Tag Archives: Damian Blaum

Dover Light & Varne cliffs

Trent Grimsey’s World Record English Channel – Returning to Dover

Narrative imperative required that I leave out some details from after Trent finished his swim.

Picture taken by Mike Oram as Trent boarded Gallivant

When Trent swam back to the boat with Damián, he was of course tired, like all Channel swimmers, but not unusually so. He is a professional athlete after all. He also wasn’t however particularly bloated. Swimmer’s bloat, Third Spacing of Fluids, wasn’t really noticeable as he hadn’t been in the water long enough.

The afternoon was warm and the excitement was high. After he boarded, and as I later Tweeted, I welcomed him to the club. Damián repeatedly insisted that Trent was now a sex machine!

Sex Machine – Photo courtesy of Owen O’Keefe

Gallivant had an engine problem and the return to Dover was slower than normal. The trip back to Dover was filled with chat and a few brief interludes of seasickness for Trent. Like most swimmers, taking in lots of liquid carbs leaves the body with a liquid excess. In fairness, Trent was feeling seasick more than he was actually physically sick. Much fun was had between the three core team members of Harley, Trent and Damián.  It was a glorious afternoon, blue sky, no sign of the haze or fog on the return that had followed us toward France earlier.

“My” motto, mostly worn off

On the way back, Trent remarked how he’d been inspired the previous day by something on one of my t-shirts. I’d had a polo shirt printed with loneswimmer.com and a motto on the breast. Cafe Press had made a mess of it, and I only use it for post-swim, not worrying about getting lanolin or grease on it. The motto? “Nothing great is easy“. Trent thought that aphorism was my invention, not knowing it is the motto of all Channel swimmers since the Captain! It was what he’d written on his before the swim, that I hadn’t wanted to ask about.

There was of course discussion of the swim and Trent read through my notes that I’d taken. Harley asked Trent how he’d liked the caffeine blast…then told Trent he hadn’t given him any caffeine.

Discussion then and subsequently has also turned to Trent’s next challenges, Rio’s King and Queen of the Sea before year, but in Channel terms, what next? Would Trent Solo again? Will Petar Stoychev return for another attempt? What about the mouth-watering prospect of a Channel race between the two? Will Trent try the two-way English Channel record? Public answers to these will have to await Trent and Harley’s decisions.

Brian, the Official CS&PF Observer, only his third trip out, went through the final details for the report.

As we arrived back at Dover harbour, a slight fog was developing under the Varne cliffs, Samphire Hoe and Folkestone hazy behind the veil.

Trent was met by a journalist and did a quick interview while Owen & I headed for Varne.

Much celebrating was done when the rest arrived in Varne Ridge, where David had put a temporary sign with Trent’s time in pride of place, along with the usual Varne Ridge touches of raising the Australian flag, and putting a congratulations banner on the mobile home. It was funny to see Trent in Varne just after returning surrounded by a large group of Malaysian relayers, whom all week had displayed no interest, suddenly looking for advice about their relay teams, feeding, cold, etc.

From left: Donal, Harley, Trent, Evelyn, Owen, Damian, David

The following evening, with The White Horse pub closed since the previous week and its future unknown or at best uncertain, we (Trent’s crew and Alan’s crew) went for dinner in the Royal Oak , where Trent modestly signed one of the Royal Oak’s Channel boards.

Photo courtesy of Owen O’Keefe

Finally, it’s interesting to see the superposition of Trent’s and Petar Stoychev’s charts. Trent’s track is the line with the diamond waypoint markers.

In a post coming up, we’ll ask what’s the best possible English Channel time.

Trent with 10 minutes to go, everything in his body protesting

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 6 – Nothing Great Is Easy

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5.

Some messages to Trent involved an ongoing in-joke with Trent’s crew which I can’t repeat, but I can tell you they involved direct messages from a deity.

Trent was hammering, burning. His kick was fully switched on, his stroke was up and still increasing and he’d probably briefly seen France for a second. We were lined up still toward Wissant, the long beach and village north of the Cap but still moving sideways also. His next feed was scheduled for five minutes later.

He refused the next feed. No time was lost, a dice was thrown, the fastest engines burn the most fuel, the race for the record now also a race to the end, a race to beat burnout.

