Wednesday, 6 October 2010

GLG Buttermere Challenge

I wasn't the most popular person in the world when I told Charlie we would be getting up early on Sunday 3rd October to travel to the Lake District for the latest in the GLG Challenge Series, when KGB and Lottie realised we would be leaving around half seven there was some doubt regarding their attendance at the sacrifice of the Sunday morning lie in bed. I had a little chat with the kids and tried to explain, at times we need to give a little back to those people who support us, the need for being reliable and standing by your commitments. We agreed to be ready to hit the road no later than 7:45am.

Returning home just before bed, I sent Gary (GLG Cycles) a text, he stated the 'artists' (you can decide what type of artists they are!) would be leaving home about 6am with an estimated arrival time of 9-9:30...knowing the organisational skills of the individuals involved my initial thoughts were those of doubt. Next morning I was delighted to find Charlie awake before the alarm sounded, we were soon ready as KGB arrived to pick us up, the kids ate breakfast enroute as KGB constantly reminded me how hungry she felt and that she was desperate to stop for food. The tight schedule would not allow for this, we motored across the A66, over the totally impressive Honistor Pass and down to the pre arranged rendezvous at the south end of Lake Buttermere.  

We arrived bang on half past nine and parked at roadside in the pouring rain. There was no sign of Gary and his posse? preparing a cups of tea, we both questioned whose bright idea this had been? the skies were grey, the rain fell constantly with an air temperature around 10 degrees, we sat in the car wondering if the others had actually decided not to bother. We had no signal on our mobiles as a result of which we had no way of communicating. We resigned ourselves to getting cold and driving back home if the artists didn't arrive in the next hour.

Just as hope was fading Gary's car flashed by, I sounded the horn, he screeched to a halt and jumped out... that was it....the laughter began, he was already kitted out in his ill fitting wetsuit, cycling hat and shades (it was pouring down) I was creased up, they had been parked a few hundred metres away and were thinking the same as us. Off they went to park a car at the North End of the lake returning to escort us to their seedy hide away.
We were soon stripped for action, the new kayak purchased by Gary was inflated, off we headed to the start, a slight trespass over private farmland, over a stream to the slate shoreline of the start, I carried the kids across the stream, the water felt freezing, my legs were numb within moments. Oh dear was this going to be a bridge too far?

We took photographs pre swim, noted Craig's duct tape securing his wetsuit around the waist and legs (I kid you not...check the photo!!) I then briefed the swimmers, KGB, Andrew, Craig, Gary and Dave our faithful boat support. The faces looked somewhat more serious than at at the Seamew Crag Challenge, was this worries or was it men trying to look cool in the presence of a girl. Afterall there had already been some suggestions after Gary zipped up KGBs wetsuit....ahem. Yes, that was noted gentlemen.

The shrieks and screams could be heard for miles around as water entry was tentatively negotiated, I walked further east to set Charlie and Lottie on their exploration walk of the lakeside path with strict instructions to stay in sight..then I was off, good grief this felt way cooler than my Windermere swim, was it down to my lack of exposure to cold water recently or was it really that cold. I breast stroked through the shallow water getting to grips with my breathing, the rest of the gang were well on the way as we all headed towards the re group point. I could hear Dave, Craig and Gary laughing from the word go.

Once I adjusted the water felt OK, my watch was reading 55F about 12.5C, by now I was swimming front crawl breathing to the right trying to spot the kids as we headed North, stopping occasionally to confirm their location and well being, I was soon disturbed to see they had stopped and had been still for some time. I was signalling for them to move on but was unable to hear what they were shouting. I had no option than to swim to shore, remove my ear plugs and asses the problem. Standing in the waist deep water, both kids explained they were being watched and were frighted to move...What!? was I hearing correctly, we were in the middle of nowhere, then I saw it, as they shouted "UP THERE..THE SCARY SHEEP!!" I could see a sheep complete with large horns watching over his pasture....reassurance soon won over the kids as the dashed to safety, laughing and looking over their shoulders..its was quite funny.

I swam on to see the re group agreement had been abandoned, so much for my briefing! the swimmers had split into two groups, Andrew and Kelly were doing well swimming front crawl, with Craig and Gary leisurely head up breast stroking, taking in the scenery, accompanied by Dave. I swam the 2km to the end of the Lake to be greeted by the kids who were keen to tell stories of their adventure, soon I was joined by KGB, she looked frozen though she had done really well to swim this far more or less alone.
The swim complete, we stood waiting for the arrival of the others, the kids had carried a towel for me but KGB was beginning to suffer, I made a barefoot recce to locate Gary's car so we could be ready to head off in the correct direction as soon as the rest of the gang finished. After some time and Andrews divertion (I think he was heading for Crummock Water, we were all on dry land, glowing with a sense of achievement, the boys appeared very happy with their swim, the fantastic surroundings added to the enjoyment, even the rain had stopped. 
The walk to the car brought some strange looks from hikers and dog walkers with me in my speedos and Craig wearing his rubber poncho, eventually despite Gary's attempts to park as far away as possible we reached the car, where the boys got changed. Back to the southern car park KGB and I shed our wet swim stuff before tucking into hot drinks, cakes and sweets. Andrew provided the kids with a flask of hot chocolate..though only luck prevented them receiving cup fulls of Craig's coffee laced with Whisky!

It was all too soon time to head home, we had a great time despite the weather with the Lake District yet again coming up trumps....the next GLG challenge will be next year at Derwent Water, another little step up in distance, however I will speak with the big man upstairs and pre order some sunshine. 

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Lake Windermere One Way

Rising at 6am on Wednesday 25th August after a reasonable nights sleep, the weather looked fantastic as I walked the dog, prior to the usual uncomfortable and dreaded forcing down of porridge. This eating first thing on a morning lark never gets easier for me. The car was packed with enough supplies to feed every living relative! Chris Pearson arrived (he was going to swim in his wetsuit and as many other bits of rubber / under garments as he could find) Departing from home at 7am I was surprised by the amount of traffic using the roads as we crossed the A66. Progress was thwarted by the odd heavy goods vehicle, caravan or tractor. Ambleside as always, was a welcome sight, however just as Windermere itself came into sight...so did Chris' breakfast! not what I wanted to see, hear or smell. A brief welfare break and we were once more enroute to Bowness our intended rendezvous point with the rest of 'Team Robson'.
I had reserved an electric boat at Shepherds for a couple of reasons...no physical exertion to be required, some cover from the weather would be afforded to the crew, the noise would be minimal if any and most importantly there would be zero fumes to upset my stomach or head whilst swimming.
The ever jovial Sarah Tunnicliffe had already arrived, closely followed by our skipper for the day Mark 'Pash' Pashby, after introductions, hugs (and hungry parking meters) we off loaded the cars, the girls stowed everything on the boat whilst Pash was briefed by the horizontal laid back staff.
Moments later, slightly behind schedule we left Bowness and motored (at 4mph!) to Fell Foot the official start point of the swim. This was ample time for me to brief Sarah regarding the finer points of my feeding plan and Pash for the best route to Ambleside, as Chris rested his weary head.
Conditions looked near perfect, a slight breeze, breaking clouds, I couldn't have wished for more. The crew were chatting away, picking out landmarks for navigation purposes and becoming slightly nervous at the imminent event, to the extent that we all needed the toilet! With Fell Foot in full view Chris squeezed into his rubber torpedo suit, Pash skillfully moored us at the jetty, it was time to strip, grease up and commence my attempt to swim Englands longest lake.
(Some Windermere Facts: ten and a half miles long and a mile and a quarter across at it's widest point, with a depth of up to 220 feet. The lake is so large that it has a slight but discernable tide. Deeper than the English Channel.)

