“You’re a land animal trying to swim,” says Paul Sereno, University of Chicago Professor. “You’re what we call a secondary swimmer.”
Your deposit has been received £1000.00. We have secured your position (1st swimmer 19th June – 2nd July 2023) with the non-refundable deposit.
Reg (Reginald Brickell, Captain of the Viking Princess II)
With that innocuous looking email, Jan and I are leaping into the English Channel as a team of just two very early in the Channel swimming season. Why does a Channel swim start with securing a boat? Why so early? Why 2023?
There are only seven boats accredited by the Channel Swim Association to pilot swimmers across the storied English Channel from England to France. With the knowledge that the success of our Crazy Canucks relay of six people in 2016 in pretty rough seas was in large measure due to our excellent pilot, choosing Reg and Ray Brickell and the Viking Princess II was a given. As the Brickells’ are much sought-after respected pilots we have to book three years before our swim and coming all the way from Canada it is important to secure a first swim on the tide position. This is key as we may run into weather that will delay our swim and we will get the first shot on that tide.
Our end of June slot was the only first swim position open for all of 2023 and we booked immediately when Reg opened up his booking for that year. What does June mean? The bloody cold English Channel could be very bloody cold (14C).
“It’s a state between a dream state and an awake state,” says famous open water swimmer Lynne Cox. “Maybe we can call it sea-dreaming. The rhythm of swimming lulls your body — which, well trained, seems to keep moving on its own — and your brain is allowed to go wherever it wants.“
To swim the English Channel has been described by many as the Everest of long distance swimming. “As an open water swimmer, the English Channel is the pinnacle,” says Jan. “I want to be part of that.” I’m looking to up the ante from the six-person team I was on in 2016 as far as I think I’m capable of pushing it. (I will be 67 in 2023. Jan will be 61). Knowing my swim speed and having a pretty good handle on my abilities and mental toughness, a solo swim although tauntingly tempting seems many hundreds of strokes too far.
Of all the teams that attempt the Channel, teams of two are pretty rare. The official record shows only 33 duos have made the England to France crossing until 2019 as compared to 483 six-person teams. I guess the thinking is you might as well do a solo if you are going to do that much swimming…
Jan and I (Crazy Canucks II) will take one-hour turns dodging jelly fish while our boat captain dodges cruise ships and freighters in the world’s busiest shipping channel. It will take us anywhere from 16 to 18 hours (very estimated) so 8, 9 or even 10 swims each with a total of 50 kilometres of swimming. It took our Crazy Canucks team 13 hours and 47 minutes to complete the task in 2016.
Here is Jan with my brother Dean in a much kinder ocean as we complete the first Canadian relay crossing of the Catalina Channel in 2019.
Here I am with Ray heading toward shore in the dingy to start the English Channel crossing for our team in 2016. Some of our swim will be in the dark which is actually less scary than the all-night swim of Catalina (sharks).
“Who needs psychedelics,” says Lynne Cox. “when you can just go for a swim in the ocean.”
The Crazy Canucks, a relay team of six Canadian swimmers, followed a successful English Channel crossing in 2016, with a bid to swim North America’s equivalent. Thirty one kilometres from Catalina Island to mainland California’s San Pedro just north of LA, the swim has its own unique set of challenges, in particular the pitch black sea and sky lit only by the moon. The area is the most popular dive spot in the U.S. so it’s well known for its large variety of marine life. So, inky black ocean teaming with life and a swimmer with only a regular bathing suit, cap and goggles swimming away hoping to blend in.
It’s been 40 years since I’ve stayed up all night, watched a friend puke, shed most of my clothes and had an absolute blast. Won’t wait another 40 to do it again.
Our swim began at 10:56 p.m. Friday, September 13 under a full moon. What could go wrong?
Within minutes of the start, after I had rendezvoused with my kayak paddler, my brother Dean, and our support boat, The Bottom Scratcher I saw something.
Something big and grey and slow moving was visible in the water beneath me because of the cluster of lights from the Bottom Scratcher. It glided away and while I was telling myself that I hadn’t really seen it, it made a second pass going in the other direction. Big enough to displace the water under me and big enough to be terrifying.
During our rules debriefing aboard the Bottom Scratcher by our two Catalina Channel Swimming Federation observers, we were told to call out for advice if we saw anything disturbing rather than head for the kayak or the boat and touch either which would disqualify our entire endeavour, two years of training, hours of logistics, thousand of kilometres of air travel, three kayakers and five family and friends who came to help and cheer us on… A team earlier in the season had suffered this fate the observers told us.
I chose not to phone a friend and put one arm in front of me and then the next and next until the grey phantoms receded from my thoughts. A few moments later I clearly heard dolphin squeaks underwater. Kayaker Dean later reported he had seen two dolphins and a big seal at the beginning of my leg. Dolphins! I had wanted to swim with dolphins, so wish comes true, even though I didn’t see them.
The next bit of magic was bioluminescence. The bubbles from your hand entry and exit were a vibrant blue and green. We were all enchanted by it.
Before I knew it, a whistle blew and it was time to tag off to John Ostrom and it was time for Dean to paddle faster as John is speedy.
“Jumping into the ocean in the dark was made a lot easier in the moonlight,” says John. “The water was way warmer than I expected, there were no jellyfish like in the English Channel, although I occasionally brushed into bits of seaweed. The first one in the dark and the biggest chunk were disconcerting at first but then became routine.”
“It was different swimming at night,” says Peter. “This is well out of what I normally do as I am almost always asleep at 1 a.m. and definitely not swimming in the Catalina Channel so that aspect really made it a grand adventure. “
“Dean getting in the kayak and then you in the water swimming to shore at Catalina to start our swim made a very strong impression on me. As for swimming at night, it was pretty comforting to have cousin Dean in the kayak right beside me.
“It was a really fun experience having all of the 20 people on the boat including my sister Gail and her husband Doug and the boat captain Kevin and Chef Ro.”
“The mighty night swim was very much anticipated,” says Janice Johnston who tagged off from Peter in the relay. “It was like the nervous excitement of a small child on Christmas Eve. I talked about doing this for the last two years and everyone said, ‘Wow, that’s really crazy.’ I really questioned what I had signed up for and was encouraged by you saying, ‘You are going to love this!’ (I was right eh?)
“After almost losing my goggles by diving in (not a great choice) I was very scared to start but I had to with the team needing my leg of the relay. It took about five minutes to settle in to a nice pace and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the bioluminescence was. Green and blue lights with every stroke! The water was giving me a nice warm hug and the waves seemed to have flattened out. I felt like I was swimming strong and fast only to find out later that we were in a very strong current and no-one was swimming their usual distances. When I heard the whistle, I couldn’t believe it and felt I could have kept going and going.”
