Published: 24 August 2018
Contributing writers: Thorsten Trupke, Lizzie De Bono, Craig Mellick
At 3:30 am it will all begin, Thorsten's swim will begin in the dark at 3:30 am in Dover. (12:30 pm Sydney time). The weather will be sunny as it has been for the past few days and the wind will hopefully be kept to a minimal. The preparation has begun for the 2:00 am wake up and heading down for the start of the swim.
1 hour in and going strong, the swim has well and truely started now!! Follow the swim with the live tracker.
The Sport of Channel Swimming traces its origins to the latter part of the 19th Century when Captain Matthew Webb made the first observed and unassisted swim across the Strait of Dover swimming from England to France in 21 hours and 45 minutes.
There are two swimming organisations that run Channel Swims.
To follow along with Thorsten Trupke, see the Channel Swimming Association website. He can be tracked online on https://www.channelswimmingassociation.com/tracking where the GPS positions of all current swims (the names of the boats are shown) are updated every ten minutes. Announcements about swimmers (i.e. who is currently in the water, accompanied by a specific boat) will be on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Channel-Swimming-Association-132029483530840/
To follow along with Lizzie De Bono, see the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation website. She can be tracked online on http://cspf.co.uk/tracking. Follow their announcements on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/csandpf/
Swimslot: 2 - 8 September 2018
Support Vessel: "Pathfinder"
The English Channel, the stretch of water that separates Great Britain from the European mainland, is not just the busiest shipping lane in the world, it is also an increasingly popular destination for enthusiastic ocean swimmers.
For modern day ocean swimmers, it is considered the ultimate goal, the “Mount Everest” of open water swimming. In a straight line the swimming distance is 18.2 nautical miles (approximately 34km), equivalent to 14 laps of the popular Coogee Island Challenge swim.
All swims these days start near Dover and end on the coast of France.
In sync with the changing tides, very strong so-called tidal currents sweep parallel to the channel (and thus perpendicular to the desired swim direction) from NE to SW and vice versa, changing direction every six hours.
The result is a typical wonky S-shaped swimming track as shown below:
Image: GPS track of a successful Channel swim (this one took 18.5 hrs) from Dover to Cap Gris Nez (Arrow) in France. Strong tidal currents sweeping from NE to SW and back between high tide and low tide cause this “wonky” swim path.
Neither the swimmer, nor the boat captain were drunk during this swim!
Especially near the head land called “Cap Gris Nez” (near Audinghen in the graph above), where swimmers ideally aim to land in France, these currents can become extremely strong and can push swimmers back towards England.
Getting caught up in these currents can result either in an extra 4-5 hours of swimming or in swims like the one from 2018 shown below, which was aborted after 14 hours, just about one kilometre (!) or so from the French coast.
As tough as it may be, this swimmer was recorded as “unsuccessful”.
Pure devastation after 2 years of intense preparation.
Image: GPS track of an unsuccessful swimming attempt. The swimmer was pulled out of the water about 1km from the French coast after 14 hours of swimming, feeling cold, exhausted and devastated.
To be officially recognised, channel swimmers can only wear regular speedos, a cap and goggles, plus some grease, the latter mostly to avoid chafing (the idea that grease also helps with keeping warm is a myth).
Sea temperatures peak in late August early September when the channel is nominally as “warm” as it gets, which is why I booked a "swimslot" in the first week of September. Sea temperatures so far this year have been above the long-term averages, it thus looks like I might be lucky and get around 18 degrees water temperature for my attempt.
Since making the booking for my swim in January 2017 I have spent considerable time in the water.
Regular swimming training during the week starts at 5:00 am at Des Renford Aquatic Centre, typical training sets include 5-7 km of swimming.
The pool training is accompanied by long open water swims on weekends, the swim track of a weekend training swim in late June (Coogee – North Bondi – Wylie’s Baths – North Bondi – Coogee) is shown below.
Image: GPS track of a weekend open water training swim in late June: Coogee to North Bondi, back to Wylie’s Baths, back to Bondi, then back to Coogee, then straight to 'Chish and Fips' for a caramel milk shake and a large serve of hot chips…
The photo below shows my mate Michel on his way to a 6am start for an 8h swim in 15 degree cold water in Port Phillip near Melbourne in late April, with 7 degree outside temperature.
Looks inviting, doesn’t it?
This represented our official English Channel qualifying swim. The first few hours of this swim took place in the dark. Training in cold water at night is important, since most likely at least some of the Channel swim (in some cases the entire swim) will take place at night time.
So why does anyone do this?
The answer to this question varies between individual swimmers.
For me an attempt to swim the English Channel is the natural progression of many years of ocean swimming in and around Australia, starting with the Coogee Island swim (2.4km), the South-Head Roughwater swim (11km) and the Rottnest Island swim (19.7km).
The English Channels simply seems to be the next logical step.
Much of the preparation, like getting up at 4:30am or spending hours in cold water on the weekends is not enjoyable, not at all.
What keeps me (and I suspect many others) going is the anticipation of the moment when the sand on French shores come in sight beneath the water, when the feet touch the ground and we eventually hear the siren from the pilot boat indicating a successful crossing. I hope that this short moment of glory will actually happen for me, it would make all the hard preparation worth it.
My family and several friends from Wylie’s Baths will accompany me on my trip to England (and hopefully France), they will be a great support crew and source of motivation.
