I think it first registered that we were on our way to swim the Channel whilst we were sitting on the Manannan at approximately 6.30am on Friday 7th September after a very sleepless night. “Will a member of the Channel Swim Team please come to the customer services desk” boomed out over the tannoy. Never being one to be shy in public I walked proudly looking like an elite athlete across the boat to see what the problem was, or maybe not. In fact my fellow team mates (Heather, Jill and Beth) told me I had to go and heckled me as I wandered off looking faintly embarrassed.
When I got to the desk I was handed a couple of large carrier bags which were filled with sweets and champagne. It appeared that Brandon (AKA “Biscuits” or “Lovely Brandelina”) had come down early to wave us off but we had already been loaded. I was so touched that Brandelina had done this and felt very sad that my chum was not joining us on our adventure due to his pesky back.
The boat journey was uneventful with me jabbering on and on to Jill who had foolishly sat opposite me and therefore was a captive audience. Beth just kept her head down and Heather adopted her seasick prevention position which we soon came to recognise – hoody up, head down, slouched in a corner.
After a fairly straightforward drive down to Dover we arrived at the brilliant cottages that Jill had booked a few miles outside Dover. There was loads of room so we knew that we wouldn’t be on top of each other if we had to stay for some time. After we had gathered our wits and put bags in rooms we pootled off to the local station to pick up Jo and with Chrissie arriving in very late that night our revised team was complete.
Saturday was BEAUTIFUL so when we received our phone call to say we were good to go from Anastasia’s pilot, Eddie Spelling, the obvious thing to do was to have a glass of wine in the sun and do our nails. Got to keep your standards up! (The aim of the wine was actually to encourage an afternoon snooze but the adrenaline seemed to counteract the soporific effect!). Oh, and I might have been seen to shed a small tear of emotion on realising the last 10 months of training was actually going to be worth it.
So, at about 11.30pm after no sleep despite the wine we packed our ridiculously large number of supplies into the car and headed to Dover Marina with our boat leader, Emma Wade.
Once we were all settled on Anastasia we headed round the coast for about 10 minutes to Shakespeare Bay where the swim would start from. Chrissie was first to swim and luckily she was sufficiently brave that we didn’t have to resort to throwing her in as obviously it was pitch dark. She swam to land and then gave a signal and our swim had begun. She swam back to the boat and then settled in alongside it going at a great pace with the glowsticks bobbing around so we didn’t lose her. The crew were soooo impressed that we had to point out that it would all go downhill after Heather (Just kidding Minkes!).
Heather was next and was already feeling seasick the poor thing but she stormed off like the true professional that she is having previously swum from England to the Isle of Man. All too quickly it was my turn.
I have to say that jumping into the middle of English Channel at 3am in the pitch dark wasn’t scary, it was just a bit odd. I thought I might hesitate but to be honest there are strict rules about the changeover between swimmers and as I didn’t want the embarrassment of being pushed in I thought I’d better jump! Swimming alongside the boat was harder than I thought it would be in the dark. There are lights on the boat but I seemed to lose them a lot and one minute would be really close, maybe only a metre away, and the next I couldn’t see it at all. (It was pointed out to me the next day that for 20+ minutes we went through zero visibility fog which might have something to do with it, and I thought my goggles had just steamed up!). You also lose all sense of time. During your swim signs are held up to show how much time you have been swimming for with the first sign after you have swum for 30 minutes. After what seemed like days (I was convinced everyone had gone to bed and forgotten about me) I saw what I thought was the 30 minute sign and shouted up that I couldn’t read it. It was quite politely pointed out that there hadn’t been a sign and I had, in fact, been in the water for about 7 minutes! Shortly after this something very hard it my foot and I stopped and screamed cos obviously it will have been a shark and I was greeted with “Just keep swimming” by my fellow Minkes – that’s support for you.
Finally my first swim was up and Jill took over in a very professional manner and I took the opportunity to get warm and dry and then managed to get about 1½ hours sleep. Jo was next but I have to admit that this was the one swim that I didn’t see (sorry Jo) but I understand that it went without incident. When I awoke Beth was swimming in a beautiful sunrise…straight through a shoal of jellyfish. She did not make a sound – what a woman.
In principle we should all have slept when we could to recover from swimming through the night but the day was so beautiful, and it was such an experience, none of us really managed to with the exception of one Minke who will remain nameless (Ginger Jo – oops, sorry just slipped out!) who I think managed about 8 hours!
We were then back at the beginning with Chrissie and Heather storming ahead in beautiful calm seas and gorgeous sunshine – perfect – and then it was me again. I actually found jumping in in daylight more nerve wracking than at night for some reason possibly because I was more aware of how far we were from land. I got into my stroke and was happily swimming away when suddenly I felt like I was flying through the air, and the boat seemed to be flying through the air next to me. That was my one real moment of anxiety when I thought that Anastasia was going to land on my head. I tried to swim away from the boat but it was easier said than done as I was being thrown all over the place. It turned out that we were going through a shipping lane and the enormous super tankers cause a huge wake. Pilot Eddie had kindly told everyone on board to hold on tight, perhaps it would have been nice to tell me too! I would like to say that my team mates shouted words of comfort but they didn’t – hmmmmm. Infact I think I heard laughing…
Yet again it seemed like I had been swimming for hours, not because I was tired but because you have no point of reference to work out how far you have gone. Finally I was allowed out of the water and Jill took off at an enormous rate followed by Jo and then Beth. As Beth was getting ready for her second swim France was well in view and Eddie said that if we were lucky the tide would change and Beth would be zipped along in record time but unfortunately the tide didn’t turn and Chrissie had to get in for a third swim.
As Chrissie was getting closer to France, Eddie, after some discussion with our official observer, said that we could all get in the water too providing that Chrissie reached land first. This was exceptionally good of Eddie and we are hugely grateful that we were all allowed to swim to the rocks at Cape Gris Nez. Contrary to popular belief you don’t stay in France you simply touch the rocks and swim back to the support boat. On paper this should not be difficult but unfortunately we were greeted by a very bad tempered Frenchman with a spear gun shouting abuse at us and some VERY large jellyfish. As a result we didn’t do our synchronised swimming routine that we had hoped to do and legged it back to boat as we guessed that being shot by a spear gun would smart a little.
Our trip back to Dover took about 3 hours and it was party time on the boat. The sun shone and the champagne corks popped and much to the disappointment of the crew we didn’t go to sleep – but then that’s nothing new!