The previous neap tide was a complete blow out, as was the following spring tide. I fell into a little funk as swimmers scheduled for this window came to the reality one by one that they would not have the opportunity to swim. With much training and treasure spent, obviously disappointed, they all left Dover with grace and the understanding that chance is still a large factor of any channel attempt. The best wishes from Jordan and Liz and Bryan before their departures strengthened my resolve to give it all I could if/when I got the call.
On Saturday, 9/28 six boats went out with relays competing in a London to Paris triathlon. The conditions were not ideal, but it was the first activity since my arrival a week ago and there was suddenly a buzz in the air. Word on the street was Monday or Tuesday were looking likely for solos in the #1 slot. Since my pilot, Paul Foreman, was able to get a few of his bookings in for their swims earlier in the season, I had been bumped up to #2… lucky me! I was now looking at a Wednesday morning start, though at 2 AM, it really felt like a Tuesday night.
Captain Paul took out a San Francisco swimmer, Joe Locke, at 1:00 AM Monday morning. Since Joe was also staying at Varne Ridge, I had the pleasure to chat with him a bit and compare notes on the schedule, etc. Joe had an excellent swim, and I imagine conditions were pretty good as at least 3 swimmers broke 10 hours this day. I got a call from Paul Foreman after Joe had landed, and though the connection was spotty, I understood the gist of it…. I’d be meeting him some time Tuesday night/ Wednesday morning for an early splash on Sept 1. There were 4 flags flying at Varne Ridge… UK, USA, Ireland and Australia. Four of my five neighbors were successful, and as far as i could tell from the forecasts; tomorrow was going to be even better.
As per the tide changes, starting times generally shift about an hour per day, so, on 8/31, Joe’s splash time was +/- 1 AM; 9/1, my splash time would be +/- 2 AM. Sharroz, John, and I met Fiona and Betsy at the marina at 1:30, loaded up the boat and were on our way to Shakespeare Beach which took no time at all.
I was anxious to get started, so stripped down, inserted ear plugs, applied a bit of channel grease to my pits, shoulders, jaw, neck, upper back, groin, etc. wiped my hands, put on my cap, turned on the green strobe that was attached to my goggle strap, clipped on a belt (and tucked it into my suit) with a couple of glow lights, and jumped in. It was only a short swim to the beach, and after just a few seconds, I was on my way to France. Though I’m a much stronger left breather, Paul requested that I swim on the left side of the boat. This was a position that made it easy for him to keep his eye on me, and I complied without complaint. My plan was to breathe every 3 strokes and keep my stroke rate between 65 and 70. The adrenaline kicked in, and I felt like I was moving at a good clip though kicking a bit too much. I wanted to get warm fast (though the 62 degree water never felt cold) and after 2.5 hours, got a major cramp in my left hamstring…. the same thing that forced my resignation from the 2006 MIMS. Four years wiser, I was able to massage out the cramp and continue along with minimal leg movement (for the next 12 hours). Dodged a bullet!
The first mate would blind me with a spotlight to indicate feed time. (should have worked out a better signal) I would be alternating between 1st Endurance EFS and ginger tea with agave nectar every 20 minutes. The feeds were coming to me warm; not as hot as I expected them to be but since the temperature of the water didn’t seem to be an issue, I didn’t request them to be any hotter. The string I packed for this trip was a thin lacing cord that tangled up terribly, sometimes causing my feed stops to be a bit awkward. Additionally, my sinus was a bit irritated from the salty irrigations of harbor water for the past 10 days, so breathing through my nose was not happening; this prevented me from chugging my 11 oz feeds as quickly as I would have liked to. Oh well, I wasn’t going to break any records anyway.
Swimming on the port side of the Pace Arrow gave me an unobstructed view of the horizon. I have never experienced a clear sunrise from a fish eye view before. It was nothing short of magnificent. I thought standing on french sand (or pebbles) would be the emotional climax, but tears of joy were filling up my goggles as the sky lit up red and orange. I saw Roz and Fiona had the cameras going but know that photographs could never convey this feeling of swimming through the darkness. The fresh morning suggested warmth, though I don’t think the temperature changed at all.