Chris Lough, next swimmer up, said the dark made an impression on him too. “Swimming in the dark, the full moon shining on the bubbles, the sunrise when it finally came and the whole crew having such a good time (except for the seasickness episodes) made the biggest impression. The warmth and calmness of the water surprised me. Once I got my head straight, which took about 10 minutes, I really enjoyed it. As for sharks, so many folks had been swimming previous to me and had no issues so it was not really a concern.”
Our anchor swimmer Janet Robertson, had selected the last leg as she had incorrectly anticipated it would be dawn by then. “The hardest part for me is always getting in the water. Sitting down on the platform and looking into the dark water at night and the blue water of the day made me wonder what might be out there,” she says. “My head going under water after the push off was not a happy place.”
Janet says, “Its wonderful how we all worked toward the success of the swim. Everyone was so supportive of each other and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Dean’s determination to get us through our swims, his supportive comments from time to time were very much appreciated. He had to work harder than any of us. The beauty of the surroundings was something else I won’t ever forget. The full moon, calm ocean, the quiet… I also loved it that we all got to swim into the beach to join John, who like in England, got to touch land at the end of our channel swim.”
With the dawn the kayak exchanges became easier and for me the shark fear shrank. For John they amped up. “It was cool to be swimming at dawn when the sun came up. The downside was I could start to see shadows further down in the water. I had a few anxious moments with my imagination starting to go wild on me. I kept seeing a shark, whale, submarine, shadows? I focused on the kayak and settled down.”
How cool is this note from the Queen of open water swimming Lynne Cox! “Congratulations you Crazy Canucks: Elaine, Chris, John, Janet, Peter, and Janice on your Courageous Catalina Crossing! I Loved seeing your photos, reading about your swims, seeing how much support you had from: Dean, Jill, Isobel, Al, Gail, Mel, Chris and Doug on your swim. So happy you had such a grand adventure, a wonderful time, and made some unforgettable memories. You must feel so proud of yourself and your team! Congratulations!”
Pretty proud of us. As we were having breakfast at our hotel in our swag a woman came up to us to ask what we were up to. Upon hearing our story she said, “Don’t know if it is proper to point this out but you guys aren’t spring chickens.”
Thanks to my swim buds for life, our kayakers, friends and family on the boat and back home cheering us on, our Penticton swim coach Diane, The Bottom Scratcher crew and captain Kevin, Caterer extraordinaire Ro, observers Steve and Roxanne, the dolphins, bioluminescent plankton and California.
Up next? Looking like a big ass relay the entire length of Okanagan Lake in 2020 and a duo relay of the English Channel with Jan Johnson in 2023. Can’t wait!
And then this happened…just three weeks after our swim…
A San Diego resident is fortunate to have emerged unscathed after a massive great white shark chomped his kayak Saturday as he paddled off Santa Catalina Island.
Danny McDaniel and Jon Chambers were enjoying a break from a commercial scuba-diving trip and paddling in separate kayaks toward Ship Rock, near the island’s east end, when the shark bit the back of McDaniel’s vessel.
“My very first thought was that my buddy, who was 25 feet behind me to my left, was messing with me,” McDaniel, 51, told For The Win Outdoors. “But then I looked down and saw this giant snout completely over the kayak, and then I saw its huge body stretching beyond the bow.”
The shark, estimated to measure nearly 20 feet, turned McDaniel’s 9-foot kayak until he was facing a wide-eyed Chambers.
“I remember him saying, ‘Oh crap. Oh crap,’ ” McDaniel recalled. “My primary thought, meanwhile, was to stay on the kayak no matter what.”
Chambers told NBC 7 that the shark “was in attack mode” and “thought we were prey.”
McDaniel and Chambers waited briefly in eerie silence before paddling back to Emerald Bay, where the rest of the dive group had been hanging out.
On the way McDaniel discovered that the shark had left two of its teeth as souvenirs. “One was laying inside the kayak under seat, and the other was in the cargo hold behind the seat,” he said
A week before McDaniel’s encounter, (so two weeks after our swim) photographer Jami Leslie Feldman captured footage of a 13- to 14-foot great white shark swimming 70 feet below the surface at Ship Rock, and posted the clip to the Underwater Paparazzi Facebook page.
Swimmer Chris says, “I am glad I was in the water and NOT in a kayak.
The next act of the English Channel swim relay team, the Crazy Canucks is a swim that is comparable in length , conditions, difficulty and challenge and all a bit closer to home. The Crazy Canucks are taking on the Catalina Island Channel on lucky Friday, September 13, 2019.
First swum in 1927, on the heels of the intense publicity from Gertrude Ederle’s swim of the English Channel in 1926, Catalina also has a long and storied history in marathon swimming history and brings with it its own set of unique challenges that make it a worthy goal to be respected and tackled with solid preparation. Our swim will be overseen by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, our pilot boat the Bottomscratcher could not have a better name and our main kayak guide is my brother Dean Dogherty, who competes internationally in outrigger canoes.
We are going for a record that we are keeping on the down low at the moment but it could add to the fun of the achievement.
Four English Channel team veterans will be joined by two new swimmers to make up the team of six.
The challenges of cold water, high winds and waves we faced in the English Channel, the seasickness that struck down half our team to varying degrees from violent to mild and stings from jellyfish are all Catalina possibilities. In addition we face two more. The Pacific Ocean swim starts at near midnight to avoid the winds that kick up in the afternoons. Pitch black conditions can bring on vertigo as the black sea and sky merge together to cause confusion and add to the stress of swimming in a large ocean. On the plus side, many swimmers report swimming through magical bioluminescence. The other factor involving sea life with many sharp teeth is not to be mentioned by name….Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldermort. The positive side of this equation are dolphins which will all be on the look-out for.
Here are thoughts from the team as we prepare.
“I’ve swum my whole life and I enjoy it most when I’m in shape and feel powerful in the water…Open water is interesting to me because I grew up on the ocean (Prince Rupert) and always feel it’s a bit mysterious. I don’t really fear the ocean but am always curious about it. Swimming in some ways allows me to become closer to nature.”
“The epic nature of the swim and doing it as a team appeal the most. I am not super keen about swimming at night (me neither) and I’m going to have to put images of sharks and squid lurking below out of my mind!” (Guess he didn’t get the memo re that which shall not be named.)
