Much of this first post about our swim comes from team member Chris with a few of my interjections… Each swimmer or team gets a designated six-day window and a “tide” (which means first appropriate weather and tide opportunity to start a swim), when Elaine (our captain, and whose dream this actually was) had signed up for this way back when she thankfully opted for first tide, second tide is sometimes better for swimmers but you are second in line to go. Third tide makes it questionable if you will actually get a chance to go because you are down the lineup. There are 7 or 8 licensed certified pilots that do this. We met a Romanian on Tuesday night that is 3rd tide and has been here for 7 days waiting. (We saw him Friday night and he went Saturday…he sadly didn’t finish his swim) Weather Wednesday was a no go and it looks like the rest of the week is questionable.
Here is where the horse shit luck starts to come into play. We were in Dover all of about an hour when we make the call to our boat captain Reg which went like this…. “Hello luv…ready swim tomorrow.” Me (Elaine)…. Slight pause where I control my voice…”sure.” So only three hours into our swim window, no chance to deal with jet lag….we are a go. Our worst nightmare would have been to wait for the go-ahead day after day and not have a weather window at all…pack our bags and fly back to Canada.
So now we have the second worse nightmare…we are actually going to have to drag our asses out of bed and jump in the cold ocean and swimmer by swimmer try to swim to France.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 – We loaded the van at 2:30am, picked up our other swimmer (who was not staying at the same place) and arrived at the marina at 2:45. There was another swimmer there from Japan, he was going to attempt a double crossing. (He only made one way) Ouch. Some pictures and nervous pees then they pulled the boat up to the dock and we loaded up. Dark and breezy, in the harbour. Out past the breakwater and it was a different story, still dark, still breezy and yes indeed big waves. Nervous laughter and then quiet. Dead quiet and stark white faces… What have we gotten ourselves into? I (Elaine) compared notes with everyone afterward and even the ones that don’t generally swear agreed it was “holy fuck” this is crazy although not one of us voiced this out loud.
We motored west up the coast towards Folkestone (where some pilots are based) to Shakespeare Beach. Elaine gets ready and into the dingy she goes, gets dropped off on the beach – rather she has to jump in and swim the last little bit. Some boats sound the horn to start the swimmer but she just got in and they radioed the observer that she had started. Still very dark but she had a couple of strobe lights on so we could see her flashing as she approached the boat.
(Elaine) This all happened so fast I was in the water, on the beach, back in the water and swimming before I could process any of it. Swimming in the dark was fine but I think I was In shock that this was actually happening….The Handyman (my husband) said, “No matter how bad it is in there when you finish your turn say it was fine…you have to set the tone.” Good advice I thought and lied when I got out.
(Chris again….) Once she was beside us the dingy gets hauled up and we are away. Pretty wavy to start but I think we all settled in and cheered her on. Lots of people with one eye on Elaine and one eye on the horizon trying to ward off seasickness. This was one of our biggest fears so we had all sorts of ideas and means of staying away from that. Fail…more on that later.
So, the way this works with a team is that we have a designated line up of swimmers. You have to follow that sequence the whole day, no subs or changes. The other big rules are you can’t touch another swimmer or the boat while in the water and you have to have the swimmer in the water swim past the next swimmer when changing. Makes sense and relatively easy to do. So, the ladder was at the back of the boat. Swimmer #2 climbs down the ladder, they slow the boat and the Swimmer #1 (in water) swims up to the back of the boat. Swimmer #2 jumps in, Swimmer #1 swims past them to the ladder and grabs ahold which became an interesting challenge when the ocean got mad later in the day. Swimmer #2 swims to the side of the boat and once Swimmer #1 is aboard away we go. The observer from the Channel Swim Assoication gives you the jump in cue etc so really not hard. But – tired cold swimmer in the water, excited somewhat seasick second swimmer and a rocking boat and noise and cheering and cameras and… I (Chris talking here) almost landed on Charlie (a she) the second time we switched.
Part two…Barforama to follow when back in Naramata at a real computer with many more photos to choose from….