The channel is rather shallow <180 feet (compare to Catalina +/- 3000 ft!) and there aren’t a lot of things to look at except white cliffs at either coast and the passing ships and ferries. Now in the daylight, I could see the cliffs of Dover when I would roll on my back to feed though its impossible to gauge the distance covered. Still, I quickly remind myself not to look toward France. Though the shipping lanes are wide, the direction of traffic indicates when we are in English or French waters. I lost count of how many ships crossed our path, but it was more than a dozen. It surprised me that their wakes were barely perceivable although they seemed to pass quickly and closely.
I broke my first rule (DON’T LOOK TOWARD THE FINISH) and looked at France. It seemed so close…. for so long; the lighthouse atop Cap Gris Nez a welcome sight. At my next feed Fiona shouted a few words of encouragement “you’re almost there!”, which prompted me to ask “how many more feeds?”. This was not part of my communication plan and I think also qualifies as breaking rule #2… (JUST SHUT UP AND SWIM), but I wanted to know if I could start consuming fewer calories as we seemed to be in the home stretch. John was caught off guard by my inquiry; “two more” he shouted. So now in my mind, I’m thinking I’ve got another 40 minutes to an hour of swimming left. I could cruise in on what I’ve consumed so far and let the next two feeds go back to the boat after just a few sips. The hour has passed, and the view of the lighthouse hasn’t changed at all. There would be another ten feeds coming my way, and I went back to drinking it all down. During this futile siege I noticed Capt. Paul changing the position of the boat relative to the Cap… trying to find a break in the currents that would allow us passage. At one point, he pulled around to my left, and I saw for the first time the giant woven nylon parachute that he was dragging behind the boat. This was preventing the boat from turning into the wind and current.
We missed hitting the Cap, (I don’t think anyone hit it directly that day), and the wind was picking up. I thought of the possibility that I might have to hold this position for up to six hours and wait for the tide to change (based on stories of swims past) and laughed to myself as I watched the boat bouncing up and down in the six to eight foot swells… it must suck being on that boat… wasn’t I the lucky one!
Finally, we got through the currents and entered into a shallow cove just north of Cap Gris Nez. I saw John suiting up to escort me to the finish and in front of us, a street that ended in a boat ramp with a few houses on the right and, a restaurant (La Sirene) on the left. I kept sighting on the boat ramp, and was rewarded with a sandy/pebbly beach to walk up. There were a few people standing at the top of the ramp, and from their gestures, I thought they were inviting us to come have a drink…. John says this was purely my imagination, and anyway, Paul was already sounding the horn for us to swim the hundred or so yards back to the boat. We grabbed a few rocks and started swimming.
THE RIDE BACK
The Pace Arrow is one of the fastest boats of all the channel pilots, and Paul was in a hurry to get back. We were getting bounced around pretty good, but still, after a trip to the head and wiping the grease off me, I was out like a light. Sharoz and Fiona took lots of video and stills and along with John and Betsy were tremendous support. I’ve said it before, but it can’t be overstated: I could have never completed any of these swims without the enthusiastic support of so many friends and family. I am humbled in the presence of such love and generosity.
I’m not sure who came up with the Triple Crown, but it seems to have become a motivating force for marathon swimmers. Catalina has seen large increases in the number of swimmers scheduling attempts, MIMS fills up in an hour or so, and the EC is booked up for a couple of years in advance. I was inspired by Antonio Arguelles who I met at MIMS last year whose goal was to swim the three in one year. This seemed to make sense to me, and since I had aN EC booking, all I had to do was get into MIMS and find a Catalina date somewhere in the middle. It was 82 days from MIMS to my EC crossing. Steve Munatones did a nice write up… thanks Steve! Colorado swimmer Craig Lenning completed the TC in less than a year as well.
I had the pleasure of swimming with him at MIMS and Tampa Bay this year.
We will be meeting pilot of the Pace Arrow, Paul Foreman at the Dover Marina at 1:30 AM. After loading up and a brief ride, I should be jumping in at Samphire Hoe between 2:30 and 3:00 AM.