Chris stood on the Jetty dancing around freeing himself from nervous energy as I applied Vaseline around the arm pits, neck and groin, the crew took their positions, Pash started the clock at 11:14am as I lowered myself into the water and began stroking in as relaxed a manner as possible. Initially we had to manoeuvre around several moored yachts before having much open water ahead. The boat was positioned to my right hand side, so all I had to do was breath, I was completely confident of being piloted the shortest possible route, I didn't want to have to sight ahead which strains my neck, it was great having the boat for company, knowing all my needs were taken care off by a very upbeat, enthusiastic crew.
The arrangement was to feed every 30 minutes taking Maxim and possibly some solids in the shape of jelly babies, chocolate rolls, jaffa cakes, milky ways or similar. I had pre mixed the maxim just before we left home using the guide Nick Adams posted on the Channel group earlier this season. All Sarah needed to do was pour 200mls into the feed bottle, add 200mls of hot water, attach to the 'Cliff Golding reel and line' and dispatch to the swimmer.

The first feed arrived in what seemed like no time at all, I commented to KGB that the water was 62F, drank the maxim as quick as possible together with two jellies, and swam on. At this point my stroke rate was 64spm. I felt great. The next couple of feeds were fairly uneventful, Sarah was keeping notes on what I consumed, Pash logged the location as KGB snapped away with the camera..it was going like clock work.

According to Pashs' log:
Feed 2 @ 12:15 Blake Holme Nab..Plain Maxim 400mls
Feed 3 @ 12:45 Dog Nab.. Maxim and Coffee 400 mls. Stroke Rate 68 spm.
Update @ 12:54 passing Beech Hill Hotel
Feed 4 @ 13:15 Rawlinsons Nab..Maxim 400mls

So.. two hours had now passed, Pash recorded that I was in good spirits, was joking about the water temperature and splashing the crew mid stroke, I remember splashing both Pash through his open window and Sarah (she was quick to tell me off). I was happy enough, but was developing a bit of a headache which I put down to the Cressi goggles I opted for at the start (they have yellow lenses and make any day look bright and cheerful). As a result I flipped over mid stroke and spoke with Sarah requesting some clear Aquasphere Goggles at the next feed.

Feed 5 @ 13:45 Black Coffee
Feed 6 @ 14:15 Maiden Home..Maxim 400mls
Update @ 14:32 Passing The Lillies (adjacent to Belle Isle)
I recall this point in the swim, I knew this meant we had now crossed to the West side of the Lake where we would remain until the last couple of kilometres, I was also aware this was the half way point, all of this knowledge lifted my spirits I remember upping the pace somewhat as we travelled through the shallows.
Feed 7 @ 14:45 Thompsons Holme..Maxim plus 2 Jelly babies, Pash also entered the water here (he must have needed to take a leak!) he would swim somewhere near the boat upto, but no further than it was time to return to the East side of the Lake (plan was to cross somewhere near Wray Castle). KGB was now piloting the boat after instruction from the skipper.
Feed 8 @ 15:15 Bass Rock to the left side..Plain Water..I was starting to feel a little full on maxim and felt the need to flush out my system before I over loaded, Pash approached me in the water and asked if I was OK, I responded saying "I'm having a bit of a blip but I'm OK"

I swam on once more knowing the next hurdle was the cross over, somewhere around this stretch the water again became a little more difficult to the extent that I was adjusting my recovery to combat the waves, it soon became apparent this was due to speed boats and water skiers, I was amazed to see this as the lake has a 10mph speed limit..Is it possible to water ski at such a speed? Whatever the answer is to that, the boats as well as the passenger ferries all gave me something else to think about and broke up the boredom of the ideal conditions with which I had been blessed for most of the swim.

Feed 9   @ 15:45 Maxim
Feed 10 @ 16:15 Wray Castle..Plain Water..Pash now tried to leave the water, he was struggling to get into the boat so much so that I decided to swim on alone as this was clearly going to take some time. I could see a large green buoy in the distance and tried to make progress in that direction until such times as the boat caught up. I also used this time to backstroke for a couple of minutes resting my shoulders as well as seeing if the boat was on its way. 
With Pash back on board and wrapped up warm, onwards we continued, I asked if we were about to cross the Lake and was pleased to be told we were already doing so, by this stage the days Maxim was feeling like it no longer wanted to stay in my stomach, it wasn't due to the swell, it was something else, I was becoming increasing agitated by the nauseous feeling, it was forcing to stop, face away from the boat and let out an almighty belch each time, I was not actually vomiting though it was on its way for certain. 

Feed 11 @ 16:45  Offered a feed of choice.. maxim / water, I declined everything at this point due to the stomach issues and decided to continue without hoping it would settle down, a Rennie tablet had no effect so I plodded on recognising Low wood Hotel and knowing full well  I was inside the final mile.
Throughout the next half an hour or so the sickly feeling continued, I stop several times to address this, took a breather before swimming on, Sarah was then entering the water for the final leg through the small boats moored near the Ambleside Youth Hostel, an area I know very well, the end was literally in sight. KGB was now seated on the front of the boat cheering us all on as we slowly closed in on The Ambleside Waterhead Pier.

After 5 hours 58 minutes and 58 seconds Chris, Sarah and I all swam across the finish line..to much cheers and congratulations...Job Done!
I was delighted to have finished, to have completed the swim and hit the target I set some time ago at the start of the season. I struggled to dry land, and proceeded to be violently sick, my hips were very sore and my stomach felt like it had been turned inside out.
Eventually we all dressed, returned to the boat and motored off South to Bowness, I was presented with bottle of Champagne by Chris (thankyou Chris) and a toy medallion from Sarah! The journey back to Shepherds was lovely and peaceful, the sun was shining allowing me to fully take in the days events.
The sickness continued preventing me from enjoying a post swim meal but that wasn't important. The day was a complete success...My Crew whom I cannot thank enough were absolutely awesome, everything went exactly according to plan and I learnt a lot. Not least of which is the strength at which I can handle maxim.!

Thankyou all so very much...it was a great day. I will be calling on your services again of that you can be sure. Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou
Capt Pash Pilot extraordinaire
The end in sight...
another feed

Final Prep.

In anticipation of the looming target for 2010, I spoke in detail with my hand picked crew of Mark Pashby (Skipper) Sarah Tunnicliffe (Feeder) KGB (photos and video), sending out a number of emails to identify roles, timings, feeding plans, meeting locations etc etc. With the logistics taken care of, I decided to attempt three hours at Ellerton Lake on Wednesday 18th August.

Arriving at the lake I was disappointed to see around twenty plus divers who would be using the lake at the same time...this would not be a problem as such. I just find it a little unsettling when suddenly greeted by an under water swimmer at close range.

