Tag Archives: Trent Grimsey

One species, not evolved for swimming

Kevin Murphy, Trent Grimsey, Philipe Croizon, Jackie Cobell, Roger Allsop, Owen O’Keefe

Kevin, Trent, Philipe, Jackie, Roger, Owen

In order from left:

  • Kevin Murphy, The King of the Channel, with 34 Solo crossings and a multitude of swims elsewhere around the world, he also has swum longer than anyone else who has ever lived
  • Trent Grimsey, 2012 FINA World number one open water swimmer and the fastest English Channel Soloist, (who has just retired from Professional swimming)
  • Philipe Croizon, the first limbless person to Solo the English Channel
  • Jackie Cobell, the slowest English Channel Soloist, Bering Strait Relay
  • Roger Allsop, the oldest English Channel Soloist
  • Owen O’Keefe, Ireland’s youngest ever Channel Soloist, Round Jersey Male Record Holder and more

There are a few things that strike me about them.

First is that what unites them is greater than what separates them. Each of them is a Soloist. Each of them has aspired to be a Soloist. Each has felt the pain of the Channel and overcome it. Each is a member of the same small group. If you are a member of a group to achieve something which has only a twelve hundred members or so worldwide, then you can be the slowest, fastest, first or most often, prettiest, or even average and still belong.

Anyone can aspire to belong to the same group. All that differentiates these people from others in that area is desire. How much desire do you think it took Philipe or Jackie? How much for Kevin to keep going back when once is enough for most people? What about Roger attempting something people less than half his age have failed to do? Desire to succeed is what unites them.

Second is another facet of the differences, the range. If all these people exemplify some ideal of Channel swimming, not only do you NOT have an option to say: it’s ok for them, I couldn’t do it, but even better, you’ll likely fall into the very very broad middle ground. You’ll may be over 10 ten hours but under 20 hours. You may get completely average (for the Channel) weather conditions. Or you may not. You may have Force Six winds or be the fastest swimmer of your generation. There is a wide range which can accommodate you, and still, at the end, you will belong to the same species. A species that isn’t evolved for swimming, that instead used disruptive motions to progress through water, and as a consequence derives meaning from pursuing that which we weren’t evolved to tackle.

Lastly, taken as a whole, the group almost defines the limits of swimming possibility or maybe even that the limits haven’t yet been reached. They have all done something no-that by definition no-one else has. They set markers to which many more can aspire and by edging closer out onto the edge of human capability, they illuminate the way for the rest of us.

 

Favourite LoneSwimmer photos of 2012 – Part 1

Last year on New Year’s day I wrote about my thoughts of the coming year. I’m haven’t done a retrospective, if you follow the blog, you have a good idea of what happened. I originally just thought I might just round-up some of my favourite photos that I took during the year which then led to this series of My Swimming Life 2012. This is the end of that series, with the first of two parts, of my favourite photos from the year.

This site has meant I have gradually become more concerned with getting appropriate and useful images. This year I was fortunate to capture a few that I really like. There are black and white versions of a few of these in the Kindle Screensaver post, but here are medium resolution colour images, (good enough for screen-savers). Some of these I haven’t shared at all previously. I did discover over the course of this series that I’d taken more good shots than I’d realised and discovered a couple I hadn’t realised at the time, which was why I did my 2012 swimming locations, some faces of 2012, and the two posts on my Almost favourites of 2012.

I have high-resolution versions of all of these suitable for printing at larger sizes. This isn’t a commercial site, but should you like a high-resolution printed print of any of these,  contact me directly and you can purchase any and we’ll out how to get prints to you.

I’ll start with dawn in the English Channel, leaving Dover and Shakespeare beach.

Channel_Dawn_(cropped_USM)-resized

Next of course is Trent Grimsey, on the way to setting the new English Channel world record. I doubt I’ll ever take a better swimming photo. Everything was right, the position, the light, the sense of motion,and of course, Trent helped with that Mona Lisa smile! I’m proud of this photo.

The record-setter
The record-setter

Lisa came over for one weekend of horrible summer weather, and I took that one great shot with my Kodak PlaySport, swimming out to Brown’s Island, rain on calm water.