“I am very happy about the English Channel swim and how everything worked for us so well. Of course I am very proud to have been the “finisher” that touched France. Having done that channel I know we will also do Catalina the same way with a very competent group.”
“I swim three to four times a week year-round,” says Chris. “I spent all my summers in Quebec and played in the water for hours a day. Open water is just a return to the joys of those childhood times for me.”
As for the challenge ahead, Chris says, “Swimming in the dark and the unknown potential for larger “fish” ups the excitement.” (See, he got the memo…)
As for the English Channel, Chris says he has nothing but fond memories. The only thing he would change is his approach to dealing with the nausea.
Chris is preparing by swimming four times a week and working up to cold water swims in the spring as well as some night swims and increasing his distances as our swim draws near.
“I like the feeling of moving through the water both in the pool and in the lake. I believe in balance in life – swimming is part of that balance. Open water swimming is freeing and meditative – I can find my zen. I lose all that life throws at me when I’m in the water…so freeing.”
Janet’s approach is to try to minimize the build up talk as this makes her nervous.
“Night swimming will be very important to the success of the swim so I think we should plan a swim camp with that as a focus.
“I am proud to have done the English Channel. I had to dig deep quite a few times to reach the group goal. I wasn’t going to let the group down. I will take everything from the English Channel to Catalina, except, hopefully, the sea sickness. Who knew I would consider doing either the Channel or Catalina. Butterflies reign supreme as well as deep breaths.”
As idea originator and the team captain of both swims I am fully in. For me it’s all about something I love doing more than anything else, talking five and now seven people into joining in on the adventure and working toward a crazy goal that will change our lives or at the very least give us some pretty unique experiences.
In water, all is possible. As T.H. White says, “There is practically no difference between flying in the water and flying in the air…It is like the dreams people have.” When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water. When you enter the water you dive through the surface into a new world. You are in nature, part of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land. To get that feeling utterly and completely you need to be in a river, lake or the ocean.
The swimming training is important, sure. The mental training of swimming in cold water, in the waves and wind and at night are the most important. My training goals are to be prepared physically and mentally tough.
I am also beyond proud to swim with this team which comprises four long-time friends, my cousin Peter who is a Canuck( but lives most of the year in Australia) and embodies for me my dad’s spirit and a new enthusiastic swim pal Janice who is up for anything. Making the team even more special is my brother Dean who will be beside us in that big ocean in a kayak making it feel a little less big. We will swim between the Bottomscratcher and the kayak which will both be lighted to keep us on track in the pitch black.
“I love to swim in open water because I find it both relaxing and challenging. Swimming to me is like walking, you don’t have to think about it. The challenge comes to get faster and add some distance. There is such a great freedom and being close to nature when you swim in open water plus I REALLY DON’T LIKE FLIP TURNS! I didn’t swim competitively as a young person but I have embraced swimming as an adult. I even became a lifeguard at age 51.”
Jan says she is looking forward to meeting her new team mates. “I think it’s going to be amazing to swim in the ocean at night (maybe even scary) but that is part of the challenge. I am really hoping not to get sea sick during my leg of the race.”
She is a firm proponent of our post-swim tradition of doing in-water handstands and sharing liquorice on shore.
Peter, who swims every day, has spent this past summer taking dips in Elk Lake in Victoria, Lake Ontario in Toronto and Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. “In Australia, I get to swim in the ocean a lot which is really fantastic, conditions are different every day. Variety is fantastic.
“I am looking forward to meeting all the team members and their families, taking the boat to Catalina, where I’ve never been before and of course the swim itself. I’m maybe a little nervous about the temperature of the water.”
The English Channel and Catalina Channel are two of the marathon swims that make up the triple crown of swimming. The third is the swim around Manhattan. There are fewer than 200 relay teams that have swum Catalina and even fewer than that 200 number that have swum the English Channel.
“Congratulations on your English Channel relay last year! ,” says Lynne Cox. That is a tough swim and it must have been fun and challenging to swim the Channel as a team. Your next goal sounds equally challenging.”
Even people outside the rather niche open water swimming world recognize the name Lynne Cox. It’s because she is an elite athlete who broke many world records, among them swimming the English Channel at 15, being the first woman to swim across the Cook Strait and working 10 years to get the permission and then swimming across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia during the Cold War.
“The San Pedro Channel – swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland is the place I began my open water swimming career,” she says when I asked her advice on the Crazy Canucks’ next adventure in 2019. “It was as significant as my first kiss. It was where I fell in love with swimming long distances in the open water and the people who make these swims possible.”
That first kiss for Lynne came when she was all of 14 when she made the crossing with three other teenagers. “We felt a small school of fish swimming around us, bumping into our legs and feet. Flying fish the size of mockingbirds were leaping out of the water,” she writes about that historic Catalina swim in her amazing book, Swimming to Antarctica. “They’d emerge from the depths and fly across the air, flapping their fins and sailing across the sky…In the phosphorescent light, they were magically turning iridescent pink, blue, purple, rose and green.”
Lynne says, “You can expect that your Catalina Channel swim will be exciting. If it isn’t, why do it? You will have an incredible journey, learn lots about yourself and your team, and the Pacific ocean.”
“The Catalina Channel will be a bit warmer than the English Channel depending on the weather, time of the year and time of day that you swim it,” says Lynne. (See Charlie, it will be OK!) “Weather conditions are usually more stable than the English Channel, so you will have a good chance at getting good conditions.”
Any advice for us non spring chickens I asked her? “I think you don’t need to be limited in your thinking by your chronological age. People in their 30s can have the bodies and health of 60-year-olds and people in their 60s can have the bodies and health of 30-year-olds. I think it’s great to tackle these swims at any age if you’ve done the preparation and you are in shape.”
It was a thrill to be in touch with Lynne and prompted a re-read of her Swimming to Antarctica book and an intense, couldn’t-put-it-down read of her latest book Swimming in the Sink which had some lyrical descriptions of open water swimming.
In the darkness of early morning, my arm strokes jostle millions of plankton. A chemical reaction occurs in their bodies. They turn the black water sparkling phosphorescent blue. I wonder about life, the universe, and my place it it. I feel the warmth in my body, the cold ocean surrounding me, and I watched fish swimming fathoms below me lighting the depths of the universe. I wonder how the stars can burn so bright without losing their heat the frigid heavens.
I watch the rosy sun rise from the dark blue ocean and see it change color and create waving rivers of crimson, orange, yellow, and white light. The onshore breeze wakes the world like a gentle morning kiss. When I train I think about my life, my passions, and what is in my heart. I list the things I do need to do each day and the things I want to do. But I also dream about what I can do, and that makes life rich and exciting. Lynne Cox
It was a thrill to read about her English Channel swims as well now knowing what it is like to be in that chilly water myself. How fun was it to read that her boat pilot was our pilot’s dad, Reg Brickell?