The plan was to swim three x one hour sets, coming into the wooden jetty to feed on maxim and jelly babies after the first and second hour. This was to be my longest swim of the year, as usual the first hour was the hardest, however after the first feeding I seemed to drift into a better mental zone and had no problems completing the planned time in the water at 64F, except for the monotony of swimming loops in a relatively small lake.

Job done..forearms a little achey, other than that no real side effects.

All set for Windermere 10 and half miles next week.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Ray Gandy in his own words...

Many thanks to Ray Gandy for allowing me to repost his English Channel swim story...enjoy:

TRAVEL & LOGISTICS - I left Providence, RI on a bus to Boston where I boarded a direct flight to London. Upon arriving in London Heathrow, I boarded a bus to central London and then boarded a bus that took me to Dover. Door to door travel time was 16 hours. I arrived in Dover at 3pm local time. I was so anxious to jump in the harbor and swim. My hotel room overlooked the beach and harbor so I immediately changed and went for a dip. The water was clean with an emerald color and the taste was very salty. I was in the English Channel for the first time in my life. It was real and the time was near. I went to my room and called my pilot, Neil Streeter - a veteran boat captain who has led countless channel crossing successes. He said the weather this past week had been great and the next couple of days were looking good. I had read about folks going early and knew this could be a scenario. I asked him about my tide - the 13th through the 19th that I was booked for. He said I had moved to the number 2 position - I was booked in the 3rd slot, but he didn't know how the weather might hold out. He advised that we take advantage of the current good weather. He asked if I was ready to go tonight! Waves of panic set in - it was here and it could be now! I said that I thought I needed at least one good night's rest and we decided tentatively that midnight the next night, Saturday, August 8th would be the start. Believe me that I had rehearsed this scene in my head a million times before. I knew that if I called my pilot, I may be headed out early. The reality of it was magnified so much more than I could ever play out in my mind. A flurry of blackberry messages and emails were made to my daughter who was with my wife having lunch back in Coventry, RI. I said that I was probably swimming the next night. They were packing to leave for Dublin for a few days before joining me on August 11th. They were leaving in a couple of hours. A message came back...."we are totally freaking out here!". The texting was fast and furious. I continued blackberry conversations with my daughter, while my wife began changing plans and informing her father, who was also a part of my crew. I emailed my parents and sisters to inform my father, who was also part of my crew. I had read about other swimmers who chose to go early prior to their crew arriving. In the end, plans were in place that would bring my in-laws, wife and daughter to me just hours before the scheduled swim. My parents could not make the necessary travel changes as quickly. I was saddened that my father would not be on the boat. He and I had looked forward to that. But I knew that he and my mom would be with me in spirit. They had started all of this 40 years ago by encouraging me to join the Highlawn Swim Club in St. Albans, WV. I went to bed, exhausted from the travel and drained by the logistics issues and nerves associated with my upcoming swim. I slept for 10 hours and felt rested the next day. My friend Russ arrived first. He had been in London for business the previous couple of days and took a train to Dover. If nothing else, I had my crew! Russ knows the procedure as he crewed for me for over 12 hours during my Lake George swim two years previous. My father in law arrived next. I received a message that he was in his room resting. I could not get hold of Donna, Jessica and my mother in law, Elaine. Jess' blackberry did not work internationally and I did not know if they had made their flights or arrived. It was 4pm when they finally arrived. I was relieved that they had made it and needed them there for emotional support. I especially was grateful that Jess had made it as I knew this would be a unique experience for a father and a daughter. We had dinner, tried to rest and listened to the helicopters, fireworks, concerts and hubbub associated with the Dover regatta that was happening just outside our windows.

THE PREPARATION - We had gone to the store for vast quantities of food and supplies and had used a shopping cart to bring it all back to the hotel. At 10:45 pm amidst the throngs of people in the lobby and out on the streets enjoying the regatta, we pushed our shopping cart towards the marina to meet up with Neil and his boat, Suva. A special note of thanks to Elaine and Mark Howley for all of their support during my day of panic. They helped to keep me calm and to focus on the swim. Everything else would fall into place they said. Elaine had just finished her swim a few days earlier in the week. She and Mark shared their experience and it was greatly appreciated. Elaine's crossing marked a culmination of open water swimming's Triple Crown - Catalina, Round Manhattan and now the English Channel - all of this performed in the matter of several weeks! They joined us on our odd parade through the streets of Dover. We arrived at the boat, met our official observers, Matt and Laura, our pilot Neil and his co-pilot. Russ, Jessica, Lou and I boarded the boat and waved back to Donna, Elaine and Mark and Elaine - as we slowly left the marina.....it was here and it was now! During the 30 minute trip to our launching point, Russ applied a layer of sunscreen, a layer of zinc oxide and a layer of vaseline to me - we had brought latex gloves to minimize the mess associated with all the creams. We quickly reviewed all the supplies and I pointed out where extra goggles, ear plugs, nose plugs, etc. were located. All of a sudden the engines stopped - we were at the starting point. My heart raced. We needed to pin a glowstick on my suit and afix one to my goggles. Everyone was waiting for me to get done and start this journey. I went to the back of the boat, kissed my daughter and jumped into the dark, cold night into the emerald water that held me like a newborn baby in it's mother's arms. I swam to the beach, cleared the edge of the water and raised my hand, waiting for the signal from the boat that would identify the official start of my swim!

HOUR ONE - The horn from the boat sounded; I was fumbling in the dark with my watch to start it at the same time...I couldn't get it started in the dark and I heard Jessica yell "swim, Dad, swim!". It was midnight, what was I thinking - the whole timing thing doesn't involve any addition or subtraction. At 3am I will have swum 3 hours! Duh! The moon was full, the night was clear, the water an emerald hue and 64 degrees - it couldn't be better. Neil had a light shining all around me from the top of the boat. it didn't bother me and in fact, I liked the color of the water so much, it made me feel like I was enveloped in a cocoon, protected and isolated from the vast emptiness that lay ahead of me. The lights of Dover were behind me and I could see them when I breathed on either side of my body. Good-bye Dover - France here I come! I don't look up out of the water to see if I can spot any lights in France as I don't want to be disappointed if there are none. This test can wait a few hours when I might need to resort to this tactic if necessary for emotional uplifting. No, this time should be spent enjoying the reality of swimming the English Channel! My stroke is strong and the time is now. "Swim long and strong" I say to myself, no need to sprint or cut short my stroke. The first hour goes by quickly and the crew signals it's time for my first feeding by blinking the big lights. it gets my attention easily and I swim towards the boat. Russ throws me a line that has two water bottles attached. One has my carb/water mix and the other has mouthwash to rinse my mouth. The water has a very high salt content and many folks have used this technique to help with mouth sores and tongue blistering that can pop up during and after the swim. The first feeding comes in under 30 seconds - exactly where I want to be. Anything more and I could find myself losing too much ground due to the strong tide. I am happy with the first hour. Things are going well. My nervousness is starting to wear off. "I can do this - I AM doing this!"


