Bodysurfing Slowly Up The English Channel

Just got back from a week of holiday in lovely Broadstairs, in Kent.  This year we were there to coincide with Folk Week which was great.  The town is extra busy, all the pubs have bands on every day, and there’s a general good time feel around the place.

There’s also some lovely swimming to be had in the English Channel, Broadstairs only being 20 miles or so North of Dover.  For 5 days in a row I went out at breakfast time, while the kids were still messing around back at the house in their PJs.


There is a good current that runs along the coast.  It’s the same sloshing of water up and down the Channel that causes all but the fastest swimming crossings to describe a more or less exaggerated S-curve.  During the week I was there, the current was always going N to S, against me as I swam north towards Joss Bay, and with me as I returned to Viking Bay, on which the centre of Broadstairs sits.  The effect was stronger earlier in the week as I was closer to low tide at the start of the swim, around which time the current is fastest.  The tidal range was not enormous this week, meaning that the current was only about 1 mph, meaning a pace of only about 1 mph heading north and 3 mph heading south.  It doesn’t make for fast overall swimming, as you lose more time swimming against the current than you make back swimming with it.

It is always fun though when you happen to swim past a buoy with the current at your heels to see the buoy whizz past, making distance at about the rate Trent Grimsey did from England to France last year to break the English Channel record (about 6 hours 55 minutes for those who don’t have the time lodged in their brain).

On the Thursday there was a 15 knot wind coming out of the south as I headed north out of Broadstairs.  The wind was from behind, the current from in front, making the swim feel a little like the approach to a beach, as wave upon wave lifted my feet up and bodysurfed me onwards.  The waves were not quite perfectly from behind, but from a slight angle, meaning that by the time I swam the 1.2 km to the end, I felt like I had been on a gentle cycle in a washing machine for half an hour.  As the current was still coming from ahead, my overall speed was still slower than it would be normally.

Coming back was classic head-on chop.  Overall my speed through the water was faster than it would be normally, but I was made to work for it, climbing my way over the waves as they hit me, struggling to sight properly over those waves, having to be extra careful when breathing not to inhale a lungful of Channel as a wave broke over my head.  I was pleased to maintain good bilateral form throughout though, and enjoyed trying to maintain all of the other ‘good stroke techniques’ I have spent the endless hours in the pool trying to improve.

I am conscious that I have not been in a swimming pool since August 2nd, and I am not missing it one little bit.  The mileage has been significantly down on what I was doing before (only 27 km over 8 swims in 2 weeks), but I guess that is not such a bad thing as I ‘taper’ for Windermere a week today. 

Summertime sea swimming is great!



2 thoughts on “Bodysurfing Slowly Up The English Channel

  1. Impressive effort JB, although it sounds like absolute purgatory to me. I’m glad mine isn’t the only Garmin device that finds gradients when there aren’t any though.

  2. In fairness to the device, this plot was 2 mornings of swimming, as I forgot to reset the Garmin, so it included the altitude gain going to the house we were staying in, which was up a hill. Having said that, I don’t think altitude is the strong point, as it can often get it wrong….. Love to you – J

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