Twenty-six miles, so near yet far I’d swim with just some water-wings and my guitar I could leave the wings But I’ll need the guitar for romance Romance, romance, romance
Catalina Island may be the island of romance but a relay attempt from the island to the California shore will be anything but. That’s OK. The Crazy Canucks are gearing up for our next adventure in 2019 after successfully crossing the English Channel in 2016. As the first dude to cross the English Channel (Mathew Webb) says, “Nothing great is easy.”
Less than 300 relay teams have made the 32.5 kilometre crossing which starts at midnight from Catalina Island when winds are calmest. It’s cool that it’s still a relatively small number of crazies that have made the crossing. This open water swim challenge, part of the triple crown of swimming that includes the English Channel and the swim around Manhattan, has some unique elements we will have to wrap our heads around including a lot of night swimming. It’s so dark on a Catalina crossing that some swimmers experience vertigo not knowing which is up or down in the inky black. This channel is also home to a type of fish with a recognizable fin that shall remain very nameless, especially as the team has four members at present and it would be fun to add a full compliment of six.
How hard can it be right? Canadians are a tough lot as we proved to our sceptical English Channel boat pilot Reg. He confessed after our swim, with a pint in front of him, that he wasn’t super confident we would make it as we had done the majority of our training in lakes.
Canadians are so tough that the first to cross the Catalina Channel solo was a 17-year-old from Toronto, George Young. Young was the only one of 101 starters in a race in January of 1927 and he did most of the swim without his swim trunks. We will likely wear suits…
Here is my 10 point case for talking more of my team mates into this new adventure…
1. The Catalina Channel is slightly shorter than the English Channel (32.5 km vs 33.7 km, about 0.8 miles shorter which should take an elite swimmer about 16 minutes)
2. The Catalina Channel is slightly to significantly warmer no matter what month is attempt is made.
3. Tides are much less powerful and less lateral than those in the English Channel.
4. The Catalina Channel winds are significantly less strong than in the English Channel on any given day, especially since most Catalina Channel swimmer begin their traverse at night. (We faced Force 4 winds on the English Channel)
5. The Catalina Channel has jellyfish, but while everything can change on any given day, the jellyfish in the Pacific are generally not in the same volumes as they are strewn across the English Channel. (Two of us got stung.)
6. The Catalina Channel allows kayakers, paddlers and pace swimmers to support the swim from shore-to-shore in any formation or duration as desired.
7. The windows of the Catalina Channel are much longer due to the number of swimmers and fickle weather in the English Channel.
8. Both shores and illumination across the Catalina Channel can generally be seen, even at night, but this psychological advantage is not always available in the English Channel.
9. Dolphins, a sign of good luck and protection among channel swimmers, are in significantly greater numbers in the Catalina Channel. (How cool would that be)
10. Boat traffic is significantly less in the Catalina Channel than in the English Channel.
A couple of additional “selling” features of the Catalina adventure are the name of the boat that we will charter to guide us, our kayak paddlers and the pipes that will mark our successful completion. The Bottom Scratcher (yup…that’s the name) and its captain and piper Greg Elliot will pilot, our paddlers will include my brother Dean and fellow team member John’s wife Izzie.
Crazy Canucks Catalina Channel Relay 2019 here we come!
This summer I went swimming. I swam and swam and swam right into fall. I swam in Canada’s largest open water swim race, Across the Lake in Kelowna and I swam 12 kilmetres in Canada’s longest lake swim, the Skaha Ultra. When all the training was done I decided to swim every single day in the lake until October just for the love of the lake. For the love of swimming. My 52-day streak had no fixed swim distance but each swim ended with a handstand. Why? The answer is as unfathomable as the streak.
“If all you did in your lifetime was enjoy the beautiful things around you — the sunset, moon and clouds or all the plants and animals — that would be a worthy life.” Laird Hamilton
I’ve swum in the English Channel, the Hudson River, the Med, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Caribbean and in countless Canadian lakes. Anywhere. Everyday. Always. It’s who I am.
Of all the places I’ve swum Okanagan Lake is as perfect as it gets.
It’s clean, big, deep, varied, gets nice and warm in summer, has few weeds, no predators, changing weather conditions to make it feel like an ocean some days and the scenery is spectacular. I’ve seen eagles and osprey fishing, loons diving, vintage planes flying overhead, sailboats, windsurfers and kite boarders playing, outriggers, kayakers, dragon boaters, paddle boarders. I’ve swum beside an historic paddle wheeler. I’ve dodged sunbathers on rafts and talked to triathletes. I’ve occasionally collected beer cans to recycle and dove down to add to my sunglass collection. I watched water bombers fight a wildfire. One awful day I kept an eye for a dead body as searchers looked for a drowning victim.
I like to watch the water drip off my arms and sparkle in the sun. One magical day during a sun shower, raindrops splashed back off the lake like diamonds. I’ve seen small glowing yellow leaves suspended in dark waters.
Not to over romanticize it, the last two weeks of the streak took some moments of courage to enter the bone chilling water.
On the plus side, I have had lovely Manitou beach and her sheltered bay all to myself. My swim three days ago was the nicest of the year. The sun was warm, my skin burning in the cold water and I was feeling uplifted, clean, happy, energized and calm all at the same time. It’s a sensory deprivation and sensory overload.
When we were kids, open water swimming meant freedom – no lifeguards, no chlorine, no drudgery of laps following the black line on the bottom of the pool. Recapturing some of that freedom is part of why open water swimming events are the fastest growing watersport of the decade.
A lot of Okanagan open water afficiandos came to the sport from triathlon and yet more became interested after marathon swimming was introduced into the Olympics at Beijing. Lake Okanagan has a long history of open water events. The Across The Lake Swim began in 1949 and is the longest running and largest (1,200 swimmers) annual open water event in Canada. This swim was recently recognized as one of the top swims in the world by openwaterpedia.com. The 3.1 and 7 k Rattelsnake Island Swim is a destination swim attracting a loyal following and new swimmers every year. The Skaha Lake Swim started life in 1985 and despite a small hiatus, is back to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary this year.
International attention was brought to the lake last summer when Adam Ellenstein entered the Guinness World Record with the fastest, continuous lengthwise swim of British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake. The 39-year-old U.S. resident completed his 106.6 kilometre swim from Vernon to Penticton in 40 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds.
