Tag Archives: Mike Oram

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 6 – Le Français Volant

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4. Part 5.

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.

Even his legs display a grace
Even his legs display a grace

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.

Last daylight shot 7th hour 4pm IMG_8826.resized

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.

Last feed I IMG_8879.resized

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.

Night Flying
The Greater Night Flying Butterfly

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.

Alone in the dark
Alone in the dark

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.

90 minutes left feed  IMG_8872.resized.rotatedRaiding 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.

Not far feed IMG_8881.resized

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.

Sylle & Greta & sponsor IMG_8967.resized
Sylvain & Greta

Proud IMG_8933.resizedNext 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.

With other worthy nominees, Sylvain has justifiably been nominated for the marathonswimmers.org Male Swimming Performance of the Year. (Only forum members can vote).

Vivé La France, and thanks to Sylvain, l’homme papillon, for allowing me to be part of such a momentous swim.

The Flying Frenchman IMG_8963 gmp.resized

I’ll leave you with Sylvain’s English Channel video. It’s absolutely fantastically well put together (and funny).

Don’t forget to pop over to his blog or follow him on Twitter. He’s a great guy and a good friend, as well as an astonishing swimmer.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 5

Part 1Part 2Part 3. Part 4.

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.

Sylle in the sixth hour shortly before getting sick
Sylle in the sixth hour shortly before getting sick

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.

The last feed before getting sick IMG_8825.resized

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.

Papillion Francais
Papillion Francais

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.

This series finishes in the next and final Part.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 4

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

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.

Oncoming tanker IMG_8789.resized
Oncoming tanker Bow Saga, passed about 150 metres aft

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.

Bow saga, bow wave IMG_8795.resized
Bow Saga, bow wave

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.

Sylle & ship 5th hour IMG_8810.resized

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.

Zoe feeding Sylle 5 hours IMG_8770.resized rotated
Zoe feeding Sylle

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.

On to Part 5.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 3

Part 1Part 2.

Fiirst stroke IMG_8701.resized

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.

Fish legs
Fish legs

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.

Admiralty pier IMG_8741.resized
Passing the end of the Admiralty pier and the harbour entrance

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.

The fleet in front of us
The fleet in front of us

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.

Second feed
Second feed  - note dog leash!
Viking Princess steaming for the other end of Shakespeare Beach
Viking Princess steaming for the other end of Shakespeare Beach

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?

Channel rowing IMG_8758.resizedOn to Part 4.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 2

Part 1.

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.

Lisa, Greta, Sylvain, Donal
Lisa, Greta, Sylvain, & some guy before leaving Varne Ridge

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.

Busy day in Dover
Busy day in Dover

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.

Mike Oram & James Willi IMG_8633.resized
Mike Oram (left) & James Willi (right)

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.

Mike Ball give a quick overview of the rules IMG_8641.resized
Mike Ball gives a quick overview of the rules

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.

Channel boats lined up on the departure pontoon
Callivant & Channel boats lined up on the departure pontoon

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).

Rules IMG_8634.rotated
Sylvain on the morning of the swim with the rules

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.

Zoe Sadler & Mike Ball
Zoe Sadler & Mike Ball

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!

Briefing over, leaving the harbour
Briefing over, leaving the harbour

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.

Happy with the rules
Happy with the rules

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.

Dover Harbour Entrance IMG_0196

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.

Getting ready, physically & mentally
Getting ready, physically & mentally

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.

Beach people IMG_8679.resized
Howard is far left, Greta is third left, with Bethany & David

Sylvain & Greta on beach at start IMG_8693.resized.rotatedHe 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.

On to Part 3.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 1

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.

Gábor, David, Donal, Eve, Sylle in 2010
Gábor, David, Donal, Evelyn & Sylle in 2010. Hatching plans.

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.

IMG_0172

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.

Sylle & Donal swimming off Dover beach
Sylle & Donal swimming off Dover beach – shot by Lisa Cummins
IMG_0313
Dungeness Lighthouse

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.

IMG_8407
Uncooperative Channel weather

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.

Sylvain & Great Greta
Sylvain & Great Greta

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.

Sylle does like to gurn for the camera!
Sylle does like to gurn for the camera!

On to Part 2.

HOW TO: The greatest sport on Earth. Follow a swim during Channel season

This is an updated version of a post from a few years ago on following marathon swims online, with the specifics mostly aimed at English Channel swimming. This is mostly for those unfamiliar with following a swim and I’ll try to explain a couple of anticipated questions before they arise.

Channel swimming is a sport that by necessity happens essentially in private. This private battle between a lone swimmer and crew and the sea is one of the features of what makes this special. The Channel can be a lonely place in the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, the swimmer essentially alone with the water and their thoughts. No social media or phone or GPS can capture that individual loneliness, something only other swimmers can understand.

In the five years since I first ventured to the Channel in 2008, things have changed quite bit, with social media and more online tools now far more predominant in following swims. So the changes for the more established swimmers will be even greater.

If you wish to follow a specific Channel swim, It is necessary that you have some rudimentary information, specifically the name of the person, the boat, and the day of the swim.

First a reminder of an English Channel swimming season. Generally in English channel swimming, solo swims happen on neap tides and relay swims happen on spring tides. (Generally but not always). With an approximately four-month long season, and tides alternating every second week, that means about nine weeks are available for solo swimmers. You don’t need to know which tide is which but you can assume as a rule of thumb that solo swimmers are waiting every second week.

The English Channel swimming fleet is approved for and correctly should have six boats in each of the two associations, the CS&PF, and the CSA. (That figure is dictated by the maximum number of pilot boats that can enter the shipping lanes at one time. The CSA fleet currently have seven boats, something that both a cause for concern for many and CAN have an effect on someone’s swim).

