On the Dovercoaster

On the way

SwimBetween the 17th and 21st July 2019
TeamAisling Carroll, Susan Cook, Jennifer Laffan
CrewTracy Clark
Sunday Morning (14th July 2019)

I took Friday 12th July off work in order to get the housework done (I wanted to be able to walk in a dump the bags), get my hair cut (really short as it was short anyway) and get he eyebrows threaded and any stray dark fuzz removed and then call in on Mum & Dad.   I managed to get everything except the housework done.  

Saturday’s plan was again to do the housework, I really can’t remember what I did, I did pop in to see Mum and Dad and then John, Nicky and the boys and I did manage to start getting the living room tidied up but no more, I did feel relaxed though which was probably a positive from the day.

Sunday, boat booked for 18:10 from Rosslare had to be there before about 17:30.  Plenty of time to finally do the housework, I figured if I could get the hall clear, the kitchen and living room clean and tidy in a couple of hours, pack and leave at 3 to 3:30.  I should have worn my watch as my sense of time in so bad, it was three before I properly checked the time so a mad shower and quick pack (sling it in the car) before heading out at about 3:45!  I had noticed that there was a message from Aisling but had no time to read it, on good bit of road I rang her (I have hands free) – Paul Foreman, our pilot, wanted us to leave at 10pm on Tuesday!   Ash was waiting to hear back from Jennifer (third person) and Tracy Clark (crew) about their availability as were down as slot 2 between the 17th and 21st July; apparently the weather was perfect for Tuesday and the forecast was giving a change on Thursday.  We had to do our best to go for Tuesday night.  

I made the boat before 17:30 and drove straight on to the boat.  What a beautiful evening and a calm sea – fingers crossed that we would get a similar calm sea for out crossing.

The Leaving of Liverpool Rosslare

The crossing was perfect and the joys of technology allowed me to phone Mum & Dad to let them know I had arrived and caught the boat.  I had a lovely surprise when the phone went and Fin’s (nephew) name came up, he is generally a man of few words, like me he is not great at small talk, I managed a hello from him before John spoke to wish me luck and, I think, to make sure I had got away safely.  They had been out for a boys Airsoft day, apparently having grey hair makes you a bit of a target so John had had to run around with a black swimming hat on; hot but saved a burnt balding head.

It was still sunny at Fishguard so I went to check the jellyfish situation – not good; lots of Barrel jellyfish (big, firm but harmless), compass jellyfish (sting) and moon jellyfish (mild sting).

My original aim was to drive to Bridgend and stay overnight in a motel at the designer village.  I made it to just before the M4 but was too tired to drive for the extra 45 minutes to Bridgend so booked in to the Travelodge at Camarthen.  I got up about 8:30/9am on Monday and headed to the designer village at Bridgend where I had coffee and a breakfast wrap before hitting the shops.  I had been finding it difficult to get my legs warm after a swim in the cold so I was looking for a waterproof, windproof, insulted pair of trousers and found the perfect pair in Trespass at a very reasonable £33.59, I also picked up some crystallised ginger in case I did suffer from any sea sickness.  Whilst walking around I heard from Ash to say that Tracy was double booked so it was down to the three of us to crew ourselves.  Jen could make it but had to get the final sign off from the doctor after a 9am visit but she expected to be down in Dover at about 8pm and would meet us at the dock.

 When I got back to the car the enormity of it all hit me like a train!

Most of the drive along the M4 was clear and I made good time but the M25, M20 and M26 were awful, some roadworks and several accidents meant that the traffic slowed to a crawl and frustratingly regular intervals, on the good side it was only at a standstill on one occasion.  I finally gave up at Maidenhead and stopped for some food and by the time I got back onto the motorway it was a clear run into Dover and then Kingsdown, after a quick trip to Deal Sainsbury for a few staples.  

The cabin was lovely, 3 bed rooms and all mod cons (no WiFi).  Over strawberries and cream, Ash and I arranged to meet Monday morning for a quick swim to unwind after all the traveling and get a feel for the water temperature.

Kingsdown Holiday Park
Swim10pm Tuesday 16th July 2019
TeamAisling Carroll, Susan Cook, Jennifer Laffan
CrewNone
The night of Monday 15th July 2019

We’re Here

Up at 7:30, down to the beach at Kingsdown and into water for about a quarter past 9. It was a beautiful day, the sea was calm and warm and it felt good to paddle about, though we only stayed in for about 15 minutes.  I think we both got out feeling very confident that we could get to France, we could even see it from the beach.  We parted for a shower and to get some breakfast, then I would go and sort out the parking for later.

Ash rang at 9:30 to say that Jen’s Dad had rung to say that Jen’s doctor had said that she was not fit to swim.  Both Ash and I knew that Jen was really upset but her health was so much more important than the swim. 

