Friday, September 20, 2019

The Channel Challenge

So what did you do this morning? Take the dog for a walk? Put out the bins? Go to the gym for a quick run and a bacon sarnie?

As some of you know, I have been doing the swim the channel challenge. Here a swimmer signs up to swim 22.3 miles within a month, that’s the width of the channel according to the charity.   That’s 2213 lengths of my local pool. So doing a mile is 100 lengths exactly, but with all those turns, it’s a bit like being in a tumble dryer.

But that’s nothing to Sarah Thomas who became the first person to swim across the Channel four times non-stop. The 37 year old arrived in Dover at about 6.30am Tuesday morning after setting off at midnight on Sunday. She felt "really tired" afterwards. Quietly, she announced that she was dedicating the swim to all cancer survivors as she herself had undergone treatment for breast cancer last year…and the treatment programme had interrupted her training. The 4 crossing swim as mapped is 84 miles, but she swam more than 130 miles due to the currents and tides.

The worst bit (the hypothermia and SIPES are known factors so provided for) is dealing with days of salt water in the mouth, it stings the throat and the tongue. Then there’s the jellyfish!

She first swam across the Channel in 2012 and then again in 2016.  "As I was doing 20 mile swims, it occurred to me that I could do more and I wanted to see what that more was."

Four swimmers have crossed the Channel three times without stopping.

There’s a whole channel swim sub culture out there. Here are some facts if you fancy it.

1)            Rules permit a cap, goggles, and a swimsuit.

2)            Swimmers consume recovery protein drink mixed with electrolytes and a little bit of caffeine to help offset sleepiness, on a rope, in paper cups that the pilot boat retrieves.

3)            Tides - mean spring speed of 3.4 knots/hour, mean neap speed of 1.9 knots. So you can be taken up and down the coast at (7.5km/hour) in a spring tide causing a huge arc in the course.

4)            The water is cold.  13°C to 17°C. Hypothermia accounts for a large % of the unsuccessful attempts, too cold for 10 to 20 hours

5)            Swimmers have a tow float so they remain visible.

6)            To qualify, swimmers must have swam open sea 6 hours twice. It’s very different from pool swimming. Turns are unimportant, there is no stopping and changing direction every 25 metres and the ability to sprint is of no help whatsoever!

7)            Long powerful strokes, holding rhythm for many hours is important. Go with a rough sea don’t fight it.

8)            Beware of SIPE (Swimming induced pulmonary oedema) where fluids from the blood leak from the lung capillaries to the alveoli. Symptoms? Short of breath, rattling deep in the chest, a cough with frothy sputum.

9)            The English Channel is busy. 600 merchant ships pass through   each day. Plus the 100 or so slow ferries, plus the 45 fast ferries, plus local yachts and holiday makers, coastal protection vessels, naval vessels, cruise liners. A channel swimmer who moves 1.5 knots/hour.

10)         Starting from Shakespeare Beach, the swimmer first enters the English inshore traffic zone!

11)         Waves are choppy, swallowing salt water makes you sick.

12)         Swimmers acclimatise to cold by taking cold showers, cold baths, sleep with a minimum of bed clothing with the bedroom windows.

13)         The swim will be an S shape.  The shortest distance is from Shakespeare Beach, Dover to Cap Gris Nez. France/England swims are no longer permitted.

14)         Bilateral breathing allows the swimmer to be on either side of the boat. Helps to shelter from wind or diesel fumes!

15)         Grease up.  Silicon grease, beef dripping, but 50/50 Lanolin and Vaseline is best. It protects from cold water,  jelly fish tentacles and chaffing.  A 50 per min stroke rate is 45,000 strokes for the swim.

16)         Waves can vary from 3 to 8 feet.

17)         Avoid hazards such as seaweed, flotsam, jetsam, jellyfish, oil, tar, plastic bags, pallets, fridges, floating timber, fish, seals, dolphins plus the occasional sharks, swordfish and whales.

Anybody fancy a dip?



  1. So when are you signing up? Looks like you're getting into that league!

    1. Let me think about that. No! But I confess if I had the time, it's one of those things that does appeal!

  2. Yesterday, I went out for my Aegean swim--back and forth across the mouth of a (small) bay four times, only to make it twenty meters from shore, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature pink jellyfish, with tentacles gracefully trailing beneath. As the adage goes, when there's one jellyfish there's more. So I put off the swim for another day, when this particular form of medusa has drifted elsewhere. Bottom line: Not much chance of my challenging Florence Chadwick's record. I leave that to you, Caro the brave.

  3. Now Jeff, just smother yourself in Vaseline and you'll be fine....

    1. Hmm, I've never tried that technique for swimming.

      [and yes, I knew you knew I'd bite]

  4. What an achievement! What a great example to people who face challenges in life. I love stories like Sarah Thomas’s. Life threw her a reason to be afraid. She set herself a greater fearsome challenge, went out to meet it, and triumphed! I would have balked after one toe in the first cold bath. I can attest to this though: if the jellyfish has already stung you, Vaseline doesn’t help.