Ellenstein’s swim began in the early hours of July 25 and wrapped up late the next night (just about the time my Crazy Canucks English Channel Relay team completed our swim from England to France).
Okanagan Lake’s clean and relatively warm waters are shark and jelly fish free making open water swimming here all the more enjoyable. Winds can whip the lake into some challenging waves but events are held in the relatively calm waters first thing in the morning.
It’s back and I was the first swimmer to register
The newly resuscitated Skaha Lake swim started life in 1985 organized by local sport’s legend Steve King as a complement to the Ultra International Triathlon which the next year became an official Ironman.
“The Race took a hiatus because we hadn’t been able to find the right race director,” says King. “Now we have a solid team in place. There is definitely a rise in participation and interest in open water swimming,” says King. “You can look at the increase in numbers in Master’s programs, events like the Across the Lake swim and the new Canaqua Open Water Swim Series(this event will be part of that). We always had swimmers from the U.S. and a few other internationals and the South Okanagan is now world-renowned as a sports mecca.”
“Reviving the race has been on everyone’s mind for a number of years,” says one of the Skaha Ultra Swim organizers Steve Brown.
The event returns Aug. 13 for the 20th running of the race that was held from 1985 to 2004 with the exception of 1999. Brown is joined by Steve King, Shelie Best, as well as ultra distance athletes Chad Bentley, Matt Hill and Lucy Ryan of Vancouver. The group came together last September and talked about resurrecting the Ultra Swim.
The Skaha Lake Ultra Swim is being reinstated as an official event of Peach Festival. The swim is 11.8 kilometres starting from Skaha Beach to Kenyon Park in Okanagan Falls. The swim begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 1:30 p.m. or six hours, 30 minutes later. Entry is limited to 100 athletes and their support paddlers. The race is affiliated with Canaqua Sports Open Water Series. Now in its third season, the Canaqua Sports Open Water Series has grown to nine open water races for 2017. The goal of the series is to promote open water swimming across Canada, creating a Canadian brand to the sport. Currently there are two in B.C. (Invermere and Penticton), one each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and five in Ontario.
“No question that there has been an upsurge in open water swimming interest,” says Brown. “Skaha is unique in that swimmers will swim the entire length of the lake. There are a lot of swims that go across lakes but we are the longest lake swim in Canada and that’s why there is huge interest in this one.”
Swimmers this year will be gunning for some records including the one set by
Luke Stockdale of Port Coquitlam who swam 5:50:42 in 1992 and did it all with the butterfly stroke. The most senior finisher ever was 70-year-old Lorne Smith of Okanagan Falls 5:10:38 in 2004. The most wins for men has been four by record holder Serge Score and five for women by record holder K.C.Emerson. Swim times have varied from the record 2:21:44 to 6:35:13.Participants must be at least 16 years of age and swim the distance. There is also a cut off at eight kilometres at Ponderosa Point which swimmers must reach in four hours, 25 minutes.
For safety reasons each athlete has a specific support watercraft with them throughout the swim. Organizers also provide high-speed rescue watercraft with medical and lifeguards in case of emergency.
“There is also a huge interest in open water swimming from older age groups as well,” says Brown. “For those athletes that have been beating themselves up on the roads for years swimming, even long distances, is a kinder, gentler from of exercise.”
The earliest known open water swim races were held in Japan and then Europe during Roman Times. The sport reached a heady popularity in the early 20th Century in North America where its heroes were front page news.
In Canada, crowds in the tens of thousands flocked to Toronto in the 1930s. They came to cheer on local favourites for purses that would equal hundreds of thousands of dollars today. Huge crowds, big paycheques and ticker tape parades awaited winners like Marilyn Bell and Winnie Roach Leuszler.
What’s old is new again and the Okanagan is the perfect place to get immersed in the world open water swimming and open water swim racing.
In our swim order, here are our strongest impressions of our big adventure:
Elaine (leg one (England), seven, and 13)
Motoring out of the relatively calm harbour into a rolling sea in the pitch black at 3 am and realizing the enormity of the task ahead.
Al, my blog’s The Handyman, our alternate and chief crew member giving me a quiet pep talk… “You have to set the tone for the day. No matter how bad it is in there when you come out say it was fine.”
Everything happening so fast but in the midst of it all thinking to myself, “This is pretty cool. I’m standing on the beach in England and me and my friends are about to swim to France. I have to remember to remember this feeling.”
The sun, an orange ball appearing as I breathed to my left and the dark sea. Beautiful.
Swimming steadily with random thoughts going through my head like singing the Sloop John B, wondering if the jellyfish are awake yet, how close should I swim to the boat?, good thing we did all that cold water training as this water is bloody cold, how long have I been swimming? check your form, it’s cool my team mates are watching, wondering what they are thinking? ah, I get how this works I swim up to near the front of the boat and then he turns the engine on for a minute and I’m near the back of the boat…this is normal, I wonder how this relay exchange thing works in practice and how easy it will be to get up the ladder? with the leitmotif always coming back to I am right now, this very minute in the waters of the English Channel swimming to France. How cool is that? Right?
Resting between swims lying down in the boat and still being able to hear the rhythmic slaps on the water from my team mates’ arms as we make our slow, steady progress toward France and tearing up with the thought of all that means. We are swimming France and I have some cool friends to do this with me…
Watching Janet in the water at the rail of the Viking Princess after her being so seasick and having to walk away unable to watch anymore with a mixture of pride in my friend while feeling badly for putting this scheme into action and testing her in a way that at times seemed might be beyond her limits. (It wasn’t — she is made of tougher stuff than even she knew I think.)
About three hours in watching Janet and Charlie feeling so ill and thinking, oh my God, I don’t think we are going to make it. This is too much. We are all going to be back in this boat and heading back to England and that will be that.
All the small interactions with team mates, support crew, boat pilots and observer throughout the day. Helping Charlie warm up after her swim when she was shivering uncontrollably and being sick equally uncontrollably but still magically, somehow, retaining her sense of humour. Borrowing John’s warm swim coat and realizing afterward what a brilliant job he did all day making videos and taking spectacular photos (much of which was used by Wayne to make a fabulous video). Confiding in Al my worries about not making it and his helpful, calm, reasoned, supportive presence. Keeping a close eye on Janet in the water and cheering her on extra hard. Chris’ calm, steady influence throughout the day and his general good humour and quiet confidence. Jaime’s excitement about the day and her can-do attitude that helped us look at it as somewhat fun. Watching Charlie give Ray the thumb’s up signal asking him to turn on the generator for the kettle. Gruff swearing Ray getting us all off and up the ladder in one piece. Coming out of the water cold and a bit overwhelmed each time to find someone with a warm towel and words of encouragement so you can muster it up to get back in there again even when the waves got huge when the time comes.