Brown's Island in the rain
Brown’s Island in the rain

Alan Clack was here twice this year, in preparation for his English Channel solo. The weekend before we left for Dover, we climbed up to Coumshingaun for some cold water training beneath the 1000 foot tall cliffs. Since then I’ve noticed that Coumshingaun is being used as the backdrop for one of The Gathering advertising posters.

Swimming Coumshingaun
Swimming Coumshingaun

Another I took that day in Coumshingaun I was also pleased with, that will make any swimmer want to take a dip there, t he blue sky reflected across the glacial corrie.

Coumshingaun
Coumshingaun

And of course I went to Manhattan for MIMS 2012 where I took possibly one of the best photos I’ve captured. And without having a tripod. So we’ll pause here and return with the last seven in the next post.

Manhattan night
Manhattan night

Related articles

Global Marathon Swimmer Awards 2012 – The Winners

The voting for the inaugural Global Marathon Swimming Awards closed at the New Year and early last week the winners were announced. There were three categories of award for the first year, 2012:

  • Female Performance of the Year
  • Male Performance of the Year
  • The Barra Award for the most Impressive Overall Body of Work for the Year

Who was nominated?

Category: Solo Swim of the Year (Female) - the single most outstanding solo marathon swim by a female in 2012.

The nominees were:

  • Annaleise Carr - Lake Ontario crossing
  • Chloe McCardel - two-way English Channel crossing
  • Tina Neill - San Clemente Island to California mainland

Category: Solo Swim of the Year (Male) - the single most outstanding solo marathon swim by a male in 2012.

The nominees were:

  • Trent Grimsey - English Channel world record
  • Craig Lenning - Tsugaru Channel crossing
  • Bill Shipp - Lake Memphremagog crossing

Category: The Barra Award - the marathon swimmer (male or female) with the most impressive body of work, considered as a whole, in 2012.

The nominees were:

  • David Barra
  • Darren Miller
  • Anna-Carin Nordin
  • Stephen Redmond
  • Grace van der Byl

Why were these swimmers nominated?

Links to all the nominations can be seen here which includes links to the individual nominations AND the reasons for those nominations.

Who could vote?

Actual members of the forum can be assumed to be either marathon or aspirant marathon swimmers, or involved in the sport somehow. We believe peer recognition and the voting methods outlined below are the strength of the awards.

Why is voting restricted to Forum Members?

These awards do not have the reach, publicity nor media recognition of other awards. But those nominated and winning do have the knowledge and recognition that their efforts are respected and validated by the only people truly capable of appreciating their accomplishments; marathon swimmers, aspirant marathon swimmers, and those specifically interested in the sport, from around the world.

In most votes, voting is restricted (such as in national election where it is restricted to citizens) to those with interest in the specific subject. Otherwise vote rigging and vote-brigading for nationalistic or personal reasons, often not by the nominees become the dominant motive.

How was voting run?

Initially the awards were opened up to a nomination process. This allowed the possibility of  any swimmer worldwide being nominated, the only criteria being that they followed accepted marathon swimming rules. Private nominations could be made to the Administrators (Evan & I) who subsequently published those nominations.

The nomination process was open for four weeks.

The process then moved to a finalist short list which was open from November to the end of the year.

Only signed up members of the forum could vote. Every forum member had one vote per nominee and these were cast by “liking” the nominees. At the close of voting tallies of likes were taken and panel consisting of the Administrators and members of the forum agreed on the winners.

What precautions were taken to insure the integrity of the Global Marathon Swimmer Awards?

  • Care was taken to determine that no vote-brigading was carried out through any sudden influx of members.
  • No ongoing tallies of votes were published during voting. Letting potential voters know of the state of the voting during a vote, is one the oldest and greatest flaws of any voting process.
  • Multiple voting by members by using different devices or IP address was not possible as voting was per Forum Membership ID. Vote early, vote often may be a joke, but with the above two is the other greatest flaw of online voting.

Who were the winners?

Female Solo Swim of the Year

Tina Neill - Unprecedented 52-mile swim from San Clemente Island to the California mainland

Tina Neill
Tina Neill

Male Solo Swim of the Year

Trent Grimsey - English Channel world record (6 hours, 55 minutes)

Trent Grimsey headshot.resized

The Barra Award for most impressive body of work in 2012, considered as a whole

Grace van der Byl - New Catalina Channel overall world record; new records in all 7 stages (plus overall time) of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim

Grace van der Byl
Grace van der Byl

We would like to note that the Barra Award voting was extraordinarily close. Stephen Redmond was the runner-up to Grace by a margin of only two votes.