In the seventh hour, with 6 hours and 10 minutes elapsed, Harley gave the next important message;

2.7 k in 45 minutes required.

Mike said that 6 minutes inside the record was possible if Trent was to keep up the speed. Keeping speed is really difficult at this stage, there is so much that can interfere with it; the currents, any change in water pattern or breeze, the late trajectory into the Cap, cramp, stroke rate or efficiency deterioration … or suddenly running out of energy because you’ve missed your last two feeds.

Again, this looks easy enough in normal circumstances. These weren’t normal circumstances, there is no normal in the Channel.

I would shout “go” in time with Trent’s breathing for a minute, or two or three, until my voice would break and only a croak would issue. I would stop for a minute, maybe do a very irregular Tweet update, and then go back to shouting.

At this stage Damián started preparing to go in, and took most of the remaining feed mix, as he’d also eaten very little during the swim. Since he wasn’t an official swimmer he wore the partial wetsuit common in many FINA events.

He entered the water, diving from the port side where he’d been stationed out and behind Trent, surfacing on Trent’s left side, the side that Trent never looks to, an item of concern for Damián.

The CS&PF rules for support swimmers, and Mike Oram had snapped at Trent earlier in the week that Damián was a support swimmer, not a “pace swimmer”, specify the times and intervals which the support swimmer(s) can be in the water, but since Damián had not previously been in the water with Trent, there was no problem with him going in now. The maximum he could stay in was 1 hour, but the swim was not expected to take that long. Most importantly he could not draft Trent, nor touch him before the end, including not being allowed to help Trent exit the water on the dangerous rocks around the Cap.

Damián could swim away from Trent, and help Trent keep pace just by his presence and being able to more easily feel for pace being fresh.

Five minutes after Damián entered, a yacht appeared from port heading straight for Gallivant and not bearing off. I asked Harley to ask Mike in case he or James didn’t see it, being intent on the closing stages of the swim, (unlikely as that was). Sail has right-of-way over power according to rules of the sea, and I worried that a sailor used to this would not bear off. But the 32 footer was under power, using the iron sail. Mike called on VHF, and they eventually bore off, taking away the very late worry of a time-consuming diversion.

Not long after Damián entered the water, another message to Trent from Mike via Harley:

1500 metres in 30 minutes. The Cap was right in front of us now.

Even I can do that easily. I know better though than to think that’s relevant. Trent’s stroke rate had reached 82 strokes per minute. He was “in a world of pain” in his own words. Heart hammering, stroke suffering, efficiency had deteriorating with each increase of those strokes. Every muscle screaming for oxygen and energy at best, to stop, to rest, to put an end to the torture at worst. Trent didn’t know, we didn’t know if the record was secure. On Twitter I said the Channel record was on a knife-edge, no time to think of anything except a cliché.

At 13:30 a message told Trent to swim 500 metres in 10 minutes. The unflappable Harley was even getting agitated, MOVE UR ARSE on the message board.

The water around the Cap was full of boats, at first we though it was other pilot boats who might have waited to see this extraordinary spectacle to its denouement, but it was fishing boats and just one other pilot-boat, Lance Oram, Mike’s son on Sea Satin with South African Miles Wilson after his successful 13 hours and eleven minutes Solo.

With 10 minutes to swim, you can see the strain in Trent’s face.

Sea Satin steamed starboard of us, and swung around to escort Trent and Damián on the other side. I Tweeted “7 minutes”, unable to tear myself away for more time from this extraordinary spectacle.

We passed fishing boats, small and medium, the occupants bemused by all the shouting, some displaying a typically Gallic indifference.

As we closed on the Cap, we could see a large crowd on the viewpoint (left of the lighthouse).

Insert an Irishman giving directions joke here

We steamed over the rocks in front of the Cap only visible at low tide. Individual rocks were visible on the Cap. The six minutes advantage Trent had, had evaporated in the final stretch.

Harley, Owen and I were apoplectic. Harley gave Trent some final motivation, holding out the Australian flag, Owen shouting go, go, I had descended into a non-verbal hooting shriek.

The steel bow scraped reef and Mike put Gallivant into neutral. Trent and Damián swum away, ahead of us. Toward the Cap.

They swam past the first above-water reefs, inshore.

I switched the camera to video, not having a lens large enough to clearly resolve the swimmers.