Having our English Aunt Ann and Uncle John such a big part of our adventure was amazing. From visiting Dover with us two years before our swim, to buying the team a round when we first arrived in England, providing us with towels, sporting our team sweatshirts, coming to Dover to be a part of it and getting to know the team at dinners and the pub, hosting Jaime at their lovely home after we left Dover and listening to our tale and sharing our excitement as they greeted us at the Dover Marina on our return and a ton of other supportive things means so much to me and Al and now the rest of the gang too.
Being so close to France for so long and making no discernible progress for hours thinking again that we wouldn’t be able to push through the current and get there or that it would take so many swims from each team member that the sicker guys would peter out. The wind and waves are building to a crazy pitch at this point too adding to the thoughts about the impossibility of it all.
Getting in for my third swim with words of encouragement from boat pilot Ray and swimming harder than I ever have in my life while still having no idea if we were getting an inch closer to France.
Climbing up the ladder and seeing that we were so close that we were actually going to make it! Total and utter breakdown. All the emotions and worry I had bottled up for 13 hours come flooding out…laughing and crying and ecstatic. This is what blows my hair back. This is why I want to have more adventures to spice up the hum drum to give me things to think about when I’m lying in bed at night. This exact minute of complete elation I have carried around with me every day since July 26 and hope to carry at least a spark of it forever. WE SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL.
John (leg 2, 7 and 13 France)
Two things stand out for me. Seeing the dinghy with no spare swimmer in it meaning they thought I’d make the beach! Then actually getting to the beach. After pouring it on for the third swim and wondering if I was going to make it, these two highlights will stick in my mind forever. The beach being the most vivid!
The beach fought me. I thought I was in and stood up and started striding but then it dropped off again and I was back swimming some more. I couldn’t stand up on the final beach rocks and my toes jammed between them. They were sore for a couple of weeks afterwards. I had to crawl on all fours. The surf was a bit of an issue but the water got much warmer in the shallows! Making damn sure I got above the high tide line and up close and personal with the cliff. Oh yeah, everyone wants souvenirs — where to put the rocks from the French beach? I realized I had to swim back to the dinghy and couldn’t hold handfuls so I filled up my speedo!!
Worst moment? No much, maybe the shivery half hour after the first swim where I thought hmmm….this is going to be hard and the thought of two, possibly three more swims seemed daunting. Seeing how seasickness was becoming a factor with the team was also worrisome.
I am viewing this as a once-in-a-lifetime “bucket list” event. And of course, it would not have happened at all without Elaine’s dream. I am really glad you had this dream Elaine.
Charlie (Legs 3 and 9)
We have all used the word EPIC a lot describing this adventure and I really can’t think of a more fitting term to sum it up. I am no stranger to ultra distance racing and pushing beyond what I had perceived my limits to be. This swim was different in the fact that the actual swimming was the easiest part. All the fears and mental hurdles proved to be more challenging as did the physical ones of seasickness and hypothermia. In most other events I have been able to train in similar conditions (weather, hills, distance, terrain, etc.) to prepare myself. In this case, the only way to prepare for swimming in the middle of the ocean with no land marks as points of reference is to do it when your boat pilot says it is go time.
Not many grandmas can share a story like this with their grandkids. I hope it lights a spark in them to set a crazy goal of any kind and achieve it one day when they are older. Maybe one of them will take me to school for show and tell, if they still have such a thing.
The best part for me has been the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie our team developed. the media coverage was so unexpected but pretty cool, especially the congratulatory postings from celebs like the Queen and the Prime Minister.
None of us would have succeeded without the support of our life partners. Mine was outstanding even though he thought I had lost my marbles when I agreed to give it a go. And of course this absolutely would have never been possible if not for the dream of our Den Mother and all her planning and cat herding. Huge shout out to Elaine.
I have three tips for anyone thinking of making the attempt:
1. Book the Viking Princess, piloted by Reg and Ray Brickell. Best there is but you need to book early. I am still in awe of the way they stayed so laser focussed on so many computer screens, radars, radios and cameras to keep us out of harm’s way, even when the seas turned nasty. It was obvious by their excitement and celebration when John succeeded in climbing ashore in France that escorting swimmers is more than a job to them.
2. Stay at the Churchill Guest House. Alex was so welcoming, helpful and supportive. Cool old house with lots of British character, kitchen and laundry facilities and perfect location to walk to restaurants, grocery stores and the beach for a swim.
3. Have a chat over a pint with someone who has done the swim or at least attempted. I’m available if they are buying.
Chris (Legs 4 and 10)
Definitely one of my life highlights for me. I have been fortunate to have done some pretty interesting things, seen some great places and this really is one of the best.
I was super impressed with the way we handled ourselves. Supportive, gutsy, can do attitude. Calm, cool and collected. Keep Calm and Carry On! I think we all just decided we were going to be successful and put our minds to it. Well done.
I think out of the water was great! Very nice to travel with the gang and we got along famously. I think that translated into the way we did the swim.
Would I do it again? Yes. I think it is one of those iconic events and I’d be happy to help another team make it happen for themselves.
I am very happy that I was part of this team effort. This is something that I would never take the initiative to do and I am grateful to Elaine for dreaming this, making it a reality and for inviting me along for the fun. What I learned about me? When I put my mind to it, I can dig deep and get it done, the training, the cold water swims and the day itself. It was not easy but doable. I know I would do whatever I had to to hold up my end of the bargain. I trusted that everyone else would. I was nut surprised that everybody did.
Biggest revelation? Shit we were lucky. The stars aligned for us. Give or take, 50% don’t hit the water (weather), 50% of those don’t make it. That is a 25% chance you will be successful. Not good odds. But we did it. I think Elaine added some descriptive words to that?! (Yes, I sure did.)
Many thanks to each of you for a wonderful adventure. Next! (Editor’s note…there is a move afoot to attempt a Crazy Canucks relay of the Catalina Channel in California in 2018…at least with a good representation of the team and possibly some new blood.)
Janet (Legs 5 and 11)
The swim was monumental in every way! The training, the injuries and then doing it against all odds — for me at least. I would never have thought that I could come back from my panic attack a few years ago to swimming the English Channel.
-I can do this! Swimming in the ocean at Kona with Elaine, joining the master’s swim group, swimming in the lake bit by bit, doing the Across the Lake and Rattlesnake swims and finally the channel all with Elaine’s encouragement and companionship and in the end the channel – who knew!! A sense of accomplishment – I have butterflies again writing this.