What do the winners receive?

Unfortunately, there is no physical award, Evan and I are just two guys, we wish we had physical awards to bestow. What the winners receive, for what it’s worth and along with all the nominees, are the respect and admiration of their peers and a significant number of the global marathon swimming population for their excellence and commitment to the marathon swimming tradition.

These are true swimming icons for us all to recognise, to celebrate and where possible, to attempt to emulate. They each embody the ethos of true marathon swimming, as indeed did all the nominees.

We congratulate them all, and thank the Forum Members for participating in the inaugural Awards.

(We are open to improvements and suggestions for next year). 

It’s a water world. Swim it.

Swimming 2012 – the pictorial tour continues – Almosts

This follows the 2012 Swim Locations post. I was considering calling it the My Swimming Life series. These photos were almost but not quite amongst my favourites for 2012, which will be coming soon. Like anyone with a camera, you notice that you sometimes take more photos on those really good days than you get to share. So here’s a chance to see some new ones, and revisit some others. Not all are chosen because they are good photographs, as some aren’t great, but they capture something relevant or interesting to me.

Also, I’ve been trying to improve my post-processing skills as well as my camera skills, the two in inextricable in the digital age, and I found a few that I didn’t take much notice of the first time around that have benefited from a run through the bit-machine.

Also, for a variety of reasons I’m struggling to write at the moment, so we’ll continue on this pictorial tour of 2012.

Alan Clack in the English Channel
Alan Clack in the English Channel

The day before Trent’s swim, I crewed for Alan. Despite all I’ve written about Trent, Alan’s solo was personally more important.  Alan first made in contact in 2010 after my solo and I guess we were on the Channel journey together ever since, (me in a supporting role of course). Alan travelled to Ireland three times, swum two full Distance weeks, (more than I’ve done). The risk of bad weather during his window was bigger for him considering the lack of travel availability from Canada. On the day, conditions were very choppy and not conducive to great photography, but I managed what has become a traditional Channel image for many swimmers. Alan swam a fantastic Solo, in a great time of eleven and a half hours.

Swimmers and crew.
Swimmers on the right, crew on the left.

One of the undoubted highlights of my 2012 swimming year was being on Sandycove Island for the final day of qualification swims. I was on crew on Saturday for the Total Brain and Body Confusion “torture” swim, as I was previously in 2011. However the last couple of years I’d swum on the final qualification day. This was my first time on the island, with Finbarr, Ned, Riana, and Andrew Hunt. It was an extraordinary day, to see from land-side what we put ourselves through. I know what it’s like to suffer unending hypothermia around Sandycove, to not be able to stand straight or talk clearly or use my muscles fully. To see it first-hand and up close was another thing again and to be able to help the swimmers was nothing less than a privilege with the level of marathon and Channel swimming knowledge and competence rising each year.

Tramore beach
Tramore beach

Just another day in Tramore. The photo looks black and white, but isn’t. These are the colours of late winter in Ireland.

Tramore pier
Tramore pier

Another wintery almost colourless shot, this was taken looking around the corner of Tramore pier out toward the Guillamenes, fractions of a second before the wave reflected back off the wall.

Blackwater morning
Blackwater morning

Some much-needed colour, motoring up a calm Blackwater on the late-summer morning with Owen for his swim from Cappaquin back down to Youghal.

Climbing to Coumshigaun
Climbing to Coumshigaun

Long-suffering Dee, accompanying me up the Comeragh Mountains so that I could swim Coumshingaun. Look carefully, the doglet is at her feet.

Simple pink.
Simple pink.

April is pinks (sea-thrift) month. I love pinks.

Trent
Trent

My other favourite of Trent, taken by hanging off the bow. I was sorry I didn’t take more from this angle.

Scout flying.
Scout flying.

Scout regularly accompanies us to the coast along with my older dogs. He refuses to demonstrate his flying ability for others publicly though. The Pomeranian breed’s tendency to go ballistic with excitement has earned them the term berserking. And there’s nowhere more exciting than the coast.

Huge Newtown Cove breaking wave
Huge Newtown Cove breaking wave

The post of the south-easterly summer storm was one of the more popular during the year.

