When I started writing loneswimmer in 2010, almost four years ago, I didn’t add a single image for months. I was learning to write regularly, learning, as I still am, to express my thoughts about swimming, and trying to stick rigidly to one of my guiding principles, not always easy for any Irish person, and especially me, of keeping this blog to the subject!
But with the blog writing, the demand for illustrative images grew, and I didn’t like searching for vague random images. Why not just start taking my own?
So it started. The photos were initially purely illustrative, and for the last two years, I have been getting more on top of the technical aspects.
I think I mentioned in Part 1 of Images of 2013 – People, that I just completed a 365 project, as it’s known in photography, a shot every day for a year, and as I reviewed the year, my progress and improvement and increasing technical ability, it struck me, not for the first time, that the photographs I most love capturing, that I spend the most time on, that I chase the most, nearly all involve water: whether the sea, rivers or lakes (to a lesser extent , as like swimming them, lakes can be boring to photograph). Beginning photographs are sometimes advised to find their photographic passion. It turns out mine was exactly what anyone reading here could have predicted.
I am limited in my ability to photograph actual open water swimming to a few events where I am crewing. Otherwise I have no exposure to swimming galas or open water races where I am not swimming.
But I guess it is no surprise that I have an affinity for water. Last year I did a round-up of what I though were my best images, but for this last round of my images of 2013, I thought I’d explore my favourite watery images of the year.
The shot below was taken on a very cold January Saturday morning. I’d been at Newtown Cove since before dawn, been there for about two hours. I hadn’t taken anything of merit, though I didn’t realise that at the time, and I was almost as cold as if I’d already swum. I was just starting to play with longer exposures at that time. I left Newtown Cove, putting my gear in the car and wandered down to the Guillamene Cove before I went for a swim. No tripod, no remote, just a handheld camera and the cove was in deep shadow. I braced the camera on the railing and tried to hold it steady in the breeze.
Of course I was back in Varne and Dover this year a few times. Every time I return to Dover and Varne I hope I’ll get a chance to shoot some better pics for myself but the nature of Channel swimming and Varne and Dover, is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. I can’t spend dawns and sunsets off by myself chasing photographs and I’ve looked off the Varne cliffs as often as any Channel swimmer. This year, I did want to shoot one thing in particular though, that I have also shot before: In November 2012 a bench was installed in the Varne clifftop garden by Sandycove swimmers and friends to commemorate Páraic Casey and his tragic loss in the English Channel and while I’ve taken quite a few shots of it, I didn’t feel I’d done it sufficient justice. I’m not sure I have yet captured it as I want but I shall keep trying.
I live close to the river Suir, one of Ireland’s longest rivers. Rivers are more changeable than lakes, but less mercurial and unpredictable than the sea.
The cool blue dawn light is the best time to capture the river.
But the golden glow of evening enhances the river and adds further depth to the name of the river Suir valley; the Golden Vale.
I do however notice other rivers than the Suir.
Kilfarassey on the Copper Coast I mention frequently, as it’s my alternative main Copper Coast swimming location, which offers a range of challenges, routes and explorations.
Not everything is open water. A swimming photographer with a simple waterproof camera, (before he kills it, another one gone) will always be on the lookout for the shot that the non-swimming photographer on dry land can’t see. This photo intrigued quite a few non-swimmers who saw it on a forum as I explained what an upside-down sunny pool looks like to a swimmer going through a flip turn.
In summer I traveled south-west to Kerry, the greatest of all Kingdoms, for Rob Bohane’s record-setting Round Valentia Island swim. Travelling out of Glenbeigh in the late long summer evening, Dingle Bay was quite spectacular.
The next day the distant crag of Skellig Michael island was barely visible from the boat, through the haze of what later proved to be the single best day of summer.
Toward the end of the year, I was still shooting on the river, using the different lower angle and setting point of the northern latitude Sun.
As I swim almost every weekend in Tramore Bay during the winter, I revisited a location on the cliffs from where I like to shoot, as recently I’ve been shooting a lot of black and white long exposure landscape and took my own favourite shot of the year. It looks gorgeous printed. Hint! If anyone is looking for a full resolution print of any of these, we can do that. Limited edition and signed!
At the end of a year, I’m happy with my photographic progress. Water inspires me, transfixes me.
I may have missed a few of my favourite shots in this quick roundup. If you want to see a wider range, here’s my Flickr account.
I didn’t think 2013 was a great year for swimming new locations for me, though early in the year I’d hoped that would be different. Unsurprising, I suppose, as the longer I’ve been swimming, the further I would need to travel to swim new locations. I’ve covered all the Copper Coast, much of the rest of the Waterford coast and I’m not a fan of river swimming, and there are no significant lakes anywhere near me. Also, I had no big swim this year, not being able to afford one, and the situation looks the same for 2014. :-(
But that didn’t stop me having a look through the year’s locations, and there were a few I’d forgotten to add to my favourites and in review the year wasn’t bad.
I’ll start with my watery home, Waterford’s Copper Coast, and most specifically Tramore Bay from my usual starting location of the Guillamenes Cove.
It wasn’t all good at the Guillamenes this year. The increasing litigiousness of Irish society and the nonsensical and fearfully reactionary approach of Tramore town council and my own club led to this steel monstrosity, which so incensed Wallace.
Newtown Cove is only 200 metres away from the Guillamene Cove. Though I swim past it on at least half of all my swims, dependant of swim direction, yet I start there less than one time in a hundred. We did however start the distance camp swim from Newtown Cove.
My favourite other location on the Copper coast is Kilfarassey, providing as it does a range of reefs, caves, tunnels and swim distances and directions, centered around my favourite playground of Burke’s Island which sits about 600 metres from the beach. As a swimmer and blogger I use more representational images. But as an aspiring photographer, I’m increasingly drawn to try to capture more of how I feel about a place.
In the first two of the extraordinary five whole weeks of summer that Ireland received in 2013, while the water hadn’t yet risen above 10C, I swam more on the coast at the east side of Tramore Bay. Swimming out from Ballymacaw, Portally and Dunmore East, including finally swimming partway into Seal Cave between Portally and Ballymacaw, a scary place. I’ve never swum this wild stretch of coast without experiencing strong tidal currents running east or west.
One Saturday in June, I took some photos of an inshore fishing boat passing below the cliff walk. Three days later I heard of yet another boat from the local main fishing port of Dunmore East lost with all three hands, all of them brothers, off Powerstown Head, which marks the entrance to Tramore Bay and can be seen in the first photo above, and which is the terminus of the easternmost stretch of Waterford’s coast. When I checked my photographs, it was indeed the same boat, the Dean Leanne, with two of the three tragically lost brothers onboard, probably the last every photograph of the brothers at sea. I found a connection to the family and passed on all the photos.
In January a group of us attempted an Ice Mile in Dublin at the Bull Wall, but the water wasn’t cold enough, even though I got quite hypothermic.
A few weeks later In March, the same group swam in the Wicklow Mountains at Lough Dan. For a variety of reasons I decided against the full attempt but the trip was great, and wading into ice-covered water measuring less than two degrees at the edges was … interesting.
In the coldest spring in over fifty years in Ireland, Dee and I took some Mexican visitors to the West Coast for the view. The howling Force Eight wind and five degree (Celsius) air meant they were unable to emerge to see much of the scenery. But apparently the most shocking thing they saw was me going swimming in Doolin harbour in a three metre swell in a howling wind and crashing waves, wearing a Speedo, with a dolphin and two fully dry-suited divers. How Dee & I chuckled.
I don’t think my first Sandycove trip of 2013 was until April, but I managed more Sandycove laps in 2013 than in 2012. My lifetime total is still well below 200, so joining the Sandycove “D” Club of 500 lap swimmers seems distant at best and I shall to remain content with being “C” club member. Most of the rest of the County Cork Coast eluded me this year, despite early promises from other Sandycove swimmers. And I guess I’ve written and shown you plenty of Sandycove before.
April and May saw me returning to my usual caves on the coast, but leaving exploration for new caves until the water warms up later on in the summer.
I made it back to Coumshingaun in the Comeragh Mountains during both winter and summer. Coumshingaun is the closest lake to me, if one ignores the 45 minute climb, but only I swim it during summer as the edge is circled with rocks and being so far from a road the risks are too high to swim in winter.
I’m not sure if I made it out to Carricknamoan rock off Clonea in 2012, but I was back there in 2103. It’s a swim that looks simple in the picture below, taken from the slight height above the beach, and is only about three kilometres round trip, but it still requires experience as the rock is so low that it can’t be seen until the last couple of hundred metres, and there are changing tidal currents.
I also completed a short swim I’d scouted in 2012, swimming out of Ardmore Bay to the wreck of the Samson, under the cliffs of Ardmore Head. (Ardmore is the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland). You can take a shorter 10 minute swim to the wreck if you climb down the path to the angling point and start from there, but what’s the fun in that? While rounding Ardmore Head into the bay on the return swim, Dee took a favourite photo with mine.
While Distance Camp final weekend and the qualification and torture swims were on, I instead cancelled my planned attendance on the last weekend to catch up with a swim I wanted to do for many years, to circumnavigate Skellig Michael, the 800 feet high island peak the site of a 1500 year old ancient hermetic site, 12 miles off the Irish south-west on the end of the Continental Shelf. Another swim not for beginners, despite its short course.
During the summer, I also range out along the Copper Coast away from usual entry and exit spots, particularly liking to risk swimming across Ronan’s Bay, as the return trip can present currents strong enough to cut swim speed by two-thirds and generate a significant challenge.
August is the summer peak for open water swimmers. Long warm(-ish) days (this is Ireland after all), warm water (16 to 17 degrees Celsius in August this year, exceptional) and races. Carol Cashell organises the local favourite Ballycotton 4 kilometres race, which is usually cursed with bad weather, late in August. It’s a challenging swim and the conditions the past two years have made it an experienced-swimmer-only race.
After the race, after the pub, I wandered back down to the tiny beach to catch the moon over the island.
September saw two visits to Dover for Sylvain’s Channel Butterfly swim. So there were the usual swims in Dover Harbour,
…and a swim into France with Sylvain.
Not a bad swimming year I guess, in reflection.
If the weather co-operates, when this post is published, I’ll be swimming at the Guillamenes for my Christmas day swim.
Update: The Christmas day weather didn’t co-operate. The swim was cancelled due to heavy seas, but I swam anyway and about 20 people foolishly followed me into the water. Foolish as the swell as almost three metres, and I’ve had a lot of practice at timing and rough water particularly in Tramore Bay. But everyone was safe and fun was had.
Maybe we’ll get to swim together next year but regardless, have a happy holiday and my best to you all, my friends.
If you are wondering WHY you might or should do it, apart from taking part in a local tradition in many places, the great craic of meeting lots of people having similar fun, doing something that will add more flavour to your Christmas dinner than anything, having a hot punch at the Guillamenes and supporting a local charityand the club I love, then read this.
The experienced cold water swimmers will not need any of this information. And those of you in the Southern Hemisphere who are enduring hot weather and warm water have my condolences. And there's the South Africans, for whom the water can still be cold down there even in mid-Summer.
I’ll be down at the Guillamenes myself as usual, with the people who never normally go near the sea. The weather forecast for Christmas Day 2013 is pretty poor, winds and rough water, which will reduce the numbers but I’ll still be swimming unless it blows out.
The most important message I can give you is that cold is a skill, not a talent so it can be learned. But if your first cold swim is Christmas Day, you won’t do learn it on that one day. So instead plan and know what to expect. You cannot be too careful around cold water and rocks. Three days before Christmas 2013, the water in Tramore Bay was about 8.5 degrees Celsius, with a very cold strong wind, giving an air chill of two to three degrees Celsius.
PLAN and OBSERVE:
If swimming by yourself, make sure you inform someone where and when and preferably have an observer.
* If it’s an irregular visit, your most important pre-swim action to make sure you know where to exit the water safely. Do not rely on the wisdom of crowds. Many of the people near you will know nothing and some will be acting macho.
* Watch the water before you get in. Regardless of the amount of people in it, if the water is breaking or surging more than about a metre, on steps, rocks or a ladder, the exit will be difficult, dangerous or even impossible.
* If you have been drinking alcohol the night before, don’t do it. Alcohol seriously impairs the body’s ability to deal with cold. The same applies if you haven’t slept the night before. Bravado has no place around cold water swimming when you don’t know what you are doing.
* Consider putting your swimsuit on *before* you go to the sea. You will spend less time getting cold before you swim.
* Make sure you have: a swim cap (silicone or neoprene preferably). If you only have latex, wear a couple of caps; a towel; goggles. And plenty of warm clothes for afterwards. Including a hat and gloves. Warm clothes are many light layers rather than a few heavy ones.
* Bring sandals or deck shoes. Winter swimmer Jack Bright points these are nearly as important as the towel.
* Bring something to stand on while changing. A spare towel, a piece of cardboard, a car mat.
* Forget grease. It does nothing for cold protection and you won’t in long enough to worry about chafing. If you are in long enough to need lubrication, you need none of my advice.
* Neoprene (wetsuit) gloves and booties will significantly reduce the discomfort if you are not used to cold. Wetsuits are definetiely NOT ALLOWED.
BEFORE THE SWIM:
* If it’s windy, disrobe from your lower body first. Keep your torso and body warm for longer.
* Change as close to the water as you safely can. You want to reduce the time exposed before and after swimming. Make sure your clothes are above the high water line though.
* Wear the sandals as close to the edge as you can. The ground usually will be colder than the sea. Cold = numb = lacerations = blood.
* DO NOT STAND AROUND TALKING once you are changed. Get to the water.
* IT’S NORMAL TO BE NERVOUS. Your body is adapted to avoid cold. Just be positive. Accept the increased heart rate. Tell yourself you are a swimming god.
* It’s not a competition. Depending on your location there may be lots of people who don’t know what they are doing in the water that day. There will be 100s at my regular spot, whereas the weekend before there’s just me. Stay clear and watch everything. Move carefully.
* Just as you get in … tell yourself it’s warm. It doesn’t matter if you hear the sucking sound of body parts rapidly shrinking inwards. Cold is partially about attitude. Tell yourself it’s actually better than you thought: Hell, it’s almost warm. I was worried about this?
* DO NOT DIVE IN. Just don’t do it. I don’t care how tough you think you are. Unless you are a very experienced cold water swimmer this is a dumb thing to do. It causes heart attacks and rock impacts. But don’t stand there trying to get in either. Walk in to your waist. Splash the water. Then off you go. No more than one minute getting immersed.
DURING THE SWIM:
* Without experience it is difficult to get the face into cold water. This is normal.
* Cold stimulates the gasp reflex through increased heart rate. After the initial 10 seconds It makes breathing difficult for the first three minutes. This is also normal. And why you splash water on your face and get in slowly.
* STAY CALM.
* Change your breathing pattern to head above water or breathing every stroke or 2nd stroke.
* DO NOT STOP IN THE WATER
* HAVE A GREAT TIME. Feel like a hero. Do 10 metres. Or 20 or 50 or 500 metres. It won’t kill you. Probably.
* Watch your exit. Be careful. It is at this point most lacerations occur on the feet, legs and hands.
* Get your footwear on immediately and get to your clothes.
* If the temperature is below 10C, you will likely be a vivid lobster-red colour. Your skin will also be tingling all over your body. You will go from pain to numbness. There is no in-between.
AFTER YOUR SWIM:
* AFTER-DROP is dangerous. You have only a few minutes before its onset unless you only in a short time. After-drop is the body temperature dropping after you exit the water. It’s not a problem if you are only in a couple of minutes, though that time is less if the temperature is 5C (40F) or under.
* DO NOT VIGOROUSLY TOWEL YOURSELF. It speeds up the arrival of Afterdrop.
* Dry the torso first. Dress the torso.
* Then put on a hat.
* Then dress the lower body.
* Then and only then, have your chat, your hot chocolate or soup.
FEEL GREAT, job well done!
Go home and stuff yourself, secure in the knowledge you are a winter swimmer, at least once anyway.
I wrapped up 2012 with a few posts on some photos I’d taken through the year related to swimming. About the time I writing those posts, I embarked on what is known as a 365 Project, taking a photograph (often many more) every day for a year, which I completed this week. (I started it thanks to Sandycove swimmer Riana Parsons and those 365 photographs can be seen on my Blipfoto account.
Portraiture is a difficult aspect of photography for some, including me, as it requires either a willingness to demand co-operation from subjects or a constant almost covert imposition of a camera. I’m not comfortable with either, but I have been learning to pursue the form. The number of portrait photographs from the year is still low and time goes by when I completely forget to take any.
So here are a few of my preferred shots of swimming people from the year. Once again, i chose mainly based on photographic merit rather than any personal relationships, but the range illustrates, I think, what attracts us about this sport, the people we met, the friends we make.
My swimming Dad: David Frantzeskou, along with Evelyn, the owner of Varne Ridge Caravan Park outside Dover, one of my favourite places and amongst my favourite people, with so many different and enduring memories. It took some convincing of both David & Evelyn that this was a shot that I was proud of, displaying that slightly perplexed look we know so well on David’s face.
I was fortunate to be part of another World Record English Channel swim crew for the second year in a row, this time with my friend Sylvain Estadieu. While images of Sylvain butterflying away from the White Cliffs or standing triumphant with the French tricoloeur are popular, this one is my favourite, the moments before the swim, a glimpse into Sylvain.
On a grey day in summer we took to a few laps of Sandycove to wish our 2013 Manhattan Island Sandycove swimmers, Liam, Carol & Lisa the best. One of my shortlived waterproof cameras from this year (three!) caught a typical Liam Maher pose, English channel swimmer in front of Sandycove’s famous Red House (now beige). The Red House is used to mark final 400 metre sprints, the best line for the slipway and for the marathon swimmers of the club, could be seen from about two kilometres out for those who have braved the Speckled Door to Sandycove swim. The laugh on Liam’s face is entirely typical.
After the Global Swim Conference visitors had all left the island, there were a few local Sandycovers hanging around chatting. Probably eating cake. Left is Eoin O’Riordan, middle is Carol Cashell and right is Maeve Moran. Eoin joined Carol in an English Channel two-way relay team as a substitute and did some great training, and the team went on to set a new two-way six person national English Channel record, after Carol had returned from getting second placed lady in the Manhattan Island Marathon swim. Maeve is another Sandycove regular and perennial and invaluable volunteer who will be swimming an English Channel relay next year.
Nick Adams, President of the CS&PF and multiple English Channel soloist and other swims, celebrates being inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as the Global Open Water Conference in Cork. With him is English Channel solo and many other swims, Dr. Sakura Hingley. Nick and Sakura had been married only recently, on August 25th, the anniversary of Captain Matthew Webb’s first English Channel solo. Both have been promising me articles for this blog for over two years. I am starting to lose hope.
My very good friend Lisa Cummins, now living down-under and getting a free summer, well-known to all as one of the legendary two-way English channel swimmers. Lisa and I were once again on a few adventures this year, and therefore she had to put up with many attempts at portrait shots by me before I finally found one I was pleased with, in Sandycove of course.
Ray is a member of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, my other (non-racing) club. Every day of the summer, from May until the end of September, Ray empties the bins, picks up rubbish and litter, keeps the coves and lawns of Newtown and Guillamenes pristine, and even cleans the public toilets for the tourists, after the town council refused to so do. Ray is one the quiet heroic volunteers without whom no club in the world could survive and I have enormous respect for him.
Left to right, Ciáran Byrne, Eddie Irwin, Craig Morrison, , me being manhandled, Finbarr Hedderman in back and Liam Maher, after a spring swim in Sandycove. Channel Soloists all. I didn’t take this shot, but handed the camera to Maura (Hynzie) Morrison. When you are being manhandled by Finbarr (6’4″) & Liam (6’8″) it’s like being caught in a landslide, there’s no fighting it. It’s good to have such friends.
Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, 85 years old, and swimming at the Guillamenes for 75 years. I don’t think a single occasion has passed over the years that Billy hasn’t used the same joke with me, that I am not to swim past the Saltees (Islands), despite my offering to write him some new material. Billy is currently working on a history of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club that hopefully is almost near completion and to which I am really looking forward and will hopefuly publish her and on the club website, which I have completely neglected .
Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation pilot and gentleman, Paul Foreman. Formerly of Pace Arrow, now of the Channel fleet’s best boat, Optimist, pilot for Gábor Molnar and Jen Hurley and our tragically lost friend Páraic Casey, Paul holds a special place of affection for many Sandycove swimmers who know him and were friends of Páraic.
If you were to come up with any list of the ten most important people in the history of Channel swimming, Freda Streeter would be on that list. Mother of Alison, the Queen of the Channel and CS&PF Channel pilot Neil, Freda has trained hundreds of Channel swimmers and was instrumental in the formation of the CS&PF. For thirty years every weekend from May until September, with Barrie and Irene Wakeham and many others who assist, Freda runs a free Channel training camp for all comers.
I finally met cheeky chappie and South African Channel soloist Roger Finch in Varne Ridge, where all Channel swimmers eventually meet and then one day on Dover beach. He was training with Otto Thaining, whom I briefly met later. Otto was training to be the oldest Channel Soloist. Roger and I knew many people in common. Unfortunately Otto got weathered out, but my money is on him both returning and being successful next year. With the ebullient Roger in his crew he’s all set.
My young friend Owen, the Fermoy Fish and I voyaged together again this year, most notably on his pioneering Blackwater swim. After Trent Grimsey’s swim last year, I’d come to the conclusion I may have taken my best ever photo of a swimmer. I guess my development as a photographer now leads to me realise that was a laughable conceit. Reviewing my pics of the year, I’m currently of the belief this is the current best photo of a swimmer I’ve taken, getting past the stroke, the conditions, and inside Owen, as close metaphorically as I can get into another swimmer’s mind.
During Sandycove Distance Week, about 20 of the less lazy of the swimmers came over for a swim with me on the Copper Coast. It was one of the best days of the bet summer in a generation. There were complaints about the water being too warm! granted, this photo wasn’t chosen for its photographic merit, but for the sheer pleasure I derived from so many visitors.
Constrained as I am from publishing a photo of her, here’s my silent partner in most adventures and supporter in others.
I look to meeting you all and capturing your images in 2014.
To progress in this area, we need to talk about the different types of training. The Zone System in the chart mentioned above is one way of categorising training types.
There are four or five zones depending on your preference or how you categorise them. First below is the five zone system.
Heart rates and rest intervals increase with Zone number and set distances decrease.
Zone 1: Aerobic, sometimes calledenduranceor even recovery. This is where swimming can be maintained with available oxygen and only low levels of lactic acid will be produced with which the body can cope or dispose. To complicate this mess of terms, Zone 1 is further subdivided into three types, recovery, maintenance and stimulus. The different types are defined by heart rate below maximum heart rate, from 70 to 30 beats below maximum. For distance open water training, e.g. training for a first 3, 5 or 10 k swim. For simplicity it’s easier to divide aerobic into recovery (easy, 50 to 70 beats below maximum), and endurance, (30 to 50 below maximum). A majority of swimming is done in the endurance zone. Strictly however, recovery is the lowest rate of aerobic training, what an experienced swimmer would categorise as very easy, or easy, at 60% to 70% maximum heart rate. Rest intervals are short and set distances can be long.
Zone 2: Anaerobic Threshold. This is where lactic acid (lactate) accumulates more quickly than the body can dispose of it. Heart rate is higher, 20 to 30 beats below maximum.
Zone 3: High performance (or Critical Speed) Endurance. This can also be called heart-rate training. It’s usually marked by increasing effort through the set, not starting too high but increasing in speed and intensity. This is the origin of a typical descending set, where times reduce and speed increases through a set, like Paul Newsome’s Red Mist set of repeating 400s. Rest intervals are longer than anaerobic threshold, from 20 to 30 seconds with heart rates 10 to 20 beats below maximum.
Zone 4: Anaerobic. Also known as race pace training, and not to be confused with Zone 2. This is commonly known also as lactate training. For most open water swimmers, this training comprises longer distances and requires longer rests. You should realise that race pace is NOT the same as sprint. The body is learning to tolerate lactic acid, and also to delay its production.
Zone 5: Sprint. This is maximum speed training and can only be performed over very short distances with long rests to stop lactate building up otherwise it becomes Zone 4. Heart rate is maximum.
One thing that can easily be noticed is the lower the zone number, the longer will be the swim distance, and the shorter the rest interval (swim long, rest short is the maxim). Obviously sprints are short distance, and long distance must be sustainable.
An alternative to the five zone system is a four zone system. This is essentially the same and just uses easier to communicate names and is based more on RPE, which is the swimmer’s Rate of Perceived Effort. Some coaches will explicitly tell swimmers to swim a set at 75% or 85% or 90% RPE.
I’ve found when explaining this, that it is important to explain that really easy swimming is about 65% of maximum heart rate. People new to exercise often think that really easy effort is more like 10% or 20%. If you use a casual ambling walk for comparison, that will still be 60 to 65% of maximum heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate drops with age, and a rough rule of thumb, (which can be justifiably criticised) is that 220 minus your age is your maximum heart rate. There are many individual variations to this.
Recovery Zone: 60% to 70%. Lowest heart rate training. This maximises fat burn and comprises long unbroken sets with short rest intervals. This is basic endurance and heart rate training. It is also used to recover from racing, sprinting or higher level exertion.
Aerobic Zone: 70 to 80%. This zone is where much of your endurance and cardiovascular fitness comes from. Some fat is used for energy in this zone.
Anaerobic: 80% to 90%. Long distance swimmers will do a lot of training in this zone, which build up tolerance to lactic acid. However lactate buildup will eventually overwhelm the ability to perform further. Also, all energy is coming from the body’s ATP (glycogen) system and is therefore time limited.
VO² Max (Sprint): 90% to 100%. This area is for pure speed only and in only possible for a short time. The first few seconds of sprint are partly powered by creatine produced in the body, which only lasts for effort under less than 10 seconds.
Many swimmers are often confused about how to write a basic pool set. Many experienced but younger swimmers from a club background had become accustomed to having a coach always provide their sets, without ever needing to understand for themselves what the coach is trying to achieve or why a particular set is used on a particular day or even how a set is constructed, though they usually figure it out.
Other swimmers without a club background, (I was one of these), who get training sets from differing sources, often do so without a plan or requirement, or just pick ones that fall within a certain distance range.
One partial solution, and easy, is to seek out free sets online, from basic 0 to 1500 metre plans to longer and more advanced sets. When seeking out sets online or even from friends, you will know your own constraints. If you are training for your first open water mile race, then neither the training sets of a Channel aspirant nor a 100 metre sprinter will be of much use.
There are some simple parameters around coming up with a swimming set.
The first thing you need to decide is the time and/or the distance for the set. For many those two may be different. You may be aiming for a weekly total to build up fitness or strength through distance. You may be swimming during lunch break. You may be more interested in speed and technique improvements, or you may be trying to have bit of everything.
At its most simple, it may be that you have one hour available or you want to swim 3000 metres, both of which are common sets for Master’s swimmers. What seems mysterious is quite straight-forward once you understand the basic design. Swim sets are often broken into three or four components:
Kick or technique set
You can see from this that it really is very simple.
1. Warm up. When I was a racing cyclist I was able to seemingly go from cold to high heart rate with little warm up, which made time trials my favourite event. (Sigh, those days are past). Warm up works well and is a requirement for all endurance sports. It is the simple process of gradually raising the heart rate to where it can support maximal effort. Warm up should start easy and increase in intensity toward the end. Note: Active stretching outside the water before starting is NOT advised for swimming and is not part of warm-up.
2. Kick or technique sets are the optional part of the set, especially for shorter sets such as an hour. But regardless of competence or time or distance, you should never completely abandon technique training. We often, especially open water and distance swimmers neglect kick sets. I’m certainly guilty of neglecting kick. But it’s also easy to neglect technique work as I discovered in 2012, which led to me having to rebuild my stroke last winter after visiting the Swim Smooth clinic. Warm-up and Technique/Kick, 1 and 2 can be combined so that you do technique or kick work as your warm up. Sometimes this part is called the “pre-main” set and comprises the high intensity part of warm up.
3. Self explanatory, the main set is the most of the work in the set. Your main set will be longer if you are not using a “pre-main” or kick set. This the focus of the overall set. Some coaches and swimmers like to place the kick set after the main set.
4. Swim down, or warm down as it’s known in other sports, is usually short and should be easy, to allow the heart rate to drop. You shouldn’t be finishing your set heaving for breath, though an occasional time this happens to everyone and is fine.
Now we have a plan, and assuming an hour is allocated, we can put some times onto the parts: We can allocate 10 to 15 minutes for warm-up. Then another 10 minutes to 15 minutes for kick or technique. After that, we have 30 to 40 minutes for the main set depending on whether there is a pre-main set, and finally 5 minutes for swim down.
These rules are not absolute. A 3000 metres set of thirty by one hundred metres on a fixed time doesn’t adhere to the design, though the first five to ten repetitions may be used for warm up, and the last two or four for swim down. Understanding a basic design helps you to come up with your own sets off the cuff.
In the next part of this we’ll look beyond a standard one-day set design to starting to put together a longer term plan and the complimentary variation in daily set design.
With the sickness, the changes in feeds, how the crew felt, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Sylvain was still swimming strongly. That despite everything, he was very much the star and focus of our private show, and our entire concern. The earlier change of goggles had finally resolved the ongoing leakages. Every internal downturn or recovery he felt was (mostly) invisible to us, only a hint of how he felt on each particular feed visible to us on his mien, and in his eyes, to try to interpret. Over the late afternoon and early evening period, he undulated his way across the Separation Zone and on toward the north-east shipping lane.
Let me tell you about Sylvain’s stroke. Maybe you have swum ‘fly, like most swimmers do. Maybe like me, you sometimes do it for fun, sometimes to make a point, sometimes because it’s on the training set, sometimes because few things say fuck you to the world quite as comprehensively as swimming butterfly. Maybe you even love ‘fly. But how much do you swim? How long before your technique abrades away? How long before you start one-arm fly drill? How long before you feel like you are trying to pull yourself out, out of the water with rubber shoulders, paper biceps, spongy triceps?
For most of us ‘fly is an equation which quickly equalises to zero. Two hundred metres in Dover harbour with Sylle for me, playing hide and seek as we swam out of phase, swimming side by side, but his head submerged when mine was up, every time, knowing he was there, and not seeing him, that was enough before I reverted to front crawl.
Sylle’s ‘fly is elegant and looks easy. He flows through the water. There isn’t the big powerhouse flipper-splash of legs and feet like a 200 meter ‘fly meet swimmer. Instead there is a glide, a slipping and sliding, as Sylle works with the water. He reminds you of nothing so much as an otter, as his feet and legs, on every beat, (28 beats per minute), like the highest rated divers, penetrate the water with barely a splash. In some way that what he did. He dived his way across the Channel. He doesn’t look like he is being pushed by those legs but neither does he look like he is being pulled by his arms. Instead, he demonstrates some other ineffable skill. For swimmers it is beautiful and amazing to watch swimmer, so much so that as effortless as it seems, that you come to think it is effortless, that it is easy. But, of course, it isn’t.
Feed changed. Lisa and I regained the feed schedule from Mike over a couple of hours, with every single feed necessitating a discussion of the content: Malto, sliced bread or a roll, cheese, ham or chicken slices, water, a taste of fruit.
By 6.00 p.m. light levels were dropping with oncoming dusk. The sea state was a bit more unsettled. No glorious sunset with the heavy cloudbase. Official Observer’s Log indicated wave height remained, as it had from the start, zero. Feet or metres it didn’t matter, but the sea state was marked “slight” which sounds good but is actually the centre of the scale on Mike Ball’s newly designed Observer’s sheets, which start at smooth, through calm then slight and moderate to rough.
At 18:35 we entered the north-east shipping lane, the ships now passing up the Channel, and around this time the tide slackened briefly. More importantly Sylvain indicated at his feed, now happening on the half and full hour rather than the quarter-to and -past, that he was feeling much better. It had been a long two hours from when he first got sick.
At 7 p.m. the light had almost failed, and before the half-hour feed we could see that the lights that Sylvain had started the swim with were not sufficient for good safety visibility. I had my own Adventure Lights with me, but they had come back from a recent Channel swim not fully functional so were unsuitable. We gave Sylle a light from Mike’s spares at the 7:30 feed for him to place on his helmet strap, but either a wave or catching it with his biceps ripped it off and 15 minutes later we gave him another and a chemical lightstick, the second working better. By that time the light was entirely gone, the usual long twilight attenuated by the clouds, and we were well into Channel night, with a long way still to go.
Conditions on the boat were fine, the evening was mild, if very dark. Conditions in the water still would have been good … if you were swimming front crawl. But butterfly changes so many parameters of a swim. The wave height on Mike Ball’s Observer’s report was zero, all day. But there was that slight ruffled surface. Such a surface, instead of being sliced by a front crawl swimmer’s arms and head, presents a series of physical barriers, into which the butterfly swimmer, Sylvain, will inevitably crash. Repeatedly, hundreds then thousands of times. Each impact is small and transitory but cumulatively exhausting. No wonder his stroke rate dropped, apart from the sickness, he couldn’t fully engage his long stroke, the wavelets and tiredness shortening his stroke somewhat.
Sylvain’s preferred position was about eight to metres out, and with Gallivant using one starboard side main spotlight, it felt like he was really in two worlds, even more so than a usual Channel swim, if there is any such thing. Darkness on three sides of him, in front, behind and on his far side. He was just like a butterfly specimen pinned to a display board, but instead he was pinned to the night and the dark and the water.
And now with night’s arrival and heavy cloud obscuring the moon, almost no light fell on the water’s surface. The swim became a war between Sylvain and the surface. Every movement came at him out of pitch back, each wavelet arriving with no notice. For hours he battled as we cycled feeds for him, malto, some electrolyte, water. At 10 p.m. Sylle refused his malto and took only water and mouthwash and told us he wasn’t swimming back. As Lisa, Zoe and I sat together on the forward deck
Because there’s another part of the story I’ve neglected to now. Sylle had three potential goals: The first was to be the first man to butterfly the channel. The second was to do so in a record time. The weather and tide change, (not the sickness) has scuppered the record attempt. The third prospective goal was a potential two-way, returning to English by front crawl. He had done the training but hadn’t even told his family. He told them the night before the swim, just in case they managed to be at the point where he landed on France, because if they were and they hugged him, that would disqualify him.
We took Sylle’s assertion, not as the joke it might be on another swim, and we set it aside, unconcerned. It was irrelevant to us. We wanted to get him across one-way and for the long period of the afternoon and night that single goal swung backward and forward, in and out of view and possibility.
Feed to feed. That’s all that counts in the Channel. That’s the swimmer’s world, every new horizon thirty minutes away. The past doesn’t exist, the future and France is away over that horizon. Only now.
At 10.30 p.m. we changed the feed to porridge, once again concerned, as we had been intermittently for hours, that Sylle was still sick or really uncomfortable, even beyond what we could sometimes see in his eyes or twist of mouth at feeds, the roller-coaster of feeling good and feeling bad continuing through the night.
I asked Sylle to come in another few metres toward the boat while swimming and reminded him of his pull-through, seeing as he’d been struggling with the constant chop for hours had shortened his stroke. Concentrating on it would give him something else to focus on, but during that 10.30 feed he said “I don’t think I’m going to make it“.
Few Channel swims are easy, few cross without daemons presenting themselves.
The eastern most ships in the lane passed between us and France, their presence marked only by occlusion of the lights on land, not even their silhouettes visible. Another hour slid past. At the 10.00 p.m. feed Sylvain was holding his lower back so at the 11.30 p.m. feed we gave him paracetamol. Sylle had never used painkillers in training until shortly before his swim, but Lisa and I had insisted he take them as a test, just in case. They worked and his back loosened and we had finally passed into French Inshore Waters by the midnight feed and were only 1 mile from ZC2, passing well inside it, the buoy that gives experienced Channel crew and swimmers a good indication of their position, but only in daylight, as ZC2 wasn’t visible to Sylle.
Raiding our supplies, we found Zoe had some Pain Au Chocolat, and we had brioche and we used these for the next feeds, each bringing a big smile to Sylle’s face, such that he uttered “ooh la la!” in reference to some stereotypical joking back in Varne.
The clouds finally lightened around 12.30 a.m. and while they didn’t fully part, the moon was finally able to illumine the water’s surface beyond the tiny world of the spotlight and the water calmed as the inshore waters of La Manche welcomed their globe-trotting son home.
By 01:30 we were directly outside the lights of Wissant, and I recalled Sylle and I in the same place on Gábor’s swim, and I wished Gábor could have been there with us. For those last two hours, the stress and strain lightened and we knew, finally, that after hours of uncertainty, Sylle would make it.
We were turning into Cap Petit Blanc, the vertical headland north-east of Wissant village, where in 1941 Herman Goring had stood and watched as the second biggest wave of airplane to attack Britain in the second world war had streamed overhead. It was the third Sunday of September, Commonwealth Battle of Britain Day and the invasion was one lone Frenchman, reclaiming La Manche for La Belle France, en papillion.
The last metres wound down. I prepared to swim in. Mike and I discussed the potential turn-around for the return. Sylvain was perfectly placed up a Cap Blanc to catch the tide back into the Channel. But he would have to decide.
My own lights adequate for the short distance, Mike Ball did the correct thing by reminding me of the rules for a support swimmer, especially for a turnaround. Stay behind the swimmer, don’t touch him in any way. If he needed to be greased he would have to do it himself, and I carried a tub of grease in my swimmers. I got the word to enter the water about 2.15 a.m.
Mike Oram had a bright spotlight shining on the cliffs for us to follow in, as Gallivant needed to stay a few hundred metres back to avoid rocks, the tide having risen again. I swam to the far side of Sylvain. I could tell he was still swimming strongly, not the sometimes very slow pace at the end of a Channel swim. Positioned on his right, I lifted my head and heard shouting from the boat, Lisa and Zoe exhorting me to finish with Sylle the only appropriate way, and so I switched into butterfly myself.
Every Channel or marathon swim that I’ve crewed has left some deep personal memory for me. They include swimming in Cap Gris Nez with Alan Clack the previous year, while I cried in my goggles thinking of Páraic, the upper reaches of the early morning Blackwater with Owen O’Keeffe, sunlight streaming over Bray Head for Rob Bohane, Sylvain and Gábor and I hugging on Wissant beach and others.
My favourite moments of Sylvain’s swim will be these:
The searchlight was strong, a white ball exploding onto us. The world was only fuligin and supernova, the water was galactic black, solar white, particles trapped in the glare like insects frozen in an explosion, grainy film strip in my eyes; Sylvain to the left and ahead of me; the usual intense and isolate night swimming sounds; breath and movement, breath and movement, breath and movement. Sylvain, a perfect silhouette moving through the water, imprinted on my retina like a perfect moving negative.
As we reached the cliff, my only concern was his safety. But he reached out, a rock presented itself perfectly in the water, and he glided into it and touched with a two-handed butterfly finish. He stood and stumbled through the boulders to the cliff two metres away, while I stayed back still submerged. He climbed above the waterline, a spiderman now as well as a butterflyman. And I hooted my head off. And I hooted and the crew hooted and Gallivant’s triumphant klaxon split the empty night for our friend who had just crossed the English Channel, La Manche, in a time of 16 hours and 42 minutes, becoming to first man to ever so do.
Aah, to finish there would be sweet, but incomplete.
