to the shore with me and record the finnish and make sure it was done correctly. Only problem with that is I spent hours willing the bugger to put on a swim cap and strip to get in knowing this would be the only way I would know I was going to finish the swim. I tell you I have never been as happy to see someone get ready to come in, the relief laughing under the water. Next feed down I roar to the skipper “It’s Kampei Time, Baby”. The broad smile tells me more than words can. Still a 750 metre swim and I enjoy every stroke. Noel with lights and a Go-Pro on his head looked like some mad deep-sea angler-fish but the cheering and joy relief and bloody tears kept me going.
At last the shore. Hard to get in, huge rock and swell. Japan does not make it easy, I tell you. Hard to get in, harder to get out. At last I clamber up, Noel following. We shake hands, hug and fucking laugh like two mad Irish men which is what we are. Payback, complete pictures taken for prosperity and a good look around where I landed.
Noel tells me we are right on the point where Steve Munatones finished, I thought we were nowhere near his place. Amazing thinking that this has been his idea, his challenge and we had done it. (Steve, any more ideas keep them to yourself please). Thanks for all your support this week, this may sound crazy but this is for IRELAND really, just to show the rest of the world that we should never be underestimated. I thank each and every one of you for your help and thank God that I come from Ireland, as I say finishing this swim connects so many people all over the world,thank you, thank you. Once again I am in uncontrollable tears. I fear this will be happening for quite sometime.
Thanks is not good not enough, never enough for Noel Brown’s friendship and faith on this swim, it is my honour to know him .Thanks to my skipper Captain Mizushima no question if you want to swim the Tsugarui Channel this is the man to get as your skipper. The man knows Tsugarui ! Thanks to Dave Williams for pushing this idea and convincing me that I could do it and his endless fundraising and support.
I am only the SWIMMER. All of you GOT ME THERE. Tears again. Now you get the picture. Thanks. Kindest regards.
Steve Redmond (NEVER GIVE UP)!!!!!!
- Steve Redmond’s Homecoming (loneswimmer.com)
- 44 miles of hell – Stephen’s Molokai report (loneswimmer.com)
- Widowmaker swim – Stephen’s Cook Strait report (loneswimmer.com)
- I know nothing – Stephen speaks about an amazing 2011 (loneswimmer.com)