All English swimming attempts can be tracked online on https://www.channelswimmingassociation.com/tracking where the GPS positions of all current swims (the names of the boats are shown) are updated every ten minutes.
Announcements about swimmers (i.e. who is currently in the water, accompanied by a specific boat) will be on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Channel-Swimming-Association-132029483530840/
My boat will be “Pathfinder” with Eric Hartley, my swim is scheduled for the neap tide between 2-8 September.
Wish me luck!
Swimslot: 16 - 22 September 2018
Support Vessel: "Optimist"
About 10 years ago I was working for Swimtrek as a guide and they asked me to work on their Long Distance Training Trips. These trips were designed for people embarking on an endurance swim, most of them were potential Channel swimmers.
The trips were run in April in Gozo, Malta where the water temperature is about 14-16 degrees, which are perfect training temperatures. I worked on four week long trips and met over 40 swimmers, many who were aiming to get across the Channel either that summer or the next.
It was a steep learning curve of endurance swimming in cold water. I worked with many experienced Channel swimmers and learnt a lot, however I still thought they were slightly crazy.
I also saw that most of them were average speed swimmers like I am, and that maybe it might be a possibility for me…..one day!
In the following years amongst a whole lot of swimming everywhere I have dabbled in some long distance swims. In 2012, I completed a duo swim of Rottnest and also a crossing of the Gibraltar Straights, these were big challenges at the time.
On moving back to Melbourne in July of 2016 I started swimming in Port Phillip Bay, which after Sydney waters is VERY cold, however I loved it! I found a great group to swim with in Port Melbourne and started making a habit of this cold water swimming, initially in a wetsuit however since that first winter I haven’t used my wetsuit again.
In March of 2017 after starting back at squad training and seeing some improvements in my speed and fitness it popped into my head that maybe this would be a good time to start training and looking into a Channel swim for 2018!
With that I quickly booked a boat for September 2018. Then I devised a training plan, started swimming with a group here in Melbourne that is made up of Channel swimmers and potential Channel swimmers, planned some big swims like a Rottnest solo and generally focused on the end goal to be fit, and mentally prepared for my swim in September 2018.
I have so far ticked all the boxes including completing an 8 hour qualifying swim at the end of April in 15.4 degrees water. I am training well and am now just consolidating my training over the coming two months before I leave.
The bay here is now too cold for long swims (10 degrees), therefore I only swim in the bay for up to an hour 3 times a week. Luckily I swim out of the Brighton Baths and they have a steam room with helps with the warming up process.
The Channel should be between 15-18 degrees when I am doing my swim. There seems to be about 10 people here in Melbourne currently training for the Channel and I swim regularly with about 5 of them, which helps for the longer 4-6 hour swims we need to do. I’m feeling ready and prepared now, but I’m still enjoying the training.
The accomplishments that I have made along the way and the friendships I have made have been extremely rewarding. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good weather as it is not unheard of to get over there and not even get a chance to swim due to the temperamental weather.
I have a great crew on my boat to support me for my swim, one of them being Clive (a fellow guide from Swimtrek who I met on those first Long Distance Training Trips years ago).
There are currently less than 2000 people, and less than 600 women, who have completed a solo crossing of the English Channel - and I’m hoping to join that list this coming September!
To follow along, see the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation website. I can be tracked online on http://cspf.co.uk/tracking. Follow their announcements on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/csandpf/
My boat will be “Optimist", my swim is scheduled for between 16-22 September.
Wylies regular, Craig Mellick, successfully completed the South Head Roughwater Swim (Bondi to Watsons Bay) on 20 May 2018. Could he be our next Channel contender?!
The 18th running of the SHRS will be held on Sunday 19 May 2019 - always the 3rd Sunday in May. For more information, check out their website.
I'm a frequent swimmer at Wylies Baths, and carried out my training at the wonderful saltwater pool in preparation for the ocean swim.
Wylies was a perfect environment to do my training as the water temperature was actually slightly colder than the ocean, especially first up in the morning where the water has settled overnight in the cold night air.
A nice hot shower and coffee after each session was always a pleasant way to finish my training. We were fortunate enough to be welcomed by favourable conditions on the day of the swim where along with a fantastic support crew of Mario Mili, Gwilym Funnell, Tony Raeside, Dan Morgan & Courtney Tallon made sure the mission to complete the 12km swim was successful.
Image: Support crew at Watsons Bay Hotel post-swim
The swim ultimately took me 4 hours and 27 minutes and I became 1 of approximately 70 odd solo swimmers male and female, from around Australia, to complete the swim on the day.
I felt as though I hit a wall after the 5km mark as the current was flowing north to south and it felt like I was swimming upstream. I needed to dig deep, remain positive and maintain my stroke and rhythm. Both my daughters were at the finish line to cheer me home.
Image: GPS tracking of Craig's swim
My swim was in support for, “Lend us some Muscle”, The Friedreich Ataxia Research Association (fara) a not for profit organisation that supports research into treatments and a cure for Friedreich Ataxia (FA). FA is a debilitating, life shortening degenerative neuro-muscular disorder, which affects about 1 in 30,000 people in Australia and NZ. All money raised will help establish the first clinical gene therapy trials in Australia, which will help find new treatments and a cure for Friedreich Ataxia.
Please visit their website at www.fara.org.au