These are summary overviews of my English Channel Two-way swim as part of the 3 SWIMS of Europe Challenge. I swam for 41 hours and 44 minutes travelling a distance of 92.3 miles. I passed out with fatigue with 1200 yards (less than a mile) left to swim back to the UK.
How do you condense 42 hours of swimming into something short and not too tedious? I couldn’t find the answer but have taken the excellent footage taken by the team and tried all I can to make it hopefully something you’ll want to watch. I’ve put together a 30-minute version and a shorter version of 8 minutes . There is also a light hearted spoof of the crew debriefing.
I hope they gives a flavour for the 2 days (but don’t cover everything)
To be continued...........
When I set out on this Two-way attempt of the English Channel on 24th August 2016 I was expecting a crossing in the region of 26 to 30 hours but as many who watched the boat tracker amazingly from all around the World an epic swim unfolded over two days and nights only for me to fall so agonisingly short. Below is a brief match report covering the key stages of the swim and my thoughts during 42 hour and 92.3-miles travelling and how I feel about that elusive last mile
In real terms the swim started way before I got in the water and by that I mean the experiences and training that brought me to make the decision first to take on the challenge and then later the belief that I was ready. These development phases and decisions are not as obvious as turning the arms over on the day but I truly believe are more critical to ones’ chances of being ready than anything that can be controlled on the day. (stories for another day!)
Brief examples of this are my junior coach giving a mental toughness at a very young age to show no pain in competitive sport, undertaking varying endurance events not just swimming to take me further and further from my comfort zone, building and adapting mental control skills, analysing the specific risks for this challenge and breaking down a meticulous plan to mitigate to a minimum the risk and be comfortable with the element you cannot control have be kept to a minimum. There are many elements like the weather, tides and conditions on the day you can’t control so the plan here was plan for the worst and hope for the best.
We entered the water from Shakespeare Beach at 11.18am on 24th August 2016 and the conditions were ideal and better still were forecast to remain calm all through the night. In my mind this was to be a huge positive but it also turned out to not be true. My strategy had been to put the least amount of pressure as possible on the shoulders on the way across to ensure that I had decent pull through the water on the way home. This had worked well and I was feeling fresh and had hit my targets as I came out of the separation zone with the obligatory couple of jellyfish stings and entered the French Shipping lane.
The sun was setting the water was calm and all was good with the world. It was then a critical period that turned the event on its head. As it got dark the water progressively started to churn up and became very choppy. This made sighting of the boat more difficult and meant I was needing to fight for every stroke for about a three or four-hour period. During this period the spray plus the chop meant I inhaled rather than swallowed more salt water than would have been the case had it either been calmer or in daylight when I may have a chance to see the waves. It was what it was but it was soon apparent to me that I had gone into the dreaded zone of missing the tide and was now being pulled down the coast.
It played over in my head that this scenario is often known as the “Graveyard of Dream” when having swum for 13/14 hours a swimmer then gets pulled for a further 5 to 6 hours down the coast unable to break through the tide through to France. It is here that many one way swims get pulled as it breaks the mind or energy of those faced with such an increased period in the water.
I felt strong despite the fight of the tide through the night but felt a little despondent as morning broke and as I swam on my own into an isolated Wisent beach I realised that I had used up all my two-way training just getting to what I considered the ‘start line’. I had trained in a cold and grey Dover for a number of weekends doing 10 hours back to back swims with the strategy this will get me half way back to England.
One of the loneliest I have ever felt was that swim into France when a lot of thinking and assessment went through my head and heart. The contrast of the euphoria I had felt last time I had successfully swum solo to France in 2007 was stark.
As I emerged out of the water with the waves around my ankles I distinctly remember thinking “What’s the point!”. I decided I get my memento pebble and then head back to the boat. I cleared the water and had a quick scan around to witness where I had landed. It was a completely deserted and a completely sandy beach. – Not a pebble or stone or any form of memento in sight. At that specific moment I thought “For F*%K sake!” the world was against me!
I then turned around raised my arm and the Claxton on the boat sounded as they could see I was clear of the water. As I looked back at the boat ,someway in the distance due to the shallow waters, I realised that if I was to swim back I always knew it would be tough from about half way back but now it would be tough for the whole width. This was now to be the mind versus the body. I knew I had so many mind techniques left I hadn’t used that would ensure the determination was strong so could the body hold on enough to keep going. This whole thought process really excited me and as I dived back into the water I was genuinely excited to see how this adventure would turn out.
The precedent for not giving in mentally had be set and tested during one of the stages of the infamous Marathon Des Sables (155-mile foot race across the Sahara Desert carrying your own kit) that I had taken part in in 2011. Faced with exhaustion on a race stage which included 56 miles in heat of 55c I decided that if this was to be the conclusion of the race I was not going to pull myself out of the race. I decided whatever I had left I would throw at the event until it was all gone and potentially I was face down in the sand! That day it never quite came to it despite being so so close but the mental strength I wanted had been tested and this was now the blue print for my return journey.
As we swam through the day I never felt close to fatigue and with a Big picture of my friend Mark Shepherd (who I was undertaking the event in memory of) beaming down at me from the boat I felt strong and my stroke rate was consistent and long.
As the sun set it was again that things started to change. I was finding it hard to focus on the boat and as the night wore on the loss of two nights’ sleep made focus difficult but again difficult was a long way from being impossible I kept telling myself.
The real issues started when in the early hours of the 26th August 2016 when I had been swimming for over 40 hours that my breathing became laboured. My nose had long since closed through swelling from salt water and the throat was raw for the same reason but the wheezing and struggling to get deep breaths was making swimming difficult.
