What a night!!!!! Went to bed at 12, awake till 1, slept fitfully till 7. I think the reality of the swim had hit me. Now the anxiety as well as elation was conflicting within my mind. I knew I was more than ready, but there is always the unexpected when swimming in such a large body of ‘cold’ water, even if it is only in one-hour increments. We still did not know the order Captain Dave had decided upon. The team arrived at our hotel door to stow luggage till after the swim, as they were out of their B&B flat that day. We left for the Co-Op Grocery store to buy 15 hours worth of food, water, snacks, and candy, whatever would get you through the day. Swimmers are so different than my triathlon athlete friends and me when I get in that group. We don’t hesitate a second to buy candy and sweets to help us during our races. No gels or bars. We do however, drink products like Maxim, Carbo-Pro, and Infinit for our during performance feeds and post swims.
Dave allotted 15 mins for the store and 15 mins to get to the dock. We were walking fast carrying bags of groceries and arrived on time—at the wrong dock. That was the dock Dave used 3 years ago—things change and when a fellow arrived and we inquired, he said they are on the other side of the bridge at the Harbor Masters Office Dock. Off we went 10 minutes late. We arrived to see four other relay teams assembling and waiting for their boats, captains, and official Channel Swimming and Pilots Federation (CS&PF) to come and collect them. There was the triathlon relay (I think they were considered the fast relay) and three others. We were the last to board. As we were standing there Loretta (Nancy met days before) came over and took our group photo and asked Dave who was going first. Dave said I was—shocked but excited. We loaded up as we met our Captain Mike Orem, Nelson (assistant), and Amanda (Nelson’s mate and Official PS&PF Observer). We shoved off from the dock; headed to Shakespeare Beach, remember we were just there last night in not such good weather. What a difference 24 hours makes, sun shining, warm weather and God was smiling on us. I asked how long we had till toes wet and Mike said 15 minutes. Oh bugger! I got ready and went over the starting procedures with Amanda. The boat gets close to the shore, I jump in and swim to the beach, toes dry, wait for horn and jump back in and swim for an hour. I forgot to mention that on our way over we were the last to leave. Boat number 3 was clearing even with the harbor wall and boat 4 was just dropping off their swimmer on the beach, so we were last. I jumped in and yelled “Oh Bloody” underwater, it was cold!!! But, I was now in a complete calm state as I swam to the beach trying to keep my heart rate down. I exited and there standing on the beach was our taxi driver Kenny, who was to have driven us to London this morning, but switched to Saturday at 9 am due to our last minute “go” on the swim. He came over from the Harbor to see us off. It was really special to see him and be on the beach as we were on the night before in completely the opposite conditions-God was now smiling, as I was convinced that this was His plan. I heard the horn; it broke me from my thoughts of swimming for the next 60 minutes straight. I walked to the water and dove in and broke into a brisk tempo to warm up quicker, quickly was not going to happen. Water temp was around 62 degrees. This is about the water temperature in the harbor and specifically by the Scalloped Wall. As I caught up with the boat and it turned and then caught up with me on my left (they were very nice in accommodating my left side breathing) I fixed my target on the boat that had just left 5 minutes before me. We were not going to be last!! I soon caught and passed this boat and then since the previous boat had left 15 minutes prior I was not so much focused on catching them, but to closing the gap and swimming for 60 minutes. The water was initially very calm off Shakespeare Beach for about 500 meters and then it turned into the washing machine on a turbulent day, but not the worst we had seen. This is because the coastal currents, this one was moving to the south, are very swift and can tire a solo swimmer early in the swim. I swam for a long while and then decided I wanted to view the cliffs behind, me, which I thought, were part of the White Cliff’s. Found out later they are not part of the White Cliffs on the northern side of the Harbor. They were still beautiful to look at. This also provided a short relief for my shoulders, but I was not going to stop and bob—no bobbing!! I swam some more and flipped to my back for another quick 10 strokes and then back to freestyle. As I watched the boat, it became my swim pacer. I was not exactly sure of the time but was beginning to anxiously see