Swim10pm Tuesday 16th July 2019
TeamAisling Carroll, Susan Cook
CrewNone
9:45am Tuesday 16th July 2019

Ash and I met up at the picnic table outside my chalet, at this point we probably could not go ahead – 2 person and no crew was only just manageable, or so we thought in our ignorance, with each of us doing two hours.  In fact my immediate reaction was that we couldn’t do it and then we talked our way round.  In very quick succession Ash contacted the our pilot, Paul Foreman, to let him know the situation he suggested she contact the CS&PF to see if they knew of any qualified swimmers looking for a relay.  I posted a message on the Facebook page, “Channel Swim Relay – Find A Team Member” whilst Ash spoke to Tracy for some advice.  Tracy agreed that to stand a realistic chance of getting across as a two we needed a crew but she said she put the message out.  It was now a nail biting wait for answers.

I went into Dover to get my parking voucher for the Marina, £9 for the day and they even said as they were open 24 hours I could leave it until the evening in case the swim was cancelled – as I said it was on my list to do so I needed to tick the box and the permit was bought.  I then headed into Dover to get more lanolin and tweezers (to pull out jelly stingers) and battery packs for the phones & cameras.

Whilst I was pottering around Tracy sent me a request to join the Facebook group “Dover Channel Training.” where she had posted an urgent request for either a crew or extra swimmer.   Hannah Litchfield had replied to the query on the group and through Tracy Clark’s Varne Ridge camps Alexandra Plummer had also offered to swim, but couldn’t make the time and the CS&PF would approve her paper, and Ruth Williamson would crew. 

Swim10pm Tuesday 16th July 2019
TeamAisling Carroll, Susan Cook and Hannah Litchfield
CrewRuth Williamson
13:20pm Tuesday 16th July 2019

To say it was a stressful morning is an understatement.   Thankfully Ash managed the phone calls, I am so grateful for that.

I returned to the chalet and decided to paint my nails, a very fetching yellow called ‘Chin Up, Buttercup’ which seemed appropriate.  

I then turned on the TV in the hope that daytime TV would send me to sleep but unfortunately the groundsmen were strimming the grass nearby which was not exactly conducive to sleep or rest as I messaged to our team group “It’s going to be a caffeine fuelled swim. Good job I’m driving us down or I’d be on the beers.”  With everything that had not gone right, I was getting a bit paranoid – I was even asking if we needed to sort an observer (the CS&PF do this).  Even without the strimming, I don’t think I could have slept, I was just a  bit too wound up. 

Packing was easy as I’d left everything out on the furniture on Monday night, I did go a bit overboard on the water – I get migraines if I get dehydrated so I was a bit paranoid about not bringing enough.  I filled the large flask with hot water for tea and to make up hot drinks and a handy sized insulated flask for the first warm drink.  I must have packed about 5.5 litres of water.  Food wise I had some overcooked homemade flapjacks (made on Sunday), white pasta with chicken, cuppa soup, chilled orange pieces, fig rolls (1 pack) and 2 packs of ginger nuts, also ginger/lemon tea and black tea.  As a just in case I also had electrolyte + energy gels and energy + caffeine gels, a small container of 2 x concentrated highly branched cyclic dextran and a tube of electrolyte tablets.    Not knowing the crew or our third swimmer I wanted to be sure no one would go hungry or thirsty.

Ash and Heather know me for trying to pack for all eventualities which means I’m not noted for travelling lightly so I thought I’d done quite well to get it down to the four bags, three of which I could carry in one go, the tub was too much for me to carry with anything else.  

We’re OFF!

I loaded the stuff into the car, caught up with Ash and loaded her stuff then picked up the tub to put in the car – if it wasn’t packed now we would have to do with out it – dry robes were out to be worn, no chance we could forget them.  At about 8:30 Ash said goodbye to her husband Pete and son Lorcan, then we were off.  I don’t know about Ash, but I was definitely feeling a mixture of fear and excitement and was glad I was driving so that I had to focus on something else.  The Dover Marina was only about 15 minutes from our accommodation and at that time of night, the traffic was not bad, so we pulled into the carpark at about ten to nine.  As I pulled round to a parking space we could see a tall, blond woman looking around and we were wondering if that was our crew, I think she realised who we were faster than we did her due to the Irish number plate, her big smile of recognition confirmed what we were asking each other.  

We quickly introduced ourselves and thanked Ruth Williamson for stepping in at the last minute and within minutes were joined by another relay team The Sharkets22 with lovely blue team sweatshirts.  Ruth knew them so we were soon chatting about I don’t know what.  They were travelling on the Suva with Neil Streeter.  When they went off to get a photo in front of the Dover Harbour sign, we decided to unpack the car and move our stuff down to the the sign near the steps to the jetty.  It was only when we were down there that we realised there were a lot of people about and all were heading off to start their swim.  It resembled a quiet Clapham Junction with all the coming and going.  It was slightly bizarre and unexpected. 

