Tag Archives: Observers

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.

The Diana Nyad Controversy, a personal reflection – Part 5 – Probity & Integrity.

Parts 1, 23, 4

No precept is more sacred to marathon swimmers than the forbidding of a deliberate touch between swimmer and anything else; boats, people or equipment other than feed supplies. That is the way we disqualify ourselves or how we signify that a swim is over. Until you have been there, until it has been you or until you have seen a swimmer agonise for long minutes in the water, knowing there is no hope of continuing, but knowing they or you have to reach out and touch the boat, you can’t understand this.

It’s a really, really, really big deal for us.

Everything about swimming reduces to those moments. It’s difficult to explain how it feels to try to push a swimmer beyond any possibility of continuing a swim, beyond what you want to push them, so they will know afterwards they did everything. It’s different from pushing yourself. You almost hate yourself for pushing them. So the swimmer will have no doubts that when they reached out to touch the boat, it was the right and final act. When you dismiss or wilfully and repeatedly ignore these essential facts, disregard this moment of truth and subsequently lie about it, you guarantee the animosity of the marathon swimming community.

Let me be repeat what I said earlier in the series:

I do not really care what the general public thinks about Diana Nyad. The world is full of crooks, cheats and charlatans who had public support, from Lance Armstrong to Silvio Berlusconi. There is nothing new in this. Diana Nyad needs public worship and adulation. I’m happy with just having friends.

Maybe Diana Nyad will somehow square this circle and be proven to be a paragon of virtue, despite all the items of concern outlined below. Though I do not think this will happen, nor do I believe it’s even possible. But if it does happen, it will be great for swimming and we will have served the purpose of keeping marathon swimming honest.

No-one should forget that without the forum and the questions of a few, the public would have fawned all over Diana Nyad with blind adulation, everything would have been accepted. Because Diana Nyad is not truthful and all her claims to be so are empty.

If you hate me because I don’t share your hero-worship of Diana Nyad, I don’t care. If you have bought into the hype, (possibly literally), I don’t care. If you hate me because you think I am a “hater“, I don’t care (and you need to understand what irony means. Hint: listening to Alanis Morrisette won’t tell you).

I care about Rob Bohane stepping into the English Channel for a third time, knowing what he had gone through twice already, no fanfare, no merchandise, no bullshit. Just courage and what Channel Swimmer Sarah Thomas so memorably called on the forum, integrity. I care about all the others, stepping off a shore in the unknown, sharing common values in how they swim. In their heads only fear and excitement, a goal, a dream. To swim across. Not a movie, not adulation, not chat shows. Not deception. 

Courage and integrity. A fitting epithet for marathon swimmers.

Trent Grimsey picking up litterSylvain Estadieu publicly seeking prior discussed rules for his English Channel butterfly crossing. Lisa Cummins making sure no-one could touch her when she stood up on a dark empty beach before wading back in to swim back to England. Trent Grimsey picking up litter on Dover beach. Wendy Trehiou. Jackie Cobell. Paraic Casey. Susan Taylor. Kevin Murphy. Alison Streeter. Steve Redmond. More. So many more. A roll call of courage and integrity.

It’s not that I am bothered about Diana Nyad’s media presence. It should be great for our sport. I certainly loved the coverage of Jackie Cobell, Sylvain Estadieu, Lisa, Cummins, Stephen Redmond. But I do care when the media coverage is so overwhelmingly based on what I believe to be Diana Nyad’s misrepresentation. I believe that coverage should be accurate and represent our shared values and portray the reality of our swimming world. When Diana Nyad’s actions sully past, present and future swims and swimmers, she essentially attacks friends and people I respect. So it becomes personal.

I care about my sport. My friends. My interpretation of right. My sense of trying to live up to the people I respect. I need to be able to look my friends in the eye knowing I have been true both to them and to myself, (even if they are not making the same judgement). Nothing anyone can say can take away what is for me a fundamental precept, that I require of myself. Therefore Diana Nyad has tested me, had forced me to this series and maybe that’s why this was such emotive stream-of-consciousness writing for me. The Diana Nyad controversy has sullied things I care about and I intend to reclaim those values for myself and my friends.

