The English Channel – Part 1

I can scarcely believe that I am writing this with an attempt of a solo crossing of the English Channel as ‘something I did’ rather than something I am going to do’.  It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am enjoying soaking it up.

The last week has been somewhat of a rollercoaster.  It started when I got a text from my pilot saying that he had agreed with Mike Oram of the CSPF (Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation) that he was going to take immediate retirement, due to personal circumstances.  I was to contact Mike, who would sort out my swim with me.  I did precisely that, and true to his word, that is precisely what he did.

A week after the completion of Distance Week I had already been scanning the weather forecasts looking for a weather window.  I was now even more keen to ‘go early’ on the spring tide before my window opened on the 2nd August.  I now had all of Mike’s existing roster of swimmers to ‘compete’ with for slots.  Gone was my comfortable first slot on the tide, with the reassurance of knocking back any day that looked less than ideal.

This all culminated in a conversation with Mike Oram on Tuesday evening, discussing weather which he reckoned would probably be OK for the following day.  A gin and tonic and half a glass of Chardonnay probably assisted in my decision to go for it.  Helen and I ran around for an hour or so mixing feeds, doing remaining bits of box packing, before turning in for the night: there was to be an early departure for Dover.

My crew comprised Helen G as my crew chief, ably assisted by Helen L and Jeff.  I was also delighted to have Rory Fitzgerald as my observer.  It was he who had organised the sailing trip in Kinsale that laid me so low with seasickness.  He’s a top bloke and just the sort of presence you want on a boat with your crew.

On arriving at Dover Marina at about 8.30 AM, we still didn’t know whether we would be with Mike Oram on Gallivant, or Lance Oram on Sea Satin.  A quick chat down on the loading boardwalk unearthed the info that it was to be Lance.  Either way I was happy, they are both known to be top notch.  After a quick photo op by the Dover Marina sign we boarded.

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Lance collected all of our passports, went through the safety briefing, and told us all where everything was on the boat.  The mood was light and carefree.  I felt relaxed and very much in the zone.  Surprisingly so.  As we pulled out of the marina and round the harbour towards Shakespeare beach, I stripped down to my swimming togs, and Helen applied a second coat of sunblock, then vaseline only on the neck and armpits.  Incredibly quickly we were nearing the start point.  I pulled on my hat and goggles, and started saying my goodbyes.  I jumped off the side of the boat into the pleasantly warm waters of the Channel, and swam the short distance up to the beach.  My instructions were to clear the water, put my hands in the air, and on hearing the horn from the boat…… swim to France.  That’s just what I did:

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