Once at the sign for the harbour, we found a lonely soul in a red dry robe and we tentatively ask her if she was waiting for a relay team and if she was Hannah Litchfield. It was hugs all round for Hannah and the team was complete.

To complete the pre-launch catch-up, Tracy Clark appeared, the hero of the day who had put the stray pieces together and got us to Dover Harbour at 9:30 waiting to meet complete strangers who were going to get us across the Channel.  

I cannot describe how unreal it was meeting and befriending strangers at a Harbour waiting to complete a challenge as mysterious as a Channel swim.  For some reason, I expected the harbour at that time of the night to be a quiet, lonely place and meeting these complete strangers to be more awkward than it was. 

Tracy Clark, Aisling Carroll, Ruth Williamson, Hannah Litchfield and Susan Cook

While we waited around before heading down to the boat, Hannah told us that she had started a relay the day before but the first swimmer had pulled out because he was cold 18 minutes before his hour was up and as a result the relay was called off. Fortunately for her when she asked the pilot if she could still have a hour swim he agreed, which made up in a small way for missing out.   We asked was he shivering badly but apparently he was ‘shivering a bit’, he was from California or Florida. 

After saying hello to the Paul Foreman, the pilot, the boat crew loaded our stuff on to the boat whilst we climbed aboard.  We established ourselves on the back deck and moved the bags around to make some room for us to move around.  Jason Parrot explained the rules of the boat whilst we waited for our CS&PF observer, Matt, who appeared and introduced himself before the briefing was over.  Paul was quick to get us under way and around to Samphire Hoe amidst cheers and waves to and from the other boats.  

On the relatively short trip to the start Hannah changed in to the team costume which Heather had left for the third swimmer, fortunately it fitted, put on the glow stick (once Jason had cracked it to get it to glow, we’d all tried but to no avail) on the back of her costume and flashing adventure light on the goggle strap at the back of her head and got into her dry robe so that she wasn’t too cold before she went in.   Gradually the other little ships started to follow us round to Samphire Hoe.  We were one of the first to get to the start and Hannah jumped in to the darkening water and swam out to the beach.  The start has to be when the swimmer is above the water line, which is no mean feet as the beaches around Dover are stoney and steep due to the tides – it really hurts climbing up above the water.  Once on the beach, Hannah stood with her hands in a Y above her head and waited for Paul to sound the ships horn.  At 11:01, the horn sounded and Hannah walked down to the water and swam out to the boat.  That was it, we were finally swimming the Channel, no room for doubt, the three of us were swimming to France.  

You might wonder why neither Ash nor I started the swim, having had such a traumatic morning leading up to the start.  After all the hassle, we wanted the swim to be successful, we both thought Hannah being the youngest was probably the fastest of the three and we had been told by those more experienced in Channel swimming that a fast start is important for a successful crossing as we would need to get out of inland water as quickly as possible.  Ash asked me if I minded whether she went second, I didn’t and she is also a bit faster than I am so that also made more sense.   Once everyone has had their first swim that is the order in which the swimmers must swim for the rest of the crossing.  

The night was calm and we had a full moon to light our way.  Both Ash and I watched Hannah swim out to the boat and shouted encouragement to her.  It was also an opportunity to chat, get to know Ruth and try and calm our own nerves.  About 20 minutes before the first hour was up, Ruth told Ash to get changed but stay wrapped up so that she did not get cold before getting into the water.   Watching Ash get ready meant my turn was coming up soon, helping her and encouraging her helped pushed the trepidation away for the time being.  About 10 min to go Ash stripped to her costume with the DryRobe over her – checked the lights, hat and goggles. Before we knew it Ash had started and Hannah was back on the boat getting a warm drink, stripping off her wet costume and putting on her onesie.    