At 13:38 Trent and Damián reached the rocks on the north-east side of the Cap. Trent stumbled upwards clear of  the water almost immediately, raised his arms, and Gallivant‘s sirens whooped. The swim was over, a new English Channel record had been set. My notebook says “UNBELIEVABLE”.

The new English Channel Solo record is 6 hours and 55 minutes.

It is 2 minutes and 50 seconds faster than the previous record.

Trent Grimsey is the new English Channel Record Holder.

He is not done yet.

Swimming into the 5th hour.resized

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 4 – “Now’s the hard bit”

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Message to Trent

All this time, we’d been in a race, Trent, the crew, Gallivant. Though there were other Solos out that day, including Chloë McCardel‘s second three-way record attempt, (she made it to about two hours into the third leg) Trent’s race was with a ghost, or shall I say, ghostly presence. Not an actual shade but an avatar of Petar Stoychev who was always there, in the presence of his previous record swim track which was visible on the AIS screen inside the cabin, visible to the Channel Chat group on the couple of updates that Mike Oram sent out. And Petar Stoychev was ringing Mike Oram every hour, a lot of direct interest for someone who apparently didn’t think Trent had a chance before the start.

After reporting that he was feeling flat at about the third hour, Trent called for caffeine in his next feed and requests more cheering from the crew. This was another difference visible to me in how a world champion operates. I’d imagine that if I ask you to cheer for me, it’ll have no effect, since I instigated it. Trent however requested the cheering and yet still responded. You could see immediately that he was enjoying it.

Jumping back, just before two hours elapsed, Mike Oram had sent an email to the Channel Chat group, reporting briefly on Trent’s progress. I didn’t see it but I did see the next update from him later on my phone and I showed Harley and told him I hadn’t seen something like this previously on the group, that Mike is probably taking the Trent’s progress really seriously.

Trent swam fine through the third hour with no further reports of feeling off, flying across the North East Shipping lane.

Swimming through the NE lane. I was literally hanging off the back of Gallivant to take this

At four hours and fifteen minutes, Trent’s mother sent a message which Damián relayed, and which features later in many of the Australian media broadcasts. It’s a lot of words for Trent to have to read, but Damián can get the whiteboard right in front of Trent’s face, as he has been doing previously, and Trent can read it over the course of a many strokes.

Message from Trent’s mother

I’d used this method on Gabor’s Solo two years previously, rather than trying to relay a long message during a feed, hold the whiteboard in place and give the swimmer plenty of time to read it. It only works in flat water, when the gunwale and message board are low, but it works well for that.

During the fourth hour, the haze had thickened further to fog, and the world shrank around us. Some sun and patches of blue sky remained about us and Trent swam through  occasional vibrant pools of light in a larger sea of grey and into the fifth hour, still seven minutes ahead of Petar Stoychev.

But that gradually changed, and I found myself looking around at the horizon more, watching the weather as our world, even on the boat, shrank. For the Channel swimmer, the world is a dichotomy, always both small and huge at the same time. Small with the boat, the crew, eyes a centimetre above the surface, everything is near, the circle of world contracted. Huge with the slowness of the progress, the water, the immensity of the task, catching an occasional glimpse of the Varne Cliffs mast, seemingly immobile at night for hours or worse, glimpsing the Cap Lighthouse. But Trent didn’t even have those irritations, the world grown smaller and duller.

At four hours twenty-five minutes, somewhere astern, a ship’s foghorn called out.

At four hours thirty minutes, Mike Oram gave a message directly to Trent on the whiteboard:

Now’s the hard bit“.

Every Channel swimmer knows this, it just usually takes the rest of us much longer to swim to this point. Channel swimmers say that “you swim to the start of the real swim”, or “you swim and you swim, until you get tired or exhausted. Then the Channel starts“.

During that fifth hour we noticed that Trent’s superlative stroke was suffering slightly, but only to the extent that he was keeping his left arm straight on recovery. Harley passed a message to Trent to focus on technique and specifically that left arm.

At four hours thirty-five minutes, Trent called for Mike Oram.

Can I do it?” he asked.

Five minutes later Mike responds with “yes, you are still seven minutes ahead“.