Today there were quite a few successful crossings, including 4 of our neighbors here at Varne Ridge. Evelyn and David had the flags of Australia, Great Britain, Norway, and the US of A. The american was Joe Locke from San francisco with an awesome 10 and a half hour swim. The English women’s record was broken, and an Aussie right next door swam a 9 1/2 hour crossing.
From Varne Ridge, tomorrow, my friend and current house mate Ian Hodgeson and I will be representing the USA, and 2 irish swimmers will also be taking their turn at the crossing.
Lots more to share, but its time to try and get a bit of rest………
Day 8, and the weather is still pretty crappy though it looks like things will open up next week. Alternating strong winds and rain have been the story thus far and I’m very sad to say that a bunch of swimmers have run out of time and left Dover without their shot at a crossing…. east coast friends Jordan Waxman and Liz Fry among them. Jordan’s departure hit me especially hard as we have been training together since spring at Brighton Beach, the Hudson River, and Lake Minnewaska. We both swam MIMS and the CIBBOWS 5k finishing within a couple of minutes of each other and seconds apart… respectively. Liz was planning a double and required a window of clear weather of > 20 hours.
Still, swimmers of the next tidal window (my tide) are arriving daily and another CIBBOWS swimmer, Jim Meier, has just e-mailed me with his plans to go for swim this afternoon…. I’ll join him in the harbor around 5PM.
I’ve got 3 different sources for weather forecasts, and I check each several times daily:
….. such is the life of a EC aspirant.
There appears to be a window opening next week, and as per my pilot Paul Foreman, it is possible to go out with winds predicted at 10 – 15 mph with a bit of 20 mph. With that in mind, it looks to me like the first swimmer will not have the best conditions, so, Paul might opt to take a relay, or offer it to the #1 slot (who happens to be an american, Joe L. from SF). If Joe passes, I have the option, and the way things have been the past several weeks, there is no way I’ll turn it down.
Roz arrives this afternoon, so I’ll have a solid support crew with her and John… like a mini Catalina reunion!
I arrived in Dover on the 20th of August. It was a sunny day but breezy with white caps visible just beyond the harbor. An international scene and busy for a friday on the pebble beach and in the water with several relay teams (matching kits the dead giveaway) and lots of soloists. The mexican flag was waving and just next to that party was a group of 12 year olds in matching green terry cloth changing ponchos. Most of the gathered were at the end of their mid-august tide…. a complete blowout, but were holding on to some hope that the winds would change and they might get a shot at a crossing before the next tide begins on the 29th. The forecasts are not good.
I spent the night at Churchill House with my friend and Brighton Beach training partner, Jordan Waxman. J has been here for a week and has extended his stay a couple of times already, but time is running out for him, and I fear that if he doesn’t get a shot by this weeks end, he will have to abort.
There is a chance (albeit small) that he may get to go out tonight around midnight, but we won’t know for sure until 7 PM. Jordan and I have contracted the same pilot, Paul Foreman, and I am hoping to be able to crew for him, so…. fingers crossed.
I moved into my caravan at Varne Ridge on saturday. Just 4.5 miles south of Dover proper, this will be my home for the next 3 weeks. My hosts, Evelyn and David really cater to channel swimmers, and plaques line the alley of the entrance and include all the swimmers that have stayed here…. the list reads like a who’s who of marathon swimming… very humbling. VR stocks a healthy supply of gear and supplies for swimmers including channel grease, feed poles, thermal jugs, glow sticks, etc. and make it all readily available. (perhaps I could have gotten away with just a carry-on bag).
I’ll write more later. The sun is shining and I want to get outside.
PS. I haven’t forgotten about the Boston Light swim… recap still to come.
Yesterday was a beautiful day for a swim… well… it was a bit windy, and there was a good amount of chop the whole way.
We had a great turnout of swimmers, kayakers and land based support to share it with. The word is out that we are having a blast in the Hudson every weekend and people are traveling from afar to be a part of it. In attendance were Danielle, Mike and Richard providing kayak escort; Rondi, Bec, John, Willie, Terry, Jordan, Jim and I swimming; and Andy providing land based support in the way of transportation and preparation of a wonderful birthday feast…. happy birthday to Rondi!
