Tag Archives: Sylvain Estadieu

Images of 2013 – 1 – Swimming People

I wrapped up 2012 with a few posts on some photos I’d taken through the year related to swimming. About the time I writing those posts, I embarked on what is known as a 365 Project, taking a photograph (often many more) every day for a year, which I completed this week. (I started it thanks to Sandycove swimmer Riana Parsons and those 365 photographs can be seen on my Blipfoto account.

Portraiture is a difficult aspect of photography for some, including me, as it requires either a willingness to demand co-operation from subjects or a constant almost covert imposition of a camera. I’m not comfortable with either, but I have been learning to pursue the form. The number of portrait photographs from the year is still low and time goes by when I completely forget to take any.

So here are a few of my preferred shots of swimming people from the year. Once again, i chose mainly based on photographic merit rather than any personal relationships, but the range illustrates, I think, what attracts us about this sport, the people we met, the friends we make.

David IMG_0256.resized

My swimming Dad: David Frantzeskou, along with Evelyn, the owner of Varne Ridge Caravan Park outside Dover, one of my favourite places and amongst my favourite people, with so many different and enduring memories. It took some convincing of both David & Evelyn that this was a shot that I was proud of, displaying that slightly perplexed look we know so well on David’s face.

Getting ready IMG_8674.resized

I was fortunate to be part of another World Record English Channel swim crew for the second year in a row, this time with my friend Sylvain Estadieu. While images of Sylvain butterflying away from the White Cliffs or standing triumphant with the French tricoloeur are popular, this one is my favourite, the moments before the swim, a glimpse into Sylvain.

Liam MaherOn a grey day in summer we took to a few laps of Sandycove to wish our 2013 Manhattan Island Sandycove swimmers, Liam, Carol & Lisa the best. One of my shortlived waterproof cameras from this year (three!) caught a typical Liam Maher pose, English channel swimmer in front of Sandycove’s famous Red House (now beige). The Red House is used to mark final 400 metre sprints, the best line for the slipway and for the marathon swimmers of the club, could be seen from about two kilometres out for those who have braved the Speckled Door to Sandycove swim. The laugh on Liam’s face is entirely typical.

Eoin, Carol & MaeveIMG_9712.resizedAfter the Global Swim Conference visitors had all left the island, there were a few local Sandycovers hanging around chatting. Probably eating cake. Left is Eoin O’Riordan, middle is Carol Cashell and right is Maeve Moran. Eoin joined Carol in an English Channel two-way relay team as a substitute and did some great training, and the team went on to set a new two-way six person national English Channel record, after Carol had returned from getting second placed lady in the Manhattan Island Marathon swim. Maeve is another Sandycove regular and perennial and invaluable volunteer who will be swimming an English Channel relay next year.

Sakura & Nick IMG_9444_02.resized

Nick Adams, President of the CS&PF and multiple English Channel soloist and other swims, celebrates being inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as the Global Open Water Conference in Cork. With him is English Channel solo and many other swims, Dr. Sakura Hingley. Nick and Sakura had been married only recently, on August 25th, the anniversary of Captain Matthew Webb’s first English Channel solo. Both have been promising me articles for this blog for over two years. I am starting to lose hope.

Lisa IMG_9716_01.resizedMy very good friend Lisa Cummins, now living down-under and getting a free summer, well-known to all as one of the legendary two-way English channel swimmers. Lisa and I were once again on a few adventures this year, and therefore she had to put up with many attempts at portrait shots by me before I finally found one I was pleased with, in Sandycove of course.

Ray IMG_9237_01.resizedRay is a member of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, my other (non-racing) club. Every day of the summer, from May until the end of September, Ray empties the bins, picks up rubbish and litter, keeps the coves and lawns of  Newtown and Guillamenes pristine, and even cleans the public toilets for the tourists, after the town council refused to so do. Ray is one the quiet heroic volunteers without whom no club in the world could survive and I have enormous respect for him.

Friends_MG_4547_01.resized

Left to right, Ciáran Byrne, Eddie Irwin, Craig Morrison, , me being manhandled, Finbarr Hedderman in back and Liam Maher, after a spring swim in Sandycove. Channel Soloists all. I didn’t take this shot, but handed the camera to Maura (Hynzie) Morrison. When you are being manhandled by Finbarr (6’4″) & Liam (6’8″) it’s like being caught in a landslide, there’s no fighting it. It’s good to have such friends.

