I have been swimming for over 35 years now and have have many great experiences along the way. But it still feels like my swimming journey is not quite complete – something about conquering that big challenge that almost seems unachievable. That test of mind and body that pushes you to your absolute limits, emerging on the other side with a sense of accomplishment like no other.
Ever since hearing about the existence of the English Channel it has been something which has intrigued and excited me. Perhaps it’s the fact that my dad is English and there is a loose link to our family heritage, or perhaps it’s just the enormity of the challenge. Only around 110 Australian’s have every managed to cross (many multiple times) which less than the number that have climbed Mt. Everest! Setting off before dawn and swimming directly into the sunrise, weaving in and out of the freight and passenger ships like a real life game of Frogger, making sure you take in enough energy to be able to complete it, and stepping foot on French soil all appeal.
Either way, I have decided to swim it and am now booked in for the neap tide between 22-29 June 2015. For those that don’t know much about the Channel, it is the stretch of ocean between England and France which is one of the worlds busiest shipping thoroughfares. The shortest distance between the two land masses is 33.7km however due to the tides and currents, a typical swim is between 40-45km as can be seen by the map below.
The optimal landing point is Cap Gris Nez however few manage to line this up. Depending on the speed of the swimmer and the skill of the boat captain, swim distances vary greatly as the three images below show (shortest, average, and longest paths respectively). This can mean the difference between a 10 hour swim and a 24 hour swim.
To give me the best chance of success, I have engaged the services of Chloe McCardel who has six successful Channel crossings under her belt. Chloe will work with my existing pool coach Nic Campbell to make sure I am both physically and mentally ready. Chloe and Nic are really positive people and I am confident that I have a great team behind me.
Having said this, it would be foolish to go into a swim like this being over confident. The saying goes that the Channel decides who it lets across, not the swimmer – and history tells that many quality athletes before me have failed. The combination of cold water, wind, choppy seas, jellyfish, shipping activity and distance all play a role. Failure to adequately prepare or respect these elements almost certainly means failure. About the only thing I’m not likely to encounter is sharks – they rarely venture into the Channel due to the low water temperatures.
I am under no illusions about how tough the year ahead will be. However after a recent conversation with Matt Harry who swam the Channel in 2013 (becoming the 107th Australian to do so) provided me with renewed optimism. Matt talked about the preparation he put in, the tough times he went through, and the massive high of running up the beach in France and then being greeted by his family back at Dover. Most importantly, Matt told me to enjoy the journey that lies ahead. His time of 11 hours 34 minutes was the fastest by an Australian in 2013 and a testament to his hard work and meticulous preparation. I’m sure I will draw on his knowledge and experience many times over the next twelve months for motivation.
I’m currently swimming around 25km a week which is a good base to come off however this will most certainly increase in the coming months. The key for me will be acclimatising to cold water temperatures and the current aim is to do three swims per week in the Bay until mid-late June when the water temperature drops right off. I will then aim for two swims per week until September, then back up to three after that, throwing in several longer duration swims to practice feeding and test the body.