the Blue Shirt Flag indicating 10 minutes to go till switch. This was the longest 10 minutes in my life. I felt like a dog waiting for a treat looking at the boat with the cutest big eyes I could muster. Of course due to my tinted TYR goggles they couldn’t see my eyes. Next I saw my teammate and felt relief as he waved the green jacket. I thought this meant 5 minutes and felt a great wave of excitement, similar to when a dog is about to get their long anticipated treat, that my 60 minutes was about over. Apparently so did he, but in actuality this was the change over signal as I found out when I got back on the boat. But by the 60 minutes I had forgotten what the green signal meant. Then I heard the horn and awaited Jai to jump in behind me, I slowed to allow him to overtake and then aimed for the rear of the boat, sprinted to the ladder (the boat doesn’t stop) to rejoin my dry teammates. I was greeted by Nancy, a wonderful site to see and great support, then Captain Dave. Dave reminded me not to flip to backstroke again as it was not allowed. Then Captain Mike said in jest, quit flipping over and looking back to England we are headed to France, which is in front of you.
As Jai took over I dried off and thought that I actually felt warm. I think it was the blood rushing out to my extremities that made me feel warm. I put on warm-ups and began my watch of keeping an eye on the swimmer while I drank my hot Infinit to warm the core up. Jai did a great job during his swim and we were able to catch the third boat and move into third. Not that this was an official race but what else do competitive people do but turn it into a challenge and a race. We were all motivated now to catch the lead boat of the “Super Sonics.” Jai looked strong in the water and we continued to make progress catching the next boat and moving into 2nd with the Super Sonics left in the lead (they had a 30 minute head start). Next in was Rachel. The exchange went smoothly even with swimming on the opposite side. Jai and I are left sided breathers and swam on the right (starboard) side and the rest were right-sided breathers and they swam on the left (port) side of the boat. The water had continued to turn from the coastal brown into a nice blue. Not as deep of blue as the Pacific but still pretty just the same. Rachel would swim 100 strokes freestyle and then do 25 butterfly to break up the 60 minutes. As we neared the next exchange it was decided that instead of the air horn we’d start using the portable speaker that played the ole song (the soccer ole) to notify the swimmer as sometimes the rolling sea caused you to lose track of the boat. I forgot to mention that the washing machine slowly turned into a bigger rolling sea tossing the boat and swimmer about. So off Mandy went for her first swim in the big blue ocean. Mandy did a great job of keeping us closing the gap on the Super Sonics. The next changeover was between father and daughter with Stuart relieving his daughter Mandy. Again the Ole song was played and the switch made. Stuart swam well through some seriously tough conditions. The current was really pushing him around. The boat was starting to sway back and forth even more violently. At some point during Stu’s swim, Amanda, our observer commented that she didn’t know how much more she could handle of this tossing about and she’s a seasoned observer for the Channel swims! Her paperwork kept getting tossed to the deck from the counter. Dave started to get ready and we told the Captain his task was to overtake the Super Sonics who were now clearly within reach of his time in the water. Again the Ole song was played and the switch made. Captain Dave was off and holding a good pace. The water was still extremely active and made it tough to really stretch it out. About 30 minutes in I started to get ready for my second swim by hanging from the roof extension over the back stern area. I needed to stretch out my shoulders and lats—oooh did that feel good. Dave was able to close to within even of the Super Sonics when we made the switch to the sound of Ole, Ole Ole Ole. I was a little nervous about this second 60-minute swim with only 5 hours rest. Not because of the sea conditions, but because of my shoulders and worried how they would respond. The water was still a beautiful blue and still heaving and tossing, and did I mention still cold, slightly warmer by a degree or two, but still cold at first. As I settled into my swim with my boat pacer next to me I found myself more to the front half to the bow of the boat. I thought more about my TI mechanics of relaxed recovering arms (throwing the elbows out away from my body and forward), spearing into and reaching forward keeping my head in a good neutral position and feeling that dive into and under the waves with