The most popular way of following a swim with almost live information is a SPOT GPS Tracker aka a Tracker. Many of the boats have these and some individuals or swim clubs have them, as they are not expensive. If the boat or swimmer is providing the Tracker they will provide the correct web address. There is no way of searching for SPOT Trackers as each is a unique IP address and does not carry any information about who is using it.  SPOT trackers update once every 10 minutes. For example this is the SPOT Tracker for CS&PF senior pilot Mike Oram. Tracks remain accessible for three days before they are overwritten or deleted. Each SPOT Tracker address may have a number of pages accessible from the bottom left of the left-side sidebar. Only the full details in the times of each reading will indicate the date of each track. Sometimes SPOT trackers can stop working during a swim. It’s also worth pointing out that the Tracker is on the boat, not the swimmer. At the end of a swim the boat will stop while the swimmer continues into land.

Random SPOT tracker English channel map
Random SPOT tracker English channel map

Above is a random, and completed SPOT Tracker window from Gallivant. The sidebar at the left includes time details for each update once the tracker is active. The bottom left has the page option. The sidebar can be collapsed. The map screen can display either map or satellite view and  the yellow line is the track of readings. A currently updating reading will display as a series of flashing concentric semicircles and the whole map is zoomable. In this map it can be seen that the track turns off Cap Gris Nez as it is on the boat and the map indicates the inside coast at high tide.

Many boats do not have a SPOT, and individual swimmers may not have access to a SPOT nor may not want to use or publicise a tracker. In such a case there is another way to check on a boat. Every boat in the Channel must have an AIS Transponder. AIS comes at different levels of range, and while the fleet is upgrading all boats may not have AIS that can be tracked the whole way across the Channel, though most now do.

The CS&PF website now provides Live Tracking for all its fleet on the Federation website. The advantages of the CS&PF site are considerable:

  • You don’t have to have the actual SPOT URL.
  • You can select one, many or all boats.
  • You can also see the CSA boats.
  • The Channel zones and shipping lanes, not visible on other charts, are visible.
  • The Channel buoys are visible.

All Individual pilots may provide their own tracking off individual websites such as CS&PF pilot Eddie Spelling’s excellent LoveChannelSwimming.com. Eddie’s tracker for his boat Anastasia, displays great extra information such as air and water temperature, wind, and swim speed. Mike and Lance Oram’s Gallivant and Sea Satin are also accessible from their own website.

Using the boat name (or its marine registration numbers MMSI or IMO) you can find its current location on one of the online marine traffic sites such as ShipAis.com (Dover), marinetraffic.com or vesselfinder.com. For example Mike Oram’s Gallivant is MMSI 235023353.

The current 2013 list of pilots and their boats in the combined English Channel fleet:

CS&PF

  • Paul Foreman – Optimist
  • Eddie Spelling – Anastasia
  • Lance Oram – Sea Satin
  • Mike Oram – Gallivant
  • Neil Streeter – Suva
  • Chris Osmond – Sea Farer II

CSA

  • Reg Brickell – Viking Princess FE137 
  • Andy King – Louise Jane
  • Eric Hartley – Pathfinder
  • Fred Mardle – Samallen P40
  • Keven Sherman – Connemara
  • Stuart Gleeson – Sea Leopard
  • Peter Reed – Rowena FE75

For checking current weather in the Channel, data directly off the Sandettie buoy, north-east of the usual swim routes, is the most regularly used and the closest fixed point. There’s also a Dover harbour webcam which has very variable availability.

Outside these fairly automatic processes, the next most valuable information source is Twitter. For you Facebook addicts, you should understand that it’s easier for busy crew to update Twitter due to brevity and the less-used ability to send SMS text updates to Twitter. Crews are always busy, feeding, mixing, and ever watching the swimmer. This restricts time available for updating which is secondary to the important swim support. If you know a swimmer is going you should request a Twitter name, or ask them or a crew member create a Twitter account.

The CS&PF has a Twitter account also, as does the CSA, (somewhat less regularly updated) which are often used to update solos and relays out in the Channel. Eddie Spelling mentioned above uses Twitter to update on all his swims, ongoing. CS&PF President Nick Adams mostly uses his Twitter account when crewing for Channel swims, which he does regularly.

Many Channel swimmers and Channel junkies follow each other on Twitter and share news of swims (as well as other swim related stuff). Jumping onto the list of those I follow on Twitter (and visa versa) can help find many useful Twitter accounts.

Updates via smart or other phone can be erratic. There is little network coverage in the centre of the Channel. Also many people will not transfer to higher roaming costs of another country (though these are dropping in Europe thanks to EU legislation). A perennial problem is the limited battery life of most smartphones

It should also be remembered that during the closing stages of a swim, when people are most requesting updates is the time when crew are busiest.  An understanding of current weather and the possibilities that have occurred over multiple Channel swims means followers should be careful in the final stages of a swim of making sometimes incorrect jumps to conclusions and even of requesting constant updates from crew. It’s hard to wait but unavoidable.

With all these technological advances its possible to get closer than ever to the essential experiences of Channel swimming. the next big breakthrough, for whatever pilots will decided such an investment makes financial sense, will surely be live video from some boats. In the meantime we must use our empathy, experience and imagination to enhance the technological feeds, to put ourselves into the arms and mind of the crew and swimmers, engaged in the greatest and amongst the most extreme of adventure and extreme sports.

What’s the best possible English Channel record?

Trent Grimsey’s Channel record again raises the question: What’s the best possible English Channel record time?