At this point I was at the side watching Ash and shouting words of encouragement, I thought I had loads of time, a whole hour after all, but all too quickly it was my turn to get ready.  Changing and putting on the lights, sudacream (to try and stop chafing), hats and goggles does keep your mind off the fact that you are jumping off the back of a small boat in the dark into one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.  Then you find yourself sat waiting on deck with all your gear on under your changing robe waiting for the pilot to tell you to climb down the steps.  All I could think of was that I had to swim behind Ash as she left the water and to wait until I was told to jump in before I jumped.  Then Jason removed the chain from the ladder at the back of the boat and I had to climb down.  I’m not great on steps so I was praying I wouldn’t fall in!  At the bottom of the steps I was looking up at the deck waiting for the shout.  GO! I jumped in – “oh it’s cold, catch my breath, swim behind Ash, catch my breath, Get into the Frontcrawl straight away, calm down, catch your breath, Up level with the wheelhouse, calm down, goggles are fine, get your breath, just swim, thumbs up!  Get swimming, calm down, breath both sides, continually breath out between breaths.  Find your rhythm.  Close my eyes between breaths, calm.  Not too cold. Stay in the light. Reach and pull, feel the water.  Kick your legs, or Paul will shout at you to kick.  Find a rhythm you can keep up for an hour.”  I could see the girls on the deck, eating drinking having a quiet chat. I think Ash was shouting something at me at one point.  “Roll into your stroke, don’t hunch your shoulders – you don’t want them to start giving you pain this early on.  Oh hell – I’ve drifted to the back of the boat, speed up and get into the light – I thought I was swimming at a steady speed.” Then I went through a bit of stroke analysis.  “Feeling a bit tired.  How long is an hour.  Don’t think about it, just swim.”  Every third stroke I could see what was going on on deck.  “Hannah is changed, 10 minutes to go.  Ruth has the count down light” (a cone shaped light Hannah brought, that we agreed would be used as the 5minute warning).  “Keep swimming, don’t slow – bloody hell that’s a long 5 minutes or was it 10 minutes – feels more like 15 minutes.”  Then she was down the ladder and I moved toward the stern – “Was I supposed to do that can’t remember.”  Finally Hannah was in the water and I swim to the steps – “I have to get out as quickly as possible” We had been told at the Varne Ridge camp in October 2018 that a quick change over is vital as the boat engine is idling whilst we change over and at the mercy of the strong Channel tides.  “That must have gone okay, everyone seems happy.” First swim done, 1am to 2am.

Ruth and Ash had a towel and dry robe round me and Ruth handed me my ginger and lemon tea in a travel mug.   I had a sip and got the wet costume off and dry clothes on – my old diving thermals and the windproof/waterproof trousers.  I managed to eat a flapjack and sip the tea – which was warm but not too warm that it can burn my mouth – Ruth knew what she was doing.  On the lead up, we had imagined playing music and cheering each other on but at 2:30 in the morning having had very little sleep and after all the upheaval, I was tired, very tired and cold. 

 Hannah headed below for a sleep, when she came on board after her second swim – I was too afraid of getting seasick to go below so ducked down on the sheltered foredeck and huddled up for warmth and a snooze.  I don’t think I slept, but I did doze despite being a bit cold – there was a slight breeze which felt colder than it probably was.  Before I knew it Ruth was gently nudging me to get up and get changed.  I was still very tired and this was the worst time to swim 4am, I was tired but  we were going to do this, so costume on and it wasn’t quite so scary this time.  I did manage to watch Ash swim for a bit before the final preparations, I watched her run into some seaweed and catch a fright – I was so hoping that the weed would clear for me, I knew I’d catch a fright if I ran into it.  Ruth told me that I was probably going to swim us out of the north-south English shipping lane.

The water did feel cold jumping in and it was an effort to get the head in and swim up to the wheel house window, once I had the thumbs up that was it head down, get into a rhythm and swim.  Then I saw the jellyfish – compass jellyfish – and the weeds.  The first sting was on my cheek, and then I think my arm, my back, my legs – pretty well everywhere not covered by a swimming costume.  The weed was either hiding jellyfish stings or rough enough that it felt like I was being stung.  At one point I turned to breath on my right side and the dawn light glinting on a ferry heading for Dover.  The faint pinkish tinge cast of the ship made it look beautiful – like it was lit with fairy lights.  I was a pleasant distraction from the near incessant jellyfish stings.  I don’t think I missed a stroke, how I managed to just plough through I will never know.  I did get a bit fed up after one small jelly free spell when the damn things appeared again and the stings started again.  Despite the stings, the dawn swim was beautiful. As the sky brighten, the pale pinks, yellows and orange of the dawn sun lent a fairytale like beauty to the shipping and the sea turned from a daunting dark to beautiful blue.   Psychologically the sun makes you feel warmer as you swim, which helped towards the end of the hour but despite this I was glad when Hannah took over; again that last 10 minutes did feel more like half an hour!   Second swim done 4-5am.  

The sun has a restorative effect, after my lemon and ginger tea and a piece of a flapjack, a change into dry clothes I did not feel as cold or tired as I had after my first swim.  I did manage to have a warm snooze whilst Hannah and Ash swam.  I even managed to have a chat with Ruth and watch Ash swim before getting ready to go for my third swim.  Ash told me weeks later that she had warned Ruth to just leave me alone after getting out, as I would not want to be fussed over after being stung for an hour – she was so right, it pays to train with the people you swim with.   Once I recovered I was in a good humour for the third swim, though praying that we had left the jellies behind.

Hannah swam us across the separation zone and into the start of the French shipping lane and Ash took us well into the shipping lane with the tide pulling us rapidly south.  We now had to hope that we could continue to make easterly headway as we were pulled south by the tides.