HOUR TWO - Interesting. Dover seems almost as close as just after I started. I don't realize it, although I should have, but while I am making progress, the tide is keeping me somewhat parallel to the English shores. I see the lights of Dover everytime I breathe. It starts to affect my mind, but I quickly start to think of a song in my head. It's Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown". It came out of nowhere and I couldn't get rid of it. I have a terrible memory for lyrics, so I am sure that Bruce would have laughed or cried at my attempts to remember or make up lyrics to the chorus - which is also the only part of the musical part of the song I remembered! So, for the next hour, I kept singing, "this is my hometown...this is my hometown...this is my hometown...this is my hometown"! I searched for meaning. Was the channel my hometown? Was Dover my hometown? It made no sense, but it was perplexing me. I tried to think of another song, but the lock on my mind was too tight. This song was not going away. I might as well get used to that fact. And then came my first big gulp of the sea. "Where did that come from?" I asked myself. It was very salty and immediately I felt some mild nausea. "I can't let that become a habit" I thought. I will be more careful. I don't want to get sick. Soon I was wondering, "why hasn't the boat signaled my next feed?" I wasn't hungry, but it just felt like an hour had passed. I purposely don't look at my watch. I think I didn't look because I didn't want to be dependent on the clock or time. I trusted my crew completely regarding the feeding schedule - they will be out soon, I am sure of it. I keep looking at the boat. I don't see anyone milling about or preparing my feed. Have they forgotten? I trust in them - it is just me getting anxious. Stay calm and focused. I still have concerns that weather will pop up, or something else. I am only in hour two. I must press on. Time and distance must be covered - and it will eventually. No sign of the crew. It seems too early for me to start getting less than hourly feeds. If I have hourly feeds, then perhaps my first crossing can be done in 12 feeds, I reason. Stay calm, they will show. They don't. I refuse to look at my watch. I don't want to see that it has been more than an hour - then I will lose confidence in my crew. I don't want to see that it has been less than an hour - then I will lose confidence in my ability to read my body. I'm getting something - angry, confused, concerned....then the lights blink. I never looked at my watch, and I have never looked at the log. I never know how much time elapsed between my first and second feeds. And it doesn't matter. I am swimming the channel and I am beginning hour 3. Time and distance ARE passing. Progress is being made! And then I breathe...and then I see Dover,,,again and again and again. It is a constant reminder that I have a long way to go and not to get too comfortable.

HOURS THREE to SIX - I remember these hours as a group and not individually. I rekindled energy and had a sense of purpose. My stroke felt strong and my body position was good. I was swimming the channel! It was here and it was now! "The Sentinel" was the nickname I gave my father-in-law. He was positioned outside the cabin on a small walkway around the boat, exposed to the elements from midnight to 6am. He stayed in one place, and at times I wondered if he was actually sleeping standing up! This was his forte - standing watch and making sure that nothing was going to happen to me...or else he may just get an earful from my wife who left explicit instructions - "don't let anything happen to him!". He was a steady force and a calming presence as I watched he and the boat rock in unison. I was fixated on that vision. He may as well have been on the bow of the boat like one of those wooden mermaids. At one point, I wondered if he had tied himself to the handrails with a belt or rope. This guy wasn't moving....and I truly appreciated that! He was always there and always will be - Thanks Lou!

Every feeding was a little bit of a circus or zoo from my perspective. I would start to see activity in and around the boat. I envisioned commands like "positions everybody!" and "to your stations!" being yelled around the boat. Observers, feeders, videographers, lookouts - my crew became characters in a play in my mind. I was separating from reality and entering a playful area of my mind. Was it the efforts of the swim? The effects of more seawater ingestion? I never analyzed it or recognized it at the time. I floated inside my head at the larger than life action that was taking place around me. It was still dark and the people were shadows and caricatures of who they actually were. I never actually heard them. I had wax earplugs preventing any sound from coming in. They were mimes doing chores on a stage that looked like a boat and I was the audience that they never actually knew or saw. I was content in my world - knowing that time and distance were passing by. I couldn't recall why time and distance were important any longer - just that it was passing by.


I felt my first shiver. It lasted a few seconds and it unnerved me. I hadn't expected it. Was the cold setting in? How much longer do I have? I am over-reacting but I don't know it. My legs seize up for the first time. A giant muscle spasm that sends an alarm through my body. "What the hell was that?" I wondered. I had never had cramps or spasms before. I make a mental note to ask for a banana at my next feed. During this time period, I swallow several more full moths of water. It never dawns on me that perhaps I am ingesting too much salt and that I should dilute that with more water.

I am starting to tire a bit and I look toward the eastern sky and see a patch of light blue. The sun will be coming up soon...that will energize me! "Daybreak is near - the sun will help", I say to myself. Feedings are still quick but what I don't know is that more food is going out of my mouth than going in. Slowly, my body is losing all stored energy. Slowly I will get a little colder and a little more tired. Russ, my friend on board, is like a mindreader. He gives me a banana at my next feed. I never asked for it - he just knew. He has been a calm strength on the team. He is analytical and focused. He is overall in charge. He mixes and delivers my feedings. He is the one who speaks to me during feedings. He knows what to say and when to say it. He also knows to be quick and specific. We can't waste time during feedings. I need the right foods with the right message. He is on top of his game and he is doing great. Thanks Russ!

These first six hours I am pleased with. My team is on their game and so am I. Time and disctance are passing. I am swimming the channel!


The sun comes up....I don't get energized...and Dover is still in my sights as I breathe to my right. The channel has a funny way of hitting you square on the head when you start to get comfortable!

HOURS SEVEN and EIGHT - I must be in a shipping lane. The waves seem more pronounced...the water a bit chillier. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. I feel distant from my crew. I feel completely alone. My legs are seizing up every so often. The shivers happen from time to time. The sun is not helping - it feels like it is far away and cold. My daughter, Jessica, is visible. Lou must be resting. Good, I will need them all later. We have a long way to go and they all just flew in earlier in the day. They have had no rest and they are doing this for me. All of a sudden, my arm hits something and I swim into a large patch of seaweed (flotsam and jetsam). The best way I can describe flotsam and jetsam is a combination of natural and manmade trash and debris. Imagine a large patch of seaweed that catches trash and debris and growas and grows. I don't like it and I am concerned about debris that can cut me or jellyfish caught in the mass. I scream and plod my way through the muck. People rush to the side of the boat. I get through it unscathed....I just don't like any surprises. On my subsequent trips on the ferry across the channel in the days to come, I will see many of these masses floating in the water. It's part of the channel. It was scratchy and unknown. It was one of several times that I would have to go through that. Each time I am concerned about getting through it and each time it is alright.

I am struggling. I am weak and I feel my stroke and body position is not as powerful or clean as it once was. When I pee, and it happened a lot, it burns my legs. I try to use that positively...that it indicates a warm core. But I also think that my legs may be VERY cold. I have no kick. I can hardly move them. I am swallowing more seawater and I curse under water each time. I am fed at hour 7 and it is painful. Difficult to swim alongside the boat, difficult to tread water, difficult to eat, difficult to hear, difficult to talk, difficult to accept the fact that my body and mind are breaking down. I'm angry and upset. I could see the concerned faces of my crew. They all came out to see...to help. I smack the water in disgust and swim forward. I hate the feedings. They are now becoming a major pain and I don't look forward to them at all.