Here’s the English Channel record progression charted.

No good record list is complete without an asterisk. In this case the asterisked years are France to England (F-E) swims. The records are gender independent as three women set the record. As any reading of Channel swimming will tell you, the original England to France direction (now the only direction available unless doing a two-way) is considered tougher as the big tidal current challenge occurs at the end and is often critical to whether swims are completed.

Name Year Time Interval
Captain Matthew Webb E-F 1875 21:25
 Enrico Tiroboschi F-E 1923* 16:33 48
 Gertrude Ederle F-E 1926* 14:39 3
Ernest Vierkoetter F-E 1926* 12:40 0
 Georges Michel F-E 1926* 11:05 0
Hassan Abdel Rehim F-E 1950* 10:50 24
 Helge Jensen E-F 1960 10:23 10
 Barry Watson F-E 1964* 09:35 4
 Tina Bischoff E-F 1976 09:03 12
Erdal Acet  E-F 1976 09:02 0
 Nasser el Shazly E-F 1977 08:45 1
 Penny Lee Dean E-F 1978 07:40 1
Chad Hundeby E-F 1994 07:17 16
Christof Wandratsch E-F 2005 07:03 11
 Petar Stoychev E-F 2007 06:57 2
Trent Grimsey E-F 2012 06:55 5

That’s 15 records subsequent to Captain Webb’s first swim, regardless of distance with Peggy Lee Dean’s 1978 record as the first sub-8 hour swim, and any swim under 10 hours is still considered a very fast swim, and 10 to 12 hours is also still considered fast.

The past four records have seen a time reduction of 22 minutes, similar to each improvement in most of the previous records after Georges Michel in 1926.

Below is a chart of the reducing times, flattening all the time as the ultimate time comes closer.

Gertrude Ederle (1905 – 2003), American compet...
Gertrude Ederle (1905 – 2003), American competitive swimmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s important to note that the third Soloist, (and subsequently the world’s most famous athlete of the time), Gertrude Ederle, was the first to swim what we now recognise as front crawl, which all subsequent record holders have used and the slope of decreasing times after her swim is shallower. It should be readily obvious, given that the five recent records were all set by swimmers considered amongst the world’s fastest, and four of them as professionals, that any further improvements will incremental rather than large and I’ve therefore set the minimum time on the chart at six hours.. I’ve already written at some length about swimming on bow and displacement waves. I’ve already written that every Channel swim is assisted to some extent, purely by virtue of the presence of a pilot boat which provides wind shelter, so there no need to rehash that ground.

In MIMS, there has apparently been some substantial computer modelling of the currents to produce a theoretical maximum possible. This is not currently possible for the English Channel, or at least for it to be possible, one would need a lot more data measurement points, i.e. buoys, in the Channel, which would interfere with shipping, to no significant advantage.

The August edition of H2Open magazine had an article on Petar Stoychev’s English Channel record, including an interview from Mike Oram, and David and Evelyn had a copy in Varne Ridge, which we all read in the days before Alan and Trent’s swims.

Mike had pointed out that Stoychev had had “a perfect day for a record” (starting with a “brisk north-westerly” which they surfed out which later “swung south-south-west to slow up the tide”). He’d also already done one of the fastest ever Channel swims and so was familiar with the Channel, and he had the psychological advantage of a virtual race with Russian Yuri Kudinov who was attempting a Channel record the same day. In fact Mike Oram said it was “the fact that both swam on the same day and within such a short time gap that pushed them both to their limits – and a bit beyond. This is what records are made from“. Earlier in the week, Mike allegedly said to Trent, (I wasn’t there), “it was a one-in-ten-years day”.

Sylvain Estadieu, Channel swimmer and Sandycove swimmer-at-large asked on the Channel Chat Group what Mike Oram thought the best time could be. For the sake of this I’ll assume readers are not on that group (mostly, nothing happens there).

I’m not going to just reprint it all, just the relevant parts, you don’t need to read Mike Oram’s usual swimmers are just my third engine diatribe:

With Trent and Petar braking [sic] the record was really down to the weather and sea conditions. Trent had better weather on the day although it was not what was forecast or what we expected would last long enough for a record crossing. The gentle North Westerly gave Trent the advantage of a small surfing sea that enabled him to building up a 7 minute lead over the first 3 hours. He then held Petar’s swim pace for an hour or so before starting to slow and fall back in the 5th hour.

From then on it was touch and go as the seconds were lost. Things changed when Petar’s phone calls helped to motivate him and luckily for Trent the weather just kept on improving. A late boost in the tidal flow also helped him towards the point at the Northern tip of Cap Gris Nez where his landing and clearing of the water was clean and quick.

Petar lost about 1.5 to 2 minutes getting up onto the rocks as he did not follow our instructions and go for the right landing place when we reached Cap Gris Nez”.

Most interestingly, Mike also said:

There is a possible Spring tide swim that could bring the record down to about the 6 hours 20 or less mark – but it will be a brave and good swimmer that puts their reputation on the line and makes the attempt. The Spring tide swim was tried by Christof a couple of years ago but his speed was not good enough to hit the markers by the time he reached the middle of the North East Lane as he had a shoulder problem that finally called a holt [sic] to the attempt.”

The most relevant part is that Mike, one of the most experienced current pilots, estimates the possible record time as 6 hours 20 minutes.

What I can say about Trent’s swim, is that he probably could have benefited from an earlier start. After all the discussion about optimum start time during the briefing, when Mike outlined the different start time options, the actual swim time was almost 6.45 a.m. when Mike had said the “on the edge” best start time was 6.30 a.m.

