Thursday, 29 July 2010

And finally Thanks

Me at Varne Ridge, with the Union Jack flying following my successfuly swim. The Brazilian flag is for Fast Eddie another guy who swam this week.

Swimming the Channel doesn't take just one person, it takes a whole team of people and so I want to thank everyone who has helped me to achieve my dream. In no particular order

Don - my training partner
Rob - who got me and Don into channel swimming
My mum and dad who taught me to swim.
Joanna - for being my sister
Andrea, my girlfriend - for all her support over the last 18 months
All the coaches at Spencer Swim Team
Freda, Barry, Irene, Louise, Michelle, Emma, Magda, Helen and all the other shingle stompers at Dover harbour.
Neil Streeter and Adrian from Suva
Mike and Angela Oram from the CS&PF
All the swimmers from Dover harbour
Gill from Walton and Weybridge Physio - who kept my shoulders working
Sophie from Manaia massage who did wonders on me the last couple of weeks
Everyone who has sponsored me and helped raise money for the Douglas Macmillan hospice in Stoke-on-Trent

The swim in more detail - part 6 - hours 7 - 11.5

The first 7 hours I knew how long I had been swimming. Even though I was not wearing a watch I had kept count of the feeds. This is not advised. As I mentioned earlier, you swim from feed to feed until you reach France. After hour 7 I tried my best to forget how long I had been swimming and I soon managed it.

When you swim the channel, you are allowed a support swimmer to swim with you if you want. Don came in around the 7.5 hour mark. After 30 minutes, I asked him to get out. I felt a bit bad about it, because Don is attempting the to swim the channel in a couple of weeks and I know it is good to get some experience. The problem for me was that when he was swimming with me it made me nervous. When you swim the channel, you are not allowed to touch the boat or any other swimmer, or your swim will not count. Even though I know that Don would never come anywhere near me, all the time he was swimming with me I couldn't stop thinking and worrying about what would happen if he touched me by accident - so after 30 minutes I asked him to get out.

I had no real idea how well I was swimming for the whole of the swim. Don kept telling me that I was swimming really well and that I was making good speed but I didn't really have any idea what that meant. We had agreed before the swim that he would not tell me how far I had gone or how far I had to go at any point during the swim.

The feeds continued every half an hour after another and then at one feed Neil came out to feed me (I later found out that this was at the 10.5 hour feed). He asked me if I could give him a bit more to try and take advantage of the slack tide. He said not to worry if I couldn't. Now at this point I had been giving it a little bit more anyway but I knew from our relay the prior year that Neil was trying to get me in on the South side of Cap Gris Nez (which I could see now on my left - Cap Gris Nez is a headland on the French coast, which means Cape Grey Nose) and that once the tide changed it would push us quite quickly towards the Cap and so Neil wanted me to try and get in to shore now. So I gave it a little more - now I am not sure if this was noticeable on the boat but I felt it. This was one of the few points in the swim when I questioned myself. I had heard stories of people getting swept past the Cap and because they had been so close to finishing that mentally this destroyed them and their swim. I thought what if I swim hard now and don't get in - will I be able to keep going? Although I had these doubts I kept swimming at this harder pace - and every time I looked left I could see Cap Gris Nez and I kept wondering am I going to get to shore before the tide takes me past it.

At the next feed (11 hours), I was hoping that I would be told well done you are safe. Instead Don said, "you're doing great Andy, keep this pace up". So I drank my maxim and carried on. It was painful and I had no idea how close to shore I was. The only thing I had agreed with Don that he could tell me was when it was my last feed - and he hadn't said that yet so I must have over 30 minutes to go. I kept swimming and every time I breathed to my left I could see Cap Gris Nez. I remember noticing that everyone was now at the side of the boat. I could see Irene pointing towards France and then I remember seeing Don with a pair of goggles in his hands. If Don had goggles in his hands - he must be thinking about getting changed and that must mean that I am close. I remember looking up as Irene pointed towards France and the rocks and the cliffs seemed close. Then Don held a whiteboard over the side of Suva and it said the words "Made It". I couldn't believe it but I carried on swimming and I looked up again and now the rocks were really close. I carried on swimming and I remember seeing the rocks under me and I couldn't help myself, I started laughing and my eyes welled up (it is the 21st century - all blokes cry these days). I stood up on the rocks and climbed clear of the water. I had arrived in France. Suva sounded its horn and I turned around, lifted my arms in the air, it was brilliant. I could see Don, Rob and my Dad swimming to shore and as Don got closer he asked if I knew how long the swim had taken. I said maybe 12 hours. He replied 11 hours and 27 minutes. This was way faster than I had expected. Once the guys arrived we took photos (well it actually ended up being video as the camera got switched to video by mistake - unfortunately we didn't know - so enjoy that below) and then swam back to the boat. I got changed and enjoyed the slightly faster crossing back to Dover.

This is me and my Dad on the journey back

The swim in more detail - part 5 - Hours 1 - 7

This is what I remember from the day. My feeding plan was that I would feed every hour for the first 3 hours and then every half an hour after that until I arrived in France. Irene, the observer, had reminded me to keep the time spent on feeding to a minimum. This is something that is told to you on a regular basis during training in Dover harbour. It's similar to pit stops in motor racing. The quicker you can fill up the sooner you can be back on the track racing. Saving time on feeding can be the difference between missing your tide at the end of your swim and having an extra 2 hours to swim, or not.

I remember thinking that the longest training swim I had done was 7 hours and therefore I had to make at least 7 hours. So I counted through my feeds until I got to the 7 hour point. People ask me what do you think about - I can't really remember. I know at some times I counted (1, 2 breathe, 1, 2, breathe). Sometimes I thought about all the training I had done. Sometimes I thought about not wanting to fail.