We discussed the turn and the return. Sylle did not want to attempt the swim back, after the brutal one-way crossing he had endured. He had accomplished his primary task. But my task was to push him. And so he agreed that he would stretch out while we swam back to Gallivant, and he would have time to stretch his muscles into a more forgiving front crawl. I told him he was perfectly lined up for the tide. I didn’t let him off. Back to the boat through the by-now warm French coastal waters. I climbed out of the boat while Sylvain stayed in the water, and we talked with him and gave him time to decide. For fifteen interminable minutes, for the second time in as many weeks, Lisa and I berated a Channel swimmer to do something they did not want to do. But we pushed them so that if and when they made their own decision, as the swimmer must, they would be sure afterwards it was the right one. Eventually Sylvain put Lisa and I thankfully put us out of our misery of torturing our friend. He ended the horrible task of trying our best to convince him to torture himself further, when he reached out and grabbed the ladder, and we pulled our heroic friend aboard.
It was an enormous and stunning swim, and as has been repeated by Lisa, Zoe and Mike Ball, it was a privilege to witness. Even daring to dream of a butterfly crossing, let alone more, is beyond the capacity of most of us. The timing was personally redemptory for me in reminding of the courage of ordinary Channel swimmers. Sylvain and the CS&PF’s commitment to clear rules were also a lesson to all. Sylvain has not got even one Yellow Card fro a stroke infraction on the entire swim. At a time when some of us were being falsely accused of not celebrating one swimmer, which only meant we didn’t buy the Diana Nyad lies, Sylle helped rescue us and showed us all true historic achievement, like others have this year.
It was not easy. But it was great.
Next day in Varne, we took some more photographs, aware that Sylvain’s place in swimming history was cemented forever. I said to him that The Flying Frenchman was a good nickname, and he should embrace it. Because it would last him a lifetime.
I wasn’t sure when I started this how long this series would be. Previous long series have run to five posts. This will take six. Given his achievement, I think it’s fair to say that Sylvain deserves a six-part series!
As I wrote in the previous post, almost immediately after Sylvain got sick Mike Oram started feeding him, with no discussion with crew. Between getting sick and Mike’s feeding the time lost was about five minutes.
Twenty minutes later was the next scheduled feed, at 16:45, and adhering to the plan wasn’t as important at this time, but Mike again fed Sylvain, this time with a watery porridge, water, and mouthwash to remove the vomit taste. Five minutes after this feed, Sylvain got sick again but reported feeling better afterwards. Less than ten minutes later again, just before 5 p.m. Mike fed Sylvain this time with a cheese spread on bread. We as crew were superfluous at this stage, and since this was Sylvain’s swim and his success the only important thing, it wasn’t about how we felt, so we bit our tongues. From Mike’s point of view about many things in the Channel with his 800 crossings, crew are mostly baggage, which will be not be a surprise to anyone who has read or heard his many “swimmers are only my third and slowest engine” comments. The 5 p.m. feed was lengthy, taking Sylle over two and a half minutes.
So why did Sylvain get sick? As I’ve also said previously, this happens usually because swimmers take in more carbs than they can process as they mostly are in liquid form and happens many people.
Channel swimming burns about 800 calories per hour. The human body, regardless of size, can take in about 280 calories per hour. Earlier during that morning “discussion“, Mike had ridiculed me for not having a “T-form“, or for not knowing the term. Not needing Mike’s approval I’d asked what he meant, and I had mentioned I’d read all his emails to the Channel Chat group over the years, a repository of which articles Niek Kloots hosts on the Netherlands Channel Challenge site. They are worth reading if you are interested in Channel swimming, and being here, you may be interested, as Mike knows more about the Channel than most people, Fred Mardle and Reg Brickell being the only other pilots with similar experience.
The T-form, is essentially a calorific input/output balance sheet (my explanation). Mike explained to me all about calories and liquids and blood and liver etc, not really accepting that I, or indeed any swimmer, might have some or any knowledge of these matters. Mike explained how he had brought the idea from his sales training in the US, in between his extensive sailing and piloting etc and plotting swim routes from California to the North Channel. Apparently.
Mike’s T-form is the written form of the mental calculation that experienced swimmers do subconsciously or even occasionally consciously. Written down or not, there is the same net result: calories-in do not equal calories-out. Eventually a swimmer goes from having a positive glycogen amount in the liver and muscles to a deficit. Part of training is to get adapted to the transition from glycogen burning to fat burning, also known as ketosis. Writing it down adds nothing except work, unless you are so poorly organised or inexperienced as a crew that your swimmer is feeding too little or too much.
Lisa and Zoe and I continued to discuss with each other and to talk to both Mikes. Mike Oram’s primary assertion was “this year’s Maxim is bad“. He said that this Channel season had seen a significant increase in the number of swimmers getting sick.
Maxim is the most used carbohydrate by Channel swimmers and that used by Freda Streeter to feed swimmers on their Dover Harbour training swims, so it became the default. I’ve used it, Lisa and Zoe used it and many more. Maxim is a 99% maltodextrin carbohydrate and both Evan and I’ve written previously about different aspects of feeding. Evan’s posts on maltodextrin product comparisons and osmolality are particularly useful in this discussion if you want to understand some of the varying factors.
In 2012, Maxim became increasingly more difficult to source until it disappeared. Freda and the beach crew and many others, including myself for MIMS2012, and Lisa, sourced anther product, called Vyomax Maxi. Sylle was using a different product as Maxi wasn’t available in Sweden, but his was still just a generic 99% maltodextrin. I’ve also used Sponsor Competition Sponsor Long Energy, Hammer Perpetuum, Go Energy and others.
During the immediate hour subsequent to Sylle getting sick, Mike Ball looked at Sylle’s feed stuff and then asked why we hadn’t informed him that Sylle wasn’t using Maxim. Lisa and I tried to explain that 99% maltodextrin was 99% maltodextrin, regardless of label, we even still call it Maxim. I don’t think Mike Ball, whom I greatly like and respect, really believed us!
During this time Mike Oram spoke much about noted American Channel Swimmer, friend of his and one of the Channel greats, Marcy MacDonald, who only recently had completed another two-way swim, her third, with Mike, her regular pilot. Mike said she had been sick most of the way, and he’d reverted to the older English Channel feeds of porridge, tea and bread to keep her going.
I am of the opinion, as I’ve written about other swimming subjects, that simple explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones: Did Diana Nyad catch a magic unknown current and after over 30 hours swimming somehow start swimming faster than world-record pace? Or did she make it all up for money and fame, following a lifetime pattern of attention-seeking? Is all this year’s maltodextrin, regardless of vendor, bad and causing illness, or are more swimmers overfeeding?
It is certainly the case that something had happened that I haven’t yet told you. When mixing the feeds the night before the swim, Sylle had mixed the feeds to quadruple strength, so that when diluted with our warm water supply that was used each feed, the concentration was reduced to double. There was … discussion … of this, shall we say. Lest you think this was a crazy ad-hoc last-minute decision by Sylvain, it wasn’t. Sylvain was already a Channel swimmer. He is a very experienced swimmer, a very experienced open water swimmer, and he was following the feeding regime he always used, including his first Channel swim and which he had used for his long training swims.
During our discussion I mentioned how last year during his English Channel solo, Alan Clack had wanted a double strength feed, and how without telling him, I’d changed it to single strength. In that case I was completely in charge of looking after Alan, and with more experience than Alan, felt sufficiently certain to so do. But I never told Alan, because I knew he needed to believe that I was doing exactly what he wanted.
It’s also the case that I’ve seen a document circulating on email which outlines double-concentrate mixing of feeds. But this document states that this is intended to be mixed to achieve single concentration.
Without actual details of the swimmers affected I can’t categorically say, but in Sylvain’s case, we know for a fact that he was using double-concentrate and that was the cause of his illness, rather than some manufacturing defect.
I use Sylvain to explore further this whole problem and the challenges of gauging individual feed requirements, and situations that can arise, even for an experienced swimmer and crew, and it’s not meant to reflect poorly on Sylvain.
We all make decisions and the Channel finds us all out one way or another.
Keeping the communications open and being receptive to Mike over the next couple of hours, we continued to watch Sylle closely. The tension for us his friends and the concern for him, was high. Over the course of a couple of hours, between four p.m. and 6 p.m. Sylle’s stroke rate dropped from 28, to 26, to 24. Not a cause for panic but needing to be watched.
I closed last part with a question: Did Lisa, Zoe or I really consider Sylvain’s thoughts as he passed into the south-west shipping zone?
Not really. There was no-one on Gallivant that day who wasn’t intimately familiar with Channel swimming, with four Channel Soloists aboard, one as Observer, the most experienced pilot, the best co-pilot, and the most experienced Observer.
No-one on the boat wasn’t aware that swimmers must swim in their heads, must call on mental as well as physical training during a Channel swim. Four of us knew intimately that every Channel swimmer must find their own way across, swimming across the water and swimming through their own internal landscape. Four hours into a Channel swim is still early.
The water surface had finally smoothed to a state that would only last a couple of hours but nature and Sylle weren’t entirely in union.
Fifth hour in the Channel and Into the South-west shipping lane, the lane on the England side. The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world, with a thousand vessels a day of all sizes from rowing boats to VLCCs (very large cargo carriers) travelling through and it therefore requires command and control and identification of all vessels operating through the strait. Vessels, most travelling to and from the major European ports, including Hamburg, Calais, Rotterdam or Copenhagen all follow “rules of the road”, the outbound traffic on the English side, the inbound traffic on the French side.
The Bow Saga, a gas carrier, passed closely behind us and we watched the aptly named box wave travel toward us, but it wasn’t large and didn’t swamp Sylle too heavily, the foreshortening caused by the camera lens making Kent’s White Cliffs seem but a short distance behind us.
In the fifth hour the tide changed from ebb to flood with little slack between, from dropping tide to rising tide, from swimming south-east to north-east and the very slight breeze shifting southerly and Sylle requested that we dilute his next feed.
Thirty minute feed intervals passed in the afternoon, as we took turns. From the fourth hour there were feeds where Lisa and I noticed that Sylvain sometimes looked less than happy or glad to be swimming. We gave Sylle dilute mouthwash with every fourth feed, passed him fruit with his feed a couple of times and during the diluted 2:45 p.m. feed where he had the requested a change of goggles the next feed, which we gave him. But he hadn’t verbally indicated any significant problem.
The feed at 16:15 pm, late afternoon by the third week of September, was the tenth and half-way into the eight hour. Weather and water conditions hadn’t changed in any significant way. Sylle had looked however distinctly uncomfortable but said nothing and I’m not inclined to interrogating a swimmers in the Channel, adding time as it does. As happens on feeds, the swimmer can drift off behind the boat, and so happened on that feed. Five minutes later, Sylle still returning to his position the starboard side he stopped. and got sick.
Channel swimmers often get sick. Too many undigested carbohydrates, the liver can’t cope, a quick ejection, and everything is better afterwards. But this was different. Sylvain immediately got sick again. I was the only one who saw the initial vomit, and I called Lisa and told her, and we informed Mike.
With this began a very long and very difficult period, mostly for Sylvain, but also for us. Lisa and I were ready to take immediate remedial steps and yet, though Sylvain had asked us as his crew, there arose a tension between what we wanted to do, and what Mike as pilot did.
From this point, for many hours, I did not have time nor even thought to take more photographs. Visual documentation is nearly always an extra to a swim during the event, its existence only really becoming more important as time passes and the swim and the crispness of the experience slide into the past.
Lisa and I planned initially to change Sylvain’s next feed to tea, to allow his digestion time to settle. Subsequent that we would have had further available actions. None of these are a secret, they are what are done by experienced crew.
Before we had the chance to do anything, Mike Oram started his own feeds to Sylvain, first giving him a cheese and white bread sandwich within five minutes of Sylvain getting sick.
Though at this point we have only covered half of the swim in four parts, and the most momentous and difficult part of the swim lay ahead, the narration will quicken from here.
That Sunday morning of late September was overcast and dull as Sylvain undulated away from Shakespeare beach almost parallel to the kilometre-long Admiralty Pier. There was a light Force Two breeze ruffling the water surface, which was a slightly cooler than hoped for 15.1 degrees Celsius.
It is always important, vital even, to grasp the environmental parameters both predicted and in operation, to really understand any Channel swim. Like mountaineers and adventurers, marathon swimmer’s comrades-in-spirit, we are aware that we operate in an arena and world greater than we are, greater than we can be, and that we at best negotiate our way through. A weather prediction is the battle plan and the old adage about battle plans is that they rarely survive first contact with the enemy. (If this was a badly-made movie, we’d be arriving at the voice-over narration for the boring exposition):
Sylle’s wait had moved him from a neap to a spring tide, and not the edge of a spring but a big 6.8 metre tide bringing with it a bigger tidal current. His weather window meant he and the other swimmers departing that morning were doing so on a low tide. The preferable tide for leaving Dover is a neap high tide. Swimmers leaving Dover take advantage of the flood to get pushed north-east, the first leg of the more usual “backwards-S” chart. Leaving on low tide doesn’t negate the tidal current assistance or increase the distance, but changes the heading, swimming south-east instead. The pilot must still plan the approach to the Cap and consider the changes in wind direction.
The weather forecast was for light breezes for the morning, slackening a bit in the afternoon and early evening. The swim would start cloudy but skies might clear to patchy in the afternoon. Not very warm, but not chilly either, most important for Sylle as any direct sunlight is a boon for a swimmer, reducing heat loss and sunlight can lift a swimmer, and give mental energy. Bathing both literally and metaphorically in vivid mid-day sunlight, even as the wind rose, is one of my favourite Channel memories.
The night’s forecast was more opaque. Possibly mixed clouds and clear skies. Clear skies mean lower temperatures but increase visibility for a swimmer, a trade-off that cannot be chosen and can only be evaluated as it is underway. Also important is the fact that a late in September swim means shorter cooler daylight hours. A morning swim start instead of night start means that a swimmer will be swimming into night, a veil that obscures the latter toughest part of a swim, whereas a night swim holds a promise of dawn and hours of daylight for a swimmer.
The other boats were almost out before Sylle, a couple of hundred metres ahead, all to our starboard side, the same as Sylvain. (Oh, that reminds me, I spent the day, when we had time, which wasn’t much, trying to teach Lisa Cummins (PHD!) about port and starboard. I am not sure if I succeeded). Only CSA pilot Reg Brickell’s Viking Princess was astern of us, about a kilometre back.
Sylle’s information to Mike had included the fact that his stroke rate was 24 to 28. Open water swimmers and long-term readers here will know I often speak of the importance of stroke rate for open water thermogenesis, (heat-production). Front crawl Channel swimmers vary in rate from typically low sixties to high eighties, depending on size, stroke type and training most importantly. Sylvain’s stroke rate looks low in comparison, but of course it was a different stroke, the whole body movement of butterfly.
The ruffled water off Shakespeare beach presented no obstacle to his stroke as we moved away from the beach, the well-wishes staying until we ceased to notice them. After about 20 minutes we moved outside the sheltering mass of the Admiralty Pier and into open water, the fleet just ahead and starboard of us. As we passed the pier terminus, we could see the tide line just ahead, the interface of the current and the water making for a choppy transition. Within ten minutes the fleet spread out, caught sooner by the tide than us, they pulled away. However ten minutes later, at 10:15 we passed into the transition and by 10.25, the choppy transition water at the tide’s edge required Sylvain to stop a couple of times to reseal his goggles, but we were into the ebbing tide, following the fleet, catching the ocean conveyor south-east and out, out into the Channel.
Sylvain’s first feed was at 10.45, after an hour, taking a 500 ml bottle of maltodextrin (carbs) and apple juice. The feed schedule called for hourly feeds for the first three hours, then feeds ever thirty minutes, the carbs mixed for taste with either apple juice or blackcurrent cordial, alternating, for four cycles, then a feed of electrolytes, with dilute mouth wash every two hours.
The morning continued grey and overcast with the breeze shifting through Force Two and during the early swim we moved all the supplies under the poop deck canvas cover. Cloudy and dry, the air was nonetheless laden with salt and moisture, such that we all stayed fairly covered and found impossible, for the entire day, to have dry hands, the marine moisture clinging to skin.
Ninety minutes into the swim Sylle had stopped to adjusted his googles a few times more. Unplanned stops are always a cause for concern. Is there something subconscious in the swimmer’s mind causing the stops or is there a minor problem that could grow with time into a major problem? By 12.30 p.m. we had eventually realised that every time he adjusted he was catching the lip of his swim cap under his gasket-type Aquasphere goggles and not knowing this, which then led to a gradual leak and after we shouted this at him, he finally got the problem sorted before it led to too much brine in the goggles, which will lead to swollen shut eyes.
About an hour after the swim started Mike joined us on the poop deck, (yes, I will keep saying poop deck!). There was a … long conversation soliloquy from Mike about many different subjects related to Channel swimming; the problems with the organisations, the problems with the committees, the problems with swimmers, the problems with crews, the problems with coaches, the problems with other pilots, the problems with … etc. I was the primary audience, Lisa and Zoe taking the opportunity of a scheduled feed to escape to the bow. Seeing my chance in a lull for air, I asked Mike something I’ve wondered, having read and listened to him many times. I asked him if he liked Channel swimming … The answer, was less than categorical.
By the third hourly feed, the breeze has dropped again ever so slightly, to low force Two, but the sky remained impenetrable. Sylle’s stroke rate was steady averaging 28 strokes per minute. Thirty minutes later at 13:15, three hours and thirty minute elapsed swim time, we swapped to feeds every half hour. It always sounds like one only has to spend two minutes mixing a feed, and a minute feeding, and you will have the rest of the time to lounge around, but once you as crew are on a 30 minute feed cycle, it seems like you have no time for anything else. You might rotate the mixing, feeding and watching duties, or one person might like to do it for a while, as I did for a few hours, and the time is full of discussion of the previous feed, how he looked, how it went in, what the next feed was, the mundanities filling the available time to the brim and suddenly someone has to rush to get the next feed ready.
The breeze dropped to Force One, a whisper, though the surface didn’t glass-off (become still), and the Varne Lightship was visible away to the north-east, in the Shipping Lane which we would enter in the next hour. Not long after the 2 p.m. feed we were passed on the port side by a rowing team heading to Dover. Cross-Channel rowers are no longer allowed into French waters since early in 2013, after having been stopped by the French navy, despite the early teams having french approval, they now row out from Dover to the half-way point, then turn and row back. For Channel swimmers this kind of arbitrary action by the French coastal authorities is always a concern.
It was approaching 2.15 p.m. Sylvain had been swimming butterfly for over four and half hours and had just swum through a large oil slick without pause. We as crew, even though we knew what we going out to see and do, were still awestruck. The weather continued moderate. Did we stop to ask ourselves what was going on in Sylle’s head as we entered the south-west shipping lane?
We arose in Varne Ridge early on Sunday morning, but much better than the more usual middle of the night for a typical Channel swim. Sylvain’s favourite breakfast is brioche, and he didn’t start the morning with a typical Channel swimmer’s huge breakfast, instead restraining himself and just having brioche and coffee, while instead Lisa and I stuffed ourselves in preparation for a day at sea. Great Greta wasn’t coming on the boat but would instead would be in charge of land communication to family and friends.
We somehow made everything fit into the car and made the short trip down to Dover harbour. The car park was busy with relay teams, as we were now into a spring tide of almost seven metres when relay teams swim. There was one other soloist, and interested locals including our Sandycove visitor friend and English and North Channel local Howard (Staykold) Keech and English Channel one-way record holder Jackie Cobell. We picked up our other backup crew member, English Channel swimmer Zoe Sadler, another crew member Neil Morton not being able to make it. Also around were Sandycove Distance Camp alumni Bethany Bosch, owner of the world’s most famous swimming dog, due to Solo in 2014, Bethany, that is, not the dog. To the best of my knowledge, Guri the dog has not yet published her future swimming plans. Also David Dammerman, who very generously gave me some replacements for the God-Bottle, and who successfully Soloed the following week with Bethany as crew.