As tides go, Trent wasn’t on the lowest neap of the year. A lower neap would mean slightly less tidal current, though it’s doubtful this would translate to more than a couple a minutes. On the other side, as Mike points out, a fast enough swimmer willingly to risk the highest spring tide of the season could benefit from the stronger currents on the French side of the Strait.

Weather-wise Trent has quite calm day, but with a couple hours of increase Force Two chop. There is always a difference between a completely flat “glass” sea and a stronger tail-wind and surfing sea. I asked Trent which he preferred and he said he felt he was faster with a surfing sea. Which is better, a one-day-in-ten perfect glass or a wind that lines up behind the swimmer and shifts north-westerly. I feel the wind was not entirely as Mike said, it seemed South-westerly to me, and I noted the direction and speed specifically at about the fourth hour, when Mike notes that Trent was losing speed. During that hour he lost the wake regularly. That may have translated in the most accumulated loss.

Owen and I estimated Trent’s total feed time at 112 seconds. Stoychev’s was about 90 seconds. At those speeds every ten seconds lost doesn’t equate to 10 minutes swimming, but 20 seconds lost could very easily mean four or five minutes lost. And at the rate he was swimming, sacrificing two second for another feed in the last 40 minutes might have also been beneficial.

Owen points out privately to me, that Damian being in the water for more of the last hour, could also have had a significant impact. Not to mention the fact that, in open water terms Trent is still not at his peak,

In my non-expert view compared to Mike Oram, I’d estimated that Trent could go fifteen minutes faster.

Of course that doesn’t mean he will because that weather and tide combination is elusive for everyone. But I wouldn’t rule it out. I can’t quantify Mike’s assertion that the record could be improved by thirty minutes, but I can’t rule it out either.

And the Channel teaches people to be careful of using the word “impossible”.

Both North Channel routes

Guest article – Wayne Soutter’s historic & new North Channel route swim report – Part 1

I’m delighted to have another historic swim report for you to read.

Toward the end of August (2012) just passed, Wayne Soutter, originally from South Africa, contacted the Channel Chat group, looking for any last-minute thoughts or advice on his attempt to swim the never-before successfully swam Mull of Kintyre to Ballycastle route, instead of the only other route that’s previously been swam, the Mull of Galloway route.

Both North Channel routes

There were key responses from two-time English Channel Soloist and Northern Irishman Jim Boucher, Mike Oram, (English Channel pilot), and The King, Kevin Murphy, who has swam the North Channel three times, and considers it the toughest swim in the world.

Kevin said: “The reason the Mull of Kintyre swim was never done is because it’s much narrower than Donaghadee-Portpatrick. That means there’s a lot of water passing through a relatively narrow gap and conventional thinking has been that the tides’ are too strong – that and the fact that mile for mile the North Channel is already about as tough as anybody wants it. But Mull of Kintyre route is there to be done. Love to see it conquered.

The Mull of Kintyre tidal current map above. Tides are strong thoughout the whole strait, as indicated by the larger black arrows, with particularly strong currents at both sides.

Mike’s post was interesting:

I have looked at your question reference wind for this area but it’s a hard one to answer.

The wind is a minor part of the problem you are taking on and quoting a wind speed will be of absolutely no benefit to you, unless I say – flat calm. [...] I would say go in light winds and with the direction being nothing prominent - but that’s very unlikely so listen to your pilot.
 
The crossing is surrounded by land a lot of which is very uneven and mostly of solid rock. This has a big influence on the local conditions and will mean you will have very localised wind conditions and direction because of the land masses and also an added consideration for the  possible temperature differential between the land and the water. These can create both land and sea-breezes to add or subtract from the ambient wind force. The wind will be changing in speed and direction with your position as it will be dependant on the closest headland and open water areas, even if it is the same direction as the tide. There is also your swim speed to consider as that will determine the tidal pattern you are fitting into. The direction and speed of the tidal flow will be giving quite serious problems depending on if it is with or against the wind. The Tide is basically North North West to South South East direction in general changing every 6 hours or so. However around the Mull of Kintyre and all the other headland and bays (I use that word lightly) it is multi-directional and basically a mess. There is a venture effect as the wind is forced through the small gap that is the entrance/ exit from the Irish sea plus the wind direction when it is flowing in the sea areas between the headlands.
The Irish side of the Channel has strong tides (3 knots plus on the bottom of Neaps & 4.5 knots plus on the Spring tide for the middle hours of tidal flow).
The Mull of Kintyre is well know[n] for it’s overfalls and seriously congested seas for most of the tidal flows regardless of the direction – the overfalls just move North or South when the tide changes. The area has a small craft warning reference these overfalls that are present in various degrees of ferocity for 10 to 11 of the tidal pattern. It is an area know[n] for its negative tides travelling around the headland and meeting the general flow This is a negative tide as far as a crossing to Ireland is concerned as the tidal flow is back towards Scotland both north and south of the point. It might look the shortest route but I doubt if it is when to tidal direction is taken into account – (unless you are swimming from Ireland to the Mull), It will be a hard 10 miles to concur in a not very hospitipal [sic] place with a narrow, busy shipping lane thrown in and a big island (Rathlin Island) just to make sure your arrival in Ireland is not too easy.
Intimidating, to say the least. Over-falls, you ask? These are more generally known as standing waves, most often seen in rivers flowing over rock, a sign of very fast-moving water and difficult conditions.
Standing wave in the North Channel, seen from a boat bow.