I swam on just taking each stroke at a time and trying to avoid further night jelly fish stings until we got to what later turned out to be within one mile of the beach near Hythe. The crew told me it was approximately 3 miles which I’d asked for so I could focus on the final push. This gave me the feel of “Ok I know what I need to do!”. “Get that decent deep breath and a final steady push will get this!”.
It was then I turned on my back to give myself the maximum chance to take in some air. The next thing I remember is a voice next to me shout “Mick! Mick! You alright?” but although hearing it clearly I could not move or respond.
It later turned out it was my crew member Matt Holland who had jumped into get me after I had passed out in the water.
I next remember being pulled into the boat and then the realisation of how, although I had given everything to just beyond my limits, I was just short of my target. Despite the best effort of the crew and the messages that were flooding in I couldn’t see past this simple fact.
(English Channel Swim Report Continued)
When I returned home my crew were still as alert as ever for my wellbeing and agreed with Dawn it was important for me to be taken to the hospital for checks.
When we first got to the hospital despite wheezing and being tired from two lost night sleep I was reasonably okay. I was negotiating with the doctor that I needed to be out by the middle of the next at the latest because I had an early flight Sunday morning to catch with swim buddy Alex Brown where we would then travel to Hellespont to swim the famous Europe to Asia Lord Byron swim which was to be the conclusion of the 3 swims of Europe. As I explained to the Doctor not to worry and I’m a quick healer the chest x-rays were handed to her. She looked and Dawn and then turned to me and said you’ll be going nowhere for at least a week because you’ll be in here on oxygen!
I was severely dehydrated from being in the salt water for such a long period of time and the salt water in my lungs was now being diluted by my body which was causing complication in my lungs.
Without going into all the complications and treatment that took place over the next two days in summary I was on drips to rehydrate, and compressed oxygen to force the water from the lungs as well as antibiotics to ensure nothing nasty had got from the channel into the system.
A week later I was released. However, during my time in the hospital and through the many visitors I received I got a feel for the impact the swim had had on so many people watching. The comments and the interest was truly overwhelming and I am so grateful for all he positive views and comments made.
Throughout my reflection I realised that although I didn’t achieve my additional target I had set myself I did however achieve a goal I thought I would never meet. When I started major endurance events in 2003 I remember a quote that had stuck with me and that was “Only those daring to go far will know how far they can go”. And despite pushing my limits for almost fifth teen years and feeling on the edge every time I obviously had never reached my true limits. Whether that was another mile, or another day I’d always achieved my goal. This however was truly my limit. Whether it was travelling 92.3 miles or being in the Channel conditions for 42 hours my body had reached its limit but the mind stayed strong throughout which I also realise could have put me in a place more serious than it needed to be.
I’ve spent all my sporting life developing the mind to be unbreakable but now realise breaking all link of pain to stopping or at least questioning is not the wholly positive trait we all strive for. It can have its down side without safety valves and that is now where my thoughts will now go.
There are so many thank you I would like to give and will start with all of you who have followed and supported me throughout my challenge and I hope you will continue to follow me as I now plan to complete the Dardanelles swim (Europe to Asia) next year to complete the 3 swims of Europe.
On the anniversary of when I could have completed the two way (26th August) I will also be swimming the final mile from the point I passed out (51 03.09N ,001 06.76E) to an estimated point where I could have landed on Hythe beach and I will be swimming this with my crew and anyone else who wishes to join me for the final mile of unfinished business.
My next thank you is to my dedicated and faultless crew who although we are always trying to final ways to whined each other up I am so proud to call friends. These are Paul Hoskins, Greg Dodd, Matt Holland and William Helps.
The final but I would have to say biggest thank you goes to Dawn my beautiful wife. What I put her through each year pushing my boundaries is incredible but this year I put even more on her shoulders than normal and I am eternally grateful that she allows me to do these things knowing that I need these challenges to keep me sane (?)……the down side is I have to remain silent now she hands over the extensive list of DIY chore that need to be completed
While I’m in the frustration zone of the waiting game for a half decent weather window I thought it worth introducing my crew and a bit about them.
Choosing the crew is as important as any other part of the Channel on par with the correct feeding plan and the right frame of mind. Good crew can assist with adaption’s and changes to plans and can often be the difference to making it or not (however along with many many other variables)
My selection has always been primarily around humour ! If I can enjoy the bit prior to the swim it helps keep me focused and the mind sharp. During the event the crew need to know what is expected of them and for this we have agreed detailed plans so that when things change I am confident the team will have it covered. Experience also really helps in this regard.
With all this mixed in the selection process along with availability is the English Channel crew.
I hope you will choose to follow my progress on the live tracker and twitter below:
TRACKER: (My Pilot Boat is SEA SATIN) : http://cspf.co.uk/tracking
TWITTER UPDATES: Updates on my progress during the swim on: twitter.com/3SWIMSofEurope
DONATIONS: Those wishing to help support the British Heart Foundation can donate here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/The3Swims
July has been the peak month for training with swims of 10 hours being regularly undertaken in the month. These have been in tough mainly grey weather conditions but the water has been getting progressively warmer. It’s all relative when I say warmer! The start of the month was 15c but by the time I’d finished my last July swim it was 17.5c. Every degree counts and 2.5c is VERY welcome.
When I did the first one at the beginning of July I sat in the car and thought to myself what a mountain I had to climb from how I felt at that time. Then as the training continued over the following weeks I rapidly felt stronger and more confident that my 2-way attempt was still achievable.