Sylle had a very quick first word with Mike Oram and James Willi on the pontoon. There was no hesitation about going on the next tide, we were going on this tide, the word was given.
Gallivant, Anastasia, Sea Satin, Viking Princess, Suva, and Sea Leopard all jostled to find room on the loading pontoon below the Marina Office, while Optimist tied up out alongside Suva. Relayers on their first Channel excursion milled about, all excited. More experienced, we were nonetheless excited, but more focused. We had a quick hello with our good friend Pilot Paul Foreman, briefly chatted with Lance Oram, said hello to others we knew on the pontoon including; the CS&PF’s committee member and annual Channel Dinner organising supremo, Michelle Topatalo, Haydn Welch out on his first observing job, with Barrie Wakeham the Shingle Stomper and John Thorpe, and Zoe’s friend Kate all around as Observers.
Crew, swimmers, observers, and well-wishers on the low tide rocking pontoon, a frenzy of chat and loading and excitement. Observers for Sylvain’s swim were impressive and as usual for Channel swimmers, we only knew who they were when we met them on the pontoon. Tanya Harding, the CS&PF’s most experienced Observer, Observing since the 1980′s and Mike Ball, himself also a Channel swimmer, and Chief of the CS&PF Observer Corps, and who gave Sylvain a précis of the rules before the briefing.
CS&PF Senior Pilot Mike Oram would have James Willi as co-pilot, as he has for about six years, and there’s not a steadier hand on the rudder in the fleet than James’.
The rules discussed weren’t the usual CS&PF solo rules, but the Additional Rules for a stroke specific attempt. As Sylvain was swimming a specific stroke, he knew that he would have extra rules governing this stroke and that these would integrate with Channel rules. The Observers would also be judging his stroke and adherence to specific stroke rules as well as the usual Solo rules, (not touching the boat or anything else, textile suit, single cap and goggles, etc).
That photograph of Sylvain holding the rules on the right is more important than usual. You can click for this link for a closeup, so you can read the rules (listed further on) yourself that the CS&PF Committee agreed would govern the swim and of course all the image files with EXIF data intact are available but when you don’t have a history of deception, when your swim if ratified by Independent Observers, it’s obvious that one doesn’t have to worry about these matters.
It’s also important to note that those rules were only made available to Sylvain on the morning of the swim. He had no prior notice of or input into setting rules. I wrote so much about Diana Nyad and marathon swimming and rules after returning from Sylle’s swim. I explained over and over, as did others in the marathonswimmers forum, that actual real honest marathon swimmers abide by published rules verified by independent Observers.
Sylvain’s and the CS&PF’s commitment to transparency was absolute and exemplifies what I was trying to convey. Sylvain’s swim is important, not just for his swim, but also for the timely demonstration of this ethos.
Gallivant loaded, we boarded. Mike Oram joined us on the aft deck for the briefing with Mike Ball. I’ve met Mike Oram before a few times and obviously crewed on Gallivant for Trent Grimsey’s record-setting swim. However Mike, as usual, gave no indication of knowing me that morning when we arrived and said hello and loaded the gear and then boarded, which was fine with me. However just before the briefing, Mike turned and said “I see we have the Secret Service on board. There will be no filming of the briefing.” An allusion to my obvious-at-the-time filming of his briefing of Trent, a private video which less than twenty people have seen. It seemed he remembered me after all!
But I wasn’t there for me, I was there for Sylvain, so I smiled and didn’t switch on the camera. Mike went through the specific extra rules that would apply. Those in italics are how they are written on the rules which you can see in closeup in the link above. These rules can apply to any non-freestyle stroke-specific crossing:
The stroke must be maintained at all times and start and stops and feeding to be carried out within the spirit of the stroke.
Stroke definition was according to accepted principles. (Though not specifically written down here, it was explained that the stroke as defined by FINA. It was re-iterated to Sylvain that this meant simultaneous forward and pull movement of the arms, a correct underwater pull, with no “extra” sweep, simultaneous leg kick, no breaststroke kick, no alternating kick, and no forward movement under another stroke or no forward movement using a transitional stroke including a flutter kick).
A 4 card system is to be adopted for swim stroke management. During the swim stroke attempt the swimmer can have up to 3 YELLOW card warnings of stroke deviation, the 4th stroke deviation will receive a RED card to indicate that the swim stroke attempt has been declared as ended.
YELLOW cards warnings will be given if there is a deviation from the recognised stroke as declared for more than 20 metres.
Reference the swim start- The swimmer must start from a position which is clear of the water. On entering the water the declared stroke must be started within 20 metres or before if the swimmer can no longer walk.
Reference swim completion – The stroke must be maintained until the swimmer can stand up and walk clear of the water or they are within 20 metres of the shoreline. Any return to swimming during this period of more than 20 metres must be completed using the declared stroke.
Reference feeding and rest stops – During any feeding or rest stops during the swim the declared stroke must be used for any forward motion of more than 10 metres.
The swimmer can tread water for feeding/rest stops for up to 5 minutes. A session of short stops will not be accepted if it is the observer’s opinion that such stops are being used as a means of stroke variation.
At the end of a feed rest break the swimmer must return to the declared stroke within 20 metres forward distance.
RED card warning will indicate tot he swimmer that the attempted with the declared stroke has ceased.
The swimmer will then be informed that the swim can continue under the CS&PF rules but the observer’s report will be only considered for ratification as a standard “undefined stroke” swim crossing.
The observer’s decision as to stroke compliance is final.
The CS&PF reserve the option to video/photograph any part of the swim.
The CS&PF Committee had obviously given due consideration of all aspects of the swim and any possible future questions.
As I wrote above, there was specific mention given to the stroke in the briefing, and even more specifically to the pull phase. Pool butterfly swimmers have had an ongoing discussion for the past fifteen years or so about the use of a breaststroke kick underwater after a turn (only codified this year). The concern about the underwater pull expressed here arose because of suspicion over another well-known swimmer whom it is believed may have employed this tactic.
Sylle was happy with the rules, and especially the introduction of a YELLOW/RED card system, which, like used in race-walking, was an excellent idea. The few other important requirements such as Sylle’s overall feed plan, and where he would be positioned off the boat (starboard) were quickly covered.
Shortly thereafter we were cast off for the short trip out of the harbour and around the Admiralty Pier toward Shakespeare beach, the transition of the calm water of the harbour and the tide rushing past the entrance much less rough than it can be sometimes. As we rounded the pier, and steamed into the beach on the eastern end, in front of the Port Office, other pilot boats and swimmers left just in front of us, and the civil hours of the start time meant there were more people than usual on the beach, including Greta of course, though the Greatest Sport on Earth is a remarkably private endeavour.
Sylvain got ready, donning the Aquadeus swimcap of his French swim gear sponsors, and I greased him up, neck, armpits, sides and the nether regions under the square-leg swimsuit he prefers. Any Channel swim is a scary event. But there was no fright visible in Sylvain, who is always affable and jovial. If there was any fear, I did not see it.
He looked calm and ready and with the word, jumped off the boat into the water for the short swim to the shingle of Shakespeare Beach as we hooted loudly. He of course swam butterfly on the way into the beach.
A brief meeting with Greta and other well-wishers on the beach, a turn and pause, a few steps forward, a goggle and hat adjustment. Then he flung himself forward off the steep shingle into La Manche, and we hooted and as Gallivant’s notorious klaxons whooped to mark the start time of 9.45a.m., klaxons which would only sound again to mark a successful crossing.
This story started in different places and at different times, like all stories. For me, it started in a mobile home in Varne Ridge park in Capel-le-ferne, Folkestone, home of so many Channel adventures, in October 2010. It was a couple of days after my Hungarian “stepson” Gábor Molnar had completed his English Channel solo and Sylvain Estadieu and I had been on crew. The remainder of the crew were asleep and Gábor, Sylvain and I pursued a late not-entirely-sober night, talking Channel, swimming, Sandycove and future plans and dreams. Sylvain was raving about I.M. (individual medley, a combination of backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and front crawl). We agreed that whatever Sylvain decided, Gábor and I would be crew.
For Sylvain, I think it started even earlier.
After his previous English Channel Solo in 2009, on the same tide as Owen O’Keeffe and Lisa Cummins, he had decided in early 2010 to do four laps of Sandycove by I.M. Sandycove is about 1700 metres around (average), so that was about a mile of each stroke. He’d done it with Gábor as company and the seed was sown for the later grander adventure, though over the course of the following three years, we were party to some of his ideas. He finally settled on a butterfly crossing, as no man had crossed the Channel by butterfly, though both Julie Bradshaw and Vicki Keith had previously crossed the Channel using that stroke.
Booked for September 2013, in September of 2012, Sylvain, committed to transparent rules like most marathon swimmers, engaged in a discussion on the marathonswimmers.org/forum about what extra rules could or should apply to such a crossing, with particular reference to stroke judging, something with which those of us who swim front crawl don’t have to be concerned. In the autumn he contacted the CS&PF through President Nick Adams, asking for the CS&PF committee to agree the rule-set in advance.
Eventually Sylvain’s window arrived and we assembled as usual In Varne Ridge with Sylvain and his fiancee Greta. Gábor had just changed job and was very disappointed to not be able to be present but instead he’d drafted in a Hungarian friend of his from his EC solo and MIMS swims, Gergő “Kovi” Kovács. Lisa Cummins also joined the crew. But the weather wasn’t co-operative for Channel swimming for the week. Sylvain did electrify the Saturday morning Dover beach crew who had all heard about his butterfly attempt. He also made me do butterfly with him in training and Greta had to enter the water also. I did about 200 metres continuous and that was enough for me. Sylvain glides through the water with his ‘fly, I look more like I am trying to escape from the water.
During this week, Lisa and I stepped in as emergency crew for Haydn Welch’s Channel attempt, as there was still no visible window. Sylvain and Greta waved us off from the rare departure point of Dungeness for Haydn’s unusual English Channel attempt, something that was tough on them as conditions looked quite good from the beach, though as it (providentially) became aware to us crew, it was utterly unsuitable for a butterfly attempt. Two days later, Lisa and I both returned to Ireland and Kovi to Hungary. Haydn’s attempt provided Lisa the opportunity to leave from Dungeness, which nicely counterpointed the fact that she is the only English Channel swimmer to ever land at Dungeness. Sylle continued to train daily in Dover harbour. Torn between holding his nerve and taper, and the temptation to restart long swims, he agreed with coach Eilís that he would swim a couple of two and three hour swims.
I’ve said before, and I am sure will say again, that waiting for weather is one of the most difficult and least understood or appreciated aspects of Channel swimming. Years in the dreaming and training, everything can be lost with an unfavourable low pressure system. Many people in Sylvain’s situation would have lost their chance of a swim after the first week, and probably have to return home, and it being late in the season, may not have any chance at a late swim. The financial cost also escalates rapidly. Another week of accommodation and car rental. Cancelled or rescheduled flights for yourself and extra flights to bring crew back in, and more expensive due to short term booking.
Sylvain and Greta was prepared to wait for a chance of a spring tide opportunity, and so a week after we returned home, Sylle called us back to Dover. We arrived the afternoon of Saturday September the 21st with the prospect of starting the swim during the night on Sunday/Monday or during Monday.
Soon after we arrived, we did “the big shop”, using my checklist. Water for Sylvain. Water for crew. More water. Backup food for Sylvain. Food for crew. More food for crew. More water. WHIF food. (What-IF we can’t eat this or that? What-IF Sylvain or crew get sick?). A Channel swim’s provisions often look like a small desert expedition.
Then back to Varne to eat and prepare and mix, and await the next call after 7pm with Pilot Mike Oram.
Mike confirmed the swim was almost certainly on for Sunday with a starting time in the morning of about 9a.m. but Sylle still needed to to wait until Sunday morning on the pntoon, for final confirmation as weather forecasts still indicated a possibility of a 6 hour delay but the final, final, final morning discussion would gave us the go-ahead. Provisionally! Life of a Channel Swimmer! Hurry up and wait. But be on the slip-way in the morning, and there was still a chance of a tide delay.
Back to Varne to pre-mix, pack, eat and sleep.
Premixing the swimmer’s feed simplifies and cleans up things on the boat greatly for the crew. The swimmer can be sure the feed is mixed to their own requirement, and malto-dextrin is a sticky substance best avoided having to mix on a boat. Two or one and a half litre bottles are much easier to lift and pour than 5 litre bottles. Square bottles pack better than round. Minutiae, the type that comes from the combined experience of the group.
Then we packed all the boxes. Sylle’s pre-mixed feeds. Sylle’s supplementary and solid swim food. Sylle’s gear, crew food, more crew food. Sylle’s swim gear. Crew gear. Sylle’s clothes. Crew bags. Pack everything, then unpack it and repack it. Check the checklist. Then dinner, then re-check the checklist and boxes.
A morning start would bring its own challenges, but at least we would get a good night’s sleep before.
Finbarr started it with the idea of a Sandycove three-lap invitational race at the end of October. With two weeks to go and no mention, Carol Cashell and I raised the idea again and discussion ensued.
With less than a week to go the starting lineup was small. The forecast for the weekend showed the Irish south-coast would catch the spin-off of storm Saint Jude. (I know, I’ve never heard a storm called after a Saint either). Winds were forecast to be Beaufort Five minimum.
Excellent! A bit of rough water was ideal to level the field. After all the Sandycove locals have it too easy at times, when the weather blows out they just start swimming inside the island. Pfft.
The worse the forecast the better, as far as Carol and I were concerned. Although as the fastest of the group, it wasn’t like she needed an advantage. By Thursday the weather forecasters were all getting excited like we don’t have big storms every year. Jude would bypass Ireland and clobber the UK, and Ireland would be assailed by nothing worse than Force Nine or so. The worst of Saturday’s weather was due to hit before mid-day when the worst of the storm would arrive on the south coast. We were aiming for TITW at 11.30am.
Email negotiations about all the various safety requirements, race rules, evacuation procedures and volunteers led to a concise rule set:
Two laps, handicapped.
Cake to be proved afterwards by Carol.
No rubber knickers.
Finbarr was allowed to drown anyone foolish enough to get within an arm length of him (a rule on which he insisted, disguising it as English Channel Rules).
Despite beating Rob and Craig this year, I was due to get an excellent three-minute handicap over both of them, which i didn’t refuse. All’s fair. Rob Bohane is a member of the “M” 1000+ lap club, as is Finbarr and Craig Morrison is a member of the “D” 500+ lap club,. Eddie Irwin, Carol Cashell and myself are all “C” swimmers of 100+ laps. All highly experienced marathon swimmers with many and varied skills.
The local forecast for Sandycove showed winds peaking between 10am and 1pm, anywhere from Force 6 to Force 8.
The second corner looked quite reasonable when I arrived, though the rain meant I could only take one quick shot. The wind was still rising. Down at the slipway, another M club member (1000+), Mags Buckley (no relation) said the water was lovely and warm but she’d stayed to the inside.
From the slipway we could see the waves breaking across the first corner, and the outside wave that only breaks when winds are getting high, reaching into the corner. The expert round beside the first corner was impossible. The normal route outside first corner was impossible. Even the cowardly route outside the normal first corner was … (f)risky. I like (f)risky.
At the last minute, the handicap and race was thrown out. Then the five others started swimming just as I was on the slipway. The water was indeed warm, an extraordinary for end of October fourteen degrees (57F).
Just getting to the outside was testing. The narrow point between the island and mainland produced an unpredictable wall to swim through, which ripped my goggles off. Going over the top resulted in a crash into the trough. Unlike a breaking wave, it wasn’t predictable. Meanwhile waves were peeling off the corner rocks where the expert Sandycovers normally cut inward. The first corner was froth but all the guys were waiting beside the outside break. I took a slightly inside line, watching for the rock that is only exposed to air in conditions like this, having seen it once last year from above in similar conditions, and therefore having its location well imprinted. I stopped to fix my goggles a second time, something that was to continue for the whole swim as they were constantly loosened by the waves. Then we were all off again.
The waves were about three metres, not at all unusual for a Tramore Bay swimmer, and in the “lumpy” category. But outside the island, things change. Apart from being in the direct path of the south-west wind coming over the Old Head of Kinsale, some wind was diverted at water level along the side of the coast. Waves climbed out of deeper water onto the island shelf to produce one of the most unpredictable of water states, that of reflected waves over rock.
The waves hit the island and bounced back, doubling up with incoming waves at different times and places, causing sudden occasional peaks of four to five metres or shelving waves to scend suddenly, like a punch of water. The 360 degree horizon was mere metres away for everyone, all of us sunken into watery bowls, except for the island’s grassy profile, the wind and rain and spume filling the air, grace in the water impossible even for a swimmer of Carol’s style.
It was excellent fun, that feeling of being hurled and thrown by an ocean that would be terrifying for beginners but feels like an opportunity to revel for a more experienced swimmer.
One moment we were two or three metres apart, the next we were thrown onto each other. I picked up a scrape, not from rocks, but from Rob being thrown onto me fingernails first.
The second corner is where expert Sandycovers risk the limit. The interface of gradually descending reef and pushing swell. How close? How much risk can you take? We love the second corner. Approaching out of the kidney bean shape, you can be too close or too far out, and even if you get a great line, you still have others to deal with. Others who put you on the reef, or risk the reef themselves, and laugh. People like Finbarr, Craig, Rob, or me. The second corner is a melee, a game of chicken played not with other swimmers but with rock. Unthinking, unmoving and therefore always triumphant rock.
But not that day. The second corner was instead a marine Jackson Pollock, the reef as canvas, the sea as paint, the wind as artist. From outside we could only see the precipice of the artichokey-feldgrau waves as they crashed onto the corner. We all went wide, to a greater or lesser extent. Carol and I cut in a little as we passed the first two hundred and seventy degrees of turn, catching a wave to pass the trailing end of the reef.
We stopped again to regroup. Past the second corner is a favourite spot of Sandycove swimmers, inside the mush, behind the reef, where if you are not racing, you can stop and chat, before you race back anyway.
Assembled again we all re-started, as I grabbed the positional advantage. The visibility decreasing as the wind of the leeward side funneled around the low third corner. Then around into the inside. Sheltered from the outside storm, the visibility, already poor, actually decreased. The wind poured up the inside, driving rain and chop head-on. The Red House (now grey) took ages to pass swimming against the wind. Eddie passed on my left. Carol passed me on the right, their better strokes more advantageous in the lesser size of these conditions. Was I middle of the Channel or left of right? I couldn’t see. The water here lacked any visibility also. Any one stupid enough to be on a boat in the channel on the day better be keeping an eye out for the even-more-stupid swimmers.
Past the Red House eventually, the forward chop constantly slapping me in the face. Stay low. Get under it. I know where the slipway should be, but instead I swing left. The fourth corner seems miles away on my left. It’s an island though so I can’t get lost.
Had to line up for the first corner again. From this angle you normally approach really close in. But there are rocks beside the island between fourth and first so outward, back through the middle of the gap, once again getting hit by the waves of the narrow point. Further out this time, the waves looked bigger. Outside the corner, finally out of the head-on rain, I stopped and looked around. No sign of the others. Ha! Loneswimmer alone again.
No further waiting I set off again, enjoying the outside once more, watching for the pure white water indicative of a sub-surface reef, watching for square waves within two metres of me, sliding along the faces of the sudden peaks to surf in and swim back out, tacking and gibing my way around the island, going wider around the second and third corners to enter the inside channel again, and to cruise back to the slipway, the driving rain dropping but the water visibility still being impenetrable, until I crashed into the slipway, the other five already changed having only completed one lap each. Default winner of the race that wasn’t! Didn’t even bother towelling dry in the rain. Cakes and buns from Carol and Maura Morrison.
Thirty minutes later the wind had almost died, the rain was gone, and the water settled. We had got the timing exactly right. By accident.