President Billy_MG_7754.resized

Billy Kehoe, President of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club, 85 years old, and swimming at the Guillamenes for 75 years. I don’t think a single occasion has passed over the years that Billy hasn’t used the same joke with me, that I am not to swim past the Saltees (Islands), despite my offering to write him some new material. Billy is currently working on a history of the Newtown and Guillamenes swimming club that hopefully is almost near completion and to which I am really looking forward and will hopefuly publish her and on the club website, which I have completely neglected .

Paul Foreman IMG_8489.resized

Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation pilot and gentleman, Paul Foreman. Formerly of Pace Arrow, now of the Channel fleet’s best boat, Optimist, pilot for Gábor Molnar and Jen Hurley and our tragically lost friend Páraic Casey, Paul holds a special place of affection for many Sandycove swimmers who know him and were friends of Páraic.

Freda IMG_8419.resized

If you were to come up with any list of the ten most important people in the history of Channel swimming, Freda Streeter would be on that list. Mother of Alison, the Queen of the Channel and CS&PF Channel pilot Neil, Freda has trained hundreds of Channel swimmers and was instrumental in the formation of the CS&PF. For thirty years every weekend from May until September, with Barrie and Irene Wakeham and many others who assist, Freda runs a free Channel training camp for all comers.

Roger Finch IMG_8411.resized

I finally met cheeky chappie and South African Channel soloist Roger Finch in Varne Ridge, where all Channel swimmers eventually meet and then one day on Dover beach. He was training with Otto Thaining, whom I briefly met later. Otto was training to be the oldest Channel Soloist. Roger and I knew many people in common. Unfortunately Otto got weathered out, but my money is on him both returning and being successful next year. With the ebullient  Roger in his crew he’s all set.

Owen O' Keeffe closeup

My young friend Owen, the Fermoy Fish and I voyaged together again this year, most notably on his pioneering Blackwater swim. After Trent Grimsey’s swim last year, I’d come to the conclusion I may have taken my best ever photo of a swimmer. I guess my development as a photographer now leads to me realise that was a laughable conceit.  Reviewing my pics of the year, I’m currently of the belief this is the current best photo of a swimmer I’ve taken, getting past the stroke, the conditions, and inside Owen, as close metaphorically as I can get into another swimmer’s mind.

Group shot_MG_6640.resized

During Sandycove Distance Week, about 20 of the less lazy of the swimmers came over for a swim with me on the Copper Coast. It was one of the best days of the bet summer in a generation. There were complaints about the water being too warm! granted, this photo wasn’t chosen for its photographic merit, but for the sheer pleasure I derived from so many visitors.

Dee on Kilfarrassey Beach B&W _MG_5674.resized

Constrained as I am from publishing a photo of her, here’s my silent partner in most adventures and supporter in others. 

I look to meeting you all and capturing your images in 2014.

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.

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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Guest Article: Sylvain Estadieu – Butterfly in the Public Lane

As an irish people I dislike the association of Guinness with being Irish. Sylvain is French so he's allowed!
As an Irish person I dislike the association of Guinness with being Irish. Sylvain is French so he’s allowed!

Sylvain Estadieu, aka The Flying Frenchman, came to Ireland in 2008, where he became a Sandycove Island swimmer. He Soloed the English Channel in 2009. So despite his origin and travels around the world, and currently living in Sweden, Ireland and Sandycove will always have a claim on him.

During Channel training Sylle became  notorious for his Individual Medley of Sandycove Island, four laps of the island, about 1700 metres per lap, each lap using each of the four I.M. strokes, butterfly,  backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl. I seem to recall he said breaststroke was the worst lap.

After keeping it quiet for some time, Sylvain finally went public late last year with his intention of attempting another English Channel Solo, this time though he intends to attempt it as a Butterfly world-record attempt. Sylvain and I crewed for Gábor Molnar‘s English Channel swim, where I extracted the promise that we (Gábor and I) could crew for him. So this September, I’ll be back in Dover for another World Record attempt. 

In Varne Ridge.From left: Gabor, David, Donal, Evelyn, Sylvain,
In Varne Ridge.
From left: Gabor, David, Donal, Evelyn, Sylvain,

In 2010 and 2012 Sylvain and his girlfriend Great Greta travelled around the antipodes, where he left his mark by starting a tradition of non-wetsuit swimming in Lake Wanaka.

Sylvain at Lake Wannaka
Sylvain at Lake Wanaka

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I get asked quite often if my sessions are 100% butterfly. The answer is no. I just had a look at the figures and for 2013 it turns out I’ve swam 48% of butterfly, 47% of front crawl, 4% of backstroke and just under 0.5% of breaststroke.