It has not been without setbacks of the mind particularly the week I had swum 7 hours on the Saturday and then came back on the Sunday to swim 10 hours. Deirdre Ward was swimming 10 hours also and we would both set off at 6am together in the water. Deirdre is on the same tide as myself and has decided on the same goal as myself. She is a very good swimmer and has trained extremely hard so has been great to talk to about how we both feel about the challenge a head.
When I was hour 8 of the 10-hour swim I hit a wall that I found particularly hard to break out of. I had an overwhelming feeling of “Why am I doing this?” it was grey and my mind kept thinking about getting out at the 8 hour feed. I felt this way even as I swam into the beach for the feed but then I saw Deidre looking strong having her feed and thought I couldn’t let her down by letting her finish the 10 hours on her own so decided to say nothing take my feed and swim on.
Deidre and I same away from the beach together and the swam the next 2 hours together. With 15 minutes left to go when we stopped by the harbour wall I said to Deidre that I had almost got out at the 8 hours until I saw her looking strong so thanked her for inspiring me to carry on. Deirdre then said that had I taken one step up the beach she would have followed because she had decided to stay in because she knew I wouldn’t get out until the ten hours were up! We both thought the other looked strong and resolute to stay in when in truth we were both on the edge of quitting. This is an important lesson for me because neither of us did quit and went on to do what was required. A similar situation happened the first time I swam the channel when during a particular 7-hour swim I was so bad I was almost in tears that I wanted to get out but despite the wind, rain and cold I didn’t and when I eventually did get across I remember distinctly thinking that it wasn’t the actual day that got me across it was the tough, painful and emotional 7-hour swim that taught me all I needed to know to be in the right mindset.
The way I’m looking at it that this time around it was that difficult 10 hours that has shown me what it’s going to take.
The other event during July was a trip to Malta to watch Matt play his final junior tournament for England juniors. It was a nice was for both he and us to round off a very successful junior career that has seen him represent at every level and travel to many water polo tournament countries. The England team missed out on winning the tournament by 1 goal in the final game against the Maltese team. The trip away was a good way to recover from all the long training.
The return to the Uk meant training mileage was against big swims however due to the Dover Training camp being cancelled by the Dover Regatta and then severe traffic problems into Dover due to increased French security checks I decided to go down to Brighton to swim. The weather was beautiful as I go into the water at 7.30am but after swimming for about 2 hours I suddenly threw up and started to not feel very well. I thought the best thing to do was to go to the beach to assess what it might be. Its didn’t feel like I’d taken in sea water so assume it was something in the water.
However, as I got out I noticed a sea mist had closed in so much that I could not see the pier and looked behind me and I also no long see the town houses at the top of the beach walkway. It was then I decided that it was not going to be a swim day and decided to get out having only done 2 hours.
The following week I did a further eight hours on the Saturday this time back in Dover but then the tapering began with a very social talking but little swimming on the Sunday for three hours with Mike Cross in Dover Harbour. I did however decide to go to the last summer master’s session at Epsom district Sunday evening for an hour to finish of my final swimming weekend in July.
I feel both mentally and physically strong but now the waiting game begins and I personally find that the toughest part of the challenge.
June was another good month for the 3 SWIMS of Europe and can probably be classed as the “Getting Serious” month. I had already started the month having completed my Channel qualification swim in 13C at Dover Harbour so the bench mark was extremely high for each time I went down to swim with the Channel Swimmers in Dover Harbour. Training has continued to go well and before the end of the month I was recording 10 hour swims.
Being able to do 10-hour training swims is extremely tough both mentally and physically and I was conscious throughout that I needed to make sure I didn’t pick up any injuries. For a channel swim I am ahead of where I need to be so will carefully monitor training during my peak month of July to ensure I don’t over train but continue the progressive build.
In the middle of June, I took part in the British Long Distance Swimming Associations race in Dover harbour called the Champion of Champions. This is a brutally tough race with a high quality field where competitors race around ½ mile loops to complete either the 5 mile, 3 mile or 1 mile races which are run after each other throughout the day.
Although it is possible to partake in each race separately the Champion of Champions part of the race is ones’ cumulative times for all three races. Due to each swim being a race it becomes a great training challenge and a bit different from the endless loops needed to be done against time in the water for normal training. I was pleased to come 12th in a competitive field. It is a very well run event organised by Mark Sheridan and I would highly recommend it to any aspiring Channel swimmers.
The other significant milestones for June was that I passed the 400 training miles’ mark and donations to the British Heart Foundation are now over £6000
Because of the training being much higher now at weekends I have modified the training plan so that weekdays have rest days and if I am fatigued from the weekends then I rest. However, everything seems to be holding up well as I move into the peak training month of July which also coincides with My daughters 16th birthday, my sons 18th Birthday, my wife’s birthday and my Dads birthday along with going over to Malta to see my son play water polo for England Schools in an international tournament. Massively busy but also massively important I keep focused and on track!
June Training was roughly as the following:
• Monday – Rest day
• Tuesday – EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Wednesday – Gym/ Rest day or sometimes Dorking Master for stretch out swim
• Thursday - EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Friday – Rest day/Dawn Time/or Gym
• Saturday – Lake swim and travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims
• Sunday – Travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims.
July will see increasing amounts of sea swimming with the peak weekend planned to be end of July (two weeks before my tide) a 10 hour Saturday swim followed by a 10 hour Sunday swim.