a good acceleration. I thought about this more so than stroke counting trying just to hold a good rhythm, which I had honed through my two months of training leading into this swim. Which was around a 1 stroke per second rate. I felt really good during this swim, more so than the first hour. The sun poked its head out and felt good and made the water look even more spectacular. Nothing noteworthy happened during this second hour other than keeping pace with the boat often times out in front of the boat. I missed the blue shirt signal and when I heard the Ole song I was thinking, really an hour already, wow what a great swim. I climbed back on board and looked to our right to see where the Super Sonics where and they were behind us, we were now in the lead and we were going to keep it. Jai took over and again swam a very good hour extending our lead. Rachel was next up again and did a great job. She was always smiling at us from the water and even would now and again shout something at us—always the ever thespian in her coming out. We were on the brink of several severe storms approaching from the south but they seemed to be tracking the course as the boat heading to France and not up through the channel, which would have meant some really rough conditions for us it they had overtaken us. Looking at the rain bands you couldn’t see through them they were so heavy. Mandy readied for the exchange putting on our lights for the first time. Mike, the boat skipper didn’t think we needed them this early but Captain Dave was taking no chances. The Ole song sounded the exchange and off Mandy went. We were now entering our 10th hour into our swim. We could clearly see the French coast approaching but it was still a long way away, I think just over 8 miles at this point, but that doesn’t mean much with the fast currents we’d face as we neared the end of the swim. About 15 minutes into Mandy’s swim she let out a loud scream and started swimming head up freestyle directly towards the boat. Just as she neared the boat, about 15 feet away she said it was seaweed and it just startled her. We had not encountered anything in the water up till this point. Mandy continued on keeping her pace consistent as from her first hour. We knew that if any one of us decided we couldn’t go on the entire swim would be over for all—this was a great motivator to keep going especially because of the road we had traveled getting to this point. Stuart was next up ready with his lights and it was getting to be dusk. Other than Dave, Rachel (lake swims), and Stuart (one time in LA) none of the rest of us had ever experienced night swimming before. Again the Ole song and the father-daughter switch was made. Stuart swam well as we entered the first night swim. At the end of his swim Dave readied and waited for the Ole song. Mike had told Dave we were within three miles of finishing but the current was getting swifter and he would have to swim very strong to finish. As our song played Dave was in and off at a good pace. Stuart had missed the blue signal and was still swimming next to the boat. He looked up a little confused as he heard the song and said he hadn’t seen the blue signal. We yelled (because it was noisy) for him to get in the boat quickly as we didn’t want to lose sight of Dave in the dark sky and waters. Stuart missed his first attempt at the ladder and we had to tell Mike to slow down so Stuart could reach the ladder, he looked tired and didn’t look like he had a sprint left in him. Stuart was aboard and now the search for Dave. I think we were all a little panicked because we had lost sight of Dave. He wasn’t on the left side of the boat where he should have been. Mike then yelled that he was on the opposite side of the boat about 25 meters away. We all were yelling at Dave as he started to look around as well and was wondering why the boat was on the wrong side and headed in the opposite direction he was. The current had grabbed him and was taking him away from the course of the boat. All fell back into place and Dave assumed his position on the left side. I started keeping a close eye on the time and the GPS to see if I was going to be needed to swim again. Honestly I was not looking forward to getting back in, not because of the cold, but because it was going to be my first night swim, my third swim of the day, and I might be the one landing on the beach in the DARK. I asked Mike if he thought Dave could make it about 30 minutes into his 60. Mike said no he wouldn’t, we were going to miss the point of Cape Gris Nez due to the fast current. He said that for every knot we were making in a straight line the current was moving at 4 knots 90 degrees to us, pushing us out away and around the point. Mike felt I was for sure going to swim and depending on how much