By the time I was getting in for the my third swim at around 8am the sun was up and the day was warming up nicely.  Despite all the training and having jumped into the sea twice before in the dark, there was still that slight shock on entering the water and a sense of panic to check goggles, get up to the wheelhouse and get the face in and do a few frontcrawl strokes and calm down before the thumbs up from Jason to go which all happens in about a minute or two at most.   In normal times it takes me a good while to warm up, 10 to 15 minutes swimming; when I was doing a more running (a geriatric shuffle may be a more apt description and I apologise to any geriatrics reading this, I am slow, very slow and not exactly gazelle like in my running style) I found 10mile/half marathon a bit more pleasant (like that sick pleasure one has when squeezing a particularly painful spot) than 5 or 10km as I could get into a rhythm.   Having to get up to my cruising speed pretty well immediately does not come naturally, that said I did swim competitively for a few years as a child and have been known to do a few masters competitions in recent years, so I do possibly underestimate my ability to get in and go.  With the sun on my back and no jellyfish or weed this swim was about finding the rhythm and keeping up with the centre of the boat.  At times when I turned to breath, I found myself towards the back of the boat then had swam harder to catch up and get back into position.   The crew will not let you drift off to the rear, but when you are in the water and you fall back even a little, you really, really want to get back up to your position outside the wheel house.  I don’t know about other channel swimmers, but I was very aware of how tiny I was and how much I needed the Optimist, which itself was small compared to a lot of the shipping about us.  In the later half of the swim I could see a large container ship approaching us as I took a breath to my right (away from the boat), I was thinking we would have to change course to avoid it as it was really close!  On deck, it was a good distance away and of no threat – when you are a tiny speck the dangers look big and near. Also back on the boat in the warm sunshine France was visible.  Swim three done 7-8am.

In the warmth of the sun, I managed a snooze which helped banish the tiredness.  Paul came on deck to tell us that we were doing well, but we would have to swim as hard as we could when he waved at us during our next swim but the maximum would not be need for long but we may need to do a few bursts.  On the boat I didn’t over think what he was saying, all I tried to take from the chat was “When Paul starts waving swim hard until he stops.”  Refreshed and galvanised by Paul, we all gave Hannah some encouragement from the deck and Ruth and I chatted and waved and shouted for Ash.  This time, thanks to the distractions of an interesting chat with Ruth, my next swim seemed to come round very quickly.  The water was warmer now, though there was still that slight shock of jumping in and the panic to get into position and be ready for the thumbs with the added knowledge that this was going to be a tough one and I needed to watch the deck for Paul’s signal.   Fortunately I had got into my rhythm before Paul signal; I got the legs going and increased the stroke rate and went for it!  I turned to breath and he was still there getting a workout waving me on and I kept up the effort.  Another breath toward the boat and he was still there waving with his whole upper body and I was feeling it, the shoulder and neck were beginning to get little, sharp, darts of pain.  Another breath and still he was there gesticulating wildly, I was now hoping that we didn’t have to have too many more swims.  Another breath, I was not sure how much longer I could keep this is up without something going twang.  Then he was gone and I could calm down a bit.  I had no idea how long I was swimming at full pelt, I felt like it was ages and when I slowed it was only by a bit, to a more sustainable pace.  Even with just being in for the hour, I had no idea how long I had been swimming or how long I had left to swim.  I knew we were getting close because I could see the lighthouse on Cap Gris-Nez when I turned to my left.  Also the water some felt different and it looked greener and I thought I could hear the movement of stones in the wash so I thought we must be close and no more than one more swim each.  I could see loads of barrel jellyfish below me, I know they don’t sting but I was hoping that they would not come any higher; I really did not want to be swimming through them, sting or no sting!  Then I was getting out and could see how close we were to the coast, the Cap really was close.  So close in fact that Ruth told me not to change out of my costume as Hannah was likely to finish on this swim and Paul might let us swim in.  

Paul came up on deck and told Ash and I that due to the hazards in the water we were going to stop soon and Hannah would have to swim the last 50 – 100m to shore but if we didn’t hang around too long on the beach we could follow her in.  We were told that we had to stay behind Hannah and she had to walk clear of the water unaided.  We had to be quick as the falling tide meant that the boat could not hang around long.  Ash and I did not need to be asked twice, we put on our Kilkenny masters t-shirts and took a spare orange t-shirt for Hannah, I put my camera down the front of my cossie and we were off!  

Of course Hannah walked up the beach, Paul or Jason blew the horn to signal the end of the swim!  I had a bit of a panic when a couple walking along the beach started to approach Hannah as she got out, last thing we needed was for them to be helpful, but it was okay.  Bizarrely the lovely couple on the beach were from the UK, so it was great not to try and ask in French if they would take a few photos of us.   I remember looking at Ash when we were having our photos taken and had to choke back a few tears, we had done it!  Twelve hours and thirty five minutes for three women to swim 21 miles, as the crow flies, across one to the busiest water ways in the world.

After some hasty congratulations and hugs we were quickly swimming back to the Optimist and then on our way back to Dover, tired and happy.   On the way back I asked Paul if when I found myself drifting behind had I been swimming slower or had they picked up the pace a bit, he told us that they had picked up the pace – well that’s one way to keep your swimmers on track.  We sat on the boat listening to music and chatting in the sun.  The trip back took about three hours. 