The swimming part turned out to be the easiest part even with the big waves – there was no fear which was very surprising – I can do this. Fortunately the jellyfish were below me so they weren’t an issue and I wasn’t worried when I saw them. On the second swim I didn’t see any jellyfish. I really appreciated seeing everyone watching me from the boat – when people left I wondered what had happened to them. Mostly my thoughts were still except for thinking I’m doing this and not letting anyone down.
Best parts were getting it done. I really appreciated the group of people I was with – no one freaked out when I started throwing up – there was silence for a minute I think but then everyone went back to what they were doing. There were suggestions to change positions in the boat and to lie down which were gratefully appreciated.
The worst part was the sea sickness – I felt so helpless but it never occurred to me not to do my swim although I found out later I caused everyone a bit of concern when I got in the water.
Everyone has been pleased for me for doing it but I don’t think people get the enormity of it. It is really hard to put into words what we went through.
I would like to thank my rock Chris who got me through the sea sickness and supported through every step of the three year journey. I would like to thank the team for taking over my watches. The team really came together even though we hadn’t spent much time training together – I didn’t meet John until we got to Dover. Most of all I would like to thank Elaine for everything she did to get me to the goal. Even though Ray came across as a real tough guy his job was to get across safely and he certainly did that. Reg was a charm. Alex was wonderful – he was there with suggestions when needed – he was quietly supportive and helpful – the perfect host.
It was an amazing day full of life long memories and friendships. Thanks.
Jaime (leg 6 and 12)
I think the whole experience is still really sinking in. Looking at the stats the other day and realizing that we are one of only 5 Canadian relays to ever swim the Channel (through the CSA anyways) was a bit eye opening. As well, there have only been 36 successful solo swims by Canadians. That makes our adventure all that more remarkable!! Thanks for having this dream, I would never have been involved in anything like this if not for you.
HIGHLIGHT MOMENTS – not getting sea sick. Probably sounds sort of selfish but this was my biggest fear and whether it was the Bonine or my natural sea legs, I was extremely relieved that I felt good all day. Can’t imagine what Janet and Charlie endured. – the look on your face when you realized John was going to make it to France – pure joy! One of my favorite pictures and moments of the whole day! – I will never forget the feeling I had hanging onto the ladder as I waited to jump in for my first swim. What a huge mix of emotions – my heart was pounding out of my chest! I was shaking I was so excited, nervous, exhilarated and down right terrified! Then it was go time and there was no time for hesitation, I just had to jump in and swim. Wow, getting a bit emotional just thinking about it. Definite highlight in my books. – my second swim in the big waves was SO MUCH FUN!! That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day for me. I remember the boat lurching back and forth so much that when I turned to breathe, sometimes it seemed like I could reach up and touch John and Al. Pretty cool experience. – John reaching France of course and seeing Chris and Charlie holding up the Canadian flag as he made is approach
WORST MOMENTS – watching how ill Janet was getting and wondering if I would even get a chance to swim if she wasn’t able to make it through her first swim. Thank goodness she was a trooper! – after Charlie got an update on our progress and was told that there was a possibility that some of us would have to swim 2 or 3 times more. That was disheartening news and I started to question to some extent our ability to make it. – not having my family in England with me to share in this experience. Even though I know it was not a kid-friendly kind of trip and there is absolutely no way we could’ve managed it financially, it would’ve been the icing on the cake to have Ian and Ella there. Ian would’ve been in his glory had he been able to come on the boat – he would’ve loved chatting with Reg!
THINGS I WON’T FORGET – the hush that fell over the boat as we left the protection of the Dover Marina and headed out to sea. There was definitely a lot of nervous energy. I’m not sure about you, but I was thinking “Holy shit! What the hell have we signed up for?!?!” Not too long after, I saw you swimming alongside the boat in the dark, steady and strong strokes and thought “Hey, this might not be so bad” – the jellyfish – I will never again in my life witness jellyfish like I did during my first swim. There were so many of them down below and although I was frightened at first, the fear diminished and they were really amazing and beautiful creatures to look at. Not many people get a chance to see them from that point of view. Pretty frigging cool. – the taste of the salt water. My tongue felt about 3 times it’s normal size! – the great sleep I had in the hold of the boat on the way back to England. The hum of the engine and sound of the boat bouncing off the surface of the water was mesmerizing. Best sleep I had in days! TRAINING I am happy with my training given my location and juggling of work and family life. However, I wish I could’ve made it up to Sylvan Lake more often than I did and a trip to Vancouver for a couple of dips in the ocean before hand would’ve been nice. Just wasn’t in the cards though. Glad I did both the Rattlesnake and Across the Lake swims in 2015 without my wetsuit. Definitely boosted my confidence knowing I didn’t have to rely on the buoyancy of my wetsuit to feel comfortable in the water. What I think was most difficult was training on my own – you, Jan and Charlie were lucky to have each other to swim with. I think a proper Master’s swim group would’ve been a benefit to me as well but Innisfail doesn’t offer one. I did improve my speed a little bit over the past few summers but I was hoping to be a bit faster than I was. Oh well, I may have lacked in speed but at least I wasn’t cold! That is what I am most proud of. It’s very intriguing to me how you can train your body to tolerate the cold water. I really began to enjoy swimming in the cooler water and I think all of my ridiculous dips in the cold lake served me well. The only time of the day I was really cold is when I woke up in the hold of the boat after my big nap on our way back to England.
CHURCHILL GUEST HOUSE Can’t say enough about these guys. The accommodation was lovely as were the hosts. Alex really went above and beyond to make us comfortable and help us out in any way he could when it came to our swim. Betty can cook a mean breakfast too. Thoroughly enjoyed my stay and like I said, the set up of the guest house and close proximity to the downtown made it a much better choice (in my opinion anyways) than Varne Ridge.
WHAT’S NEXT? This was definitely a once in a lifetime “bucket list” type of adventure for me. So glad you talked me into doing it – it was such an unbelievable experience! Have no desire though to do a solo swim or another relay. Curious to see what you guys come up with for new swim adventure ideas! The swimming across to Summerland with the bottle of wine sounds fun!
A few swimmers have set out for France from English shores across the Channel without a boat to pilot them. They all drowned.
We didn’t drown thanks to Ray (photo above on the left with a pint) and Reg Brickell and the Viking Princess. The Brickell brothers have piloted “crazy” people across the English Channels’ challenging waters for almost 50 years, following in their dad’s (Reg Senior) wake. All three have been honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and no family is more intertwined in marathon swimming history than the Brickell’s.