we missed the point we might be swimming for several more hours. It was approaching 1045 pm, 12 hours from our start time. At 15 minutes, I readied myself, putting on my lights, turning them to check working condition (even though Mandy had just used them earlier), trying to get my head in the game about the night swim. I had changed from my polarized tinted TYR’s to a clear pair that were a little smaller. I wasn’t confident about these goggles as I had troubles with them while swimming with them in the pool (brand to go un-named but not TYR). They didn’t fit like my TYR’s and I really needed a confident fit. Amanda, official observer, could sense my trepidation about getting back in and was encouraging me by saying how cool it would be to be able to say that I walked in the water from England and walked out of the water in France. It sounded great and I knew she was really trying to get me pumped up about swimming but it was having marginal effect. I checked back in the cabin with Mike with 5 minutes to go and he said you only have 1500 meters to go (in a straight line) and that I could do it just swim fast. I readied on the side of the boat and waited for the Ole. Ole sounded and I jumped in—immediately my goggles came flying off my head as I went underwater. I thought “Oh Bloody” (as Stuart coined the incomplete phrase) and immediately started searching with the overcast of light from the stern of the boat. I found them and started treading water to put them back on. The right goggle couldn’t get a could seal and filled with seawater, the left could seal but was cloudy (maybe a little from my Vaseline fingers). But, I got them on and was off in a ‘cloud of camel dung’ as my late Navy Veteran father-in-law likes to say. The water felt warm- several degrees warmer then my first two swims. I must have had a good pace going as my heart rate seemed to be high and I was having trouble getting my breath. Not sure if it was a combination of first night swim, rough water conditions, wanting this to be over or all of the above. I made myself think about all the focal points we teach our clients and soon I was back in my cocoon of calmness and back in a good rhythm, all was good. This was actually beginning to become really fun swimming in the dark. The sea was still pretty rough tossing and throwing me and my pacer boat around. I decided to swim up a little in the spot light area off amidships of the boat putting me about 6-10 feet away. The waves would push me in to sometimes 2 feet of the boat and then back out. I forgot to mention that they had the rear deck light on, the stern light on, and a spotlight shining down into the water from the upper deck. I found that swimming up in this light was right in my eyes when I breathed and made it so that I couldn’t see a thing but this bright light in my eyes. I adjusted towards the rear and that was better and could see Nancy sitting on the side keeping a watchful eye on me. I could sense that she was really concerned and nervous about my third swim in the dark. I would occasionally move back towards the spot light and at about 20 minutes in, I felt an electric shock on my right arm between my wrist and elbow. It was a short intense shock/pain and nothing I had felt before. I immediately thought jellyfish and then remembered that Dave had mentioned that they don’t like to use too many lights pointed into the water because things in the water at night are attracted to the light. So I repositioned to the aft of the boat telling myself to stay away from the spot. The pain in the forearm subsided a little but still felt like after an initial severe burn. Not really super painful but you can’t keep it out of your mind. I remembered that I couldn’t give up as this whole swim would be for naught and I would let my TI teammates down. At one point I was swimming and getting my breath and I realized that I was hearing the exhaust directly, like immediately, in front of me. This could only mean one thing and that I was about to hit the stern of the boat on the starboard edge and I knew the propellers where somewhere not far behind. I immediately juked to the right about 4 feet. Nancy told me afterwards that a wave had picked me up and pushed directly into this position and she yelled to Mike that I was about to go under the stern and he immediately turned to the left helping to create that immediate 4 foot separation. Things got back to normal. At this point I had a feeling that I had been in the water for 30 minutes and had not reach the beach so I resigned myself to keep swimming and Jai would be relieving me to make the final swim to shore. Not long after this I notice the boat slowing and I was now up even with the spot light again. I stopped and looked up at Mike and asked what was going on (of