A very brief history first. The first successful North Channel swim was the Portpatrick – Donaghahee route by Englishman Tom Blower in 1947, on his second attempt. The Mull of Kintyre route was previously attempted four times by Englishwoman Mercedes Gleitze. Both Blower and Gleitze were English Channel soloists, at a time when there were less than 20 English Channel soloers. Gleitze was also the first person to swim the Gibraltar Straits.

The North Channel, aka the Mouth of Hell is noted for cold air and colder water, tough tidal currents, and not least often huge blooms of stinging Lion’s Mane jellyfish. Only 12 13 swimmers from over 90 attempts have successfully swum it in the 80 years since the first attempt.

A further complication to Wayne’s swim, was that because the route is six hours steaming north of the usual route, he would not have either of the two existing North Channel pilots.

I’ll be spitting the swim report into two parts. The swim is told from the viewpoint of both Wayne and his crew chief.

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.

Get your arse in gear 6h5m.resized

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 5 – “You have burned so very brightly”

Part 1.  Part 2.  Part 3.  Part 4.

France is barely visible in the distance.

During the fifth hour, Trent and Damián had discussed when Damián would come in as support swimmer. Trent requested Damián for the last hour. Around this time Mike also told Trent to take a double-concentration feed for his next feed, “for a boost” but Trent didn’t want to so do. Some further discussion ensued with Harley and Mike, and it was decided Damián would hold off a while into the last hour before joining in Trent.

Take a double feed

Late in the fifth hour the Grey Nose, Cap Gris Nez, became visible to me on the opposite starboard side of the boat, in the South West, and I pointed it out to Harley and Damián, showing them that we were taking a curving southwesterly path.  I tried to make sure Trent saw me pointing, though I guessed he would not know I was pointing at the Cap.

The Cap is just left of image centre, one can just barely make out the lighthouse.

A Channel  swimmer always feels like they are swimming straight ahead, so it’s difficult to comprehend their position or simply easy to forget the angles that are actually involved, especially when the swimmer gets tired and cognition is not as sharp.

The swimmer, even a swimmer as fast as Trent, is actually also travelling sideways, though it feels like a directly forward progression. When people look at a Channel chart, they imagine the swimmer’s line as a meandering but always forward direction. Humans are pattern recognition experts,  in any picture of a directional line that we see, we project that the line terminates in an arrow. Even Trent, with a flatter trajectory across the Strait than almost all swimmers, was travelling sideways as well as forwards by the time he started to approach the Cap.

The haze and fog were slipping away astern, and the sky was again mostly blue, with high wispy cirrus clouds. With the Cap in sight to the crew, every Channel swimmer will tell you; this is the tough part of the swim. When you have to dig in, and to dig deep. The Channel’s challenges compress into this area, west, south and north of the Cap.

There is the real battlefield, there is the heart of the English Channel.

Early in the sixth hour, just before noon, Mike gave Trent and crew another way-point check from Petar Stoychev’s AIS chart. Trent was still 600 metres ahead. And not just a way check but Mike Oram’s unique coaching input, “get your arse in gear and stop fucking around, and bloody swim“.

What helped more was that at this stage Mike also relayed to Trent that Petar Stoychev was calling regularly, every 30 minutes. But the team knew that Stoychev back-ended his swims, as Trent and Damián had raced him many times, and that he was stronger toward the end. From here on it was possible, even probable, that Trent would start to lose his lead, that the invisible and to some invincible, Stoychev would start to eat into Trent’s lead. Trent was not just swimming against a ghost, but against the past, against a swim that had already happened. Petar Stoychev, ten times consecutive FINA Grand Prix Number One and World Champion, who allegedly has his English Channel Record time printed on many of his clothes.

Mike Oran giving his unique coaching input

During the first half of the sixth hour Mike Oram and crew started cooking, the aroma of a frying lunch drifted aft, where I was getting hungry. (My method for seafaring is to not eat, just to be sure. After surviving the bedlam of Viking Princess and the return after Alan Clack’s Solo the previous day, I had another data point experience that tells me I don’t get seasick. But I never want to take the chance of messing-up someone else’s swim, so I don’t eat much for about twelve hours before the swim and only ginger biscuits during the swim). The water was flat, the boat was stable, and I was starving, with nothing but ship’s biscuits while Gallivant‘s crew were tucking into a fry-up). Soon a smell of burning drifted back also, and Trent, by now feeling better, demonstrated his improved state by asking Damián if he’s burnt the toast. Good to see the humour back in him. Meanwhile, Mike Oram washed down his fried lunch with a chocolate ice-cream, a mixture more typical of a Channel swimmer!

Trent at 5 hours and 30 minutes

For a while, the team’s vocal encouragement had been growing ever stronger. Damián had produced a plastic red coach’s whistle and had been using it with increasing frequency, pun intended. When Damián was busy talking to Mike, Owen, Harley or I used it. When we weren’t blowing the whistle we were hooting and shouting. Trent’s stroke rate had been rising and by end of the sixth hour, he was at 78 strokes per minute, up from the 64 strokes per minute he had started on.

Harley would shout “Hup”, I would hoot or shout “go”, Owen would interject with “Go Trent” and Damián would do everything. I’d learned long ago that a higher-pitched wordless shout, literally almost the word hoot vocalised, carries well over water, and if you timed it or “Go”  or “Hup” with Trent’s predictable metronomic stroke, he could hear it on every breath and he would feed off it.

At about five hours forty minutes, Harley passed a message to Trent: You must swim 4.4 kilometres in under 1Hr10mins for record.

Trent responded with another increase in stroke rate.

At about six hours, before 1 P.M.,Trent had another feed, it took two seconds, his feeds hadn’t gotten any slower. Apart from a very occasional one which took 6 seconds, Owen and I estimated the average feed time as 4 seconds. We were not to know it was to be his last feed, so we never got to say the Magic Words, “this is your last feed” to him.