May was an eventful month for the 3 swims of Europe. The first of the swims was achieved - Europe to Africa - Gibraltar Straits (Full report below). I also achieved the required 6-hour qualification swim in Dover Harbour which officially allows me to swim the English Channel. This is at least a month earlier than I was doing 6 hour swims in the UK back when I last swam the channel in 2007.
Another nice event in parallel with the 3 swims training was that my middle son joined me in the lake for his first open water swim. He had a wet suit, which I graciously allowed him to wear, and did very well. He is a very good swimming and water polo player but found himself looking up a lot and over the distances we were doing his shoulder started to hurt. Shorter matches would not bring that on and the open water technic is to only bring the head up to sight yourself to make sure you are travelling in the right general direction. These are things easily sorted and he was much faster than me and also didn’t feel the cold which was impressive for a first time skinny bugger!
Training is going really well and is now broadly the following:
• Monday – Gym (approx 1hour working mainly shoulders and upper body)
• Tuesday – EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Wednesday – Dorking Masters Swimming (1¼ hours pool swim normally 3 to 4k) will include Brighton sea swims from June.
• Thursday - EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Friday – Rest day/Dawn Time/or Gym
• Saturday – Lake swim and travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims
• Sunday – EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k) in the evening if there is anything left after either a Lake swim or travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims. It will be nice to keep the evening EDSC swim going but will be subject to energy levels!
June will see increasing amounts of sea swimming of 6 and 7 hour plus swims. The main training event will be a race called the Champion of Champions in Dover harbour.
POLLERS: Mark Pollard was also attempting the swim across the Gibraltar Straits. Mark has primarily been from a Rugby background and has recently turned to running Marathons. Although we have known of each other for many years through mutual friends it was only when Mark organised the 2010 Channel relay team that we really got to know each other as part of the SEA6 team.He has great character for these sort of events and has been good fun to share the experience with.
AN-THHONY: Tony or AN-THHONY as the Spanish referred to him is Marks Dad and a former Rugby player himself. A great character who was pleased to be on an away trip but was also obviously very proud to be sharing such a milestone with his son which I could really relate to.
MAYNARD: John Maynard is a great character who is a retired medical consultant. As a close friend of Tony he has known Mark from a young age. This was the first time I had met John and really took to his flamboyant views on life albeit he is probably the worst haggler/Moroccan negotiator I think I have ever met!
05:15 pick up to get to Gatwick for a 09:30am flight to Gibraltar. It turned out the reason the taxi was booked so early was to allow us to arrive at the airport, get booked in and through security with enough time to ensure a full English breakfast could be secured by Tony and John!
We arrive in Tarifa about 2:30pm local time (one hour ahead of GMT) and dropped the bags off at the Hotel Misiana, Cadiz,Espana. This was a friendly hotel with very modern distressed/rustic (much over used adjective!) decor and became a perfect base for our prolonged stay.
We met with Rafael, the person who coordinates and organises all the swims across the Straits, that afternoon and he explained the strategy and constraints for swimming across the strait.
It is basically split into four parts (as opposed to five parts for the English Channel). The first part from the lighthouse island at the edge of Tarifa is a bit bumpy because the water rushing into the Mediterranean bounces off the Tarifa coast line on its way in. The second part is a bit more of this influx of water correcting itself and has the effect of pulling you back into the Spanish mainland. The middle section is relative flat and is subject to the wind conditions for how pleasant it is to swim, I really enjoyed this third section because the sun was high in the sky and I could see the Moroccan landscape and houses clearly. The final part of the swim is the funnelling effect of the Atlantic being squeezed into the Mediterranean and this time bouncing off of the Moroccan coat line. Depending on the conditions this can get quite strong.
Rafael’s assessment was that Tuesday would be the first opportunity to swim due to what he described as very unusual weather conditions. This although disappointing did mean we could go for a meal and a few relaxing beers that evening to settle us into our new surroundings. However a few turned into a few more and before we knew it we were what could be best described as “relaxed”. It was then late into the evening (about 11:30pm I think) we had a WHATSUP notification from Rafael that a swim opportunity had opened up for 10am the next morning and if we wanted to take this opportunity could we meet him at 9am in the Harbour.
Mark and I looked at each other for a split second, sent our confirmation that we would accept the time slot, finished our pints paid up the restaurant and left. Had we thought about it with a clearer head or with any common sense we probably would not have been so hasty but we were now “in the zone” and preparing for our crossing attempt.
We woke up at about 7:30 and made the final preparations for packing our kit and then went down to meet with John and Tony for breakfast. We were all in a buoyant mood with the anticipation of the day in front of us. I had eggs on toast with some salad garnish and salmon sauce. Not my ideal pre match breakfast but on the basis all food is fuel it severed its purpose.
Before setting off for the harbour we went back to our rooms to pick up our kit and it was on our way back to the room that Mark got the message from Rafael that the swim was called off due to poor weather and could we meet with him later that morning to discuss options.
This really set us back because we had focused our minds on going today and the meeting with Rafael then confirmed that Tuesday was going to be the next possible date. Even then it was with a strained face and wavy balancing of the hand to indicate that it wasn’t a certainty. From this point on we started to check the BBC weather website and WINDGURU website almost hourly to work out the wind speeds and the gusting.
That evening we found a really good restaurant just up from our hotel that served great food, friendly staff and good atmosphere so felt quite at ease drowning our sorrows talking about the weather options. As we ate Mark and I spotted a guy who looked like Cesc Fàbregas the Chelsea footballer. As the evening went on we started joking about getting our picture taken with him to fool those back home. The guy in question was with his girlfriend and was up for a laugh. He turned out to be French and he joined us with his partner for a drink and were good company.