The effects of energy loss, seawater intake, cramping and coldness are wearing me down. I am now concerned that I may not make a single crossing. I am let down by this thought beyond belief. I have a discussion in my head and I really don't know who I am talking to. "Please let me at least make the single crossing" I say to myself. I can't believe it has come to this. While swimming a single is a fantastically incredible achievement, at the time, it is the better of two options - quit or complete the single. I don't like either option, but I know if I continued focusing on the double, then I would be overwhelmed and possibly pack it in right there. Focusing on the single became my mantra and the words "get the single" would be repeated in my head constantly until the finish.

HOURS NINE THROUGH TWELVE - I can only compare this time to the movie, "Conan, the Barbarian". When he was captured as a youngster, he was chained to a giant, heavy wooden wheel that he pushed all day long, in a circle - for YEARS! This would not be the fun part of my journey. I thought it would come later, but - it was here and it was NOW! "Get the single" I said over and over in my head. I remember thinking that not only have I haven't been stung by a jellyfish - I haven't even SEEN one. Just then I see one - two feet below me - in slow motion as I pass over it....or did it pass me? I don't realize it, but I am traveling with the tide - trying to swim across it, but not making much progress. I am told later that I was 3 miles off the French coast for 3 hours! I thought I only had one feed to go to get to France, but it tuned into 2, then 3 then 4, then I just stopped counting. My feeds were every 45 minutes and my crew agonized when I asked them "how far away am I?". Russ was creative enough to use different answers - "about 3 miles" was his first response - "a little over 2 and a half miles" was his next response - then it was "over 2 miles". I started to catch on. I wasn't mad at Russ. I was angry that I was in this mess and still wasn't sure if I was going to make it.

During this time, I remember seeing the sun on my left and then all of a sudden it was on my right. A sane person might have questioned it, or at least wondered about it. I didn't. I was so far away someplace else in my mind that I noted it as an interesting fact. I came to find out leter that a tanker was going to get a little to close to us, so instead of making me tread water in place, Neil let me swim in a circle until the tanker had passed. I do appreciate that!

One tanker did not respond to our boat's communications. I saw activity about the boat. People weren't looking at me, but something else. They started to go inside the boat....no one was outside anymore. I looked up and think I recall seeing a boat - but they had seen many boats. Why was this one different, I wondered. Then it hit. A giant rogue wave from the wake of that boat. I was the first to ride up and up and up and then down! I looked at the SUVA. The 12 ton SUVA looked like a toy boat as it rode up and up and up and then DOWN. Water went over the railing where my crew had been standing! It looked like fun! and it certainly was something different from the day I was having! I later was told that the boat ignored all communications and that Neil was going to file a grievance. It was a potentially dangerous act that I could not understand at the time.

My mind and body are spent and am the tide is turning - although I have no clue. Is it me or is France actually starting to get closer?

THE LAST HOUR - I have been telling my crew for several hours that we are just doing a single. Russ keeps saying "Ok Ray, just keep swimming, you are almost there". Hey, I remember that I haven't seen another jellyfish for some time. As the thought was about to leave my brain, I got stung. It hit me in my left ribcage. A stinging pain rang out. I had no emotion left. I could have been eaten by a whale or bit by a shark. Nothing mattered more than getting to that French shore. I was going to make it - and this was the first time that I truly believed it! At my last feed, Neil came out to tell me that we were in a good position to "make the turn". I was quick to say no, and clear to all that could hear, that we would be done soon and that Jess and Russ should get prepared. The association allows others to swim with the swimmer into the shore - as long as they stay in back of the channel swimmer and do not touch him or her at any time. I was looking forward to this and I wanted it.

Neil positioned the boat about 150 feet from the shoreline and came out again to offer me the chance for a double. I politely refused, thanked him for all he had done and said "I'm sorry". I am so happy that I specifically chose Neil as my pilot. He is an expert in what he does and he proved it to us that day. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Neil and his family. Thanks Neil!

The finish will be etched in my heart forever. At one minute, Russ and Jess were fully dressed. During my 30 second conversation with Neil, it was if they were wearing capes and they tore them off once they knew they were about to enter the water with me. Neil gave them the sign that it was okay and Jess jumped in with a smile that lit up the sky! Jess had just touched the water when she was told "get behind him and don't touch him!". She knew - but no one wanted anything to go wrong now. I think I remember hearing Russ' splash further behind me. We were all together now and I started swimming to shore to ensure they were behind me - it was here and it was now. I reveled in those strokes to the shore. I saw the beach under the water - it was very close now. I tried to stand but I couldn't. I kept swimming. I was in 2 feet of water. I kept stroking and my hands were digging into pebbles. I still couldn't get a foothold. I swam until I couldn't swim anymore and then I dug my elbows into the rocks and pulled myself ashore until my feet cleared the water's edge. I waved to the boat as I lay face down on the sun-warmed rocks on this French beach. It was over. I opened my eyes and saw a woman with two kids. They didn't even look at me. They were engrossed in their world and I in mine. Soon Jessica swam up and climbed up the embankment - she had the same smile as when she jumped in! Our arms embraced each other and we held tight. She said "You did it - I am so proud of you daddy". I could hardly contain myself. Several emotions rocked through me. I was sobbing. Relief, anger, love - I told her that I was sorry that I wasn't going forward with the double. She said "Daddy - you did it - you swam the English Channel!" I kissed her and held on never wanting to let go. Her smile never left her face. Thanks Jess!


Officially, my time was 13 hours and 34 minutes....I was the first person from Rhode Island to swim the English Channel....time and distance were done and I could now relax...or could I?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

2 years on

I cannot let today pass without mentioning the date, it is two years exactly since I made one of my worst decisions. here's the old post. Enough said on that one I just wanted to note the occasion and remind myself the whole journey is a learning process.

Onwards.........

Pash and Bash

Mid July there was a post of the 'Channel swimmers Google Group' from a person requesting advice re wetsuits having recently re-found the swimming bug at 44 years of age, there was some confusion as to the sex of the person (private joke) named 'Pash'. The good news was he or she lived in North Yorkshire and therefore a possibility arose of a potential training partner.

I responded to the email with my tuppence worth of advice and being that we live in reasonable proximity offered to meet up and swim if required. I also suggested a swim at the upcoming 3km Two Bridges event in the River Tees where the temperature will be gentle enough on the skin for a relative new comer to open water swimming. 'Pash' eventually identified himself as a male of the species and agreed to visit Ellerton Lake on Saturday the 7th together with one of his mates.

We were set to meet at 9am so it was an ealryish start for me to drop Charlie at his Granmas before driving the 25 miles or so to the lake, Pash (Mark) arrived bang on time with his friend Daz, we had a brief chat about the likely temperature, the route we would swim, method of entry and what to expect in terms of marine life/weeds/sunken objects of interest to divers including a tailors dummy! Then we stripped for action.

On arrival at the jetty we spoke with a number of wetsuited swimmers who were also having their first visit, a similar briefing took place before we took the 'commit commit commit' option of the running bomb into the water, the temperature was 64F. Both Mark and Daz soon came to terms with the temperature and we headed off to the top of the lake where we swam for an hour. It turns out Mark and I have a similar military background, I felt the three of us got on really well and expect many more swims to follow. They both coped brilliantly for their first time. Thanks for driving up boys, it was great fun and nice to have company for a change.