Channel swims really do require a team of people to make them happen and to keep the swimmers safe.   A few thanks follow to some of the many people who got us across.

Huge thanks go to the crew of the Optimist – Paul Foreman, Jason Parrot and Marvin Graves, they steered us well.  

Our observer from the CS&PF, Matt Austin who quietly made sure we followed the rules and as a result we had an official swim.  

Tracy Clark who helped to hook us up with Ruth and Hannah as well as introducing us to the joys of the English Channel in October 2018 at her Varne Ridge Camp, I don’t think we knew at the time quite how much we learnt during those 4/5 days.

Dr. Ruth Williamson who voluntarily gave her some of her precious time off as a consultant radiologist in Bournemouth to feed us warm drinks, drape changing robes around us and generally keep us organised.

Hannah Litchfield who stepped in at the last minute to be our third swimmer.  You were brilliant Hannah and I know you will be successful when you do your solo Channel Swim.

Heather Purcell who started this crazy journey, it was great fun training with you and we had some great laughs along the way.  I will continue to watch in awe the events you conquer with ‘ease’ and then set another – a double Ironman distance in Snowdonia is not enough of a challenge for you!

Pete, Lorcan and Danny for putting up with your wife/mother spending a lot of time over 2 years at the Waterford coast and at the Watershed.  

Aisling Carroll you were amazing it was a rollercoaster but what a fantastic experience and I’m sure you’ll do a solo or something equally challenging in the future. I hope that I can help and support you with any of your future swim

Family and friends all helped to get us across the channel and the mad people that do this kind of swimming are a great community.

It has been over a year since our swim, COVID-19 has come and driven a hole through training and any plans we had made. I have made to two great friends, Ash and Heather, during the training for the the Channel relay and discovered that I love sea swimming but hate jellyfish. At present I have no plans for future swims, I had hoped to do a 10km this year but that will have to wait until next year now. For the winter, I hope to take part in the second Dublin Ice Swimming Gala in Clontarf – got such a buzz from it in January; maybe I’ll be more adventurous and swim more than the 80m races. The swimming pool closures have meant that I now regularly swim in the sea after work and love it, though the sea lice (apparently they are baby jellyfish) have curtailed my swimming in the last few weeks. Both Heather and Ash have epic events planned for 2021.

Good advice.

8 days

Tuesday 9th July

My usual Tuesday is spent sampling rivers and/or lakes for the EPA, today was no exception. It was sunny and hot so the air-conditioning in the car was working hard on and off during the day. The samples then get taken up to the EPA lab in Kilkenny so I have a guaranteed 5pm finish.

Tuesday is also swimming night from 9-10pm with the session set by either Mikey or Jamie. I love this session as there is nearly always someone else in the lane trying to get through the session and the sets are varied but you feel they push you if you want them to. This week’s session included 2 x (12 x 25m at max effort), with only myself and Tadgh in the lane we raced each other – there is nothing like racing someone in the lane to make you put the effort in, we were both in need of the 200m easy after each set of sprints.

At home I finally decided to look at what I will need for the trip and put my list on a spreadsheet which I shared with Ash and Jen. Whilst we don’t want to double up unnecessarily, we also don’t want to forget anything vital or have to run around Dover trying to get the vital stuff on Monday or Tuesday. Having been warned not to take too much on the boat (they are not ocean going liners) it was a surprisingly long list and that was without the food and water. We also have to think about feeding Tracy (crew) and possibly the observer. Beginning to think I should have been planning this a bit longer, but then both Ash and I love our food so we will probably be okay. I will have to remember that we will be out and back within a day (possibly a very long one, but still only a day).

9 days to go!

Monday 8th July

Oh hell, this day week I will be in the UK and at some point will hit our accomodation. How prepared for the trip am I – not at all. On the plus side the car is clean and has passed the NCT, my new driving licence arrived (the old one was due to expire whilst I’m away) and I have gels (emergency use only) and goggles have arrived and have had a short test.

My attempts to try and catch-up at work was hindered a bit by a trip to sort out an ammonia monitor and some odd results which required repeating. The hiccups also meant I worked a bit too late to go to Matt’s Strength & Conditioning class, probably a mixed blessing.

Not sure whether I’m worried, panicked, excited, impatient or what I’m feeling now.

10 days & counting

Sunday 7th July

The plan was to meet at the Guillamene at 9am for a 4km swim. My stomach decided to have a couple of churns which held me up a bit so it was 9:15 by the time I arrived. The fabulous sun we had had all week had deserted us to be replaced by grey, overcast skies and mist. On the plus side the mist, at least, had lifted between Waterford and Tramore, leaving a dull, but dry, morning that was warm by Irish summer standards.