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During the height of the controversy and discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum, the forum went offline a couple of times over the weekend of the seventh and eight of September. Until now we have said publicly that was due to traffic. In fact it was due to repeated Denial of Service (“cyber”) attacks. We do not know the origin.

When they are trying to shut you up, you know you are surely doing something right.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win“. – Gandhi

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What it all boils down to

The items below are based not just on the panel, but include previous events and events which have since come to light. The list below is why the onus is on Diana Nyad to prove that despite her protestations of being “ethical” that she is trustworthy and that the swim has any credibility. In this case the swim and the swimmer cannot be separated.

Despite her protestations of honesty, the case against Diana Nyad’s integrity is very strong and includes the following very extensive list.  References for almost everything in this list can be found on the marathonswimmers.org discussion thread. Her comment on Facebook alone contains multiple problems.

Diana Nyad on Facebook - so much bollocks
Diana Nyad on Facebook – so much bollocks

Rules & Observation

  • Despite repeated calls from marathon swimmers (including myself), Diana Nyad never published any rules before any Cuba to Florida swim.
  • Her methods during her 2011 and 2012 Cuba to Florida swims include getting onto the support boats. What would she have claimed had she been successful, given her assertions that she’s never been assisted?
  • Her claim that she couldn’t remember touching the boat in 2012.
  • Conflicted reports by team members of what touches were carried out. (There are actual photos exist of her being held).
  • Her conflicting claims that she never touched anything in the recent 2013 swim, yet later admitting she had been touched.
  • Her repeated continuing claims in the press of some undefined world record.
  • Her claims of not knowing about Observing requirements (to me).
  • Her previous use of conflicted Observers who were simultaneously promoters, journalists and a sponsor.
  • He claim that her Observer’s belong to a non-existent organisation (Open Water Swimming Association).
  • Her use of unknown Observers with no experience and no recognised training, reputation or affiliation. Her own team members ironically say a qualified team is essential.
  • No publication of any standards or rules according to which any Observer would be judging.
  • The casual retrospective dismissal of the well-documented by her own team, 7 1/2  hours without feeds, as a misquote. (“That was a mistake”), not corrected or ever mentioned by the team until raised by the forum.
  • Her post-panel deliberate TV statement that the team had provided all the requested documentation, (they still haven’t). She said this was because she doesn’t know how to upload documents.
  • Diana Nyad team member’s posts on the forum are contradictory in establishing what rules they might have been following. Much of their talk of rules seems to have been derived from the actual post-swim forum discussion and to be conflated with a non-swimmer’s understanding of English Channel rules and other rules and how, where and why these are used.
  • Use of an iPhone as a stopwatch. (That says a lot about the standard of rules and Observation. Strictly forbidden in almost any sport).
  • During the storm, both Observers were away from the swim and swimmer on a different boat. (This account was published two weeks after the panel).