Out of the fog, yachts in French water

Throughout the fifth hour, Trent was in a less than equitable mood. Frustration was obvious as he slipped off the bow wave, slipped back a bit more during his feeds, and had to struggle to swim more to get back to and stay on the bow wave. He called for the boat to move forward, to hold pace a few times, to pick up speed.

Afterwards he’s admitted this was the most difficult period, that he lost concentration, that he got annoyed and angry at us, and at the boat crew. He also told us directly during this time that he had cramp. I offered Harley some zero-carb electrolyte I’d brought with me, exactly for this possibility, which I’ve used previously myself and for Alan, but completely understandably, Trent and Damián didn’t want to try it, after all, we all stress to never do anything new in a Channel swim. (And just in case the cramps did get worse, then we could fall back to it).

I have a different view than Trent does of the fifth hour. To my mind, he never behaved less than well and the small sarkiness is exaggerated in his mind and completely normal for a Channel swim anyway. My own words to my observer and King of the English Channel, Kevin Murphy, written by him in my observer’s Report were: “Fuck France“. Kevin’s response in the report is “I know how Donal feels“.

Even if you are the world number one, the Channel is not going to be easy. (Cue the Channel swimmer’s motto and my much-repeated Chad Hundeby story). I also think it wasn’t entirely his own perception of lack of concentration. During this hour the boat crew changed, Mike Oram was for a while forced  to both helm and navigate, and the throttle was not as constant, and this created difficulties for Trent staying in the bow wave.

Before the end of the fifth hour, I saw Trent miss almost all his lurid red 250ml feed, which hadn’t happened previously, and briefly he looked like a vampire victim. Once is not a concern, but if it was to repeat it could become a problem. Around this time Trent also told Harley and Damián that he wanted Damián to come if for the last hour and a discussion ensues between Harley and Mike and Damián in the wheelhouse.

At the start of the sixth hour the fog lifted again to be come replaced with a warm Channel haze, my worries of the swim being abandoned due to fog (only I had them anyway) dissipating along it. We were in French waters, Trent was swimming well.

The finish, and the Cap, were ahead.

On to Part Five.

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 2 – Record Day dawns

Part 1

To step back a moment, the first post didn’t exactly explain why Owen and I were on the boat. I can only surmise that when Trent asked me to crew early on in the week, I think it was partly because we’d already been touch by email and Twitter, and partly because of my familiarity with understanding weather and general Channel knowledge. But that’s a supposition. These things happen in Dover, and in Varne Ridge especially. Those for example who don’t think The White Horse pub in Dover closing is important (hopefully only temporarily), fail to understand the nature of the people you can meet there and the bonds of Channel swimming. It’s not about the pub itself but the global culture and tribe of Channel swimming. The Channel World is a small world.

During Alan Clack’s successful Solo the previous day, both Owen and I were Tweeting and using the Sandycove Island Swim Club GPS Tracker. Trent, Damian and Harley were following on Twitter and saw some of the flavour of the Channel and our understanding of the Channel, the shipping lanes, the Separation Zone, feeding, stroke rates etc. No big deal, I often forget that there was a time we didn’t know this stuff, that we as Channel Junkies weren’t always steeped in Channel lore. Swimming, crewing, getting weathered out, unsuccessful swims, talks with Channel legends, all add to the level of knowledge. Probably most important is being a Sandycove Island SC member with eighteen English Channel Soloists and multiple crew, all hanging around clogging up the water and the pubs like some kind of two-legged lichen.

Assembling in Varne Ridge, 3.30am

Trent asked Owen and I the night before if we would look after photos and video. Rather than using Trent’s camera, I decided to use my own EOS, I’d sacrifice a Zoom lens in favour of a camera I’d been learning for the last few months and was less likely to mess up. Owen would handle Trent’s Go-Pro and I had my own Kodak Playsport waterproof for some easy HD video, which I mainly only used for the briefing and start. Along with these functions, I also said to Harley and Trent that even on a flat day some people get seasick, and Owen and I have a good record of not getting seasick,e specially after surviving Viking Princess the previous day, one of the toughest boats I’ve ever been on. Extra hands would be useful for some fetching and carrying tasks, maybe more so just in case Harley or Damián got sick. This thankfully did not turn out to be the case.