As the evening became quite late a group of 7 guys came into eat at the restaurant and enjoyed the humour of us drinking and joking with Cesc Fàbregas. They were English, from Bristol area, and were in Tarifa for the kite surfing. We said they must be enjoying the weather even though it was the opposite from what we needed. It was then they told us that in fact there had been a serious incident on the beach that had resulted in two kite surfers dying. This was tragic news and it would appear that the people concerned (a man and a woman) were dragged under by their equipment and pulled out by the current. There was an enquiry going on and the next day had a lot of police activity on and around the beach.
The conditions had already been confirmed as not being suitable for swimming the day before so we decided to go to Morocco for a day trip to break the time up.
The ferry across to Morocco was pleasant enough but the weather when first got to the other side was heavy rain and with the Atlantic coast looking rough it felt we had left one stormy wet location for another in Africa. After we had visited the caves we were escorted to a place where they did camel rides. The sun was out now and for the first time we could feel warmth on our faces. Mark decided to ride one of the camels or rather to correct myself Mark decided to go for a camel ride.
The main entertainment of the day however was watching John Maynard being consistently hassled by traders in the markets of Morocco. A man who is to bartering as Donald Trump is to diplomacy. John was sold everything from massage oil and trinkets through to a leather bag none of which he wanted let alone needed. We had a great day and it was just what we needed to relax the mind while we waited for our swim on the Tuesday.
By now the routine was well known. We prepared and packed and check the weather easily convincing ourselves that it was swimmable but as previously as we were about to leave for the harbour the message came through that this was not going to be the day. The weather was apparently going to turn at about 11am despite our forecasts stating it being, although not perfect, not that bad. However almost on the stroke of eleven o’clock the heavens opened, the wind blew and the sea churned itself up.
It was then I decided to go with whatever decisions the pilot made. He obviously knows his stuff and these waters are notoriously hard to judge. It didn’t stop us reading the weather charts every five minutes trying to guess when our chance will come.
We went back to see Rafael to guess a new likely date now that both Sunday and Tuesday were no go’s. Unfortunately it was not going to be good news. The forecast till the weekend was poor and although Saturday was ok it was Sunday that was the more likely.
This meant John, who had to leave on Wednesday to get back for a family funeral would not be able to join us on our adventure across. To be fair I think the idea of rolling up and down on the turbulent Gibraltar Sea never did appeal to him but now he wasn’t going to get the chance to find some sea legs.
WEDENESDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY
We decided to travel with John to Gibraltar for a day out around the rock and it turned out to be wet, cold and windy which meant we didn’t see the Gibraltar Rock, and the monkeys in their best form. We did get to hear about the amazing turbulent history of the country and region and it’s amazing how the human factor has persevered over all the practicalities of maintaining sovereignty in another country.
Thursday night turned into a heavy night out once we realised that the small glimmer of hope there could be a swim on Friday quickly evaporated. However when we woke up on Friday there was more sunshine than in previous days and the wind seemed to be in the other direction. I took this to be a good sign and that the weather front was changing for the better. We went off to see Rafael to check Saturday was going to be our day.
Unfortunately Rafael was not as keen as we were. He mm’ed and arre’d and suggested again that Sunday should be the day. We agreed to compromise and meet with the pilot at 7am in the morning and if he thought it was swimmable we would go if not it would be Sunday.
That night we had an early night once we prepared our kit once again. I slept well but Mark was restless all night in anticipation.
I love that feeling of not knowing and the pressure of what is needed to be done the next day but equally I understand how uncomfortable it can be for most but this is the excitement of potentially pushing to the edge of one’s abilities.
We woke early on the Saturday morning about 6am. I had slept well and have always enjoyed the pre match pressure as I am realistic that no one is forcing me to do these events and this really is the adage of “Living the dream”. Mark however had a rotten night’s sleep not helped by the Friday night post pub Spanish singing outside the hotel in the street. I could understand his apprehension. Swimming between continents is a big deal so he was justified in his concerns but equally I was confident he could do it because I had seen as much in training, and also I knew he would feel better once we set off. Both ultimately turned out to be true.
Mark, Tony and I set out to the harbour and met the pilot, Antonio, at 7am as agreed. He was expressing his concern that the weather was due to turn at midday and that he thinks we should go Sunday because the weather was perfect all day. We had half expected this and Mark and I had agreed that as long as it was swimmable on the Saturday we would take our chance.
I did however think it will be a close call for when we would finish for when the weather would close in and it was more about how much and how quick it would close in.
We gave Antonio our assurances that were keen to go today and that we felt strong enough to take on the challenge. We set off at 7.30 with Rafael having come down to the harbour to see us off. His final words as we left the jetty were brilliant and very much my sense of humour. He said with a smile “Don’t let me down!”
We jumped from the boat and swam back towards to Spanish lighthouse on the island by Tarifa. We had seen this lighthouse from the other side for a whole week and now we were seeing it from the waterside. We touched the rock, the hooter went and we started the swim.
The first hour was comfortable as I set my tempo to the same as Mark’s as we had throughout training. In fact apart from the salty water, the sunshine breaking through, the waves and a boat alongside us it was just like swimming in the lido. OK I know it was nothing like the lido – apart from the cold which was similar and not an issue.
The second hour the water became a bit more turbulent with the water circulating off the mainland exactly as Rafael had explained a week early when we first met him. The effect is that the sea is trying to push us back in land and we had to pull our way through this for about half an hour before we hit the long relatively smooth section.
