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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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.