Lots, and Lots, of Swimming

In the space of 7 days to yesterday, I did a lot of swimming, and not a yard of it in a pool.

I kicked off on Tuesday, with a 4 miler from La Jolla Cove to Scripps Pier, plus a diversion to the ‘Mushroom House’ just along the shore.  I was lucky enough again to be accompanied by Dan Simonelli, fresh from a triumphant SCAR week, completing umpteen freshwater miles in 4 days in Arizona.  2 Hours or so in a swelly , sloppy Pacific did a great job of helping me shrug off the jet lag, for I had only arrived the previous evening from the airport, after a typically tedious 11 hours from Heathrow.

The following two days I had a couple more swims on my own, 2 miles and 3 miles, both of which were still swelly and more of a challenge than a pleasure!

This video was taken at Scripps Pier, the turnaround point of the 3 mile swim.  The typical sunny SoCal weather had deserted me, but still a good training swim!

Friday was my final morning in San Diego, and Dan joined me again, this time for a fast dash across the Cove to the Shores and back, 3.5 km in 53 minutes (not including the couple of minutes rest we had at the Shores when Dan took this photo).  Much faster swimming this time in an almost flat ocean.  Dan and I pushed each other pretty hard!

Lovely La Jolla Cove

Lovely La Jolla Cove

So after 4 swims in 4 days, I boarded the 777 back to London on Friday night, getting back home late Saturday afternoon.

Sunday morning at 9 AM, Helen and I joined the hardy group of souls on Swimmer’s Beach in Dover Harbour for training.  The water was somewhat of a change to the balmy 19C I had enjoyed in La Jolla, more like 13C I was told.

Nick Adams did the briefing on Freda’s behalf: In for 2 hours, return for a feed, then back out for a further ‘unspecified time’.  The water felt better than I had feared, and soon the 2 hours was complete.  While the conditions were pretty choppy and the wind blew, the sun shone goloriously out of a blue sky, so psychologically it wasn’t too bad.  I was sent back in for another hour.  In the end I completed about 9.5 km in the 3 hours, though I did sneak in a few videos while I was in there (don’t tell Freda).

The next day dawned beautifully, and we were back in Dover early this time, so I had the opportunity to take some aerial footage of the harbour.  It was calm, as the wind had shifted round to an offshore direction.  Hazy sunshine warmed our bones.

This time Freda briefed us.  Another 3 hours!  The going was much more straightforward this time, and I made better distance.  It felt colder though, as the sun soon disappeared, and the wind slowly increased to provide some bonus windchill.  Another 3 hours and another 10 km in the bank, we left Dover.  Another step of the way on my Channel journey.

Quiz Night at the Fox and Duck

Last weekend we had a quiz night at the Fox and Duck in my home town of Buntingford, with the aim of raising money for my channel swim charity, Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The quiz night raised over £1,000 on the night from entry and raffle ticket sales, and a further £250 from collection boxes on the bar of the Fox and Duck and other local pubs and businesses.

Fox and Duck

Fox and Duck

This, together with all the other wonderful donations people have been making, mean that I am now up £3,500 raised, of my total target of £10,000.

Many thanks to Susie for masterminding the event, and cooking Chilli for 70!  To Charlotte, Mandie, Beth, Julian & Lisa for cooking, hosting, and badgering local businesses for raffle prizes.  To Clare and Nigel for putting together and compering an enjoyable and competitive quiz!  Also to everyone for coming, and being so supportive!  Also a big ‘Thank You’ to the local businesses and individuals who donated raffle prizes!

It’s great to get so much support from the local community for the cause.  GOSH is a very well known and respected charity.  Everyone knows what amazing work it does, and in particular what amazing work it did, and continues to do for Tom 🙂

Dover Harbour Shows Her Teeth

5 Days after my first training session in Dover Harbour, Helen and I were back today.  Recall, last time I emerged from the mirror smooth, deliciously cool waters of the harbour, to rewarm benignly in the beautiful spring sunshine.

It was rather different today:



The flags around the harbour stood out horizontally, and a very tiresome rain moistened everyones clothes, and threatened to dampen their spirits.  The water temperature hadn’t changed any since last Monday, still around 11.5C.

Freda called the red hats to attention for the briefing:

Freda the 'Channel General' - briefing

Freda the ‘Channel General’ – briefing

I had been expecting 1.5 or 2 hours today, but to my surprise, we were given ‘only’ a single dip of 1 hour.  Mainly owing to the conditions, which were variously described as ‘lumpy’ or ‘interesting’.  Afterwards, she explained that avoiding injuries from overdoing it in challenging conditions is more important than a huge long swim.  Her only other instructions were to not go past the ‘slopey groyne’ towards the north end of the harbour, as even the strongest swimmer was unlikely to get back.  The wind was blowing from the south, and fetches the water up towards the north end of the harbour, and creating a washing machine effect that can be extremely challenging to navigate on days far calmer than today.

Barry greased us up and in we went, clambering down the shingle and in to the surprisingly warm feeling water.  I guess it felt warm because the air temperature wasn’t anything special, and it was blowing a Force 6.  We headed north first of all and soon got to experience some rather invigorating chop.  The stroke gets unconsciously modified when you are getting chucked about, and inevitably you go slower.  You do not have the security of effortless breathing, always having to bear in mind that you might be breathing into a wave, or having one break over you from an unexpected angle.   I duly turned back south 100 m or so shy of the slopey groyne and headed south again.