Owen in the Blackwater
Owen in the Blackwater

Speaking of the Fermoy Fish, there were a few minutes early in his Blackwater swim that couldn’t have been better for photos. You’ll recognise this as his banner picture.

Inside the Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral

Looking out from inside St. John’s Island. I seem to have become a cave-swimmer over the past couple of years.

Near. Far away.
Near. Far away.

Now, I’ll explain again Dougal.

Please welcome, the Purple Stinger
Please welcome, the Purple Stinger

2012′s special guest appearance, at every swimming location.

More to come …

Q & A with Trent Grimsey

A couple of weeks after his record-breaking English Channel swim, I put some questions to Trent, from myself and some of you on Twitter, and quite a lot from fellow Aussie English Channel and Sandycove swimmer Craig Morrison. Most the questions are a swimmer’s point of view.
I’ve been asked how much long I could make Trent’s story continue on the blog and the answer is this is the last one. For this year anyway..
In the meantime, Trent has been nominated for Male Swim of the Year on the marathonswimmers.org forum. You need to be a member to vote. Membership is open marathon and aspiring marathon swimmers. On the forum he has also been nominated for the Barra Award for Overall Performance of the year.
And Trent has also been nominated for two World Open Water Swimming Awards, where nominations are open to the public, Man of the Year, and Performance of the Year.
Also I put together a short 6 minute video of Trent’s Channel swim.
Feeding, best feeding interval for long & short stuff?

In long races I normally feed every 15 minutes but with the Channel I knew every second would count so that’s why I decided to feed every 20 minutes!

Pre-race eating pattern, a week of pigging your self or always the same?

I always try to keep it the same although if it’s a race over 5 hours I really eat a lot of food the day before just for the extra fuel.

What do you eat before and after training, say morning session?

Before training a bowl of cereal, then after training I eat my big breakfast… 3 pieces of toast, baked beans and fruit.

How many calories do you consume daily, healthy or anything goes?

I try to eat as healthy as I can from Monday to Friday then on the weekends I eat whatever I want! I don’t count calories.

Land base training. How much how important, if you had to pick 3 exercises what would they be?

Three months ago I finished my personal training degree so this is something I’m really interested in. I do weights two times a week, I ride the exercise bike three times a week, I do a little bit of core everyday.

Stretching, is it crap or important?

I think stretching is very important. I try to stretch everyday!

What’s a typical workout when training for EC, as opposed to 10k?

The training is not too different, just a couple more aerobic sessions a week and a couple less speed sessions.

Any cross training, how much?
 

Exercise bike, weights, core

Typical interval work ie. 100×100, 10×1000 etc. how much rest between sets?

Most of my aerobic work is done on a 1.10 to 1.15 cycle.
This reminds me of something I forgot to put in the final section of the story of Trent’s Channel records, when we were returning. After Damián and Trent returned to the boat, Harley and Trent were discussing the end of the swim. Damián was able to say that Trent has been swimming at 1:11 to 1:11:5 per 100. For swimmers, two thing sleep out from that. the first is the speed that Trent was still swimming after crossing the Channel. The second is that Damián was able to so accurately identify swim speed to within half a second, from experience.
Anything scientific out of the normal, that elite swimmers like yourself do compared to the rest of us?
While swimming the Channel this year I had some duck tape on my swimming cap because I didn’t want it to fall off!
Were you scared or nervous steaming out to the beach?  
No I wasn’t nervous or scared, just excited. I knew I had done everything I could have possible done to have prepared myself for this so there was no reason to be nervous.
 
I was enormously impressed by your calm in the face of Mike Oram’s, um, unique way of dealing with swimmers, and became an 100% fan right there, no reservations. How much negativity do you have to deal with as a world-class swimmer?
There are a lot of athletes that like playing head games with their competitors in marathon swimming. I believe you need to be very mentally strong to deal with some of these games. You learn to just discard what you know is not true and don’t let it affect you!
 
I told Harley that I thought it was important that you say you’d booked the Channel three years ago, when Mike O (or most of us) wouldn’t have had a clue who you were. How and when were you infected by the Channel dream?
I must have been about 10 years old when I found out people could actually swim the English Channel. Ever since I found this out I have had a dream of being the fastest person to have ever swam it. I hate not being the fastest or best at something!
 