We got the gear on Gallivant by about 3.45am, the flask Harley had given to me to fill broke in the car on the way down to Dover. We had other flasks also but was this to be my part in Trent’s downfall? Páriac once said to me that I was the only one who’d put my own dumb mistakes on my blog, I’ll try to continue to do so for him.

Not too long after boarding, Mike Oram, who would be considered the senior CS&PF pilot, came up to the top deck for disucssion and a briefing, working out the details with Trent. It was, unusual. After some to-ing and fro-ing, a start time was established with Trent expressing his desire to go for the record with no tide leeway in the start time. Feeding, breathing and position were all discussed, with Trent saying he would breathe only on his right hand side, and therefore taking position on the port side, usually the best side for the Channel, as it affords protection from the most likely prevailing winds. There was some confusion, accents and terminology, that got sorted out. It was a Mike Oram briefing, saying how he’d been told Trent only got World’s Number 1 because everyone else was focusing on the Olympics, how Trent was only his third engine and in the course of this he mentioned how Petar Stoychev has rung.

Harley Connolly, Trent Grimsey, Damian Blaum

With Trent and team opting to return to Varne for another hour’s attempted sleep, Owen and I visited the 24-hour garage across the road, location of so many last minute pre-Channel swim emergency pitstops, for coffee.

We reconvened on deck at about 5.40 am, the first mauve and puce tones of false dawn lightening the eastwards sky-canopy over the dock beyond the Clock Tower. Gallivant cast off about 6.20 am, the light by then bleeding up into the sky over the walls of the Prince of Wales pier.

The trip from the harbour to Shakespeare Beach, from where Captain Webb started in 1875, only takes 10 to 15 minutes in good weather and dependant on which end of the beach will be the start point. As we steamed out of the harbour between the twin lighthouses, the sun had cleared the horizon and was beginning its daily climb to apogee, burning a golden cast into the sky. It laid out a dazzling golden-silver road eastward for Trent and Gallivant to thread to the horizon and through the mega-ships of the world’s busiest shipping lane, which plied their way down the south-west shipping lane.

Those familiar with Dover and Channel crossings will know, (and now so will you), that leaving the harbour the water is almost always rough, as the tide pulls past the harbour mouth at speed, churning up the surface, making boats heave and roll. It’s the place of first seasickness in crews, first panic in swimmers.

Few places are as real, as immediate, as leaving Dover Harbour. It’s where Trent, (and Alan the day before and I two years previously, and so many others) have felt the  immensity of the task ahead.

We steamed quickly to the eastern end of Shakey, near the cliff. The aid was chilly, crew all covered up while Trent got ready. He’d applied zinc oxide to his face earlier, so it was pasty-white, sun-cream on back and the essential lube, Harley and Trent using Vaseline and having his first encounter with lanolin (or “wool fat”, as they called it), the lanolin being extremely difficult to apply because in cold it solidifies, which is why experienced Channel swimmers mix it with Vaseline, which retains the better anti-chaffing properties of lanolin, but adds the ease of application of petroleum jelly. Dollops under the arms warmed it up and mixed it in the petroleum jelly.

Trent sat, a towel from his Lac Traversée International marathon race which he’s recently won around his shoulders to keep him from chilling in the last few minutes. He duct-taped his cap to his forehead, a trick obviously learned on the rarefied aggressive FINA Grand Prix circuit, (and probably appropriate for racing the Sandycove Island Challenge against Finbarr Hedderman also), then took a Sharpie and wrote on his hand, but I didn’t intrude to find out what he wrote, though I wished later I had a clear photo of what he wrote when I found out.

We stopped about 100 metres from the beach at about 6.40am and Trent, having been warned about shallow water, kind of rolled into the water and swam it, the water contacting the lanolin under his arms turning it white.

At the shingle beach, notoriously difficult to walk on, he stood and stretched his arms, Mike gave a 10 second countdown, which Trent couldn’t clearly hear, and shortly Gallivant’s whooping siren sounded, Trent raised his arm, as all Channel swimmers do, to indicate swim commencement, the stopwatch started, he ran and dove in the water and started swimming across the English Channel, the most famous stretch of swimming water in the world, the White Cliffs behind.

The record attempt was on, fourteen years after Trent first dreamed not just of swimming the Channel but at age ten dreamed of being the fastest to ever swim this legendary stretch of water.

On to Part Three.