Swimmers reading this are doing the calculation. The fast ones are saying that’s no problem. The fast ones are forgetting he was still swimming across the tide and had been swimming at a 5k pace for five hours. The average or slower ones are thinking that it was only five and half hours in, a lot of swimmers don’t even have to dig in until eight or nine or ten hours have elapsed.

As the character Eldon Tyrell says in Blade Runner: “The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long. And you have burned so very bright.” Trent was swimming on the edge. Speed versus burnout, distance versus time, failure versus glory. All were out on the line, out on the water.

Last feed

Right here, with only seven people present watching, one of the biggest sporting events of the year, certainly the most important anywhere in the world that day, the English Channel Record, was teetering. But the gap had narrowed and the tension was rising in everyone. With the last hour to go, we no longer knew if Trent would make it. We didn’t have time to update people by Twitter more, leaving long awkward silences for those following.

French Coast Guard Cutter

In the final hour, we saw a Coast Guard cutter approaching astern. The French Government does not like, encourage, support or allow Channel Swimming and has been known to interfere with occasional swims to deter our lunatic pursuit. Would this be one of the rare times this would happen? Passports ready, I Tweeted.

There were more messages. Most encouraging, many exhorting Trent. Some humorous, an occasional humorous and/or crude one. Harley related to Trent a reminder of what he’d told a FINA friend and friend, the worst insult he could think of in the English Language. I shall leave it to your imagination.

We’re nearly there. Nearly at the Cap and the final stretch of the swim.

On to the Final Part.

3 hours, 7 mins ahead.resized

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 3 – Dolphin Dreams

Part 1.

Part 2.

Leaving Shakespeare Beach, Trent swam straight for the previously discussed port side of Gallivant.

Is this time to talk about port and starboard? These are not useless terms, useful only to professional sailors. Port and starboard are highly useful and accurate terms intended to avoid confusion at sea. Confusion in dangerous circumstances can mean injury or death. It’s always a surprise how many people go out on boats on long and potentially dangerous pursuits without understanding this fundamental: Port is always the left hand side as seen when looking forward to the bow from the rear of the craft.  Therefore, if you are on the front of a boat, looking back to the rear, port is your right-hand side. They are used because two people facing opposite directions can confuse each other using left and right, confusion means delay, and delay on a boat can mean danger. Using port and starboard means you don’t have to waste time on that useless “do you mean my left or your left”  questions. Starboard therefore is the right-hand side of the boat. If you are ever going to go out on a boat you should know this. If you don’t know it, learn it now. Rewire yourself so that when you even think about a boat, you think of port and starboard, not left and right. Digression over, back to Trent, swimming.

The air was still crisp and cool and the sky cloudless as Trent quickly reached the side of the boat, and he moved alongside to take up position one metre off the gunwale, right on the bow wave. Humans mythologise some creatures, the charismatic mega-fauna, horses, dogs and dolphins amongst them. We imagine some relationship, some understanding other than exists in reality. For thousands of years, cetaceans have loomed large in our imagination, eidolons of ultimate freedom, we see that mouth shape, anthropomorphise it into a smile, and project an understanding. Ask people what animal they’d like to be and more would probably reply dolphin than almost any other fauna. We see dolphins and porpoises skimming the bow waves of boats and project ourselves into them. Watching Trent swim onto the bow wave was to see that dolphin dream perfectly illuminated by one of the few humans capable of fully expressing it, like that hybrid we’ve all imagined, somewhere, sometime when we’ve moved through the water.

At a steady rate Gallivant steamed away from the beach, Trent perfectly situated in the slipstream, the rising easterly sun forward over his left shoulder. Damián was situated just beside the port cabin door at the lowest part of the gunwale, with Harley just forward him. Apart from occasional and brief visits aft, they were to remain there for the rest of the swim, working hard, never leaving Trent, never giving less than he gave, just in a different way, a team effort. Owen was forward of Harley, I was aft of Damián at the stern of the boat on the high crew deck, with Owen and I moving forward and aft more, giving messages and information, taking pictures and doing some fetching and carrying.

Only five minutes had passed, Trent had moved hundred of metres off the beach, when Damián wrote his first message “excellent surfing” to Trent on the small whiteboard. For the entirety of the swim Damián and Harley were almost never to leave Trent more than ten minutes without a message on the whiteboard, and rarely left him that long.

Channel Soloists, I have to tell you this: Trent passed the imaginary line delineating the end of the Dover Harbour Wall in just under ten minutes. Mike Oram had told Trent during the briefing that he would have to hold 4.9 kilometres per hour, to equal the existing record.

For most of us that portion of the swim takes twenty to twenty-five minutes, for slower swimmers it takes thirty minutes. For one poor unfortunate this year, they hadn’t passed the harbour after two hours and the Coast Guard called off the swim because they were a hazard.

Behind us the White Cliff’s high albedo reflected the early morning sunlight, westward was Samphire Hoe, the spoil of the Channel Tunnel turned into a coastal park, with Folkestone clear beyond Samphire Hoe in the morning light before any daytime haze descended. The water was ripplely under a gentle Force One breeze, technically described as “light air”, almost perfect, 95 out of a scale of 100. Trent had his first feed at twenty minutes after the start. It literally happened so quickly that I didn’t photograph it. Afterwards Mike Oram told Damián to pass a message to Trent that he make sure to take all his feed.

On the cabin roof beside him, Damián has Trent’s short handwritten list of positive affirmations to be used during the swim, a fascinating glimpse into the mind and operation of what a world champion uses as motivation.