Photo courtesy of Owen O’Keefe

Has the enormity of what you’ve achieved started to sink in? The Channel is a huge deal. The Channel community says it changes you. Did you ever hear the Chad Hundeby English Channel story? Nearly 20 years ago, it was a different time. He’d been World Number 1 a while, but he said when people asked how his Channel was, and he said he hadn’t done it yet, the other swimmers would just nod and say nothing. He said he felt until he did the Channel he hadn’t really arrived. Like you he set the record on his first swim. 

Yes, I think the enormity of what I have done has only just now started to sink in. I’m so glad to be able to tell people I have swam the English Channel, I feel I can finally say I’m a real marathon swimmer now I’ve swam the Channel.
 
What does your training and racing year look like generally? Do you work it out with Harley?
For the rest of the year it will just be a big training block really. I have a few smaller races here and in New Zealand that I’ll be doing but that’s about it. I tell Harley what races I want to do and we work out together what the best plan will be to get there.
 
If this isn’t too difficult a question, what would say were the key components of your success? (excluding pilot)
The extra weight I put on, drinking all my feeds, and the encouragement I got the whole way from my crew.
 
How much stroke/technique/out of water work do you do? I know from talking to Harley you changed your diet, decreased running, to put on weight, he said it decreased your recovery time and illnesses. What are your thoughts on it?
I’m not a very strong swimming, just very rhythmic. This is why I do two weight sessions a week to get me stronger and that in turns helps with my stroke.
 
Yes, I believe having the extra weight on helped me recover faster from training and races. It also helped with recovering from sickness!
 
How do you plan and deal with all the travelling and living on two sides of the world?
It does get a little hard sometimes living in Australia because we are so far away and it’s so expensive to travel anywhere but in saying that it’s so fun travelling and racing on the circuit!
 
You and Harley seem like a really close team. How have you both previously dealt with the adversity of people not believing in you? I don’t think it’ll be a problem in the future.
I think the best way to deal with people not believing in you is to prove them wrong!
Everything I saw you do was 100% connected to getting you to France quicker. Swimming, feeding, technique, positive thoughts and encouragement. It was an awesome display of comprehensive scope. How did you learn to focus so much on the positive mental side ? Any tips there?
I believe the only way to get better at focusing and thinking positive during a race is to practice it as much as you can.
 
What next?
World Championships next year. I think I can win a gold medal there!
 
Can I crew next time? :-)
Definitely, you and Owen. I am going to book in again for 2014, around early September or late August. I believe I can take another 5 to 10 minutes off the record!
Finally Trent’s got some new t-shirts ..
Well folks, that last line isn’t a bluff, Trent is actually in the planning process for 2014, hopefully Owen and I will be there again, and therefore so will you be, if loneswimmer.com last that long.
Dover Light & Varne cliffs

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

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

Picture taken by Mike Oram as Trent boarded Gallivant

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

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

Sex Machine – Photo courtesy of Owen O’Keefe

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

“My” motto, mostly worn off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Owen O’Keefe

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

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

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

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

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5.

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

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

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

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

2.7 k in 45 minutes required.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insert an Irishman giving directions joke here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trent Grimsey is the new English Channel Record Holder.

He is not done yet.

Get your arse in gear 6h5m.resized

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

Part 1.  Part 2.  Part 3.  Part 4.

France is barely visible in the distance.

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

Take a double feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Oran giving his unique coaching input

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

Trent at 5 hours and 30 minutes

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

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

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

Trent responded with another increase in stroke rate.

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

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

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

Last feed

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

French Coast Guard Cutter

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

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

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

On to the Final Part.

Swimming into the 5th hour.resized

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

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Message to Trent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Message from Trent’s mother

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

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

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

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

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

Now’s the hard bit“.

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

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

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

Can I do it?” he asked.

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

Out of the fog, yachts in French water

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

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

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

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

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

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

The finish, and the Cap, were ahead.

On to Part Five.

3 hours, 7 mins ahead.resized

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

Part 1.

Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Strong

Simplicity

Only worry about the things you can control

Rhythm

Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A smiling, swimming Trent

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

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

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

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

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

No break in stroke, no time lost.

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

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

On to Part Four.

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

Part 1

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

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

Assembling in Varne Ridge, 3.30am

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

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

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

Harley Connolly, Trent Grimsey, Damian Blaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Part Three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trent, Owen & Donal in Varne Ridge

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

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

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

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

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