5 minutes before a feed either Don, Rob or my dad would hold out their hand so that I knew food was coming. When I was fed, I was thrown a bottle on a string with warm maxim in it. I lay on my back, gulped it down as fast as I could and then carried on swimming. The guys on the boat would give encouragement and Irene, particularly, was fantastic. After every feed, she gave me the thumbs up and clapped me - making sure that I could see her.

After the swim I found out a few things that happened on the boat. As the conditions were very flat, the boys did not attach the thermos flask with the hot water for my feeds in it to the boat. After my first feed, the wake from a passing boat, shook Suva and the thermos ended up on the floor with all the hot water spilt. Luckily as I had just been fed they were able to boil a kettle and strap the thermos to the side of the boat.

I think it was the 3.5 hour feed when I was first given solid food - a cadbury's mini roll. I took a bite, but it took too long to eat and I didn't want to waste time so I threw the rest of it away. At the 4 hour feed I was given half a banana - again it took too long to eat and so I told the guys that I didn't want anymore solid food. This made the subsequent feeds much quicker.

I got stung by a few jelly fish on the day. The worst sting was when I was swimming through some sea weed and a jelly fish was hidden, or stuck, in the sea weed. As my face went into the sea weed it hit the jelly fish - which stung me all over my nose and cheeks and then as I swam past it stung my shoulder. At least it gave me something else to think about.

There was a dolphin that came up to swim with me for a while - I never saw it - but the guys on the boat told me about it. If there were ever sharks I would be shark food.

I cannot be sure exactly what happened when but these things happened at some point in the swim.

The swim in more detail - part 4 - the start

When we arrived at Samphire Hoe, Neil turned the boat around and I went to the back of the boat and slipped into the water. I then had a short swim to the shore, cleared the water, raised my hand to the boat and then the boat sounded its horn - my signal to start swimming (if you click on the black looking picture to enlarge it you can just make me out on the beach). So I got in the water and started swimming. Looking back, I remember thinking how warm the water seemed. Whether that was just because of the excitement of the day or it really was warm I am not sure - I wasn't complaining though.

The swim in more detail - part 3 - from the harbour to Samphire Hoe

Once Suva was loaded we left the harbour and headed to the start point. Initially we were going to Shakespeare Beach but, as the tide was pushing hard, Neil decided we should start from Samphire Hoe.
As we left the harbour, the sun was just coming up and the sunrise was beautiful. Also, the sea was flat and glassy, the conditions were perfect. I got changed into my speedos, hat and goggles and Don began covering me with shed loads of sun cream. The weather recently has been amazing, but due to my pale colouring, I have already resigned myself to the fact that I am going to be frazzled today. Putting suncream on at 5 in the morning and expecting it to last until 4 in the afternoon is a big ask. However Don did a great job, as you can see from the pictures. He then made sure I had vaseline in all the areas where you can get chafing and I was ready to go.

The swim in more detail - part 2

Tue 20 July 2010 - I got up at 2am, as did Andrea, my girlfriend and my mum and dad, who were all staying with me at Varne Ridge. We set about mixing the Maxim for my swim. Maxim is a carbohydrate drink that I was using as fuel for the swim. It was a team effort and everyone got involved. I had a breakfast of toasted cheese - which is, as Don pointed out to me, the breakfast of champions.

At 3.15am we finished loading up the car, said goodbye to Andrea and my mum, and me and my Dad headed down to Dover marina. I picked up a couple of parking tickets for the marina and met up with Don and Rob who had just arrived from London.

There were a few other people milling around the marina, who were all off on various boats, either swimming or supporting a swimmer. Just after 4am Suva, our boat, arrived and we started loading up. The captain of Suva is Neil Streeter, ably helped by Adrian. The observer for my swim was Irene, which was great because she is one of the volunteers on the beach and so I had a friendly face, who I knew on my boat.

The swim in more detail - part 1

Sat 17 July 2010 - Travelled down to Dover and did a 3 hour swim in the harbour. I had booked a static caravan at Varne Ridge Holiday Park for the period of my tide and so in the afternoon we went to Capel-le-Ferne, just outside of Dover, and checked in. What can I say - Varne Ridge is a fantastic place to stay, especially if you are a Channel Swimming Hopeful. Evelyn and David are fantastic hosts; very warm and hospitable and they cater for Channel Swimmers. If you are successful they fly the flag of your country from the mast in the front garden and all successful swimmers get a plaque commemorating their swim on the wall of the Holiday Park. I could not have found a better place to spend my tide and would recommend it to anyone contemplating a swim in the future, or if you would just like a nice quiet place to spend a few days in Kent.

Sun 18 July 2010 - Today I did a 2 hour swim in the harbour and got a few last words of advice from Freda and the other volunteers on the beach. Swim from feed to feed and put one arm in front of the other. Very wise words.

Mon 19 July 2010 - on the Channel Swim google groups their has been a lot of activity - it seems almost every pilot has taken a swimmer out today. Initially, I was a bit worried as Suva, the boat I was booked with, appeared to still be in port. However it turned out that there was a problem with Suva's tracking device and when I called Neil, the captain, around 9ish he was in the channel with all the other pilots. This was great news for me as I was the second swimmer on this tide and now that the first swimmer was swimming - this meant I was up next. Neil asked if I wanted to go tomorrow and I said that I did. He told me he would call me later to arrange times. I gave Don and Rob, my crew, a quick call to provisionally warn them that we could be going tomorrow and then waited for the call from Neil.

Neil called back later that afternoon to confirm if I still wanted to go tomorrow. I definitely wanted to go tomorrow and so he told me to be at the marina at 4am. A quick call to Rob and Don and they were all set to head down to Dover, from London, for a 4am start.