I once suggested Mike Harris’s “It’s a bit lumpy, chaps” could the club motto, and this day was the epitome of that attitude. Rough water is fun (once you know you don’t have to swim through it for the next twelve hours).
This time of year I get more emails and PM’s asking about English Channel pilots, tides, Associations, Channel costs etc and all the related stuff.
During a recent weathered-out trip to Dover in September for Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel butterfly swim, which included yet another a trip out into the Channel, a tour of a new CS&PF boat and the usual swim chat, these all led to the suggestion from Lisa Cummins that I come up with a checklist to help prospective swimmers, both Solos and relay and crew, choose a Channel pilot and boat.
Following is a list of questions that you can ask yourself and the pilot. Most of these questions do not require the same answer to provide guidance for every swimmer, as the importance of the answers will be dictated by you and your crew’s experience, the particular swim location, conditions and duration and your own preferences.
1. Have you checked with all the pilots for your preferred year, month and tide?
For the past couple of years I’ve been advising people who ask who don’t have a without a strong initial personal preference, to email almost all the pilots to check availability. This is your first step.
Mike and Lance Oram of the CS&PF, and Reg Brickell of the CSA are the pilots most likely to be booked two to four years in advance. Yes, up to four years for the most popular tides with a first slot, with the bookings increasing every year. Most of the pilots will have filled up their Number One slots for August and September two years in advance. Although all the CS&PF pilots operate the slot system, some CSA pilots don’t and book one swimmer per number of days or even a single day. So you need to check if you’ve been told you are Number One, just how long you have that slot.
2. Do you know anyone who has used that pilot?
Pilots are all trained and experienced in what they do. Most are great. But like any walk of life there is variation and individual swimmers can have different and differing opinions. Given the individual contractual nature of the relationship between a swimmer and pilot, there is no independent rating system. But you should reach out to any open water swim groups you know for feedback. You may or may not get any relevant information, but I wish I’d done it.
It is a fact that the CS&PF has six licensed pilots, while the CSA has been operating seven boats. The restriction by the English Coast Guard allows a maximum of twelve boats in the shipping lane at any one time. So what happens if you are booked on the seventh CSA boat? Or maybe your pilot smokes and this could be a problem for you.
3. What level of comfort on the boat do your relay team or crew require?
Some swimmers don’t care or don’t think about this until too late. But the comfort of your crew or your own relay can be important to some swims.
Is there a toilet?
Is there enough space to rest?
If you have female crew, the simple requirement of having an onboard toilet is more important than for men. Relay teams need to use a toilet more. Some CSA boats do not have a toilet (head in marine terms)! Some boats don’t have seats. Some CSA boats don’t even have any protection from the elements.
4. How does the boat handle in rough water ?
Some boats are more uncomfortable in medium or choppy seas than others. If your crew is experienced this may make no difference, but for others it can be really important if your entire support crew or relay get sick. High-sided boats can roll more depending on the shape and keel ballast. If you are on a relay, especially a two-way then you need more space, room to nap or even sleep and enough space for food and clothes and swim gear for many more people. One way to investigate this is to look at photos of the boats on the websites and again, to ask around.
5. What ancillary utilities are on the boat?
The Channel fleet is divided into CS&PF and CSA boats (obviously). If you were to make a sweeping statement comparing one fleet with the other, you could reasonably say that the boats of the CS&PF are more comfortable for crew, with more utilities, as the CSA boats are more likely to be used for fishing out of season.
Does the boat have the ability to charge a cell phone or camera or anything electric or electronic? (Some don’t).
Does the boat have any facilities for cooking food for your crew? (Some only have a simple two-ring hob)
How about ease of heating water for the swimmer?
Can you store extra clothes of food out of the elements?
Is there a shower (for relays)? (Paul Foreman’s new boat Optimist has a shower)
6. Does the shape of the boat affect your feed strategy?
This only affects solo swimmers but the high side of some boats can mean you will not be able to feed the swimmer directly and must use a pole or line. It may be another thing to consider.
7. Is protection by the boat from inclement weather important?
You might not think so, but if you are going in marginal or late season conditions, and have no experience of a boat…
Boat shape and size affects how much protection a swimmer can gain from a difficult wind. Some provide more than others. Is this important to you?
Of course it’s not all about the boat.
8: Association fee
For the English Channel, swimmers must join either association separately from their contract with the pilot. Do you want a two year or five year membership? The answer to this question might not be as obvious as it first seems.
9. Pilot fee and deposit requirements and payment options
Not all fees are equal. How much is your pilot’s fee? If you are considering a two-way or three-way you need to check the scale. Doubles or triples can be just multiples of a one-way, but they also be applied on a sliding scale, eg, instead of doubling just add £2000. You also need to know what deposit you pay upon booking. Further you need to check how and when the remainder must be paid. Some pilots want the deposit immediately, some want it by the ending of the year before the Channel attempt. Some want fifty-percent paid at that time. Also, some pilots will only accept cash, some will accept a bank transfer. This may not have much impact when choosing a pilot, but can become important later on. It’s reasonable to say that no pilot will take you out without 100% of the fee being paid in advance.
10. Cancellation/No swim/weathered out refunds
Pilots operate different policies in the case of a cancellation or no-swim (weathered out). If you cancel in time usually you only lose your deposit and your association fee if you have paid it. If however you get weathered out there can be differences. With some pilots you will only lose the deposit, with some pilots it’s possible to lose up to 50% of the whole fee.
11. Do you plan to follow your Channel swim with a Manhattan Island Marathon swim?
NYCSwim have decided that CSA English Channel swims are no longer to be treated as automatic qualification. This means CSA Channel swimmers will need more paperwork. Is this important for you? (It certainly is for some swimmers, and it’s another problem I have with NYCSwim; their decision to change this policy without adequate notification for swimmers entering a Channel cycle).
12. Do you care that both organisations recognise your swim?
The CS&PF recognises ratified Channel swims from both organisations. The CSA only recognises CSA swims.
Contrary to first impression, just because I swam with the CS&PF, this is not an anti-CSA jab. I’ve been out on two CSA boats. One had no toilet, no power plugs of any kind, no weather protection. (I liked the pilot a lot though and the crew were great). The other was the roughest boat for inexperienced crew in the entire fleet and the best boat for a swimmer in protection from wind and I know crew who have sworn to never go on it again.
The other Channels such as North, Catalina, Gibraltar and Cook don’t have the same number of boats for swimmers to apply the same principle. Cook only has one, as does Jersey (currently). Catalina and the North Channel both have two pilots and the criteria for choosing in both of those lies more in choosing the approach of the pilot to navigation rather than anything else (hard or soft line, starting point).
Below is a very simple checklist for helping in choosing your English Channel pilot. Remember to choose what you think is important..
(I have pictures of Masterpiece, Anastasia, Rowena, Seafarer II, Connemara etc in my archive but you can find them all on the websites).
Well-known Californian swimmer Jamie Patrick earlier in the year mentioned in the blog comments that he liked reading articles about the history of open water swimming. Apart from what already appears in various books it’s hard to find such stories. But I shortly thereafter carried the story of Tom Blower and the first North Channel swim. (Anytime I think of doing a history post, I imagine Jamie asking me).
At the 2013 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, some of the guests were connected through a historical chain: The Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, Wayne Soutter, and Dolorando Pember.
Wayne Soutter was the first person to complete the Mull of Kintyre route from Scotland to Ireland in 2012, his account covered here. North Channel swims are ratified by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. And Dolorando Pember is the daughter of Mercedes Gleitze, who first unsuccessfully attempted the Mull of Kintyre route (though she was successful on so many other marathon swims).
Before she attempted the North Channel, Mercedes was an English Channel swimmer, (still the qualifying requirement for a North Channel swim to this day). In light of the Diana Nyad Controversy, the story of Mercedes Gleitze’s English Channel swim, apart from the actual swims, is very interesting for some timely reasons less obvious than others:
False swim claims have been around for a long time in our sport
Other honourable swimmers are negatively affected by false swim claims
The development of Official Observation (“ratification”) in swimming
Mercedes Gleitze’s second “Vindication” English Channel swim was widely used for advertising by watch company Rolex, and the story of the Vindication Swim came to me from an website devoted to watches, of all places. With that link to the original in place, below is the story itself, leaving out the later advertising aspect of the article which describes how Mercedes swim was used to make Rolex the well-known watch company it is today.
Note that the terms we still use of Channel Swimmer, Channel Season and Channel Aspirant were all in use in the 1920s despite that less than a dozen swimmers had completed the Channel by the end of that decade.
One investigative source of this story says that the Channel Swimming Association “refused to recognize her swim as legitimate“. The CSA was only founded the same year with their handbook stating: “Since March 1927, English Channel Swims have been organised and regulated by the [CSA] and all Swims officially observed by its designated Officials/Observers are faithfully recorded“.
The CSA database for 1927 shows three swims and Mercedes Gleitze is recognised as a Channel Swimmer.
Marilyn Morgan, the above blog’s author, comprehensively answers this question when I asked her:
“[T]he CSA asked Gleitze to sign an affidavit verifying she completed the swim unaided. Gleitze refused on principle and was quoted as saying, “the best thing to restore the prestige of British women Channel swimmers in the eyes of the world would be for me to make another Channel swim,” and thus she embarked upon what became known as the Vindication Swim.
Because that swim was undertaken past Channel swimming season and she swam so efficiently for so long in the bitterly cold water under such extreme conditions, the CSA consented that she must have successfully completed the Oct 7 swim and then included it in its records retrospectively. This can be verified through a plethora of British and American newspapers as well as at the archives“.
October 7, 1927. It was a cold October morning, and Miss Mercedes Gleitze (1900-1981), a London typist and part-time professional swimmer from Brighton, was about to make her eighth attempt at swimming the English Channel.
Miss Gleitze began her journey at 2:55 a.m., as she entered the murky waters at Gris Nez. The Channel was uninviting, cold and thick with fog. Visibility at times dropped to less than five yards, so a fishing boat from Folkestone led her way—frequently sounding its horn to help avoid the heavy shipping traffic. Her trainer, G.H. Allan, fed her grapes and honey from the boat to keep up her strength, and strong tea and cocoa to help fight the cold.
After overcoming hours of pain and exhaustion—and being nearly run down by a steamer—“her feet touched the chalk rocks between South Foreland and St. Margaret’s Bay”. And at 6:10 p.m., she became just the twelfth swimmer to accomplish the feat, the third woman, and the first Englishwoman. This historic swim lasted fifteen hours and fifteen minutes, and was under bitterly cold conditions, with water temperatures never rising above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It is worth mentioning that attempts at swimming the Channel were usually made earlier in the year (around August) when water temperatures are more accommodating. Why Mercedes elected to swim this late in the year is still uncertain.
Shortly after emerging from the water, Mercedes collapsed from exhaustion into the arms of her trainer, Allan, and her pilot, Harry Shart, Jr. She remained unconscious for nearly two hours, as the small fishing boat ferried her back to the Fish Market at Folkestone, where she was “cheered loudly by a big crowd”. Being in no condition to celebrate, she was quickly taken by taxi to her lodging for the night.
Unfortunately, Gleitze never really got to enjoy her success. Just a few days later, a series of events unfolded that put the legitimacy of her swim into question: On October 11, Dr. Dorothy Cochrane Logan (using her professional name, Mona McLennan), swam the Channel in thirteen hours and ten minutes. With this swim, Logan set a new record time for women, when she “walked a few steps up Folkestone beach”, at 8:50 a.m.
This was the second report of a woman swimming the Channel in less than a week, and suspicions quickly arose as to the legitimacy of her claim. Under heavy scrutiny, Logan soon recanted her story and confessed that her swim was a hoax. With Logan’s confession, Mercedes’ swim also came under suspicion. In a way, she was considered guilty by association and was said to be very upset by the accusations, and, unlike Logan, said, “All right, I’ll do it again”. Thus, the stage was set, and Gleitze was scheduled to swim the Channel again, on October 21, in what was touted as the “Vindication Swim”.
Just a year prior (on July 29, 1926), Rolex patented the first waterproof wristwatch: the Rolex Oyster. When Hans Wilsdorf (the cofounder and Managing Director of Rolex) got word of the vindication swim, he saw this as a golden opportunity to promote his new creation. Wilsdorf wasted no time, and on October 14, dispatched a letter to Miss Gleitze by way of the S. T. Garland advertising service. By this letter, he formally agreed to provide her with a gift wristlet watch to be worn during the upcoming swim. In exchange, Gleitze would provide a written testimonial on the performance of the watch after the swim.
This “Vindication Swim” began at 4:21 a.m., when Mercedes again entered the waters at Cap Gris Nez. However, unlike her previous swim, the fog on this day was minimal and she had a full entourage accompanying her—numerous chase boats were filled with journalists, friends and well-wishers.
At this point, I would like to say that Mercedes Gleitze successfully completed the swim, and the rest, as they say, is history. I would like to say that, but unfortunately it is not the case, and “history” as retold by some over the years is incorrect.
According to the London Times, the conditions during this swim were brutal, with water temperatures ranging from 53 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit—a far cry from the near-60 degree temperatures she endured on her previous swim, just two weeks prior.
Shortly after entering the water, she experienced incredible pain and numbness from the icy water. To help keep her awake, the crowd sang songs, accompanied by musicians playing the banjo and guitar. Unfortunately, this was of little help, and, at 2:25 p.m., it became evident that she would not complete the swim. The bitterly cold conditions caused her to slip in and out of a coma-like state. At 2:45 p.m., she was reluctantly hoisted into the boat, some seven miles short of her goal, and her vindication swim would not be.
Mercedes was surely disappointed by her failure, but the overwhelming reaction from the crowd must have been of some consolation. The reporters, doctors and experts on hand were amazed at her endurance and ability to withstand the treacherous cold for some ten hours and twenty-four minutes. Thus, after witnessing her determination, few if any could doubt the legitimacy of her previous swim—it was, indeed, a victory in defeat.
As she sat in the boat, one such journalist made an incredible discovery and reported it in the London Times as follows: “Hanging round her neck by a riband on this swim, Miss Gleitze carried a small gold watch, which was found this evening to have kept good time throughout.”
It may sound a bit more romantic to say that Mercedes wore a Rolex on her wrist as she swam across the English Channel, but this, unfortunately, was not the case. While she did “carry” a Rolex for more than ten hours during her vindication swim, it was not on her wrist, nor was it during the “successful” fifteen-hour swim she is remembered for. This is simply a story that has had some “specifics” misquoted over the years. With that being said, on October 25, 1927, Mercedes Gleitze forwarded a letter to Rolex, which summed it up very well, and read as follows: “You will like to hear that the Rolex Oyster watch I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in sea water at a temp of not more than 58 and often as low as 51. This is to say nothing about the sustained buffeting it must have received. Not even the quick change to the high temp of the boat cabin when I was lifted from the water seemed to affect the even tenour of its movement. The newspaper man was astonished and I, of course, am delighted with it…”
After another summer with two visits to Dover and the Global Open Water Conference taking place in Cork, some additions have been made to my little autograph book. And unfortunately I missed some autographs last weekend. The book continues to grow and seems to spawned at least two by other swimmers, the sincerest form of flattery! I keep forgetting to take photos of people signing it, apart from Steve Redmond whom I’ve photographed three times signing it.
The book currently includes about 110 autographs that I can read, plus a few signatures that I can’t read (and a couple that signed without meeting the minimum requirement). If you know you are in the book and not on the list below, let me know.
Also, yes, Sandycove is a nationality.
There are some non-marathon swimmers deliberately in there, such is their relevance in Channel swimming: Freda Streeter, Coach Eilis, Barrie Wakeham, Paul Foreman and of course my “parents” David and Evelyn Frantzeskhou with others to add in this category also.
It continues to be great fun, and a great pleasure to see new Irish marathon swimmers also added to it each year. The index below mentions usually only one swim or achievement per person, but many have more swims identified either in the book or in the extended index file.
Now, how do I get Ali Streeter, Abou Heif and Ted Erikson?
No precept is more sacred to marathon swimmers than the forbidding of a deliberate touch between swimmer and anything else; boats, people or equipment other than feed supplies. That is the way we disqualify ourselves or how we signify that a swim is over. Until you have been there, until it has been you or until you have seen a swimmer agonise for long minutes in the water, knowing there is no hope of continuing, but knowing they or you have to reach out and touch the boat, you can’t understand this.
It’s a really, really, really big deal for us.
Everything about swimming reduces to those moments. It’s difficult to explain how it feels to try to push a swimmer beyond any possibility of continuing a swim, beyond what you want to push them, so they will know afterwards they did everything. It’s different from pushing yourself. You almost hate yourself for pushing them. So the swimmer will have no doubts that when they reached out to touch the boat, it was the right and final act. When you dismiss or wilfully and repeatedly ignore these essential facts, disregard this moment of truth and subsequently lie about it, you guarantee the animosity of the marathon swimming community.
Let me be repeat what I said earlier in the series:
I do not really care what the general public thinks about Diana Nyad. The world is full of crooks, cheats and charlatans who had public support, from Lance Armstrong to Silvio Berlusconi. There is nothing new in this. Diana Nyad needs public worship and adulation. I’m happy with just having friends.
Maybe Diana Nyad will somehow square this circle and be proven to be a paragon of virtue, despite all the items of concern outlined below. Though I do not think this will happen, nor do I believe it’s even possible. But if it does happen, it will be great for swimming and we will have served the purpose of keeping marathon swimming honest.
No-one should forget that without the forum and the questions of a few, the public would have fawned all over Diana Nyad with blind adulation, everything would have been accepted. Because Diana Nyad is nottruthful and all her claims to be so are empty.
If you hate me because I don’t share your hero-worship of Diana Nyad, I don’t care. If you have bought into the hype, (possibly literally), I don’t care. If you hate me because you think I am a “hater“, I don’t care (and you need to understand what irony means. Hint: listening to Alanis Morrisette won’t tell you).
I care about Rob Bohane stepping into the English Channel for a third time, knowing what he had gone through twice already, no fanfare, no merchandise, no bullshit. Just courage and what Channel Swimmer Sarah Thomas so memorably called on the forum, integrity. I care about all the others, stepping off a shore in the unknown, sharing common values in how they swim. In their heads only fear and excitement, a goal, a dream. To swim across. Not a movie, not adulation, not chat shows. Not deception.
Courage and integrity. A fitting epithet for marathon swimmers.
Sylvain Estadieu publicly seeking prior discussed rules for his English Channel butterfly crossing. Lisa Cummins making sure no-one could touch her when she stood up on a dark empty beach before wading back in to swim back to England. Trent Grimsey picking up litter on Dover beach. Wendy Trehiou. Jackie Cobell. Paraic Casey. Susan Taylor. Kevin Murphy. Alison Streeter. Steve Redmond. More. So many more. A roll call of courage and integrity.
It’s not that I am bothered about Diana Nyad’s media presence. It should be great for our sport. I certainly loved the coverage of Jackie Cobell, Sylvain Estadieu, Lisa, Cummins, Stephen Redmond. But I do care when the media coverage is so overwhelmingly based on what I believe to be Diana Nyad’s misrepresentation. I believe that coverage should be accurate and represent our shared values and portray the reality of our swimming world. When Diana Nyad’s actions sully past, present and future swims and swimmers, she essentially attacks friends and people I respect. So it becomes personal.
I care about my sport. My friends. My interpretation of right. My sense of trying to live up to the people I respect. I need to be able to look my friends in the eye knowing I have been true both to them and to myself, (even if they are not making the same judgement). Nothing anyone can say can take away what is for me a fundamental precept, that I require of myself. Therefore Diana Nyad has tested me, had forced me to this series and maybe that’s why this was such emotive stream-of-consciousness writing for me. The Diana Nyad controversy has sullied things I care about and I intend to reclaim those values for myself and my friends.