Shortly after this I had my first collision of the season, running into Bel Lavers.  You would have thought that with only 30 or so red hats in the water in an area of water the size of Dover Harbour this wouldn’t happen, but it does, especially if like me you are a bit lazy with sighting…….

The last couple 0f 100 meters into the south wall were blessedly flat in comparison.  I retraced my strokes until the hour was up, emerging after 1 h 5 mins in the end, to be handed my crocs by none other than Kevin Murphy, King of the Channel!

I really enjoyed the day, and was untroubled by the cold which was great.  A good session.  Definitely a bit slower than my first, with only 3.4 k in 1 h 5, vs 4.1 k in 1 h 14 the previous time.   I also enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee afterwards in a well known coffee chain just up the harbour front…..

Lastly, here is some YouTube footage from in the water posted my Mark Sheridan.  Thanks Mark if you ever read this!!


Dover Training 2014 Begins

Last weekend Dover Training started.  Every year around the first weekend in May, Channel Relay and Solo aspirants gather at Dover Harbour to train for their crossings.  Every year a treasured group of volunteers show up every Saturday, Sunday, and Bank Holiday Monday to advise/train/beast the hopefuls.  This group is led by Freda (Channel General) Streeter; in a later post I will feature the beach crew in a little more detail, but given that this was the first time I had met them, I thought I would spare them the photo call……

Generally speaking, the first weekend of training is pretty dismal.  Early May in the UK is pretty hit and miss weather-wise, and the water typically on the cool side (<10C, 50F).  Groups of swimmers huddle under many layers of clothes, trying to get warm after a short dip, before getting chucked back in again by Freda.  Not so this year……

Saturday and Sunday were both busy with my boys, so I missed the opening 2 days of the weekend.  But on Monday, Helen and I got to Dover in plenty of time to register with the beach crew, and get ready to swim.  Helen is a veteran of multiple Dover training seasons, so knew the ropes, and everything went very smoothly.  We were also joined by Bojan and Dan, who are both training for a Windermere solo later in the summer.

Swimmers are divided into yellow hats (relayers), and red hats (soloists).  Bojan and Dan were also red hats, as the training they want to do is more closely linked to the longer sustained distance.

The weather was SPECTACULAR.  Air temperatures were in the high teens C, and water temperatures a very respectable 11.5C (53F).  We were all given a 1 hour single dip (shorter double dips had been the fare on Saturday and Sunday), and off we went.  The water felt crisp and fresh, and the swimming a giddy pleasure.  The harbour was almost mirror flat as we traversed over to the North Harbour Wall, then back over to the South Wall, then a bit more swimming here and there to make up the hour.

A measure of how flat it was, was that when you were passed by another swimmer going in the other direction, even 10 yards away, the bow wave they created was clearly felt!  When we got back to the beach at 1 hour, we were asked to stay in for another 15 minutes by Barry, so off we went.  It wasn’t a chore, it wasn’t unpleasant.  It was nothing less than gorgeous.  It was the sort of day with sun on your shoulders and little wind, that you felt you could swim for hours, even at 11.5C.  A great introduction to the delights of Dover Harbour.

I am aware that days like this are ‘not common’, and that there will be some frankly horrible days in Dover to come.  I just feel priviliged to have got a good one to start with.  Roll on next Saturday, and a longer swim!

Attack of the Killer Swans

On Friday Bojan and I had arranged to meet before work for a swim from the Riverbank Club.  At 6.30 we met, ready to take the healing waters of the Cam at about 6.40.

The water temperature had been struggling to make its mind up for a few weeks, but hovering within a degree or so of 12C (54F) all the while.

The picture sums it up: it was an idyllic morning for a swim.

Early Morning Cam

Early Morning Cam

I had been planning an hour, before the wheels fairly quickly fell off our swim.  As we swam upstream and around Deadman’s corner, a swan sailed serenely past me.  I had never had any issues with swans before, and had been somewhat dismissive of the other ‘scaredy cats’ (Helen L step forward!).  But as I carried on upstream, leaving Swan Number 1 behind, another swan appeared in my sight line, heading straight towards me with ill intent obvious from its body language.

Instinct kicked in.  I knew I was not being welcomed with open arms.  I turned tail and fled back towards the Corner, and the approaching Bojan.  Not content with my yellow-bellied submission, the swan pecked me several times in my retreat, before Bojan stepped in and started rearing up in the water, splashing the swan in the face.

This was one realy p***ed off swan, rearing up to its full intimidating height, attacking with wings akimbo.  Bojan and I took it in turns to draw its fire, rearing up, or lying back in the water and splashing it with our feet as it launched attach after attack.

It just wouldn’t let it lie!   For fully 5 or 6 minutes it kept us occupied before finally letting us scuttle off with our tails between our legs.  We had managed to get a little cold during the contretemps with the occupant of the Cam, so the rest of the swim ran a little short.  We had a good 50 minutes, and a story to tell.