That concludes Saturday morning.........following the 'Wild swimming' show with Alice Roberts on TV this week KGB and I arranged to have a swim at Gormire Lake near Thirsk North Yorkshire, Sarah Tunnicliffe gave us detailed directions and a map which led us perfectly to lakeside.
The views from the lake and the location itself were quite breath taking, the ideal place if you fancy a butt naked skinny dip.!
KGB and I tentatively stepped into the water, onto hidden tree branches and a very silty weedy bottom, after what seemed like an age the water was deep enough to actually swim, we swam in the murky green water as the sun began to set, the water was 65 degrees F.  

Post swim as we dressed at the waters edge I thought it would be fun and a blast from the past to play of the rope swing (we call it a 'tarzy' up north) I was having a great time, it had been years since I had done this sort of thing, Kelly wanted me to go higher and higher and she attempted to get the ideal photo for the blog.
She was still part dressed snapping away with the camera as I gave my best push off over the water surely this was sufficient time for the picture to be taken....however the trouble was just brewing, you see, what goes up must come down, I was now inbound to shore making speed towards the tree on which the rope was secured. I tried to take evasive action to no avail, BANG, full force into the tree, my lower legs taking the full impact before I fell to the floor. Believe it or not KGB continued to snap the photos despite her creasing up with laughter. I was in agony, the wind had thoroughly been taken from my sails, as I laid in a heap gasping for breath.
Some time later I hobbled to the car, the picnic was cancelled as I envisaged a trip to Accident and Emergency. Today, Sunday the swelling is quite funny yet the pain is intense, its going to be fun trying to work tomorrow in this state. Believe me the photograph does not do my injury justice.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

GLG Seamew Crag Challenge

I have known Gary Dean for over twenty years, he runs a bike shop (GLG Cycles) very close to where I lived as a child. He has always been a great source of support, he is reliable and guaranteed to inject humour and practical jokes into almost any situation. Though at times he does have some crazy ideas. His dad, Stan, introduced me to the art of swearing in between words!

Gary and some of his long standing friends from school have been undertaking some physical challenges..walks, cycles etc in what I refer to as their mid life crisis.

Earlier this year I watched the Robson Green Wild Swimming show on TV which gave me the idea of swimming around Holy Island I made some enquiries with Ollie Jay who kayaked for Robson, it soon became apparent the swim was a non starter due to tidal influence and a lack of actual water to swim in. The idea of Gary and his posse swimming to and from Holy Island in similar fashion to Robson was also not possible due to the restrictions in place and protected environment of nesting birds. The seed however had been in Gary's fertile mind.

I had the perfect solution, a swim I was familiar with in spectacular surroundings, that being Ambleside YHA to Seamew Crag on Lake Windermere, a distance of around 900 metres each way. After consultation with his 'gang' a date was set for the GLG Seamew Crag Challenge. I agreed to accompany them as guide for the day.

So...the day after our visit to Keswick, I was returning to the Lake District. A slightly late pickup, introductions and much laughter as we crossed the A66 through cloud, rain and foreboding weather to arrive at an Ambleside blessed with  pleasant dry conditions. The cars were parked and we quickly viewed the water and distances awaiting us. Dave was dispatched to collect/hire a rowing boat as the remainder (Gary, Andrew and Craig) donned their ill fitting wetsuits. My face was aching, my eyes were streaming and my sides were sore due to uncontrollable laughing. I honestly thought I was going to wet myself. You had to be there..

I tried to get serious for a moment in order to deliver a safety brief, we entered the glassy waters together and began the swim, I remained with the boys for around 200 metres with Dave as safety boat flag alpha included, then as agreed, swam on towards the intended destination. My swim was good, it was a little weird being out mid lake alone as passenger boats passed by. I reached the Crag, took in the magnificent views then returned across the lake to rejoin the others, accompanying them to the Island, we landed after 45 minutes of leisurely breast stroke, Gary in sunglasses refusing to get his face wet!

A couple of minutes rest, welfare checks and they were off again on the return leg. I stood in the water at the Crag on what was now a beautiful sunny day, allowing them ten to fifteen minutes head start. From my position I could hear the laughing and joking and Gary shouting 'get out of my lane'. I then continued my swim joining the others mid lake, all was well, spirits were high. I gave some advice and asked for some re grouping as they approached the other lake traffic. Everybody was sensible, I swam ahead in order to be ready with the camera to record their achievement. As they closed in to the jetty and the YHA they all looked very proud, a couple of them even appear to have been bitten by the Open Water bug to the extent that I have suggested the next swim challenge...Lake Buttermere at the end of September.
Thank you to Gary and the other 'artists' not only for buying my lunch, my gifts of 'Dino' wine and the 'Jaws' mug (very funny Gary) but for a great day out, I haven't laughed this much since the girl came in the bike shop and asked for a "speed omlette" (she wanted a speedometer!)  It was beneficial for me too, 95 minutes in the water at 64F in addition to yesterdays swim at Keswick, its all in the bank...Looking forward to Buttermere.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Capsized in Keswick

Since my last post mid July I have had around ten open water swims, the first couple after Charlies swim being in The North Sea at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, which as always expected after the balmy lake felt absolutely Baltic! at 55F. I have also had a very beneficial sprint session at Ellerton Lake with Chris Pearson.                                                             
                                 
Last week for the first time since 2008 KGB accompanied me with the kids to Seaton, to watch me swim in near perfect conditions, the water was a little patchy ranging from 55F to 58F, though it was more or less flat and very enjoyable, I wanted/needed to ensure I kept up the colder swims prior to the upcoming BLDSA event. That said, KGB purchased a wetsuit last Wednesday and was keen to test it out which meant another visit to the lake.
On Friday 30th after a day at work we drove across Country to the Lake District for the Derwent Water BLDSA 5.25 mile swim, on arrival we checked into the very very nice bed and breakfast 'The Lookout'  just outside Keswick Town Centre, it was a delight especially after the recent episode at 'The Dover Dump. I had been made aware that Dan Martin was also to be in attendance in order to support Alice Harvey a young, very talented swimmer from Jersey. (she has already swam around Jersey and Jersey to France). It came as a great surprise when Cliff Golding called and explained he was also with Dan and Alice, it made my day knowing Cliff was soon to be with us. After showering we walked into town, met up with the gang and headed to an Italian feed spot and a couple of beers, followed by an early night for much needed sleep.

As usual the early start routine was to attempt to force down breakfast (I find it difficult to eat anything before 10am) then take the short drive to the Lake for registration, numbering and re introductions firstly to Dave Neal who again we hadn't seen since 2008 who had kindly offered the use of a kayak. I also met Karen Throsby and her partner Peter. Karen is due to swim the English Channel in just two weeks time and has undergone a very methodical, detailed and extensive preparation. Below Karen (L) Alice (R).
At the five minute warning all boat crews deployed on the water, KGB was using Dave's sit on Kayak storing flasks of hot maxim, wearing her new wetsuit to avoid the cold should the rain start. Swimmers were then counted into the water before the event/race was officially started by Pam Morgan the BLDSA President. The course was to be a triangular route with two left turns, basically over two miles out, left for the width of the lake then left again and another +two mile stretch back to the start/finish point.
The first leg was with a slight head wind, I found myself adjusting my stroke slightly to compensate for the mild chop, I spoke to KGB after about forty minutes and told her I would feed at the first turn buoy, it was nice to eventually see her pouring my drink which she handed me at the turn after about 70 mins. The depth of the lake then dropped severely, I was swimming through dense weeds and at one point scraped my hand across the lake bed. I took another feed at the next buoy before we turned to head south.