During the height of the controversy and discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, the forum went offline a couple of times over the weekend of the seventh and eight of September. Until now we have said publicly that was due to traffic. In fact it was due to repeated Denial of Service (“cyber”) attacks. We do not know the origin.
When they are trying to shut you up, you know you are surely doing something right.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win“. – Gandhi
What it all boils down to
The items below are based not just on the panel, but include previous events and events which have since come to light. The list below is why the onus is on Diana Nyad to prove that despite her protestations of being “ethical” that she is trustworthy and that the swim has any credibility. In this case the swim and the swimmer cannot be separated.
Despite her protestations of honesty, the case against Diana Nyad’s integrity is very strong and includes the following very extensive list. References for almost everything in this list can be found on the marathonswimmers.org discussion thread. Her comment on Facebook alone contains multiple problems.
Rules & Observation
Despite repeated calls from marathon swimmers (including myself), Diana Nyad never published any rules before any Cuba to Florida swim.
Her methods during her 2011 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims include getting onto the support boats. What would she have claimed had she been successful, given her assertions that she’s never been assisted?
Her claim that she couldn’t remember touching the boat in 2012.
Conflicted reports by team members of what touches were carried out. (There are actual photos exist of her being held).
Her conflicting claims that she never touched anything in the recent 2013 swim, yet later admitting she had been touched.
Her repeated continuing claims in the press of some undefined world record.
Her claims of not knowing about Observing requirements (to me).
Her previous use of conflicted Observers who were simultaneously promoters, journalists and a sponsor.
He claim that her Observer’s belong to a non-existent organisation (Open Water Swimming Association).
Her use of unknown Observers with no experience and no recognised training, reputation or affiliation. Her own team members ironically say a qualified team is essential.
No publication of any standards or rules according to which any Observer would be judging.
The casual retrospective dismissal of the well-documented by her own team, 7 1/2 hours without feeds, as a misquote. (“That was a mistake”), not corrected or ever mentioned by the team until raised by the forum.
Her post-panel deliberate TV statement that the team had provided all the requested documentation, (they still haven’t). She said this was because she doesn’t know how to upload documents.
Diana Nyad team member’s posts on the forum are contradictory in establishing what rules they might have been following. Much of their talk of rules seems to have been derived from the actual post-swim forum discussion and to be conflated with a non-swimmer’s understanding of English Channel rules and other rules and how, where and why these are used.
Use of an iPhone as a stopwatch. (That says a lot about the standard of rules and Observation. Strictly forbidden in almost any sport).
The events surrounding Walter Poenishes first assisted Cuba to Florida swim, before and after, contain multiple problems for her claimed integrity, including actually libellous personal attacks, subversion of sponsors and media for her own ends and ultimately the ruining of a man’s life. Mr Poenisch had to take legal action before Diana Nyad withdrew her attacks but he was never able to repair the damage she had already done.
Her dismissal of Suzie Maroney’s Cuba to Florida swim also as assisted (which it was) but never acknowledging that she herself was assisted.
Any assertions that the community now accepts that she swam the distance. I myself don’t say this. Without reputable experienced Observers (more than two are required for 48+ hours) and original Observer Logs that can be proven to be created on the relevant dates. There is no way to know. In fact I don’t seen now how this can ever be proven. The requirement for stringency has been caused by Diana Nyad having heard all questions in public after the swim was over before she ever set out to clarify.
Her repeated calling on some unknown higher authority called “the sport of open water swimming” or “the auspices of the sport” for the media. (Please refer to the vote above).
Her claim of no contact to her from the marathon community.
Her ignoring an offer to help set up an Observing Organisation specifically for her and the Florida Strait.
Her implicit denial that such an offer was made to made.
The apparent denial of what her own jellyfish advisor Dr. Yanigahara says was essential safety treatment, to Chloe MacCardel for her Cuba to Florida attempt.
Her untrue assertion that “my own peer group, instead of coming to me and asking me questions went to the media“. (In fact the media contacted us, Diana Nyad is the one who courts the media. I answered one media request early on and ignored the few subsequent requests).
The lack of real explanation about the apparent contradiction in her own video evidence of the navigator versus the public claims.
Her disrespect for other swimmers.
Her hypocritical treatment of Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, with public claims of well-wishing, contradicted by post-swim statements hoping they would fail.
A Team Nyad source told of her later instruction to her team “do not the feed the trolls” specifically about the forum, whom she also called peers when it suited. somewhat at odds with this statement: “They want to know how the facts came down so they can understand it. They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.“
Confusion over apparent discrepancy between publicly available Florida current satellite data and Diana Nyad’s post-swim Florida Current data, for the same days.
Her appeal to the Court of Public Approval, (in science, one of the most conclusive demonstrations of fraud).
Her utter public disrespect for volunteers, calling them “traitors”.
Diana Nyad, with a lifelong history of braggadocio and deceit about swims, including exiting the water, and with a tenuous relationship to the concept of rules, with no Independent Observers, claims to have done an unassisted swim , which includes a previously uncharted current that allowed her more than double her swim speed in open water after 30 hours.
Diana Nyad followed a lifelong pattern of deceit about swimming for self-aggrandisement and ego.
Ceteribus paribus. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best.
When you are sitting in the changing room of your pool or at the beach or somewhere and someone says to you “did you hear about that woman who swam from Cuba to Florida …“. Take a breath. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t worry about seeming like a crank. Instead say “well, actually, let me explain about that to you…”
I struggled with how I could wrap this up. What could I say that could make any difference?
Then again, I realised I didn’t have to make a difference. I only had to do what I have done. Write and let sunlight disinfect Diana Nyad. But something else happened as I wrote, as I got further into this series. I started this series with a sense of grim resignation, frustration and ennui. But as I wrote, I felt better. I felt better and I felt more able to be completely honest about what I think of this debacle. As I wrote, we all took back our sport.
Further, I realised I could make a personal decision, a decision just for myself.
I am a channel swimmer. The title is one of my proudest possessions. I can use it because of the trust and integrity of the worldwide marathon swimming community (any Channel applies), and I choose to use it because of the respect I have for friends and swimmers far greater than I who hold that title.
You know that one decision I can make about Diana Nyad? You’ll laugh. It’s not all this writing. It’s not the forum, the panel, the conversations, emails, messages or even this series.
The strongest personal statement that I can make, here and now, is that I would not let Diana Nyad sign my marathon swimmers autograph book. I do not believe Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida.
Diana Nyad does not appear to have the probity or integrity that I require of her.
Thanks for sticking with this and thanks for all the supportive messages.
For whatever it’s worth, I feel cleaner now. See you on the Copper Coast, in Sandycove or in Dover.
I’m really sorry that this is taking so long, I have better things to do myself! I’ve found it difficult to distil this subject down to essentials. I’ve written long series before, and there’s no way I’m giving Diana Nyad more blog parts than more important subjects like Understanding Cold Adaptation in Humans or Trent Grimsey’s English Channel record. So you are getting long posts instead.
An important moment came for me during the entire controversy. I’d asked for advice or even new questions from various swim friends for the review panel. One respondent, she knows who she is, gave some excellent media advice: Stick to the message, don’t get bogged down in technicalities that the public doesn’t understand or care about. I planned to do so. And then, on the panel, I realised that while it was excellent advice, it wasn’t the right advice for me just then.
I actually don’t really care if the American public paints an American flag on Diana Nyad’s face and makes her Queen. I only care about the swimming. (If I’d had to endure the media questioning, this may have been different but as a swim blogger, especially one outside the shadow Diana Nyad casts over the US media, I can both be dismissed and still retain freedom).
The words assisted or unassisted don’t matter to the general public, but they do matter … to me, to my friends, to the swimmers who came before Diana Nyad, to the swimmers who will come afterwards and they may even matter to Diana Nyad.
When you ask yourself who has a vested interest here, ask yourself which of us, myself or Diana Nyad, has more reasons for deception. (None of all this writing gains me one cent toward funding any of the swims I can’t afford to do). If you are a Diana Nyad supporter, maybe you can ponder that while you are waiting for your credit card to process.
I speak for myself and no-one else. I came to believe that the level of deception was deliberate and purposeful, some unwittingly so by crew chosen with little understanding of the context and apparently no guiding rules.
The extent of that contravention is unknown. Experienced marathon swimmers and crew, who know what we are looking at, who can make judgements based on knowing when something looks wrong, will keep going back to this brief video when Diana Nyad is supposed to be going at her fastest pace due to a current assist.
The public through Diana Nyad’s website and Daily News of Open Water Swimming and repeated public speaking and writing were led to believe that the swims would be attempted unsupported, especially the 2011 and first 2012 swim.
In the absence of published rules, I can only infer that Diana Nyad contravened rules generally adhered to around the world for over a century. These rules are called English Channel rules and dictate swimming not just in the English Channel but any swim where aren’t specific local rules. They are guidelines. There are exceptions to these rules (Cook, Manhattan) BUT these exceptions are codified and in place BEFOREHAND, and not used to claim records and aren’t directly compared to unassisted swims.
The media and the Diana Nyad team have since the swim repeatedly focused on these words, “English Channel Rules“, and used them in a deceptive manner. “Throw out that stuffy rule book“, said one of Diana Nyad’s team on the forum, showing a profound lack of understanding of the debate. No-one ever said that Diana Nyad had to use these rules. However in the absence of any clarifying guidelines, for which no-one but Diana Nyad herself is responsible, these rules are a universal constant of marathon swimming, like water. Diana Nyad only has herself to blame because she squandered or deliberately misplaced any opportunity to clarify before and after every attempt.
If you want to play games with experts don’t be surprised when they don’t buy your line of bullshit.
I already mentioned that I was contacted, along with other swimmers, to “respectfully” contribute to a discussion of a device under consideration for the second 2012 swim. We’ve seen Diana Nyad use the word pre-emptively respectfully repeatedly with the media and with swimmers, and the media bite this hook. I’m not the most perceptive person you’ll meet in person but damn it if even I didn’t see it for what it was; media manipulation by an expert, to an uncomprehending, uncritical audience, and damn it if it doesn’t remind me of how when Lance Armstrong was questioned he always used cancer as the response to divert.
Prior to September 2013 the most discussed marathonswimmers.org forum discussion was the 2012 discussion of Diana Nyad’s second attempt of that year. Following the announcement of her “success” on her fifth attempt in early September this year, the forum lit up with discussion of that swim, of which thread I initially stayed clear. It has became the most discussed topic in forum history. What that tells you is that the majority of marathon swimmers, best qualified to understand and support or question, were engaged.
As I wrote previously those threads are fascinating reading and essential if you want the context and the thoughts of a wide selection of actual marathon swimmers, and also of some Diana Nyad crew and supporters. There were extraordinary revelatory moments, amongst which was swimmer Andrew Malinak’s actually scouring of the data from Diana Nyad’s website, that led to the questions about Diana Nyad’s speed increase after thirty hours. It led to the subsequent engagement by Diana Nyad’s webmaster, Chris. (Had Diana Nyad ensured her Observers were of the same calibre of transparency as Chris, this issue could have been over by now). And Sarah Thomas’ hugely popular articulation of how many feel, and also Niek Kloot’s detective work on Walter Poenisch.
It’s a lot isn’t it? The forum, the blogs, the newspaper and online articles, the media interviews, this seemingly interminable series…How can you really come to a definitive conclusion?
How can I get this monkey off my back? A soupçon of Socratic Method, cut by Occam’s Razor, leavened by gut feeling. Questions and answers. (Or lack of answers in this case).
Throughout this controversy there has been one recurring issue for actual marathon swimmers, rather than the adoring public, an issue that’s been growing: The question of integrity.
I’ll put it another way: There are serious questions over Diana Nyad’s probity and trustworthiness.
“But she’s a 64-year-old woman who did an astonishing swim you couldn’t do! She’s an amazing inspiration”.
Yes, I’ve already heard that. Playing to the gallery means nothing. Had Diana Nyad taken the most simple of steps, we could have been all celebrating her. But most of the people best qualified to understand Diana Nyad and her claimed success certainly aren’t so doing. You need to grasp that fact. The fact that most marathon swimmer’s don’t seem to believe Diana Nyad is a very telling weathervane.
Diana Nyad’s actions in the 1970′s and 1990′s were a demonstration of her questionable probity when she attacked both Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney in the media over their respective Cuba to Florida assisted swims. She attempted to subvert Walter Poenisches attempt and unleashed a vicious attack on him afterwards, only retracted on legal threats. For over 30 years she falsely claimed to be the first woman to swim Around Manhattan.
Yet she herself is now being defensive and even duplicitous about similar issues. Her 2010 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims incontrovertibly showed that she was still not above misleading everyone prior to, during and after swims. It is safe to say that those swims alienated many members of the marathon swimming community. She held onto and got into support boats. She herself was the cause of the alienation, not this bad man from Ireland. She took the trust people initially placed in her as a swimmer, and she destroyed it.
She’s not the first swimmer to make dubious claims, and won’t be last but this is the swim where I draw my own line.
Here is the swim and the swimmer where I choose to say: No. I don’t believe you. Clearly, so anyone who chooses can hear.
Diana Nyad demonstrated a complete lack of interest in rules.
Rules. A small word, a big concept, but one that is easy to grasp. Rules are essential as guidelines for all human activity, and specific in the sporting realm. Clear published rules allows us the ability to judge and evaluate, to demonstrate fair play and to aid in the evaluation of effort, to present a level playing surface for all competitors. To separate the merely excellent from the truly historic or exceptional.
Rules aren’t a burden. They also protect the average honest athlete giving their all to the effort, dividing them from the cheats and the self-promoters. One of the features of rules is that they need to be published. Why do I have to explain that rules need to be known to everyone BEFOREHAND? I’m frustrated that, in light of this shambles, I, an adult, am trying to explaining what rules are for and why, to you, other adults, all of whom already know this.
Nor did Diana Nyad care about what actual marathon swimmer thought, despite her later protestations, despite the faux-respect of the panel. Our concerns previously had no effect on her, and she had only engaged when it became clear that we were being listened to. We weren’t disgruntled because we were feeling left out, or that we wanted to be in control, as the Extreme Dreamers would assert.
A brief perusal of the marathon swimmers forum will demonstrate a lively, energetic, engaged community, celebrating and supporting swims and swimmers around the world.
Instead we had genuine questions, that could so easily have been assuaged with information and some planning changes. They knew we were here, so they had to have known the questions and concerns. Diana Nyad also didn’t choose to get the marathon swimmers on her side, and you have to wonder why, since media and public attention is clearly at the heart of what she desires. Could it be that actual experienced swimming Observers would be so much more difficult to bamboozle?
Diana Nyad has only reacted in 2013 because our debate got outside the swimming community, first published by Simon Griffiths and H2Open magazine on Septemeber the 2nd, then followed by a National Geographic web story and then Suzanne Sataline for the New York Times, which then very quickly became the story of the week. We were tarnishing the image, and far more importantly I suspect, the earning potential, and casting a shadow on her ego, so clearly seen in her claims of a new world record.
Her probity and integrity was amply demonstrated (and probably irreparably to the swimming community) to be at odds with the values of the marathon swimming community when she attacked volunteers. This is no small matter for people who place their dreams and lives into the safekeeping of those selfsame volunteers. The About page on Loneswimmer.com written well over three and a half years ago expressly thanks those who have helped me in my minor achievements. Every swimmer I know understands this. Without exception.
People have pointed out her attack on what she perceived as her competitors, Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, both of whom have acted in an entirely more honourable and open fashion regarding the same swim. I do think it’s possible to put that aside, even though a lack of willingness to help others in the community achieve swims is also anathema to marathon swimmers. The attack on the volunteers is very different and a repulsive attitude to the worldwide cadre of swimmers.
The post-panel email discussion went on for over a week. Other additions to the panel included Skip Storch, who had attempted the swim in the 90′s, Captain Timothy Johnson, Author of The History of Marathon Swimming, Sid Cassidy, a Team USA coach, and I’ve heard Lynne Cox was listening in (allegedly). Members of the panel were part of the post-swim discussion. A few days in, it seemed to me, (very subjective), that there may be a move to have some kind of a vote by the IMSHOF members, who would have included from the panel, I think, Steve Munatones, Skip Storch and Penny Dean.
Concerned something like a “star-chamber” might arise to decree the swim unassisted, Evan and I decided to give marathonswimmers.org forum members their chance to cast their decision. For 48 hours we ran a simple unannounced vote on the forum on this simple question:
Was Diana Nyad’s swim assisted or unassisted?
Unlike the WOWSA awards this wasn’t a public vote. We allowed no new membership applications during the time to avoid vote brigading, (the biggest problem with the WOWSA awards), no comments were allowed in the thread and there was no prior notification of its announcement, and no canvassing. Just a simple vote. Diana Nyad repeatedly spoke about the consensus of the marathon swimming community after her swim. Here was a way to see what that consensus was.
After 48 hours the vote was
82 votes forAssisted
2 votes forUnassisted
Actual marathon swimmers had spoken. Overwhelmingly and unambiguously.
The consensus Diana Nyad which looked for has happened, but that consensus of marathon swimmers said her swim is Assisted. Which makes her the Third Assisted Cuba to Florida swimmer after Walter Poenisch and Suzie Maroney.
Two weeks after this vote, Diana Nyad, who reportedly said “I don’t want the record if they’re going to call it assisted because that’s the equivalent of fins or shark cage” is still doing the media rounds.
I’m almost there, I promise, just one more to go. Stay with me and let’s all see this series through to the end.
As I said previously, I endured three hours of the panel on the telephone before bailing out about thirty minutes before the end. You are surely thinking to yourself, only three hours compared to this unending series? Yes, that’s how I feel also, actually. :-)
Swim promoter, panel organiser, Moderator and former Observer and Sponsor of Diana Nyad, Steve Munatones said there would be people from Hawaii to Germany on the call, but mine was the only voice from outside the USA, and as such I felt uncomfortable, a token voice of the stuffy English Channel community. The bad European from Hollywood movies, my Irish brogue an unusual substitute for the more common clipped tones of a German or English film baddie, (apologies to my English and German friends)! Rampant paranoia, I have to admit.
Because this wasn’t the world of swimming I know, the world of shite-talk about swimming, and craic* with friends at the Guillamene, in Sandycove or Dover, going for a Sandycove lap or three. Instead this was a world of famous swimmers, lawyers, media and manipulation.
Other facts contributed to my paranoia. In the lead-up to the call, Steve Munatones emailed that he was looking forward to my contributions on the subject of the current. This set off more alarm bells for me. I write here about tides and currents for swimmers, but mostly tides because I think it’s a woefully under-represented subject that’s really important for safety, and if I can learn something and pass it on that’s helpful.
Ocean currents are specific to their region and as such beyond my limited knowledge. I’m not even a sailor. The only ocean navigation map I have studied in any great detail is the English Channel map. I quickly disabused Steve of any notion that I claim expertise. I can understand the global and macro regional details but that’s about it and that’s only because I like reading about that stuff.
It was enough that I had to suffer the essential charade of the panel. Can we agree that I did so you didn’t have to?
I’ll stick mostly to my own input, with an occasional foray into other’s contributions as I saw them. Should any of the other panel members wish to add any comments here, please email them to me guys, and I’ll add them here (publicly identified Panel Members 1 to 10, number 11 Mike Lewis has his own paid outlet, he was a conflict-of-interest previous Nyad Observer, he can take a flying jump) .
The call started with Moderator and Diana Nyad supporter and swim promoter Steve Munatones introducing everyone very briefly, extended introductions would have been interminable (like this subject) and intimidating (for me).
Diana Nyad made a lengthy opening statement. The word respectfully was used by Diana Nyad again, apparently without any irony. It included a statement that she has never cheated in her life. As with almost everyone she said, I felt her statements were not for the panel or the subject, but with a firm eye to the media. Yes, I had preconceptions. I am not at all embarrassed by this.