When we reached the smoother water I tried to lengthen my stroke again and felt good while concentrating on technique. I however started to notice Mark had started to drop back and I assumed it was the choppy bit we had just been through that had taken a bit of energy from him and maybe the next feed would help that.
We were now on 45 minute feeds (we were on the hour for the first two hours). Mark looked strong after the next feed but I decided to combine swimming alongside Mark with swimming ahead and then waiting for a bit and really taking in the events, the coastline and how good it felt to be swimming in the straits. The coast line was really clear now and it was nice to see the hill side, and houses.
After the fourth feed we could feel ourselves being pushed away from the coast so made the next feed extra quick. I told Mark we needed to move on quickly which Mark did because he knew the importance of getting to Morocco before midday but later told me he regrets not getting his Haribos at that feed. I dislike Haribos so was more than comfortable to live with the fact I didn’t be the chance to have an annoying jelly sweet washed down with cold salt water.
We forgo any further feeds due to the currents starting to intensify and the weather conditions were starting to show the signs of getting worse as the pilot had predicted. This was a shame because could have done with a kick of energy for the final section which had now become quite turbulent. I could see we were almost there so swam slightly ahead to find out from the support dingy what needed to happen for the final swim in and where to go. I then shouted to Mark to swim over to where I am which he was finding it hard to see me due to the rolling height of the waves they were now up to about a metre and making communication challenging. When mark got over to me I for the first time realised Mark was tired. He had looked so strong for the whole of the swim but this last section was taking its toll.
I shouted to Mark “Only 20 strokes to go!” which he didn’t believe so but we swam towards the rocks in front of us and by the time we’d done about 18 strokes we had more to worry about than whether it was 20 or 25 strokes because we were now getting pushed against the rocks by an aggressive set waves. We timed it and caught the next wave and then grabbed
The rock as we were lifted and as the wave dropped down I could hear the hooter go off on the boat to signal the end of the swim. We had reached Morocco in 4 hour and 22 minutes.
The sun was high in the sky as we got back onto the main boat and was greeted by both tony and the Pilot. The journey home got very choppy as the weather front warned of had already started to move in and for the first time I started to feel nauseous but thankfully not enough to be sick.
When we got back into town we were greeted at the Hotel and the Restaurant with congratulations from those who had seen our frustrations build during the week as each swim day came and went.
Following a suitable night of celebration, we got up early Sunday and travelled to Gibraltar getting the 11:30 Gibraltar- Gatwick flight arriving home at 1:30pm.
It was great to see the family after such an extended stay away but with the house full of kids about to take either GCSE’s A-Levels or SATS I thought I visit my friends and the Masters swimming club. It was a great reception and applause from the Masters and very much appreciated. I hadn’t realised they had taken the time to follow the ups and downs of the week.
I intended it to be a swim down of some sorts but was happy to feel fresh enough to do the full hour session and get 3200m done.
Now my focus will be the English Channel with cold water swimming being the main target. The next key event will be a race challenge called Champion of Champions in Dover Harbour (races are 5 miles, 3miles, 1mile – I will do all three)
The weather is unusually poor and our swim keeps either being cancelled or postponed. This is the update that take us from Tuesday to Thursday including our day trips to Morocco and Rock of Gibraltar.
We final get to arrive in Tarifa but are welcomes by an unusual (and unwelcome) weather front which is making the weather unpredictable, and windy creating a confused sea.
Most of the second half of April has been about getting to the Lido but feeling I should be in either the sea or a Lake. Not many lakes are open yet and the sea has been too rough on the occasions I went down there to do a recognisance.
I’ve enjoyed my time at the lido and training with fellow Gibraltar Straits aspirant Mark Pollard but the final weekend we went there, one week before we were due to leave for Gibraltar, it was 23c and packed with people (moaning how cold it was!). It’s a lovely place but 23c training will not get me across the channel so when I return the difficult and painful cold part of training needs to commence.
On the training front I passed the 250 training miles’ milestone and the fund raising is up to £4500+ which is an incredible achievement and something I am so grateful to so many generous people for.
The VLOG shows some of my final thoughts as I travel home from work to pack ready for the Gibraltar experience to start the next day.
I love this part of challenges. Never knowing the outcome but the mix of nerves, excitement and anticipation make all the training worthwhile. I don’t know the outcome yet, only time and effort will tell me that, but by the time I next blog I will.
It is my intention to tweet my progress while in Spain (or on my way to Africa) so please feel free to follow me on @3SWIMSof Europe
The months seem to be going quicker! either that or April has been packed with events.
April started with two back to back 5k swims at the lido. I had done this while doing the swimathon last month but this time there were two notable differences. It was sunny and I had some company in the water to train with.
Mick Hinde and Tom Garrett joined me at the lido with Mick having swum through the winter at Tooting Bec Lido had come to Guildford for some luxury 14c. Tom on the other hand had only done a handful of cold water swims had come to get 10k swum in preparation for an Open Water training camp he was undertaking in Majorca. Tom is a very accomplished swimmer and I am confident that if he can get the “controlling the Head” part of the event sorted he will excel when given his chance in September. He is well on track for both.
Having completed the first 5k in the morning Tom and I retreated for some prime athlete carbo loading in preparation for our repeat 5k swim in the afternoon. By prime I mean Burger King and by loading I refer to the maximum sized Burger meal deal they can produce. It’s one of the many pluses that preparing for the channel allows. One can eat whatever one wishes because either it gets burnt off through trying to keep warm or by completing the swim mileage or it gets stored as defence against the cold. Either way food becomes fuel (except salad which I have no doubt I will have to reacquaint myself with when this is all over!)