We started to assemble at Andy’s house in Chelsea at 8 AM… gear and feeds spread all over the lawn… introductions made… reunions and catching up took up nearly an hour… whats the hurry, the river isn’t going anywhere. We loaded up 3 cars and drove to the starting point. Kayaks unloaded last minute grease and sunscreen applied, we had to come up with a game plan.
We had a brief meeting. Identified which of us would be needing feeds… what, how and how often; assigned swimmer groups to kayakers; and decided to swim a circuit, north and south, and shoot for the same finish area for everyone… a bit north of the hamlet of Chelsea.
I had calculated my feeds to provide 285 calories in 27 oz. per hour. To accomplish this, I prepared a concentrated mix of fruit punch flavored EFS (1st endurance) and would have hot water added to it just before feed time… every 20 minutes. After the first feed, it became clear that this method was cumbersome for Mike… removing the spray skirt… hands off the paddle… unscrewing the cap on the giant stanley thermos and trying to get the near boiling water into my feed bottle without it landing on his crotch in the windy choppy river. For MIMS, my feeds will be prepped on my power escort, then handed off to Mike or Danielle to pass to me, so this wasn’t really an attempt to duplicate that feeding procedure, but after the first feed, I decided to change the plan to every 30 minutes rather than every 20 minutes. This gave Mike a little respite between feeds but reduced my caloric intake by 1/3.
The first group of John, Bec, Rondi and Willie were out of the water and drying/warming by the time we came to the exit beach the first time. I said my goodbyes to Terry and Jordan and started swimming south with my escort Mike to intercept Jim and Danielle. We would continue this criss-crossing, north/south pattern for the next 4 hours. Its comforting to know there is another swimmer in the water.
Jim Meier is booked for the same tide as me for English Channel this season… Aug 28 – Sept 6, so we both wanted to get this swim under our belts earlier rather than later. Jim did a 6 hour last weekend in South Jersey… but the water temp wound up being too high for the qualification swim, 63 degrees.
As I approached the finish area for the last time, I saw a bunch of people standing on this rock ledge (about 8-10 feet tall) on the south side of the “beach”. Clare and another Danielle had joined the party…. a welcome site!
I had some trouble finding my balance on the rocky bottom and though normally a drip-dry kind of guy, I graciously accepted the large towel handed to me.
Mike and Danielle, you guys rocked today! We couldn’t have done it without you.
As per CS&PF rules:
All swimmers taking part in a solo swim must supply proof/ratification of a 6 hour swim in water 61°F / 16°C or less or proof of completion in a recognised event for a period considered by the CS&PF to be an acceptable alternative within the previous 30 months.
In truth, I have a few months to satisfy this requirement, but I would like to check this one off early (and often). It is possible that the water temps for MIMS on June 12th will qualify, it is also possible that Catalina (July 20) will qualify, but there are no guarantees. Last year, the boat I was on for MIMS took readings from 57 degrees at the Battery to 66 degrees in the Hudson near mid-town.
Willie, Rondi and I swam in the Hudson last saturday, and we took a reading of 60 degrees at the finish (near Chelsea) which was a few degrees warmer than where we started south of Beacon.
This week has brought some pretty cold weather for this time of year… (yes, the tomato plants are in the house) so I don’t expect the water to be any warmer this weekend. It might even be a few degrees colder.
I think we are going to have a half dozen swimmers and half as many kayakers hitting the Hudson this saturday morn. Most will do a 4 mile swim from this great pier at Long Dock Road in Beacon to this slight beach just north of Chelsea. My plans are to continue north another 11 miles and land somewhere between the railroad bridge in Poughkeepsie and Marist College in Hyde Park. I’m not sure that I will have swimming company the whole way, so we may have to fined another exit point in between. I have to go scout out landing spots where we could easily exit the river by foot and drive close enough to load up the kayaks without to much of a hike. I’m sure that I will be completely useless by then and will need lots of hot bevies to return to my normal happy self. I will shoot for a 20 minute feed interval, and will have a couple of thermoses and dry clothes packed in the yaks as well.
We will need to have some support crew on standby to retrieve swimmers where they exit. It will be important to have a dry bag with clothing and a cell phone for each swimmer past the 4 mile point……. it takes a village!