Ding, Ding. Round 1
The significant first portion of the call contained John Bartlett outlining experience with his confirmation of the existence of the northerly current. Then we went through a round of Q&A with each member of the panel. John Bartlett answered some, Diana Nyad or Bonnie Stoll answered some others. Then next round would move onto the next subject.
You can jump the technical parts by going straight from the bold arrow below, to the next bold arrow further down.
I can swim in the winter in Ireland because as every Irish school child knows, the 50º+ North Latitudes of Ireland and Great Britain is kept clear of ice during the winter months by the North Atlantic Drift current. This is part of the Global Thermohaline Circulation, also known as the Global Conveyor Belt. The North Atlantic Drift current is fed by the warm Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream comprises two main components, the important-for-our-discussion Florida Current and the Antilles Current which flows north and east of Cuba to where both join off the Florida coast. The Florida Current flows out of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean between Cuba and the Florida Keys, a long stretch of interconnected islands and atolls. Deep breath.
The Florida current is fed by the warm waters and weather of the western Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico and must flow in a north-easterly direction to exit into the Atlantic, since of course there is land is the way otherwise. This gap between Florida and Cuba is known as the Florida Strait. A Strait, like the Dover or Cook Straits, is a narrow stretch of water that connects two larger bodies of water and as such is usually typified by strong currents, the so-called finger-over-a-garden-hose effect.
To swim from Havana to Florida, Diana Nyad had to swim across this current to the north, when it would be trying to push her North-east, away from land. To see the effects on the path of a swimmer swimming across a normally three knot tidal current, look at the first section of almost any English Channel swimming map of which there are many out there. (Ignore Trent’s world record map as atypical). Aand relax.
——>> End of jump.
Part of the problem of analysing the swim is that Diana Nyad apparently swam almost due north across the usual flow of current or had it flowing directly behind her pushing her toward land. And she did so at a greater than world record pace. Bored yet? You will be.
John Bartlett, Team Nyad Navigator essentially said that the team had the advice of an oceanographer who used a process the oceanographer called altimetry. This is a phrase for measurement of the ocean surface height, presumably from satellite. I have been unable to determine the origin or wide-spread use of this phrase in meteorology but I do know satellite altimetry is used to measure tidal movement. Measuring the ocean height would lead to the identification of upwellings and downwellings. These are the flows of cold water (upwellings) and warm (downwellings water of water from and to the ocean surface respectively. One will supposedly come with an anti-clockwise rotation, the other with a clockwise rotation, I can’t remember which is which. I do know that other things such as prevailing wind also affects the surface current direction of either.
I’d like to point here out that I, a self-identified disbeliever of the Diana Nyad story and not-at-all-an-oceanographer-or-navigator, can convey this more clearly than any of the vague hand-waving of Team Nyad outside the panel, and apparently better than Diana Nyad, who was seemingly content to not understand any of this, as she herself said. I don’t really even want to go into the incredulous story of what they claimed about last year’s swim but briefly the pilot and handler knew the 2012 swim wasn’t possible but they went out for 40 hours of swimming anyway. Seriously.
Correct identification of the current state of the ocean would allow Team Nyad to catch an anti-clockwise gyre (rotational current) across the prevailing north-easterly current and essentially catch a free ride to Florida, pushed by currents. It sounds good to a layman. I’m a layman, so I can’t really interrogate it. All this took quite a while and I found John Bartlett credible, like I found Diana Nyad’s webmaster Chris, (who unfortunately had nothing to do with the swim). I know, you are shocked, you thought I was going to argue with everything. If so you misunderstand me.
John Bartlett says that he confirmed the presence or absence of this current over many trips out in the Florida Straits over at least two years, taking about 100 drift measurements. He spoke about using special equipment, but I’ve seen ordinary boats with regular GPS identify currents or lack thereof, so that means nothing one way or t’other, it’s just curious.
I wanted to use my first round of questions in a particular area related to this so I started asking about the measurements. I wanted to get to a quantification of the area of measurement, and measurement deficiency, and a feel for the GIS grid of the prediction. No idea what I’m talking about? That’s ok, I doubt any of the other panel members did either and please remember I really am not even slightly expert in these areas. it might be worthwhile taking a jump over the following section, as I can tell you now it led nowhere.
Here’s an analogy: Weather forecasting in the upper-latitude eastern United States is excellent and very detailed and specific in time compared to the western Irish Atlantic seaboard where it’s less accurate. Do you know part of the reason for this? The prevailing winds are the same for both in the same latitudes. But one of the factors that improves the US forecasting is the large number of sensors to the west. You can have a large number of sensors…because it’s land. West of Ireland is the Atlantic, and measurement is difficult because … deep water. Satellites are increasingly used but local sensors are still essential. The further apart the sensors the quicker minor variations between them turn in unexpected localised weather changes. Weather is a chaotic unpredictable system (technically a dynamic non-linear system), and this is exactly what the butterfly flapping its wings analogy is intended to convey. The GIS grid is the Geographical Information System, or more simply the size of the measurement grid.
I was interested in trying to understand measurement time and distance intervals to see how granular they could get in identifying the magic current. To identify such a current, I think you would need a very small, very granular GIS measurement grid. Small in GIS terms is still intervals of miles.
This line went nowhere, when John Barlett told us there was no Oceanographer to answer these details, so I stopped and I’m finally explaining here what I was trying to understand. If I had any chance of identifying the feasibility of the theory, I needed to understand how it is identified and measured.
I know Forrest Nelson, President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Association had a conversation separately a few days before with John Barlett, but I don’t know any more than that.
Oh, you want another more apt analogy, that speaks specifically to the subject of marathon swimming?
——>> End of jump
The English Channel waters, (yawn, yes here we go again, Diana Nyad supporters) west of Cap Gris Nez are the most swam marathon waters in the world and the highest marine traffic lanes in the world. The charts are therefore pretty complete and the waters relatively well understood. Yet, as many channel swimmers and pilots will tell you should you ask, (as I have ’cause I’m a Channel Junkie), unexpected currents, weather shifts and changes of timing regularly occur. Fast swimmers are slow, slow swimmer are fast. Tide show up 30 or more minutes early, or late. Localised micro-depressions appear (one did during Sylvain Estadieu’s swim) not visible on weather forecasts or radar. And this happens in an area with all this traffic and recording on both sides, and two actual marine traffic control centres exist. Get my point? Unpredictable, in a smaller area, even with fairly close measurements. So you can extrapolate from there why I was asking: I can guess cold water temperatures all I like based on experience, but I have to calibrate that against an actual thermometer.
The Scientific Method considers physical testing (i.e. measurement) as important as the actual hypothesis. Intervals and measurement accuracy are important for understanding, and hence for prediction.
Now there have been many public discussions of the biggest questions over Diana Nyad; the sudden and sustained speed increase, the direction, the lack of feeding. I’m not going to go through them one by one here but I will address them later. Once again, I point you back to the forum discussion which has all the relevant information. There will be no surprise data announcements in these posts. Instead I’m trying to do what I said to Diana Nyad I was going to try in my second round questions to her, to synthesize what was already available or discussed.
Round 2. Seconds out. Let’s keep those punches above the belt.
Penny Dean, a global legend in open water swimming, Steve Munatones’ and former US open water coach, former English Channel world record-holder and the woman who literally wrote the book on open water swimming, (sigh) had been at best sycophantic on the first round. She apologised to Diana Nyad for the questions she was being asked, obviously by the rest of us. But Penny had no right to apologise for us. Prior to any real discussion she congratulated Diana Nyad. I don’t like writing that and she is entitled to say anything she pleases given her record especially compared to me, but I really don’t know why she was on the panel, if this was “a review panel”.
Possibly sensing the whitewash direction of the call, some of the panel shifted to a more direct path for the “second round”. Since I don’t want to speak for any of the panel I can say the questions varied and Barbara Held, someone who claims large admiration amongst marathon swimmers went directly to the point of the seven and half hours with no feeds. Dave Barra questioned which record Diana Nyad was actually claiming. Ron Collins asked about the apparent freshness of Diana Nyad immediately post-swim. Richard Clifford questioned on the discrepancy between videos and what was reported, such as apparent stroke rate, and recorded comments from the navigator. Evan Morrison asked specific questions about whether she exit the water or touched the boat and then about training. The answers were no (she didn’t exit), she couldn’t remember touching the boat, her speed is 50m per minute in training, i.e. two minutes per 100m but she can hold this “forever” and the unsolicited nonsense about peeing in the pool, again done for the media.
I’ll have to let those guys give their own public impression should they wish to so do but they all sounded great to me. I didn’t feel alone.
The call had already heard plenty of faux drawing-room courtesy, straight from Oscar Wilde with lots of effusiveness on both sides. I was somewhat sucked in, I’m now embarrassed to say. But this was an American call after all, I was the interloper, replete with Irish scepticism.
When the second round of questioning came to me, I waffled too long in asking my question. I hadn’t prepared it other than having it on a vague list, as I had no idea which way the call would develop. So I winged it, which led to a too-long introduction from me.
I was far too long-winded. But my essential question did make it through clearly: Why, in a swim with global visibility and of a commercial nature, therefore unlike any other swim, didn’t Diana Nyad set out to maximise transparency and use fully independent observers?
We as humans are attuned to communication signals. I sensed, in the ether of telephonic cyberspace, where the words in a telephone network switch meet, that Diana Nyad had just crossed me off her Christmas Card list.
The response was frosty and disingenuous, at best. As with earlier, I felt the answer really wasn’t going for me, but for the media, but further that I had made her uncomfortable. In the response, (no “I’m glad you asked that question” for me) Diana Nyad said that she had been out of marathon swimming for 30 years and was unaware of the rules, and wasn’t aware that she needed to personally know the observers.
At this point Penny Dean intervened and started congratulating Diana Nyad again.
So I had to stop her.
Me, a nobody, had to stop one of the most famous open water swimmers of the latter half of the twentieth-century from speaking. You couldn’t hear it in my voice but I think there was a quaver. It was in a way one of the most scary moments of my swimming life.
I disabused Diana Nyad of her response. I said that the rules of marathon swimming go back 138 years and they were in place before she stopped and are well-known, and that I wasn’t postulating a mass conspiracy theory, nor did I believe in one. Essentially she was putting words in my mouth, (the old straw-man argument tactic, say your opponent said something they didn’t so you can knock it down).
She responded again this time saying that no-one in the marathon swimming community reached out to her. This response was utter nonsense.
If you’ve read the forum thread you will know that I said that a person (Ned Denison) had emailed Penny Palfrey, Diana Nyad and Steve Munatones 18 months previously with three options on how to handle a future swim, including an offer to actually set up an zero-cost official Florida Straits Swimming Association and allow Penny and Diana Nyad substantial input to setting out Florida Strait rules. Thus giving Diana Nyad exactly what she and her supporters have been saying, that only she or the first person to do it, which at that time could only have been Penny.
You’ll also know from the forum that she said she never received it, despite that Penny Palfrey and Steve Munatones had, and that Steve Munatones was actually sitting beside her at that point. Steve neglected to mention this for the camera or anyone else. Diana Nyad said she couldn’t respond to an anonymous critic, which is fair, so I pointed out that the person (Ned) is an Honour Administrator in the International Marathon Swim Hall of Fame, which at least means a lot of people know him. When I said I would give the name to Steve Munatones privately, he never mentioned that he already knew whom it was.
Why would she turn this down? I can postulate that any prior disclosure of any rules at all was still too limiting to what she had planned.
On the forum Angel Yanigahara of Team Nyad later said that “perhaps only Diana, Chloe and Penny should make the rules for this body of water“. She is not the only supporter of Diana Nyad to make a similar claim. Indeed Diana Nyad herself back in the 1970′s claimed that the first swimmer got to make the rules, though of course Diana Nyad herself ruined the life of the first person to swim those waters, Walter Poenisch.
Would you like that bread buttered on both sides, Diana? And how about a slice of this special cake-that-you-can-have-and-eat also?
I also mentioned that Team Nyad had of course directly Tweeted me the previous year soliciting my opinion and input, as mentioned previously.
As was the tone of the entire call, when it suited Diana Nyad, her team were responsible whether either things went right or things went wrong, to suit herself and she, a journalist, doesn’t know how to use Twitter or Facebook.
I finished with the specific point that she had made two demonstrably incorrect claims regardless of what she had just claimed.
With that I was done. My foreboding of a whitewash and setup didn’t waver. I think that the reason Diana Nyad didn’t use the panel more widely afterwards was that she assumed we would be more easily wooed or impressed or roll over. Many important questions were never answered or even addressed, especially the other Observation questions.
Diana Nyad never did answer that question I’d asked.
I got two hours sleep and left for Dover, hoping to decompress from this nonsense and to crew for Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel butterfly. English Channel two-way legend Lisa Cummins was sitting beside me on the plane, and had to listen to it all, poor her. (If you haven’t visited Dover beach with Lisa, you really don’t understand how she is viewed).
I’ve finished writing. I’m not even sure how to describe the next part except it’s long. Long even by these standards. There will be a final part after that, just in time for the Global Conference in Cork. I didn’t originally plan it that way, I found no way to comprehensively cover the subject and we know that DNOWS won’t do it. Far too many words and too much time on this for me.
*I refuse to clarify this post with a definition of the indefinable yet quintessential Irish word craic. The easiest way to find is to come to the Global Conference in Cork. Lots will be had. For giggles, you could watch Steve Munatones and I dance warily around each other. We should teach him The Siege of Ennis … in swim togs. (Someone should teach me first).
Let me start with a note: this series is growing all the time as I write. I had no plans to turn this into the Infinite Jest of marathon swimming, but the words keep pouring out. I have no idea how much longer it will be right now, or if I will have any writing left in me when it’s done. Though I will have to write up Sylvain’s fantastic English Channel butterfly swim, at least. Consider this due warning.
On Monday 16th September I received an invitation from swim promoter Steve Munatones of Daily News of Open Water Swimming to take part in an “expert review” of Diana Nyad’s swim.
I can only surmise that this was either because this blog is fairly widely read by open water swimmers around the world, or because I’m a co-founder of the forum, (or some mix of both). I’m sorry I keep saying this, but in a way no-one is more perplexed than myself by my apparent notoriety in the tiny world of open water swimming. I (used to) love writing about the subject, love the people, and the community, but do so with a certain knowledge of my inadequate experience and swimming skill compared to many others, and I regularly bristle at any externally imposed obligation or responsibility to be more sensitive, or to be a leader, even when it comes from friends. Lone and all that.
What I like most about writing my blog is the hope that it will be useful for swimmers and aspirants. Nothing gives me a reward like someone saying “Thanks” or That was useful. Nothing motivates me like a perceived attack on friends.
I see Diana Nyad as an overt attack on swimming friends by attacking the integrity and ethos of the community as a whole, and therefore on my particular individual friends by extension. (That’s the way my mind works).
Maybe this is burnout speaking, in trying to lay this out for you, to explain what and why and part of who I am and how that shapes my opinions. Maybe it’s the self-indulgence of blogging finally emerging, when I am usually more rigourous in controlling my writing.
Okay, back to the panel. Finally, says you…
The panel invitation opened with:
Objectives: To gather a group of experienced and knowledgeable marathon and channel swimmers to:1. address concerns that Diana Nyad did not swim from Cuba to Florida as she represents2. address specific questions regarding Diana Nyad’s swim details as reported on her blog3. review the data and oceanographic information collected by the GPS unit during the swim
The panel included the people below. Where I have met or had previous contact with the person, I’ll put their names in blue.
1. Forrest Nelson, President, Catalina Channel Swimming Association
2. Evan Morrison, Board Member, Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association Co-Founder, Marathon Swimmers Forum
3. David Barra Member, Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming Creator, 8 Bridges Swim
4. Michelle Macy, Member, Oceans Seven. (I seriously doubt she remembers, we were doing a 5k swim in Deal in the English Channel organised for the Irish Channel swimmers in Dover in 2013 by local swimmer Paul Massey).
5. Barbara Held, Member, Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
7. Ron Collins, Race Director, Tampa Bay Marathon Swim
8. Donal Buckley, Co-founder Marathon Swimmers Forum. (What the hell am I doing in this company?)
9. Richard Clifford, Kayaker and attorney.
10. Penny Dean, Former English Channel record holder & USA Swimming Team Coach. (She literally wrote the book on open water swimming).
11. Mike Lewis, Open water swimming photojournalist, SwimSwam. (It should be noted that Mike Lewis has also been part of the Open Water Source network of Steve Munatones and the Daily News of Open Water Swimming network, who wrote an unintentionally funny, due its utter lack of understanding, hagiography of Diana Nyad’s swim the very day of the panel).
It was mostly an intimidating panel of which to be a member.
The panel would also include: Diana Nyad Team Members
1. Diana Nyad, Swimmer. Allegedly.
2. John Barlett, Navigator
3. Roger McVeigh, Observer
4. Janet Hinkle, Observer
5. Angel Yanagihara, Crew Member & Jellyfish Expert
6. Bonnie Stoll, Handler
There was a list of questions that were due to be addressed cut and pasted below in italics:
Explanation: John Barlett will explain the following to provide background information for the panel:1. How was the GPS data collected?2. Where is the GPS data stored? 3. How was the decision made to start the swim?4. How did Diana traverse across the Straits of Florida and navigate across the Gulf Stream?
Roger McVeigh and Janet Hinkle will explain the following:1. Where were they positioned during the swim?2. How did they collect the information and fill out the Observer forms?3. What was their experience as observers?
Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll will explain the following:1. How was the stinger suit and protective wear put on and taken off during the swim?2. Did you touch the boat inadvertently or purposefully?3. How was Diana fed?Questions: 1. Did Diana get on the boat to rest?2. Did Diana touch a kayak or another swimmer to rest?3. Did Diana use neoprene, hand paddles or fins to propel herself?4. Was Diana pulled along the boat?5. How did Diana continue without eating or drinking for over 7 hours during the swim?6. How did Diana put on and take off her protective swimwear?7. How was the Sting Stopper applied?8. How did Diana swim so fast during some portions of the swim, specifically during the 27th through 30th hour?9. Is her swim a world record?10. Others
During the day leading up the call, Steve Munatones told us that media would be present. My feeling from the initial invitation, which never subsided, was of great wariness. The late addition of media was portrayed as unavoidable, thought it seemed the point was to serve the story and the self-publicity of Diana Nyad and of course Open Water Source the network of sites of Steve Munatones who operates Daily News of Open Water Swimming.
“Diana Nyad faces critics“, the headline wrote itself before we even began.
We were given the option of pulling out, but you can guess the worse headline in that event. It felt like a set-up.
I’m certain Steve Munatones would deny it but I doubt all of the people on the panel would disagree with me. Actually that’s a bit ambiguous; I am sure many of the panel members would agree with me.
Disclaimer: I rarely read Daily news of Open Water Swimming now. I once said to Steve Munatones that “have you seen DNOWS” was a regular conversation starter but I can’t remember the last time I heard that. It’s still far bigger than Loneswimmer.com and Steve Munatones has accomplished more in swimming than I ever will so take my comments in that context.
Loneswimmer is a blog. I don’t pretend to be a swim journalist. This is opinion, with facts that I can verify as needed. From something with News in the tile, I expect critical analysis and verification. If you want actual news of swimming though, use H2Open.com or other online sources. If you want cheerleading then DNOWS is your venue. If you want to publicise your swim, hell, send it to me, plenty of people read loneswimmer.com and I could do with a break from writing. This doesn’t apply to Diana Nyad.
I’m just a guy. Don’t automatically trust me if you like my blog. Blind belief is dangerous no matter where you aim it, I don’t want yours. But don’t automatically trust people who want to convince you of a story for an ulterior motive.
I do this for fun. At least, I used to, not recently. (You have little idea how much I am questioning the future of loneswimmer.com and coming to no conclusions).