Too Strong

Simplicity

Only worry about the things you can control

Rhythm

Australia

The sun was now well clear of the horizon. Only at dawn and sunset at sea and in mountains can one get a clear sense of quickly it scribes its arc across the arch of heaven, moving quickly from the watery gold and red of dawn, where one can still look at it, as it is dimmed by the denser atmosphere, before it quickly becomes the white-gold lifegiver.

For the rest on the first hour, apart from the feeds, there was bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Harley was back checking gear and moving more supplies forward, Owen was Tweeting off Trent’s account on a small notebook and I was just taking pictures, watching, and thinking this would be a good day. Trent’s stroke rate, according to my notes, was 64 at the start (32 cycles coaches use as compared to individual arm movements as most open water swimmers tend to use). I had a question for Harley in the first hour, that I hadn’t wanted to ask earlier in case it seemed negative. “What will you do if he slips behind the target and won’t make the record?”. “We’ll keep going”, said Harley, “and treat it as a training swim. We’re here for the record, if we don’t get it today we’ll be back for it”. I thought this was a telling statement, other record attempts have stopped after the target moved beyond reach.

At the one hour feed Trent was three minutes ahead of Stoychev.

Trent’s feeds were taking from two to six seconds. In Channel swimming, fifteen seconds is a fast feed. Fast feeds are essential, and probably the area of greatest errors with Channels swimmers. The day previously Jim Boucher, third crew member for Alan Clack’s solo, himself a two-time Soloist, had complimented Alan and crew on his quick fifteen-second feeds.

Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I’d become known as this.

With ships looming closer in front, at around the one hour mark Damián passed a message to Trent that the SW Shipping lane was only ten minutes ahead. It was actually about twenty minutes but the point was more to give Trent his progress to focus on.

Trent had travelled six and half kilometres in the first hour. Six. Point Five. Kilometres.

By one hour and thirty Trent’s stroke rate had dipped or settled every so slightly to 62, the breeze had increased slightly to Force Two, described as “Light Breeze”. Passenger ferries were close on the port side, only one kilometre away. On the afterdeck Owen and I were checking the Sandycove SPOT tracker, which we’d brought and started also, it’s easier to follow than Mike Oram’s Gallivant, because there aren’t multiple pages loaded. We also then loaded the new CS&PF swim tracking page which has the Shipping lanes, buoys and lightships and the Separation Zone indicated.

At one hour and forty-seven minutes elapsed, by now well into the South West Shipping Lane, ships passing south behind us now, Mike conveyed the information that Trent was five minutes ahead of Petar Stoychev.

The morning was stunning, golden light on turquoise water, diamonds scattered across the Channel. It had warmed up, the crew had shed jackets and tops.

Just before the two-hour mark, Harley decided to switch Trent to feeding every fifteen minutes instead of twenty. Trent’s feeds, which he’d pre-mixed himself, were a mix of Gatorade, gel and water. No warm water was added, though sitting in the sun the feed bottled warmed up quickly. Afterwards Trent told me he’d mixed enough for eight hours. Channel swimmers will get a giggle from that, the previous day Owen and I had mixed about twenty hours of feeds for Alan, because you never know…

A smiling, swimming Trent

In the first couple of hours particularly as I was watching and photographing Trent, what struck me, looking at the world’s number one up close, was how every movement was both economical and propelling him forward. Nothing in his stroke was impeding his progress, no minor stroke problems holding him back like the rest of us, every action was propelling him forward, his stroke long and graceful yet not overly the front quadrant, his kick variable as needed to adjust his position relative to or in the bow wave. It was a display of pure grace, Trent, as he says himself, is not a power/strength swimmer but one who moves based on stroke efficiency.

By the end of the second hour, Trent charging onwards, we passed the Varne lightship about 1500 metres off the starboard side, a sight usually only seen by swimmers returning on the boat, as the  swimmer’s usual path goes initially more north-east toward Calais.

How am I remembering this? I was taking brief notes, just for my own entertainment, occasional words spoken, my weather and water observations and the times of the various photographs, not at that stage thinking of how I could might use them. I had tried to take notes the previous day on Alan’s Solo, but the conditions on the boat were too rough to be able to so do. At two hours and thirty-five minutes, Trent was still seven minutes ahead. At two hours forty-eight Trent requested his feeds be changed to every seventeen and a half minutes. Almost immediately, Trent reported he was peeing too much. I was aft and went forward around the starboard side to call across to Harley that this was good thing, not a negative, when Mike Oram conveyed the same information and Trent was assured as such by Damián.

I mentioned Trent talking, and as Lisa Cummins and many of the Sandycove swimmers say, “shut up and swim“. How was Trent conveying so much information without losing time and distance? His control was such that on each stroke he could comfortably say a word with each breath on his right-hand side:

Change. Stroke. My. Stroke. Feeds. Stroke. To. Stroke. Every. Stroke. Seven. Stroke. Teen. Stroke. And. Stroke. Half. Stroke. Minutes. Stroke.

No break in stroke, no time lost.

At three hours we were well into the Separation Zone between the Shipping Lanes. I’d told Trent he’d know he was in the Zone because on a calm day like this was, the seaweed and debris would increase and he might start to see jellyfish. By this stage, the light was changing, becoming flat and grey, the haze that had gradually built unnoticed behind us was deepening. I told Harley to look astern of us, there was fog developing, invisible to Trent and those following online. This year’s swims that were abandoned just shy of France fresh in my mind, I started to worry. Ahead of us France wasn’t visible, usually a good sign, but England was completely veiled, north and south the world has disappeared, sound was flattening out, the breeze increased again, still Force Two but rising, some chop developed on the starboard side, but Trent was protected by Gallivant‘s shelter.