course I had earplugs in, so hearing was hard) and Mike was yelling back to keep stroking, get going, keep going straight (whatever direction that was, it was dark I couldn’t see straight). So off I went in the dark. About a minute later the boat came zooming past me and continued. I was thinking what the bloody hell was going on, why were they leaving me in the water in the dark. Then I thought oh, they’re letting down the dingy maybe I’m close. So as I approached the boat, because it had stopped again, I noticed everyone on the back deck staring at me. So, like anyone inquisitive, I stopped and asked what was going on, is the dingy in the water and everyone yelled back simultaneously, keep swimming, go-go-go. Of course they all knew I only had about 70 yards to go but I didn’t have a clue. The boat passed me again and stopped. This time I decided to take out my right earplug so I could hear properly what they were saying. I stopped and inquired; they said I only had 70 yards to swim to shore. I naturally said where’s the shore? The said there was no dingy and to follow the spot light. So that’s what I did, I took off in pursuit of the light, then the light disappeared, I kept going straight, then the light appeared and I could see the land, then the light disappeared (I later found out that they were concerned about hitting the rocks and needed the light to keep an eye on them as well). As I was swimming the water was really calm and had little swells, I picked my head up and started swimming head up and could hear the waves breaking gently ahead of me, so I figured it wasn’t going to be a rough surf landing, I could also smell the seaweed in the air and knew I was close. I put my head back in the water and began swimming again. A few strokes later my right hand hit something hard as I started my pull and I thought oh wonderful sand bottom shallow I can stand up. Then my left hand just went all the way down hitting nothing, I thought sandbar, as my right hand also hit nothing. Then within 2 more strokes my right hand ran into something really hard and big but about a foot below the surface and I thought rocks-Oh Bloody!! I started to be pulled back off of the rock with the outgoing surge but held on and pulled across it on the incoming surge, then more deep water and then another rock just below the surface. I pulled myself up on the rock quickly (I remembered in reading Lynne Cox’s book “Swimming to Antarctica” her chapter on crossing the English Channel, which I re-read on the plane over, about her landing on the rocks and they had barnacles on the them and she cut her knees) so I thought I better get up on this rock quickly before the next wave came in. I climbed up, took my goggles off and saw that I was on boulders that were separated from each other by from 1-6 feet with water of unknown depth in between. Having two artificial knees I was not going to jump from rock to rock, as I didn’t know how slippery they were. So I eased back into the water and swam to the next rock and pulled myself out again. My feet were still in the water and I knew they needed to be toes dry. So I went for another rock. I could see the dry ones but they were still approximately 50 meters away and I was hoping this last rock would be sufficient for Amanda to end the swim. I pulled up on the rock, toes dry. I looked towards the dry area of the shore and saw three lights heading my way. I couldn’t hear anything but voices; I turned and looked at the boat and yelled is this good enough but couldn’t understand them either. Finally, the Ole song played and I was elated. I turned to see the land lights getting closer and thought maybe the Gendarme were coming out for me, so I quickly slipped back into the water and went feet first sculling with my hand back through the gaps in the rocks towards the boat. As I approached the boat I could hear everyone yelling happily. I reached for the ladder and the boat took off leaving me there in the wake wondering what the bloody was going on. Then it stopped and I swam to it and was able to grab the ladder and climb aboard to hug and high five my teammates. It was over, 12 hours 49 minutes and some odd seconds. I sat down and toweled off. We had finished first of the five boats despite starting 30 minutes behind. As we headed back to Dover (a two and a half hour ride that would put us back at the dock at 3 am) we came across the other boats still plodding towards France. Mike decided that we should circle the boats playing Ole and cheering them on. I wasn’t sure how they’d react to this as I first thought it sounded more like gloating that we beat you than keep up the good work you’re almost there. The next boat in was an hour and forty-four minutes behinds us with the last boat landing at 5 am.
Next up the epilogue.