There was always a bigger story here, and the media cannot understand our sport. The Diana Nyad story seemed exactly designed for public consumption, full as it was of endless empty fortune cookie exhortations to “dream”, to “believe” and to “overcome”.
Diana Nyad’s previous $10,000 to $15,000 fee for motivational speaking, a film already out on the day before I am writing this (faster than many Channel swimmers can release their personal videos onto YouTube) , website merchandise and you would be surely justified expecting a big book for the Christmas market, well, what was that point about asking who benefits again?
Mere hours before the call, an email emerged that had been sent from Steve Munatones to the International Marathon Swim Hall of Fame Board of Directors, which I and others read as escalating our suspicions of a set-up. Steve said in response that he was just as entitled to his opinion, which of course no-one ever denied. What we questioned was the explicit conflict of interest and lack of partiality.
Aside: I need to clear something up. I could reproduce emails but I don’t because I consider them private. But I can tell you that since early 2012 most emails I have sent that have included Steve Munatones in the circulation list are marked as Not For Publication. I did not like seeing my words used on DNOWS without my permission. Also Evan and I have repeatedly explained to Steve the etiquette of using discussions on the forum without reference.
All Diana Nyad’s team had to do on the panel was repeat one thing: It was the current. It was the current. It was the current. Someone on the forum calls it the “magic current“.
We were the suckers rounded up to provide the posse of bad guys, to add the final chapter to the Christmas book. You can see that final chapter in your mind, can’t you: “Just when, after all these years, I thought the hardest part was over…”
It was all the audience, the media and the public only needed, and only wanted to hear.
In the next part I will discuss parts of the call. At over three hours long before I left I will stick almost entirely to my own questions and opinions rather than a more forensic or comprehensive accounting. It will include one of the more scary moments of my swimming life, which happened on dry land on a phone.
* Cúchulainn, has been called the Irish Achilles. Look him up. The second most extant oral history in the entire world outside Greek myth and legend is Irish. Cúchulainn is one of our greatest stories and Hollywood hasn’t put its destructive hands on any of it yet. Eoin Neeson’s slim Irish Myths & Legends, Lady Greogory’s definitive Gods & Fighting Men, and Cúchulainn of Muirthemne, Thomas Kinsella’s famous translation of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, The Táin, are all superb.
I mentioned in my last post that this subject was outstanding.
A “review panel” was recently held to consider Diana Nyad’s claimed Cuba to Florida to swim. (On Tuesday 10th September, 2013)
This panel was unprecedented in marathon swimming. I had nothing to do with the genesis thereof nor arranging or my invitation to the panel.
I consider the holding of such a review panel, regardless of the motivation of the organisers, regardless of any future decision or announcement, an actual success for the marathon swimming community. Ordinary swimmers spoke out, and had to be listened to. Consequently I am inordinately proud of the marathonswimmers.org forum and all its members whatever their opinion.
The next morning, a few brief hours after the lengthy call, I left on a flight to the UK and Dover to crew for an English Channel swim. Then a second trip back to Dover after we got weathered-out on the first trip. So for the rest of the week , shrouded as I was in the Channel Bubble, having the craic with Channel swimmers and friends or sitting on Paraic’s Bench in Varne, I had no time to write about the events leading to the panel, the panel itself or the subsequent story.
The time and distance spent with swimmers from around the world in the home of long distance swimming, including crewing for Sylvain Estadieu’s astonishing English Channel butterfly swim, gave me a breathing space sadly lacking in the previous week. Co-founder Evan Morrison and I were having to spend long hours moderating the discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, (for about five days it was taking me eight hours night, finishing at 1 or 2 a.m.) and Evan had to handle all the media requests, I being safely in the despicable land of Old Europe.
Following is my entirely personal perspective. It is not intended to be a comprehensive debate or exploration of the issue but instead to outline the leadup to the panel, and my current thoughts following the panel.
My opinions are informed by my own swimming and crewing experience, a little observing and quite a bit of swim writing by now. And also by discussions with other swimmers and friends from around the world.
While I have written some posts on the forum thread on this subject, a careful reading of the discussion will see it was some time I joined the debate. I’ll explain that below.
The discussion that stirred the press finally, is extensive. It is an order of magnitude greater than most discussions on the forum and will take hours if not days to read. It is technical, passionate, occasionally adversarial or personal, and highly recommended.
Finally, I want to explain in my opening that I’ve chosen to write here for three specific reasons:
My blog allows me the latitude of length. I can explore issues as I see fit without a word constraint.
Diana Nyad doesn’t look to marathon swimmers. She looks to an uncomprehending general public. LoneSwimmer.com reaches a more general audience than the forum, but it is still a specific audience.
As forum co-founder, I actually try to separate the functions of Administrator and Moderator from my personal opinions. The behind-the-scenes moderation during the height of the controversy was considerable and I tried to be balanced. But on LoneSwimmer.com, I can explore and outline my own thoughts unconstrained by the role, even it is only to myself and Evan that this distinction is important.
Diana Nyad was a long distance swimmer in the 1970′s. Her swims included Around Manhattan and Lake Ontario. She was also unsuccessful in three attempts in the English Channel. In 1978 she attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida in a shark-cage and wasn’t successful. She retired in 1979 and spent a career as a successful journalist and author and latterly a motivational speaker. None other than Jim ‘Doc’ Counsilman, a legendary coach in swimming and the man most associated with the scientific study of the sport, famously said of Diana Nyad: “a very mediocre swimmer with a very good publicist”. I’m a mediocre swimmer, though I usually use the word ‘average’, so I don’t take that as an insult necessarily.
I was mostly unfamiliar with her except for her Bahamas to Florida distance-setting swim in 1979. My immersion, excuse the pun, into Channel and marathon swimming culture and history has been gradual. Like many Channel swimmers, in my early open water swimming days I knew little of the shared history, and few of the great names of our sport, though Diana Nyad was certainly not one of those, except maybe in her head or that of her supporters. There was also a rumour I’d heard that her Manhattan Island swim wasn’t entirely kosher, and we’ll return to this subject later.
Past the age of 60, Diana Nyad returned to distance swimming and an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in 2011, two attempts in 2012, and her most recent swim in 2013.
A search of my site will illustrate the change in my opinions. I went from being very interested and a mild fan, through disillusionment and disinterest, to an active contrary stance, before ultimately saying that I was done with any further comment. My opinions didn’t matter, I still don’t think they matter outside the swim community which is all I’m interested in. I am just a swim blogger and hype is always better than truth.
When I first posted about Diana Nyad out of interest, I had reached the dizzy heights of maybe 30 people a day reading the blog. By the time I’d become more antagonistic, I was reaching maybe 500 people a day average. That number hardly changes the world but I didn’t care about the world, the people read loneswimmer are the ones I care about and have written for, not the Diana Nyad fans, not for the public. But I really did mean I was increasingly disinterested and antipathetic. In the end I wanted to leave Diana Nyad to her own devices.
I want you to be clear that I am not veiling my opinions, not sucking you in with a link-bait title to take advantage of a story for site hits, nor do I care about increasing traffic outside my target area of open water swimmers. I’ve been vociferous in my opinions on the subject now for some time.
I don’t buy the hype. I don’t buy the empty exhortations. I don’t buy the story and I literally don’t buy any of the merchandise. My life is full of swimmers I’ve met whom I admire, who feats astonish and inspire me. I’m supportive of these people, so for me to develop such a strong adversarial opinion is in itself unusual.
And you know what? This my blog. You come here. You don’t like my opinion, that’s fine. But my opinion is free. I don’t charge you for it. So in that way, it’s worth exactly what you pay for it.
But if you come here with some stupid empty threat that I couldn’t do what Diana Nyad did, nor swim what she swam? That’s true but sod off because Diana Nyad couldn’t do what I did. I and my friends don’t take money from anyone to swim, we don’t twist the truth about swims, and as a consequence we can walk into any group of marathon swimmers in the world with our heads held high. If you are new here, looking to argue with me, you better be prepared to step into my world. My opinion shouldn’t matter to you but if you come here for it, it is a valid experienced opinion. Vacuous insults and treats (treats would be nice!) threats mean less than nothing to me and the mere fact of them only colours my opinion even more, because such behaviour is utterly at odds with almost everything I’ve experienced about the sport, which is usually open, welcoming, friendly, supportive and collaborative.
Right up front I want you to know my opinions and you might as well have them raw.
I had four main objections that had developed to Diana Nyad’s swims:
Deliberate misleading of the public and supporters by not publishing any rules or guidelines before any of the swims.
In the absence of published rules, seeming disregard of established and rules. Diana Nyad’s team’s use of the phrase English Channel Rules is deceptive to the general public because they never explain that English Channel rules are used worldwide.
Obfuscation of actual events during swims. Briefly mentioned here, much more detail can be found on the forum.
Online attacks of experienced marathon swimmers. This refers to the invitation by Diana Nyad of myself and others to respectfully take part in an online discussion of a proposed heat device. Those swimmers who took the bait were respectful, yet were treated with utter disrespect. I’ve noted Diana Nyad’s repeated masterful use of the word “respectfully” to imply that we are the one who lack it.
All four opinions were to later inform my reaction to the 2013 swim and the review panel so I will very briefly explain the context.
In the attempts of 2012, on both occasions Diana Nyad exited the water onto a boat. Prior to either swim I myself had never seen any mention that getting on the boat would be allowed.
The rules were never clarified, but it was mentioned by swim promoter Steve Munatones, AFTER the exit, that the swim would change to stage swim rules. Governing Rules for the swim were never actually explained before or after any of her swims, even as I write this over two weeks after the panel. Any claimed achievement without guiding rules is meaningless. It is akin to setting the world’s record for standing on one leg, but without rules which specify actually only using one leg … and instead using two legs.
The two other recent Cuba to Florida swimmers, Penny Palfrey and Chloe MacCardel, had both very clearly and transparently discussed their plans and the rules they would use before their respective swims. Penny even initiated a discussion about the use of stinger suits before her swim.
During the 2012 second attempt, the fourth overall it became clear from her own video by her own team that Diana Nyad held onto the boat. Along with this was the exiting of the water onto the boat.
In Part 2 I’ll explore the context of the panel some more and the events and questions before the panel.
In Part Three, I’ll discuss the panel, mostly my own input and interaction and in the final Part 4 where the post-swim and panel events have led me.
For transparency for visitors, below are links to three previous articles I’d written in 2012 on the subject of Diana Nyad.
Two Golden Rules. I’ve said that you can follow whatever swim rules you like, and that there are only two golden rules you need to follow. Publish the rules beforehand, and have a trusted reputable independent observer. Curiously, once again in the 2013 swim, Diana Nyad followed neither.
Comments are disabled for this post. If you really can’t wait until this series closes to insult me, the comments on About page is my preferred location. However unless you can add intelligence or relevant experience to the discussion, don’t expect your comment to see the light of day.
Do I still want to write? I certainly haven’t recently. Though Sylvain Estadieu’s record-setting English channel butterfly solo is something I do want to write about and share. And since I was on the infamous “review panel” I need to set out my own thoughts and response here, away from the forum. So bear with me. And let’s see if the Sun is setting on loneswimmer.com, if it coming to the end of a natural lifespan, because I just don’t know.
In the meantime, as much for myself as for you, I went back to my first ever post here. I didn’t remember that the very first two words I wrote here were “lone swimmer“. I need to think about that.
Things have changed. Things have stayed the same.
Lone swimmer or solo swimmer?
We’re all solo swimmers. I happen to like being a lone swimmer also, not that I have much choice.
Open Water swimming is an individual expression of freedom, challenging one’s physical and mental abilities in a dangerous environment. The activity does not damage any other humans or its environment.
Want to be an open water swimmer?
Go swim in open water. Rinse. Repeat.
(But some information would be helpful if you’re not sure. Loneswimmer.com is about trying to address that.).
“Shush“, the Dover shingle whispers softly, sub-surface, sub-marine.
In the silty harbour sea, I cannot see my arms or hands or life.
The Dover shingle shifts. Slides and settles. We sigh together.
I am swimming with my eyes closed, and the shingle says “shush” and I open them and swim on.
I’ve written about the sound of swimming in Dover previously, but without explanation. Dover Harbour, not the most pleasant of swimming locations, is aurally different to any other location that I’ve swum and something about that sound reaches into me every time I hear it. Sometimes you really have to write for yourself.
Once I finally decided to go ahead with this series of posts, I decided to wait until the “Quiet MIMS” swim of Saturday the 24th of August was finished, as I did not want it to in any way interfere with any of the swimmers. A marathon swim is always a challenging prospect for swimmers and I had no wish to even slightly disturb anyone’s mental equilibrium beforehand. The title “Quiet MIMS” is NYCSwim’s term for the swim that was open to, as far as I know, a maximum of ten swimmers from July’s MIMS. (They were offered this swim, not free, or for a fuel surcharge, but at a cost of $1,225). Nine swimmers took part. All completed the course. Congratulations to all!
Throughout this series I’ve asked you to keep to the forefront a question most swimmers would understand, a question many swimmers are now asking, based on NYCSwim’s own post-swim communication: Why exactly does MIMS cost an entry fee of $2150, if the fee doesn’t include a boat? That most of the swimmers who have ever swum MIMS have had a boat is irrelevant, when ten swimmers were left without a boat, NYCSwim did not offer any refund. I’ve previously included an NYCSwim post-swim email to one of the swimmers, and it’s worth repeating.
“I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.”
The same day as MIMS 2012, while I was swimming around Manhattan, there was a four kilometre local swim race here in Ireland with 100 entrants on the same day. Things didn’t go very well. Tide timing was off and many swimmers were pulled from the water. As I was resting in New York the day after MIMS, I saw the emails, discussions and recriminations. Within a short period of the event, participants, both critical and otherwise, and organisers had their say, and public acknowledgements were made on both sides of mistakes and future improvements.
If such maturity can be shown for local swim, which is entirely voluntary, why is it that it can’t be shown by a commercial organisation that is taking an amount per swimmer that is a multiple by a factor of one hundred, and is known globally?
The Triple Crown of Swimming, is for (self-) promotion of MIMS, “to compare to the famous American horse-racing series” as I was told by the chief organiser and executive of NYCSwim last year and two of the swims are in the US. This would seem designed to appeal to that market, when either the Gibraltar or Cook Channels would make more sense as a third leg. NYCSwim has a FAQ about the English Channel to foster this notion of equivalence to the English Channel. Yet in correspondence to a MIMS 2013 swimmer complaint it wrote:
“Our event is not a solo swim like a channel crossing, and because of this we have to handle all the arrangements centrally. This has benefits—such as making our swim more affordable—and drawbacks”.
Many of the 2013 boat-assisted swimmers, who paid a substantial amount, include successful English and Catalina Channel swimmers (and other locations of course) with a considerable body of knowledge between them of various swims at all levels, including previous MIMS swims.
It’s hard to credit NYCSwim’s claim that MIMS is more affordable. There is no refund because of organisational failings on NYCSwim’s side. Those who wish to swim again face all the same financial costs. NYCSwim seems to want to be compared to or granted equivalence with the Catalina and English Channels, yet to be granted exemption in how it conducts MIMS, and to so do without the transparency available to Catalina and English Channel swimmers. These swimmers have a contract with a professional pilot, a governing organisations with rules, and voting rights for members. Comparing with the English Channel, which NYCSwim fosters: A swimmer who has booked an English Channel solo, who doesn’t get to swim due to weather or a boat problem or other, usually loses no more than the deposit with the pilot, the deposit size varying with the pilot. The worst case scenario is a loss of fifty percent of the total as some pilots require a payment of that amount in the year ending before the booked swim.
Should you consider swimming MIMS?
This post has seen quite a bit of prevarication on my side. What aided my decision was when I was asked by a friend about MIMS 2014 as their next swim. I’d already written a first draft of this and put it aside but I felt the need to answer that person and this question honestly so I sent them the considerably longer first draft of this series, (which has seen over twenty drafts since then). I finally responded and told them that while the idea of swimming around Manhattan is highly attractive, as it was for me, the financial risk that a person would take now seems too high in light of events of MIMS 2013. My own feeling is that any swimmer considering MIMS 2014 (or later), should not apply unless there is a clear indication that the organisation has made significant procedural improvements for the future.
All other considerations aside, disagreements with me on any of this aside, NYCSwim’s own words speak for themselves.
“I know it sounds incredulous that we did not anticipate the boater shortage and the problems that spun from that, however it is the case every year that we do not have enough boaters signed up as the event approaches . . . and then they come out of the woodwork as a result of our final push in the days immediately beforehand.”
Do you want to take that risk?
Following is a list of recommendations for NYCSwim.
These are based on this one average swimmer’s experience of swimming and general requirements for safety. I have had some valued input from many friends and correspondents around the world to this list, but it mostly contains my own ideas, though I believe others will have valuable additions. I believe these actions are required for future swimmers so MIMS can regain (because it has very definitely lost) its place and credibility as a premier global marathon swim event. Some of these recommendations come from other aspects of MIMS 2013 that I haven’t even touched on in this series, which are nonetheless also an indictment of NYCSwim’s handling of the event.
A contract between NYCSwim and each swimmer. This should include a guarantee of a boat per swimmer or an almost full refund (excluding an NYCSwim membership cost) should NYCSwim fail to provide a boat for the swimmer, or ensure the swim starts within a reasonable period of a designated and advertised start time.
Refunds for those swimmers caught up in the MIMS 2013 debacle who did not get to finish and who were listed as boat-assisted, regardless of whether or not they participated in the later “Quiet Swim”, excepting swimmers who might choose to forego the refund in favour of a public guarantee and free entry for 2014.
A procedure to verify and ensure in advance that the boats to be used are fit for use.
Pairing of skippers, swimmers and kayakers with contact details to the swimmers at least a week in advance. UPDATE: Please see the very interesting comment below from Harald Johnson, MIMS 1983 winner, about how things were done before the current NYC took over,when swimmers and boats were paired months in advance.
Confirmation that every boat skipper has a VFH radio and is familiar with its use with guidelines to every skipper of communication and evacuation procedures and foreseeable but abnormal events.
Skippers and kayakers to be present at the previous day’s briefing and participation in online briefings.
While retaining a maximum number of two crew as reasonable, all swimmers should be able to add or substitute crew up to two weeks before MIMS.
Remapping of the NYCSWim.org domain name to NYCSwim.com to make clear its commercial nature.
Risk Assessment and Safety Plans available on NYCSwim’s website.
Clarification of NYCSwim’s rule on water evacuation, specifically that the penalty for a swimmer refusing to evacuate per instructions is disqualification without appeal, in common with other swims.
NYCSwim previously had a policy or guideline of informing swimmers should water contamination be below acceptable levels. NYCSwim should re-iterate publicly its commitment to swimmer stakeholder safety and health.
NYCSwim should collate and publish annual figures of swimmer illness from each MIMS swim before opening up applications for the following year’s swim as part of its avowed Mission Statement.
NYCSwim should publish each year’s water cleanliness test results subsequent to its major swims (in the way that it already publishes previous year’s water temperatures) as part of its Mission Statement. It should improve the reporting of water quality tests on its website and keep these current.
NYCSwim aspires to be and designates itself as a premier global marathon swimming event. I have swum it myself and loved the swim and the location. Swimmers around the world should be confident of its organisation and I make these recommendations in the hope of that the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim will address its failings, improve and prosper.
To re-establish credibility NYCSwim must make changes. These changes must put swimmers first.
I’d like to close with some thanks once again to the many people, around the world who reviewed or contributed to this series, some of whom were consulted for their expertise in different areas: solo swimmers from MIMS 2013 and previously or eligible for future MIMS, relay swimmers, crew, volunteers, publishers, swim directors and lawyers. Without their assistance, these posts would never have been published. I am indebted to them all. I have been given permission for every quotation that I have used. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________All facts I have researched to the best of my ability, any mistakes are unintentional and will be addressed if someone sends new, credible and verifiable information. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________