The following week I took Matthew and the rest of the Under 19s Junior water polo squad I coach to the Nationals for them to compete in the quarter finals. We had an exceptionally hard draw with the current cup holders and the hot favourites to win it this year in our group. This was some of the teams last year as juniors, including Matt, and they showed the same spirit and talent that has previously got them to 3 Nationals finals in four years winning two National titles. But despite this experience the lads were not able to break down two very strong teams meaning they came third in the group with only two going through. The team comfortably won their last game again Bristol which meant they finished their club careers with a strong performance and deserved win. They will all now go on to challenge for major honours at senior level with most already permanent fixtures in National league senior teams.
The following week I had every intention to go for a swim in the sea for the first time this year. However, on the Friday I intended to swim the weather was rotten and by the time I got down to the beach the weather and water were rough and it would have been dangerous to swim even if there were two of us but to swim on my own in those conditions would have been stupidity. So it was a rare event but one where the right answer rather than the stupid answer prevailed.
The following day I had promised to meet up with Mark Pollard (Pollers) for some sea training but with the forecast being no better than the day before ,when I abandoned my plan to swim in the sea,we decided to go to the lido instead. I am swimming Gibraltar Straits with Pollers and it is the second week of May that we leave so some sea training would have been useful. The weather at the lido was grey and raining throughout the swim but the water was surprisingly warm at about 15c which made the whole swim enjoyable. It was good to have Mark to train with and we broke the 5k swim down into:
• 1000m Swim
• 10x100m Sprints
• 20x50m alternating sprint and recovery
• 10x100m alternating pull and swim
• 1000m swim
I went back on the Sunday and the weather was fantastic. The sun was shining from early in the morning and I was anticipating a nice swim only to find the pumps had broken down overnight meaning that there was a chemical imbalance in the pool. The guys who run the lido were frantically trying to get the balance right but after about half an hour of waiting I thought I’d leave them to it and left to go to the gym instead. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring gym session but at least I had the chance to still get a swim in the evening and went back down to Epsom District Master swimming session for my usual Sunday evening swim. Water was far too hot as usual but the banter and company was also its usual top notch.
So in all not a bad training weekend with two swims and a bit of gym work but could have been an excellent weekend if Id managed to sneak in the Friday sea swim and the Sunday lido swim also but best laid plans and all that!
March and April training had settled into a bit of a timetable with the following (subject to tiredness and getting priority time with Dawn!!)
• Monday – Gym (approx 1hour working mainly shoulders and upper body)
• Tuesday – EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Wednesday – Dorking Masters Swimming (1¼ hours pool swim normally 3 to 4k)
• Thursday - EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k)
• Friday – Rest day/Dawn Time/or Gym
• Saturday – Guildford Lido (1½ hour Lido swimming normally about 5k) this will be replaced by a Lake swim and travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims
• Sunday – EDSC Swimming (1hour pool swim normally about 3k) in the evening this will be replaced by a Lake swim and travelling to Dover for ever increasing longer sea swims. It will be nice to keep the evening EDSC swim going but will be subject to energy levels!
Within the next month Pollers and myself will be attempting to swim to Africa across the Gibraltar Straits in the first of my 3 Swims of Europe. The British seas and lakes will also beckon during the next month.
So from now on things get serious on the training front!
March has been a hectic month with the ASA Junior Water polo Nationals, Swimathons and day to day living/working.
The month started with me missing a number of key swimming sessions to allow me to have some important tactical training sessions with a the Under 19s team I was taking to the ASA National water polo age group competition. We have been very successful with this bunch of lads and despite being a small club competing against some well-established club sides the team have won two national titles and made three finals in the last four years. I have felt lucky to be able to coach Matt, my own son, through this successful period and is something I do not take for granted. The team’s success has not been without issues with their achievements catching the eye of some of the “Super 5” senior teams who have made approaches to a number of the team offering senior team places for playing for their junior age group squads. Most have stayed loyal to their team rather than make a poor decision that I think they will regret when they look back one day. The team has however reacted well and the squad performed well as a unit and we have now qualified for the quarter finals that will take place in April. It will be a fantastic achievement to make the finals but nothing less than this talented and determined team deserve.
The other notable event during the month has been the back to back 5k swimathons that I undertook in Guildford lido. I had these booked since Christmas and intended to use it as a marker for both outdoor swimming as well as ensuring I would do at least 10k (6 miles) in a day. The great thing about doing this event outdoors in March is that not many other people were in the lanes and most had wetsuits. The water temperature had been increased from previous weeks to 16c to make it more bearable for the swimathon . It was very comfortable and the afternoon swim seemed warmer than the morning.
I finished the afternoon swim in about the same time as the mornings 100 lengths (5k for the 50m lido) and had counted them to keep the concentration levels going. However, when I had finished the hundredth length the guy counting said “Congratulations that 80 lengths 20 more to go!” He had been covering about 4 lanes and about 12 people so I had suspected he would miss count and wasn’t at all bothered by the extra. I knew he had made a mistake but was expecting it and had prepared .I had even hoped he would. The swim had gone well and I had already decided I wanted to swim on after I had finished the 2nd 5k and this made it possible.
However, when I had 4 lengths of the extra 20 lengths to do the counter again shouts “Congratulations! You’ve finished!”. This time I did disagree with him and said I would finish the 200 metres left to swim “BUT YOU’VE FINISHED!” he insisted. I didn’t want to upset the guy after all his hard work in the rain and cold so decided to not say anymore ; turned around and swum the extra 4 lengths. I don’t think the guy knew either way when I finished but I was happy to have completed 11k over the two swims and very grateful for him for siting in the challenging conditions counting lengths.