After three hours Trent reports he is “feeling flat”. And there was still a long way to go.

On to Part Four.

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.

Trent Grimsey’s English Channel World Record – Part 1 – From close-up

As some of you know, I was fortunate enough to be crewing aboard Mike Oram’s Gallivant for FINA Grand Prix 2012 Winner Trent Grimsey‘s English Channel Record. And I know you want the details. How did that happen and what did I (we, Owen O’Keefe, Ireland’s youngest English Channel Soloist, aka the Fermoy Fish was with me) see and learn? Yes, I will talk about feeding!

*

So how does an ordinary swimmer in the middle who talks crap of nowhere end up on the boat of the World Number 1 on his English Channel record-breaking attempt?

In the spring, Channel Junkies became aware that FINA Grand Prix circuit swimmer and Australian Trent Grimsey announced his intention to attempt to claim the most hallowed record in marathon and Channel swimming, the English Channel. I was intrigued, it seemed both an audacious and even arrogant statement to make, given the fickleness of the Channel, its notoriously unpredictable weather and how most of us Channel swimmers take the weather we are given, if we are lucky. Many go home without a swim. As Irish Channel two times Soloist Jim Boucher said to me in relation to something else, “if The White Horse had a wall for fast swimmers who didn’t make it, it would be a very long and full wall“.

A record attempt, well, that requires not only a great swimmer, a world-class open water swimmer, but the weather and tide to line up also and the right pilot. And courage, audacity, self-belief and preparation.

The record holder was Bulgarian Petar Stoychev, a force in open water swimming for more than ten years. Olympian, multiple FINA world champion, with an astonishing time of six hours fifty-seven minutes and fifty-five seconds, the first to go under seven hours. The story of his swim and of other almost swims of Christof Wandratch and Yuri Kudinov are the stuff of Channel legends. To put it in context, the average Channel crossing time is fourteen hours, and under twelve hours is considered very fast.

I was following Trent on Twitter and I made direct contact with him in June, asking him for a guest article for here, and Trent agreed. Trent’s hectic global travel and racing schedule made it difficult for him to get it finished (Hey swimmers, have a look at that lead-in schedule). And of course now he’s promised me a different one! He emailed me a couple of weeks ago to say he was Dover-bound and maybe we’d meet. A friend of mine said to me “less blogging, more swimming” recently. The same friend texted me when I was on the boat, “lucky b*stard“. I think it’s safe to say, the blog is working out, when I consider all the swimmers I’ve talked to or met.

As it turned out, Trent and his coach Harley Connolly were staying in Varne Ridge when Alan Clack, Owen and I arrived for Alan’s Solo Attempt. And Varne Ridge is home-from-home for me. Once I heard he was there I went over for a chat, and we had a few chats over the following days. Trent was training twice daily on Dover pool, with a sea swim every three of four days, so different than most of us. That made me nervous. Trent signed my marathon swimmer’s book. {Yeah, I’ve never mentioned the book before. Some of you know about it, and I’ll come back to it at a future date}. Trent and Harley had their first meeting with Mike Oram on Wednesday, and we spoke afterwards. In fact Owen and I parked the car right behind them on Dover Prom, not realising it was them, it looked like a serious stalking attempt. Afterwards I had a look at the weather for them and told them, based on my moderate experience, that Saturday the 8th of September would likely be best of their visible window for a record attempt, Mike having also indicated Friday as a possibility. After that Trent asked if I would consider joining the crew and I said I would, but only dependent on me not being busy with Alan, either in preparation or crewing , as he was my primary responsibility. On Wednesday night Trent’s support swimmer, FINA 2012 Grand Prix four-times Runner-Up Damién Blaum from Argentina, arrived and their team was complete.

You ever wonder what the World’s Top Two FINA marathons swimmers are like? Like me have you heard the stories of overpaid football players with no decorum or respect for others and wondered if a consequence of being elite among elite sportspeople? It certainly not the case with Trent, Damien or Harley, a world-class elite coach. Outgoing, friendly, respectful of others, and happy to talk. No sense of being too good to talk to ordinary Channel swimmers or the Aspirants around Varne Ridge. Varne Ridge is for Channel swimmers, Aspirants, Soloist and unsuccessful, and is very much part of  the Channel journey for everyone.

Trent, Owen & Donal in Varne Ridge

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Alan, Owen and I met with the legendary CSA pilot Reg Brickell, Alan’s pilot, who immediately indicated we would be swimming on Friday, (with excellent conditions forecast by my view).

After some humming and hawing, on Thursday evening the final decision was made by Reg and Alan to swim Friday and we were busy with preparation.

We left Varne at 2.30am on Friday morning  and returned successful about 6.30pm Friday evening, after a tough day at sea for the crew as well as Alan, Viking Princess being a boat for experienced crew only, causing me to liken our return journey, with Jim Boucher & I literally tied to the wheelhouse, to an episode of Deadliest Catch.

A discussion with the team confirmed the start time on Saturday morning, Trent and crew had been following Alan’s swim via the Sandycove GPS Spot tracker and mine and Owen’s updates, and were sufficiently intrigued by the various mentions of shipping lanes, Separation Zone, feeds and finish so they repeated their offer for me to come out, and I asked if Owen could join, given he also has significant Channel crew experience, more than me this year, and the team agreed without hesitation. We were to meet at 3am on Saturday morning.

Only a couple of hours of sleep were had, and twenty-four hours later at about 3.30am, Owen and I were once again filling a Thermos with hot water and loading a car and heading for Dover marina.