Integrity and Probity

  • The events surrounding Walter Poenishes first assisted Cuba to Florida swim, before and after, contain multiple problems for her claimed integrity, including actually libellous personal attacks, subversion of sponsors and media for her own ends and ultimately the ruining of a man’s life. Mr Poenisch had to take legal action before Diana Nyad withdrew her attacks but he was never able to repair the damage she had already done.
  • Her dismissal of Suzie Maroney’s Cuba to Florida swim also as assisted (which it was) but never acknowledging that she herself was assisted.
  • Any assertions that the community now accepts that she swam the distance. I myself don’t say this. Without reputable experienced Observers (more than two are required for 48+ hours) and original Observer Logs that can be proven to be created on the relevant dates. There is no way to know. In fact I don’t seen now how this can ever be proven. The requirement for stringency has been caused by Diana Nyad having heard all questions in public after the swim was over before she ever set out to clarify.
  • Her repeated calling on some unknown higher authority called “the sport of open water swimming” or “the auspices of the sport” for the media. (Please refer to the vote above).
  • Her claim of no contact to her from the marathon community.
  • Her ignoring an offer to help set up an Observing Organisation specifically for her and the Florida Strait.
  • Her implicit denial that such an offer was made to made.
  • The apparent denial of what her own jellyfish advisor Dr. Yanigahara says was essential safety treatment, to Chloe MacCardel for her Cuba to Florida attempt.
  • Her 36 years of false claims about her Around Manhattan swim.
  • Her untrue assertion that “my own peer group, instead of coming to me and asking me questions went to the media“. (In fact the media contacted us, Diana Nyad is the one who courts the media. I answered one media request early on and ignored the few subsequent requests).
  • The lack of real explanation about the apparent contradiction in her own video evidence of the navigator versus the public claims.
  • Her disrespect for other swimmers.
  • Her hypocritical treatment of Penny Palfrey and Chloe McCardel, with public claims of well-wishing, contradicted by post-swim statements hoping they would fail.
  • A Team Nyad source told of her later instruction to her team “do not the feed the trolls” specifically about the forum, whom she also called peers when it suited. somewhat at odds with this statement: “They want to know how the facts came down so they can understand it. They have every right to ask all these questions, and we have every intention to honor the accurate information.
  • Confusion over apparent discrepancy between publicly available Florida current satellite data and Diana Nyad’s post-swim Florida Current data, for the same days.
  • Her appeal to the Court of Public Approval, (in science, one of the most conclusive demonstrations of fraud).
  • Her utter public disrespect for volunteers, calling them “traitors”.

Occam’s Razor

  • Diana Nyad, with a lifelong history of braggadocio and deceit about swims, including exiting the water, and with a tenuous relationship to the concept of rules, with no Independent Observers, claims to have done an unassisted swim , which includes a previously uncharted current that allowed her more than double her swim speed in open water after 30 hours.
  • Diana Nyad followed a lifelong pattern of deceit about swimming for self-aggrandisement and ego.

Ceteribus paribus. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best.

*******

When you are sitting in the changing room of your pool or at the beach or somewhere and someone says to you “did you hear about that woman who swam from Cuba to Florida …“. Take a breath. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t worry about seeming like a crank. Instead say “well, actually, let me explain about that to you…”

I struggled with how I could wrap this up. What could I say that could make any difference?

Then again, I realised I didn’t have to make a difference. I only had to do what I have done. Write and let sunlight disinfect Diana Nyad. But something else happened as I wrote, as I got further into this series. I started this series with a sense of grim resignation, frustration and ennui. But as I wrote, I felt better. I felt better and I felt more able to be completely  honest about what I think of this debacle. As I wrote, we all took back our sport.

Further, I realised I could make a personal decision, a decision just for myself.

I am a channel swimmer. The title is one of my proudest possessions. I can use it because of the trust and integrity of the worldwide marathon swimming community (any Channel applies), and I choose to use it because of the respect I have for friends and swimmers far greater than I who hold that title.

You know that one decision I can make about Diana Nyad? You’ll laugh. It’s not all this writing. It’s not the forum, the panel, the conversations, emails, messages or even this series.

The strongest personal statement that I can make, here and now, is that I would not let Diana Nyad sign my marathon swimmers autograph book. I do not believe Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida.

Diana Nyad does not appear to have the probity or integrity that I require of her.

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Primus Inter Pares.
Primus Inter Pares.

Thanks for sticking with this and thanks for all the supportive messages.

For whatever it’s worth, I feel cleaner now. See you on the Copper Coast, in Sandycove or in Dover.

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{While I have you, I’d like to point out something else that I wrote, that I think is just as important, in which I also address something which directly addresses swimmers, but the ending of which was overwhelmed by the Diana Nyad fiasco, and that’s the omni-shambles of 2013’s MIMS and the implication for future MIMS applicants}.

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