A short time later I was passed by Alice, this was nothing to worry about, if anything it would make life easier for navigation as KGB could just follow, being that the finish was nowhere to be seen. Well....that was the plan.

Then it happened...I was swimming along minding my own business trying to stay in the zone, the water was a steady 62F and I was on the home stretch to complete my longest open water swim of the year, when without warning over went my kayaker into the water, capsized and soaked to the skin. I could see her trying to right the kayak as the flasks bobbed around one of which disappeared from sight into the depths. A few minutes later as KGB struggled to climb aboard we were joined by one of the safety craft, too late I'm afraid as we were now ready to recommence our efforts.

My mind was now wandering I could see Kelly was drenched and did not look too impressed or warm, we were being blown of course, with Dan and Cliff well off in the distance. About half and hour later I took one more feed and plodded on, we had drifted into a cove and could not see the finish line until we were more or less on top of it. Once we finally sighted the piers I stroked home in a time of 2 hours 40 minutes, around ten minutes sooner than predicted, which considering the unexpected incident wasn't too bad at all.

We waited around for all swimmers to finish before the presentation, followed by final goodbyes to friends old and new. I had completed the swim without injury, made an excellent recovery with no adverse effects to the time in the water on what had turn out to be a damp grey day. Overall brilliant training and another step en route to bigger goals.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Interview with George Brunstad

Thanks to Karen Reeder for kindly allowing this interview to be re printed here..

75-year old George Brunstad recently competed in the USMS 6K National Championships in Windsor, Colorado, finishing in 2:29:23.7. USOWSC had a chance to talk with George, who, in 2004, became the oldest swimmer to successfully cross the English Channel with a time of 15 hours, 59 minutes.

As you look back upon your English Channel Swim, what parts were the most difficult and the most memorable?
Several areas stand out as challenging. Water temperature acclimatization was one. I spent some time in Long Island Sound in the fall and spring when the ocean temperatures were around 58-62 F and took cold showers after workouts at the Wilton CT YMCA. Taking the lead of Marcia Cleveland, I rented a cottage on Harpswell Neck near Brunswick ME forthree weeks making escorted swims in Casco Bay of 3-6 hours in 55-60 F water. Another, one not anticipated, was feeding. I had it down pat in training with a malodextrin and soy mix but had not tested it beyond 6 hours. After six hours in the Channel swim the mix began to back up undigested in my stomach. Mike Oram simply had me skip a feeding to empty the stomach and then switched to strait moltodextrin and it was smooth sailing thereafter. Another was to craft the proper amount and intensity of training considering my age. The window is smaller for the proper amount - it had to be not too much or too little. I had no one my age to consult but managed to train with enough intensity to accomplish the task without breaking down.

Most memorable was the finish under a full moon with Allison Streeter and MarcyMcDonald flankingme for the last 300 meters and the three of us striding up on the beach under acouple of spotlights, my arms raised in victory.

Do you have any advice for people who are going to swim the English Channel?
Training building in intensity as the time approaches, cross training (land as well as the other strokes), one long swim each week, cold water adaptation, feeding practice, a short taper, crew coordination, proper diet, adequate rest, a goal and purpose for the swim, and in my case, faith in my Lord and Creator, prayers by many.

As they age, some swimmers tend to have more difficulty adjusting to cold water temperatures. Have you noticed this and do you have any advice for older swimmers?
I have noticed that it is more difficult for me at 75 than 70. My advice would be to follow the program I have mentioned above. The cold water camp was crucial for me.

How often do you swim every week now and approximately how much yardage are you swimming on a weekly basis?
I am not swimming as much as in the past because I was incapacitated by Poly Myalgia Rhumatica last summer (Immune system attacks theskeletal muscles). I am now asymptomatic but my speed has not returned. I am working back into a routine of three days Monday-Wednesday-Fridayin the pool and the fitnessroom plus swims in the lake on Tuesday and Thursday. For my Channel year in 2004 at age 70, I did mixed swims (intervals, IM, etc) on Monday and Wednesday with fitness cross-training on Tuesday and Thursday, and then increasingly longer freestyle swims on Friday. Saturday and Sundays were recovery. Note that I swam only three days a week for my Channel year. This was in deference to my age.

Is there anywhere in particular where you train in open water? Do you have a favorite place to swim in open water?
Now it is Lakes Winnipesaukee and Winnesquam NH.

What other swimming races are you planning to compete in this summer?
Possibly the 22 mile Lake Winnipesaukee swim for charity in August.

What has been your swimming experience through your life?
I started swimming at age 3 inWashington State. I was a varsity swimmer at Washington State with no accomplishments to speak of. But I swam nothing more than 200 yards. I had no idea that I am in reality a pure endurance athlete. It took a while in Masters swimming to realize this as well after I started in 1973. At first I swam short races but did not find success until I started swimming the longer distances (1500 M free, 400 MIM, 200 M fly, etc.) but found my real place when I started open water competition in 1992.

What are 3 main things you think are most important for new open water swimmers to learn?
1) Efficiency of stroke and this means bilateral breathing. I firmly believe in being able to breathe equally well to either side, and devoting equal time to both sides during training and when racing. I have always considered swimming as a lifetime commitment and am convinced of the merits of a balanced and symmetrical stroke on the overall harmony of stresses and strains on the spine, shoulders, joints, tendons and muscles. It is difficult to get symmetrical action from a stroke that always twists and pulls to only one side. There is invariably a difference in the way the two arms and shoulders work for one-side breathers and it must certainly not be good for the neck and spine over many years to twist the neck tens of thousands of times one way and never to the other. How can the muscles and tendons develop equally under this scenario? I taught hundreds of young kids to swim in the largest swim program in New England at the Wilton YMCA in Connecticut. NONE of them left my teaching class without being able to breathe equally well to either side.

2) I do a lot of distance free with limited breathing. I do not race this way but it has built my wind and endurance. 3) Cross training on dry land, freestyle intervals with practice in the other strokes as well.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ellerton Eeeek

Yesterday (July 14th) I returned to Ellerton Lake with Chris Pearson and three Tri girls , they were all clad in rubber and thought it highly amusing that I should be swimming near naked, despite the lake being 67 degrees F. We had an excellent interval session, again I managed to talk them into shedding the rubber for the final five minutes. Much to their amazement they enjoyed the freedom . I told them if they swim me then that is a condition to which they must sign up!! If you want a giggle click on the link above.
We were only in the water 70 minutes but the quality was good, we experienced a thunder storm at one point which was strange though the lake itself remained glassy flat.