I actually managed to get in quickly with virtually no whimpering; the water has finally got a bit warmer, the downside of this is that the jellyfish have arrived. Apart from the soup of moon jellyfish at the end of the ‘Beat the Ferryman’ swim, we’ve not experienced swimming with jellies this year. To give ourselves time to get used to the ‘experience’ we decided to swim out to the flag and back, at least if one of us did get stung or panic we would not be too far from a safe exit. I did bounce a few of the moon jellyfish without being stung but was a bit worried about the beautiful purple-blue jellies with the yellow fringe. At the time I didn’t know what the blue ones were and not wanting a nasty sting so close to departure, Ash and I decided to head to the Watershed for our 4km swim. I think we both half felt that we should have stayed to swim at the Guillamene with the jellies, but neither of us wanted to put starting the Channel swim in jeopardy.

Back at the Watershed, the pool was quiet and there were a few lanes roped off so we both got on with the task; I think Ash did 10 x 400m and I decided to do 2 x 400m, 2 x 500m, 2 x 600m and 2 x 500m and tried to do the second of each pair faster than the first and take only about 10-15 sec rest between the sets. The result was the 4km was finished in about 1hour 20min with the last (4th) 500m being faster than the first so I was quite pleased with that. We were both happy with out efforts and headed off feeling a little more confident heading into our last week before the Dover trip.

The 4km was swam with very little food inside me, a couple of spoonfuls of porridge and a coffee and muffin between the Guillamene and the Watershed. I do like to do this every so often, to prove to myself that I can swim with very little fuel because there is a strong chance that I could be seasick and will not be able to eat much.

I have noticed that I find it very difficult to switch-off in the pool as I’m either counting lengths, watching time or avoiding other swimmers; in the sea I check my hand entry, check recovery and underwater stroke, head position, think about breathing and finally my mind goes blank and I just go with the water, this seldom happens in the pool and I’m hoping being able to do this will be very useful when swimming the channel.

11 days and counting

I had great plans today to tidy and clean the pig sty that is my house, then my sister-in-law suggested meeting in Kilkenny for lunch. As my figure will attest, I don’t need to be asked twice to eat and I did need to get a few things in town so I thought I could go for a relatively early lunch get back and do some housework. Needless to say, we got talking over a lovely meal at the Kilkenny Design Centre (always good) and then I dawdled around the shops, shopping is not something I particularly enjoy and the account is not particularly healthy at the moment, before heading out to see M&D. We enjoyed watching the Evans vs Sousa mens singles match at Wimbledon – some brilliant tennis but I did leave at one set all, as it looked like it was going to be a long one. Popped into see my brother and family, and how my nephew did with his busking (he was happy) – he plays electric guitar very well and that is more than a proud aunt talking, he really is good.

The Sousa/Evans match was still on when I got home and I watched that until the end, unfortunately Evans lost but they were both playing some amazing tennis. On a positive note I emptied and then filled the dishwasher and did the washing up before trying a new scone flavour idea – raspberry and white chocolate. I use the basic Avoca recipe and added the raspberries and chocolate before adding the liquid ingredients. The mix was a bit too wet, probably due to the fresh raspberries, so didn’t rise too well. The flavour is not great either – I’m wondering if dried raspberries would make a less wet mix and provide a more intense flavour. I’ll take a few tomorrow morning for Ash to try after our swim.

Having been not so much feeling a bit stressed this week as being stressed, my eyelid twitches when I get stressed, I felt really relaxed driving home so a day out may have been a good idea and there is always tomorrow for the housework and gardening.

I’m sure anyone reading this will be thinking, ‘that is so boring’, but I hope it highlights the fact that most adults taking part in the various events no matter how long, hard and intense also have work, housework, gardening, shopping, cooking, family and extended family to fit around their training and the days not training are also important – recovery is all part of the training regime and is neglected at your peril.

It Passed

The three hours spent cleaning out the car was not in vain, the car passed the NCT – the inspector said it was a very nice car. Only need to get insurance now and the car is set for another year, well until the next service at least.

Made use of the 6:30-7:30 Masters slot in the pool, I pay in advance and half the time I can’t make it, the other half I manage 30-45 minutes. I decided to try a sort of HIIT session to try and get the most from the short time available, rather than poodle up and down. I did a very slow 5 x 100m warm up to get the neck and shoulders moving, long and slow as I found a very hard knot at the joint between the neck and shoulder – don’t want to aggravate that. The set read 6 x 50m all out for 25m then 25m easy, 4 x 75m all out for 50m easy for 25m, 2 x 100m all out 50m easy 50m and finally a 200m easy swim down. I also tried to do tumbles during when sprinting into the wall – I really struggle normally but oddly find it a bit easy to tumble when approaching the wall quickly.

On your own, it is not so easy to push yourself but I was puffing hard after the sprints, even with the recovery swims so hopefully I worked hard enough to gain the benefit. The A-squad is in the lanes next to where I was swimming, it is always a bit depressing when you are all out and the are passing you on a drill set; I try and console myself with the fact that I am older than some of their parents.