The other question that I get asked fairly often is if it’s easy to swim butterfly in a public lane. It can prove difficult to train front crawl if there are undisciplined bathers (Disclaimer: don’t swim in the same lane as me … I’m not a easy-friendly lane-mate) … so doing butterfly in a crowded lane sounds like it should be almost impossible, right? Well, you’ll be glad to learn that it’s possible!

The first rule of BIAPL is you don’t talk about BIAPL (you saw this one coming). One does not encourage others to do it. Especially if said others frequent the same swimming pool. We wouldn’t want a lane full with butterfliers, now that would be mayhem.

The second rule of BIAPL, which is probably more important than the first one is you’ve got to look around. This one is actually applicable to other strokes, other sports and situations like crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk, moving dishes from the dishwasher to the shelves, etc. As soon as there’s one person to share the lane with, you’ve got to start looking around yourself. Doing a complete length of butterfly with your head down is forbidden, so is taking the first stroke(s) with your head down. You look ahead as often as you can and learn to anticipate. Will I be able to take one full stroke or two short ones? Maybe I’ll have to overglide a bit so the oncoming swimmer will have time to end up behind me?

In all likelihood I will need to whack my right hand against the lane line a couple times per length so as to give enough space to the others (sorry to disappoint you Donal, but my wingspan is a mere 1m82 … but I still take more space doing fly than if I were to (somehow) swim sideways with my head-to-feet axis perpendicular to the lane). Occasionally my left hand will be high up in the air trying to pick apples while my left “wing” will resemble that of a little duckling. Not pretty, but at least there’ll be no blood in the water.

It’s an easy rule to summarize, but it’s really powerful. Just know your surroundings, know what’s going on around you, and most of the time you’ll be alright.

The third rule of BIAPL is that you won’t be able to take every single stroke in the mighty butterfly style, so get over it already. There will necessarily be times when you have to switch to freestyle for a few strokes. But that’s not a biggie, especially because it gives you the chance to … count … something … else! Yipee! You’re already keeping track of the distance you swam, the remaining one, your average pace for each set and the number of times people have pushed off right in front of you, now let me introduce the fly/fc ratio.

What is the fly/fc ratio?

Quite simply, the fly/fc ration describes the amount of butterflying in your butterfly sets. 100% means that you didn’t need to use the one-arm stroke even once while 50% indicates that it must have been a bloody battlefield out there and that maybe you’d have been better off doing something else, like kicking perhaps?

Calculating the ratio is very easy: imagine your average stroke count is 20 strokes per 25m in front crawl. You start a casual 1000m butterfly and end up using a total of 90 strokes of f/c in order to pass people of avoid accidentally punching them in the head (or worse, if you have paddles on, something reminiscent of the French Revolution … the Swedes have hidden their royal family since I moved to Sweden). You will have swum approximately 112.5m of f/c and 887.5m of fly, hence a ratio of 89%. Not bad!

You can also use this ratio to calculate you actual “butterfly speed” over such a set, but I’ll let you do the math.

The fourth rule of BIAPL is embrace the moment. Have fun, you’re flying after all. You’re bringing magic to this world, you’re inspiring people, at the very least a young Arnie, for two strokes or more.

And remember the (poor) haiku:

Both arms over head
Then glide deep under water
Archimedes will help.

Otherwise, training is going well, getting faster, stronger and better looking by the day.

Fly Sweden!
Fly Sweden!

Recommended links:

Sylvain’s blog.

English Channel season is over – anniversary of Gábor’s English Channel Solo (with video)

The last bookable tide for soloists for the English Channel is the last neap tide of September. (There is one unbookable tide left that some soloists may be able to get out on, weather permitting, best wishes to those waiting, hoping for a last chance).

Though the water is still warm (at least by Irish standards), the chance of storms and rough water has significantly increased, along with longer nights leaving solo swimmers starting on high tide, the more common, with a longer period of n.

Gábor successfully swam the English Channel on the 28th of September last year, and I had the honour to be there as crew. One of my all-time favourite movie clips is of Sylvain and I swimming in with Gábor onto Wissant beach. I hadn’t realised Sylvain had the camera at the time.

Gábor’s first thought, unsurprising for those who know him, was to make a joke. His second was to think of our friend and hero Rob Bohane. It was a very powerful and personal moment, and having it on film is thanks to Sylvain and Gábor for allowing us to be there, to capture the emotion of the end of a Channel Solo quite well, probably at that moment more emotional for Sylvain and I, since Gábor was mainly exhausted. And thanks to Gábor for letting me upload it.

With his words, Gábor brought all of our friends onto Wissant beach with him.

(The shouting is hooting, learned when surfing, when I discovered it was a sound that carries well over water and wind).