Next month will be preparing for Gibraltar and maybe some sea or lake swims along with the next round of the National Age group water polo championships.
The winter month of February came and went with the temperature being seasonal but nothing too unpleasant. Which meant no snow and only the occasional frost. I managed to get a few good morning swims in at Guildford Lido on either Saturdays or Sundays completing 5k at about 11c. For one of the swims I was joined by Tom Garrett a waterpolo player for Kingston who will also be swimming the channel later this year also. I had not swum with Tom prior to our meeting at the lido but I could tell he was understandably worried about how he would deal with the cold. It is something that I think every open water swimmer worries about to varying degrees and is something that needs respect but also needs to be overcome.
I explained to Tom some of the things I found useful to help the initial bracing feel of the water and also what to expect when he gets out and starts to warm up again (the double shakes). As we were about to get in my final bit of advice was one of Bugsy’s classics (Bugsy was my legendary Junior water polo coach) and that was “Show No Pain!”. It amused me but I think Tom knew what I meant as he first felt the 11c.Once he got going I could see Tom is a good swimmer and if he can get his head around the stuff in the head I have no doubts he’ll get across in a good time.
Jim Boucher has also made an appearance at his native Guildford lido. Jim is training for a swim in Siberia during March. I only briefly had a chance to catch up with Jim because he got out before I could finish my training swim but he is always finding interesting, different and challenging swims around Europe. I hope to have more time to catch up with him at the Champion of Champions swims in Dover in June.
Another training venue for me during February was Cheam’s David Lloyd outdoor leisure pool with Mark Pollard (swimming Gibraltar Straights together) and David Kimber. It’s a lovely place and the pool temperature is a comfortable 22c with Jacuzzi and hot showers and I’ve always enjoyed my visit with the guys and will enjoy them even more after my swims. However, part of the mental preparation for the harshness of the channel is to rough it a little bit and Guildford lido does that for me at the moment. It has old school changing lockers on poolside – no heat, no floor covering and the showers are not worth venturing into. All of which helps prepare me for the next notch down which in May which will be Dover Beach. In truth its Dover harbour and locker, changing rooms and water heating are only what nature can provide I.e. NOTHING!
A large part of February however was spent getting ready for the other big event of 2016. Me reaching 50. Because I’d been planning to do a big challenge for so long reaching 50 didn’t get the chance to creep up on me! I have however had to miss a few training nights (as noted by the EDSC master’s swimmers!) while I got the house ready for a Curry night party. It was however worth all the effort as I really enjoyed the evening and got to catch up with so many good friends that I often have not had the chance to spend time with. I was also pleased to get so much of the house in a position (although nowhere near complete) to have people over again.
After a period of recovery from a whole weekend of various celebrations I was back at training and March will see a similar training strategy as February (both indoor and outdoor training venues) but I have the added complication of taking a Junior Water Polo team to the Nationals during the month as well as two back to back Swimathons of 5K in Guildford lido to look forward to.
Donations are starting to come in and everyone has been very generous and hopefully this will continue to allow us to achieve the target for the British Heart Foundation.
January has been a deeply sad but focusing month. As I was making plan for the year ahead I received the news that Mark Shepherd had passed away. Mark and I had played polo together from the very first day I found out about the sport at 11. He was my captain at Sutton and Cheam Water Polo club when we won the Grand Slam of British Polo trophy. Everything there was to win Nationally and locally was won under Mark’s leadership. He was an inspirational leader leading by example both in the water and out of it with great memories of the pranks and tough games he would be part of.
When we had both done this for many years travelling around the country and abroad for European competition we both decided to let the next wave come through and joined the smaller local club Croydon Amphibians. Through the talented players there already, aligned with the incredible visionary play of Sheppy (Mark), Croydon too became a major force in first county and then regional water polo. This phase of the clubs development help set the pathway that under Chris Martins (Croydon team mate of Shep and myself) stewardship has seen the club go on to establish itself in The National Leagues higher divisions. And lifelong friendships were forged throughout the teams during this time.
Mark died of a heart condition at an age of 53 which is young by any measure but for someone who was so full of life and enjoying a great new phase of happiness I find it particularly hard to accept. It has however focused me on wanting to do something in his memory and the fact this challenge is tougher than anything I have done before and involves some of the best swims in the world it seems a fitting tribute to the great man.
This has meant a lot of setting up work to try and get this thing moving and during the month I have:
By John Smith posted July 30, 2015
Well here goes!
After years of dreaming, planning, adjusting plans, contacting and cul-de-sacs I have finally put together the challenge I wish to celebrate my 50th year on the planet and following the passing away of a good friend has crystalised a drive and purpose to make it happen.
The plan for 2016 is to swim Europe’s three most iconic swims which includes swimming across the joining points of the four main bodies of water that surround mainland Europe and joins three continents. Europe is surrounded by North Sea and Norwegian Sea in the North, The Black Sea and the Mediterranean in the East, The Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean in the South and The North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to the West.
I plan three swims at the East, West and Southern points of Europe to cross the joining points of the 4 Seas/Ocean into countries and continents of Asia, Africa and Great Britain into, or out from, mainland Europe. This will mean taking on :
This website has been drafted to help communicate the what, when why for anyone who wants to know more about these challenges, my progress and the good cause I am doing it for. Even the making of the website has been a mini adventure and will hopefully be of use. I intend to give updates of my training locations, train partners and hopefully some pictures or even video. At the bottom of the page I have some contact details. Please feel free to give some feedback.