The rest of the evening was spent with Mum and Dad doing a bit of catch-up with Today at Wimbledon; the 15 year old Coco Gauff is through to the 4th round and has played some cracking tennis, there were some other great games with some great rallies over the net – love that type of tennis. Then over to see the brother and his family for a chat and catch-up.

I really need to clean and tidy the house tomorrow and may go for a run to give the shoulders a rest but still work on fitness.

Another sunshiny day

The weather was absolutely glorious today, 22oC and sunshine all the way. It was so tempting go for a swim after work but unfortunately the car is having its first NCT (MOT equivalent) tomorrow at lunchtime. My car is usually full of stuff for swimming and/or a run, stuff for work and stuff in case I have a breakdown. I needed to get home and empty the car and clean the insides, if only to clear the sand and the remains from the oil that got spilt in the boot and the stuff I used to soak it up. It is official my car is now 100% cleaner and tidier than my house; may be I should move in.

Clean car

That little job took about 3 hours so there was no time for a swim, but at least I wasn’t sat on the sofa stuffing my face. It was a great distraction from the upcoming event, 13 days to go.

2 weeks today!

Two weeks today (3rd July) our window for the channel opens, it’s been a long and cold journey. Heather, Aisling and I have been getting into the sea regularly for about 18 months, at times for only 5 to 10 minutes. Unfortunately Heather has struggled more than Ash and I adapting to the cold and has, despite her best efforts, run out of time to qualify for the swim. We are all sad to have come so far together and to not finish the job together, especially since this was Heather’s dream and we came along to help her fulfil it and in the process it has become a dream we shared. The team going to Dover will be Aisling and myself and Jennifer Laffan, a lovely Scottish young lady who has a solo spot booked for September.

It has been a gorgeous day and warm, after a day trying to catch up at work I decided to go for a little paddle at Dunmore East. The water was chilly but not cold, the few days of warm weather have started to work their magic on the sea temperatures. As with the swim on Thursday it was not as calm as it appeared from the car park and swimming out to the furthest flag was a bit bouncy though the changes in temperature were not a severe as last week. After swimming out to the first flag I met Mick Ryan from the Kilkenny Triathlon Club and we agreed to sort of buddy up. After the second loop Anne Corr and her daughter Ciara, also out making the most of the lovely summer weather. Its great when you expect to be on your own swimming, but meet up with friends and make a few on the way as well.

And Jen joins the team

I’m going to try and post every day until we swim now.

The Rebel Plunge

The Rebel Plunge was on the 9th June this year and both Ash and I had signed up for it which coincided with the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco which the amazing Heather had entered for the second year in a row. https://www.escapealcatraztri.com

Ash and I left my place at 9am with aim of getting into Cork for about 11:00 so that we could be sure of parking. We were there in time to park a short walk from the start at Port of Cork and have a leisurely coffee and scone on the walk round. We were some of the first to register and collect our goodie bag which included a very handy hold-all and a bobble hat (a must after an open water swim). We even had time for a wander around the Cork Harbour festival, though not quite enough time to look around one of the naval boat tied up at the dock. By the time we headed back to the Port of Cork there were a lot more swimmers around and we changed but kept our robes on to avoid getting cold too soon. Up to this point it had been a warm, mainly overcast, but with burst of sunshine, morning now the heaven opened and despite being under a bit of a veranda it was a bit of a game keeping our gear dry.

The swim is 3.8km downstream with the out flowing tide from the Port of Cork to the boat club at Blackrock and we were told to keep 10m out from the bank. By the time we put our gear in the van to be taken to the exit, listened to the swim brief and made our way to the start the sun had shown its face and it was quite warm lining up for off. As usual the start comes quickly and there is no time for much faffing around, fortunately the water was not too cold so I got off and running fairly quickly. I tend to start slowly and let ‘serious’ competitors hare off, I’m ashamed to admit that I quite enjoy the fact that I spend the time catching and overtaking swimmers. Ticking off the buoys, watching my technique and catching and passing swimmers passes the time and when there is no one about to pass, I tend to switch off and swim and enjoy the feeling of moving through the water.

It felt like the end appear fairly quickly, I’d lost track of time and there was someone there to help me find my feet to walk up the mat to the finish line. I found my bag and Ash and the heavens opened again so it was a quick change before lining up to collect our much needed burger. We stayed to applaud the winners before walking back up to Cork for a bite to eat and a chat.

The results show that it took me 53:28 which I’m happy with and placed 30 of 61 skins swimmers and 14 of 24 female skins, happy with that and another great day out. This is a well organised event and fun to do, if you get the chance sign up for it next year – I will.

Heather, of course, managed to escape from Alcatraz and after a week in the San Francisco sun arrived home safe and sound. She is one amazing lady.