Today I returned to the Lake with Charlie in his new wetsuit, he was terrified but I am delighted that he eventually summoned the courage to jump from the jetty (twice) and joined me in the water, its a great start so I just hope he fancies returning some time soon.
A very relieved Charlie..a little cold, a little scared and not impressed. Well done Charlie,believe in yourself x

Dover and The Dump

Last Friday the 9th July KGB and I travelled back to Dover, our first visit since 2008, the 350 drive was more or less uneventful, the usual delays on the M25 but nothing too severe.With some availability problems I had arranged our accommodation earlier in the week, we arrived slightly earlier than anticipated and hoped for a nice place to rest our heads. To say we were disappointed at the state of the place which will remain unnamed is an understatement, it was a smelly dump.

No other accommodation could be located, so we disappeared into town, initially we drove to the marina were Cliff Golding (two time Channel Swimmer) had just returned from what was hoped to be his third crossing, sadly it wasn't to be today, he was in good spirits which was nice to see despite his disappointment.

After brief hellos and goodbyes to Cliff and his crew, it was time to feed and have a beer before running the gauntlet back to the dump. KGB was shattered from a very recent trip to Greece as a result of which she did eventually fall to sleep. I, on the other hand had a sleepless night listening to the drunken anti social behaviour, rowing and fighting outside as well as the other residents in neighbouring rooms via paper thin walls. I had decided before daybreak that I would sooner sleep in the car than spend another night here.

Saturday morning I checked out first thing just as soon as I heard signs of life from the owner, I declined breakfast, preferring to head into town. We parked on the sea front and went for breakfast, on our return I noticed that Freda Streeter (The Channel General) had already arrived we crept up and surprised her, as always we were greeted with smiles, kisses and hugs. It was really great to see her, we immediately felt the weekend was getting better.  We soon caught up with Barrie the Shingle stomper and were made to feel completely at home.
As we stood on the promenade overlooking the pebbles, watching the solo swimmers prepare themselves for a full days training,  I noticed Frank Chalmers of 'Crossing Hells Mouth' fame readying himself for a seven hour swim. I had spoken with Frank some time ago via email, and was very keen to meet him in person. I rushed across with KGB and introduced myself to a man who turns out to be one one the nicest, sincere and most modest men I have ever met, a true gent who restores my faith in humanity.
Moments later we were approached by the ever smiley Sarah Tunniclifffe who swam a Channel Relay only days earlier, we had hoped/planned to meet up with her having first met at the River Nene swim, she is a great laugh and fantastic for morale the sort of person I would want as support crew, hence the reason I asked her to come with us to Winderemere in August / September. I also managed to say hello to Sally Goble at long last too, I have been trying to do so for the best part of three years so it was long over due! She was in fact the first person I spoke to when the Channel became a serious intention back in 2007.
This is turning into a ramble!.....The fog was now rolling in but the whole day remained very warm, I did get into the water!! it was at the same time as the relay swimmers just before 10am as the mist descended, they had been assigned 90 minutes, I swam for 2hours 10 minutes, returning to the beach once I noticed the solo swimmers had completed their second feed. The water temperature was 63F by my watch (60F on the Sandettie buoy). The first hour dragged a little but then I was back in familiar territory, swimming laps of the harbour, the water was OK both in terms of temperature and conditions, I was day dreaming as usual, with thoughts of 2008 and much longer swims. All in all it was good to be back once the first hour was out of the way. It was in fact my longest salt water session this year, without a feed too which is pleasing.

 Having approached the shore KGB and a number of other thought it would be fun to throw pebbles in my general direction for old times sake, pretending to tell me that I was not allowed out. We all laughed, it was nice to get out under no pressure having done exactly what I had planned.
The rest of the day was spent socialising with old friends on the beach, helping out with the 6 hour feed and relaxing in the sunshine, we were sad to miss Emma France who was away sunning herself on a swim trek holiday, and also Jane and Kevin Murphy both of whom were out observing swims.

The plan had been to stay two nights however, what with the previous night and some domestic issues, we  found ourselves driving North after a lovely day, another whirlwind trip but hey, whats new.

This year has been very steady progress, with a slow methodical build up, Sandycove 2 miles, Epic Series 3.8km, River Nene 5km, BLDSA Wykeham Lake 5km, Dover approx. 7km... next stop is Derwent Water 5 miles on 31st July.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Glow in the Dark...!?

  Pleased to say I have had some consistency with five swims last week all of which were outdoors, Monday 22 June I visited The North Sea at Seaton Carew, alone as usual now, I noticed on arrival the sea was looking a bit angry. I was on the verge of forgetting it without safety cover but talked myself around and waded into the water. I had no choice but to dive straight into the breakers and fight my way to about 300 metres from shore where the water was more swimmable. Once out there I checked my watch and headed North along the coast to my regular turnaround point, the swells were big and pretty much head on, the short leg is typically about 8 minutes however due to the conditions it was 15 minutes before it was time to head South, similarly the Southbound leg is around 20 minutes but today it was closer to 35, just shows what a massive impact conditions can have on an open water swim. I was very pleased to have stayed to swim and felt great exiting the water after an hour at 57f.

Tuesday Morning was the opposite in comparison, flat sea, sun shining and company in the shape of John F, timings were back to normal albeit I was swimming back and forth to John to check on his welfare, 75 minutes today at 57-58f, and a very creditable 55 minutes for John, what a difference a day makes.

Thursday I couldn't get to the beach 'til 4pm after work and to be honest I was tired before I even set off, having missed Wednesday I wanted to try at least a dip, so I was delighted to notice the glassy conditions and high water, another hour alone and no problems with the water temperature.

Friday was going to be a reconnaissance day. I drove to Seaton purposely at low tide, intending to walk the route to the North Gare of the River Tees in order to check for hazards before attempting the swim in the future, I walked past some scary looking iron groins that were covered in rust and the remains of a shipwreck from the 1800s only the wooden ribs of which can now be seen as the remainder has long since gone..

   About another 1500m South my attention was drawn what appeared to be a rocky outcrop at the base of a beacon, it was producing large amounts of white water covering an area of about ten square metres. I spoke with a local fisherman who was beach casting and was informed the white water was in fact discharge from Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station, now that was a worry, the turbulence created was of sufficient concern for me to call the power plant and ask some questions; they advised me not to swim near the discharge outlet which was described as effluent, amounting to millions of gallons 24/7 365 days a year, the water they pump out had been used as a coolant and enters the sea at no more than 30 degrees C, no wonder the fish and seals like it down there! Mark Potter from  British Energy said it should be fine if I can stay a few hundred metres away......yeah right, I had visions of him sat there eating doughnuts with his feet up like Homer Simpson at the Springfield power plant, laughing at this glow in the dark swimmer.

Finally I reached the North Gare and explored some rock pools where I saw more star fish than ever before, the water was crystal clear too, the walk back to my swim area was a long one around 45 minutes so it would be a long swim but not one I fancy doing alone just yet. I settled for another hour alone and headed home.
Even more contrast to these swims was Saturdays visit to Ellerton Lake, I had arranged to get up early after night shift to swim with Chris Pearson and his tri friend Sarah, I was tired but the weather was great, the others started first before I dived into the 67f water, the warmest I had experienced since 2007, we swam some intervals and generally worked hard for 75 minutes, I even managed to get them to shed the rubber for the final ten minutes, I dont think Chris will be converted to speedos but Sarah seems to be very tempted.

Other news I have entered the BLDSA Derwent Water 5 mile event at the end of July which will be a nice stepping stone to Windermere 10 miles and future swims of double the distance!!