Reg started work with his father just before his 16th birthday in 1967 and Ray started when he turned 16 three years later. In 1981, they took over the running of the boat from their father and escort more than 30 swimmers each summer.
With an uncanny knack for picking the right day and time to start a swim based on the individual or team’s strengths and weaknesses, the brothers are highly sought-after pilots and first choice for anyone trying to break Channel records.
When choosing our boat pilot from among the eight certified by the Channel Swimming Association Limited, the Brickell’s amazing history and track record made it a no-brainer and we reserved our spot with them on the first tide three years before our successful July 26, 2016 swim. Good call…100 per cent. In addition to getting our sorry asses to France relatively in one piece, the brothers now will have a special place in hearts and Christmas cards for years to come. After experiencing such an intense 13 hours and 47 minutes together feelings run strong about the people who help you along the way. For example, I’ll never forget laconic Ray’s little speech to me as I readied for my third swim. “Come on luv. Let’s see a good team captain swim now. Give it your all.” I swam my heart out because of those words. (Some of his other words are memorable too. He used a lot of sailor language to keep us in line, especially if we took too long to get up the ladder.)
With almost 50 years of Channel swimmer piloting there are stories to tell. With a couple of pints in front of the brothers at the Ship’s Inn in Folkestone three days after our swim the tales begin. (There is a picture of Reg senior on the wall near the pub commemorating his remarkable Channel swim piloting).
“There was this one lady we have piloted a few times, can’t remember her name…well she was in there swimming away and would complain from time to time of pain around her mid-section when she would stop on her feed breaks,” says Reg. “This went on pretty much her whole swim. When she got out and stripped off her suit a fish and a jellyfish plopped out. You see she was pretty big in the chest area and they had slipped into her suit and the jelly was stinging her.”
Reg says his biggest peeve is swimmers over-inflating their projected speed. “They tell me they can swim four kilometres an hour but can only swim two. That changes a lot of our planning. Swimmers need to tell us the truth.”
Next to the human aquarium lady story, Reg’s favourite is one about a guy who takes the cake where the estimation of his ability is concerned. “This fellow had a helicopter and a second boat just to film him as he was a star and they were making a documentary about his swim. He got in with huge cheers, swam about 300 metres and called it quits because it was too hard. They still made the documentary.”
Crazy Canuck John Ostrom says he is very happy with our pilot choice. “He has huge experience, a capable boat and a diligent crew.” John, who grew up on his father’s fishing boat in Prince Rupert, British Columbia has the skinny on what is involved in piloting us.
“Reg’s job is complicated,” John says. “He has to constantly monitor weather conditions and forecasts, other ship traffic, the performance of the Viking Princess’s propulsion and electronic systems and keep tabs on the swimmer and the support team. Any one of these things can change on a moments notice. On top of that, there is the risk of floating debris or oil slicks in the water he tries to avoid. However, Reg will not dodge jellyfish.
“You can see how if the swim team is not doing their job (either by being unprepared or because of seasickness) in monitoring the swimmer in the water, keeping their gear organized or behaving in unsafe ways such as falling or slipping, that as captain, he could easily call off the swim just for that factor.”
Reg has a full suite of electronic navigational equipment including radar, two GPS-based systems with vessel identification capability and numerous radios of different types. The map of our actual swim shows the typical swim path channel swimmers have to take adding many more kilometres onto what could otherwise be a 30 kilometre swim (we swam almost 50 k). The major swings are the result of starting the swim in an incoming tide and then experiencing the outgoing tide six hours later.
Crossing a shipping lane (there are two in the Channel, one north, one south) is tricky at the best of times. What you want to do is cross it quickly to stay out of the way of commercial traffic which is not possible with swimmers. The commercial traffic know we are out there. “What Reg has to do is be predictable and the commercial traffic will slightly alter their course to avoid the Viking Princess,” John says. In fact, the Baltic cruise me and The Handyman went on in 2015 was held up two hours by a Channel swimmer.
The Viking Princess, built as a fishing trawler needs modification to slow it down to swimmer speed. While I was in the water on the first shift Reg and Ray set up a parachute drag system behind the boat. Throughout our swim we heard the boat engine pushing us forward and then stopping to let the swimmer catch up. There is no such thing as auto pilot on a Channel swim.
“We saw that the winds were increasing during our swim,” John says. “We wouldn’t have been able to swim the day after we did as the winds really kicked up.” At one point Reg told us that a few more miles per hour of wind and he would have hauled in the swimmer in the water and pointed us back to England. “It was medium bad out there toward the end of your swim,” he says in his understated way. None of us (save John) had experienced Force 4 in a small fishing trawler in the ocean before and the rocking of the boat caused some bumps and bruises. At one point Ray came out and told us to sit the f*** down, hold onto to something and forget about going in the hold for anything anymore. He said if anyone gets hurt, the swim is finished.
When the waves got crazy from a condition called wind against the tide, the water began to look frightening but was in fact easier and more fun to navigate while swimming than it was moving around on the boat deck.
Reg’s biggest responsibility is keeping us all safe. He has the ultimate call of when to abort a swim and this power was granted to the Channel Swimming Association boat pilots after a swimmer (not piloted by Reg) pushed herself passed her limit and insisted on keeping going with France so near. She died in the attempt from a heart attack or hypothermia.
“I don’t like to see people fail in their attempt,” says Reg. “It’s no fun at all but for the sake of the swimmer we often have to end it. Our years of experience help us to know when to make this call. We try to stop a swim before it gets too bad. The decision is made when a swimmer is no longer making good forward progress. They get cold and too tired.” Reg says they also had to pull a swimmer out who had been stung on the tongue by a jellyfish.
“You guys did really well. With the seasickness of a few of your swimmers and in particular Janet, you could have easily packed it in before your sixth swimmer even got in the water. A Channel swim is really hard. It’s hard for solos and for relay swimmers. Don’t sell yourself short as a relay. You have other issues keeping the whole team healthy and ready to get in. You was all a bit touched in the head you know but I think you did a great job looking after each other and muscling through when things got tough.”
Reg’s chat at the bar brought up a fear we had dismissed. “Oh yes, there are sharks in there. I caught a 25-foot basking shark not long ago. It wouldn’t eat you, only come up and give you a kiss.”
I asked Reg if the piloting gets routine and was happy to hear his answer. “We get such a charge out of seeing our swimmers touch the shore in France. We get a lot of pleasure seeing swimmers succeed. Sounding the horn when they make it is amazing. I’m going to do this till I die and I’m not looking around the corner for that.”