Thursday, 11 March 2010

Elaine Howley in her own words....

Many thanks to Elaine for allowing me to repost this story of success..

Horray! We did it! It was a long, sometimes brutal, but very worthwhile experience and I am thrilled to be able to say I am now an official member of the elite club of English Channel swimmers!

Yesterday was a beautiful day on the water. Warm and sunny the whole way, with just a few scattered clouds crossing over head. We arrived at Folkestone harbor just before 8am to board the boat-- which was an interesting process. The pilot, Fred, and his crew, Harry, helped us load our supplies into a little dinghy, which they then rowed out to the fishing boat. Then they came back for us and the observer, Andy. We all climbed aboard and set to slathering me with sunblock and zinc oxide.

We motored around the coastline on the English side a few miles to Samphire Hoe, the launch point. Martin and Sonia from the guest house where we are staying where waiting on the beach to see us off. With some trepidation, I jumped off the Samallen and swam to shore, enjoyed a very quick chat with Martin and Sonia, posed for some pictures, found a great rock to bring home, and set out.

The water was bumpy at the start. Not terrible, just bumpy, like we would sometimes get on the Jersey Shore, especially if there were a hurricane sitting well off in the swell window somewhere. That bumpiness continued for some time, but I just kept swimming.

By the third hour, my right shoulder was getting a little achy, since I was taking the impact of the waves on that side. I also starting having some tummy trouble, but a few Advil helped relieve all those aches.

Somewhere during the fifth hour, the sea flattened out and I started making good headway. I felt great for the next few hours, and we saw several large tankers and ferries as we crossed into the shipping lanes. Thankfully, we didn't have any run-ins or trouble navigating around and between all the traffic.

Somewhere around that time, I noticed a couple of jellyfish drifting along a few feet below me. They didn't sting me, but I did catch another that I didn't see in the armpit on my right side. It tingled and itched for a few minutes, and then went away. I had one other run-in, also on the right side, with another stinger an hour or two later, and that was the extent of my sea life interactions.

Somewhere around the 8th hour, the seas kicked up again, and that's when I started to feel seasick. Not a pleasant feeling. It was just enough to make me not want to eat or drink, but not so severe as to make me just vomit and get past it. It was not a pleasant state of affairs. I was refusing solids and my Ultima, but my electrolytes were out of wack, so then I got a little moody, but finally, the seas calmed down a little and I was able to get some Ultima down and keep it there, and then I was back on track. The tinned peaches were my saviour through this all, though, and I was really glad we had picked up two cans.

I could see the French shoreline beginning somewhere in the 9th hour, and it was frustratingly close, but seemingly not getting closer. When I finally got mad, I got moving, and that's what got me through. That and knowing that there were so many people who would be disappointed for me if I didn't make it and all the questions I'd have to answer if I didn't finish this thing. So, it was just head down, ass up, and let's get there.

Around the 11th hour, the sun started to set, and I was a little nervous whether I would get cold as night fell, but thankfully, I didn't notice any real change in the temperature after the sun went down. But then it was harder to see. I still had on my tinted goggles and the light faded fast. I could no longer see my watch, which may have been a good thing. I truly began swimming from feed to feed, with no knowledge of where I was, how long it had been since I last spoke to my crew, or how much closer France was getting, and even though I was frustrated, I knew I was getting closer with every stroke. The dark mass of land grew larger every time we stopped.

Finally, they told me it was the last feed, and I was so excited. I had all but made it. I would be on shore in less than 45 minutes, and the sea had turned to glass. A nice smooth landing... just what the doctor ordered. Not long after that last feed, the pilot and my husband got into the little dinghy and they rowed along with me. The big fishing boat moored out a bit where it was deep enough. Then it was just a matter of plugging away to the finish line. They shined a weak spotlight ahead, and I just swam towards the light. I heard Mark shout that I was about 50 feet from shore, then took a few more strokes and my hands grazed sand. I stood up, ran on shore, and scrambled up on to some white rocks beyond the edge of the water line, and with that, magically, it was done. I was a Channel swimmer in 13 hours, 55 minutes.

No sooner had I stood up on the rocks and waved to the boat to check that I had gone far enough ashore than I went ass over teakettle into the stones. Not my most graceful moment, but a small bruise on my right butt is a nice little souvenir, I guess!

I didn't linger on shore for long. After swimming hard in the 62-63 degree water for nearly 14 hours, I knew my body temperature would drop fast once I'd stopped swimming. I waded out to where Fred and Mark had all but beached the dinghy and hoisted myself into it. Again, not the most graceful or elegant of moves, but then, no one ever said Channel swimming was a pretty sport.

Mark got me bundled up in towels while Fred rowed us back to the boat. We boarded and Khrista and Mark got my wet suit off (with some difficulty) while the observer called in the swim to make it official. I was all sticky and still covered with zinc-- that's why it's so useful as a sunblock. I shivered a little, but it subsided quickly after a nice, hot cup of proper English tea. I was still feeling a bit queasy, so I laid down under towels and sweatshirts and jackets on a mat on the deck and we motored back to Folkestone harbor.

Mark and I had, for some unknown reason, assumed that the trip back would take about 3 hours. But, it actually took about 5 and a half. The trip that started at 8am, was finally over at 5:30 the next morning.

When we got to Folkestone, the tide was out, so Fred moored the boat out beyond the harbor walls and rowed us into the harbor, where we jumped out in a foot of water and waded to shore. The observer gave us a lift back to the guest house, where Sonia met us with smiles and congratulations. I jumped in the shower (but am still mostly coated in zinc-- it will take a while to come off completely) and then fell into bed, still feeling the rocking motions of the waves and the boat as I drifted off to sleep.

We slept for about 6 hours, and now we're working on updating everyone as to how it went. I'm sorry that we couldn't keep you better informed during the event. I gather that the AIS tracking didn't really work, but then, that is the nature of an English Channel swim-- you just go and do it and everyone has to have a little faith that you'll get there and be back to tell the story the next day.

Thanks again to everyone who helped us on this journey. A special thanks to Mark and Khrista for crewing me and boosting my spirits when I began to think it was hopeless. Thanks to Fred and Harry for being the best pilots ever and to Andy for being a great observer and for the ride home. Thanks also to my family and friends back home-- I could feel your positive vibes, and it was a little bit of peer pressure that helped get me through the rough parts-- I couldn't bear to come home and tell you all I hadn't made it, so I just did it. Special thanks are in order for Pam O'Neill for letting me use her wonderful home as a training playground, and to all the lakers for the great swims over the past several years. That was where the idea was first forged, and I'm pleased to say that after 2+ years of hard work, we got there. There are so many other people along the way who have been a huge help-- too many to name here, but I trust that you know who you are and that I deeply appreciate your guidance and support throughout this journey. I am looking forward to telling all the stories and seeing you all soon when we get back to the States, where we can raise a few triumphant pints. For now, though, I think I'll go take a nap

1 comment:

Elaine said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Mark! I hope your training is going well. Was fun to reread my story here after all these months-- the butterflies haven't gone away yet!