It’s the first week in September 2012 and for some reason I feel sick. I’m standing in my bedroom looking at a pile of stuff. Ranging from swimming costumes, thermal clothes, a giant tub of Vaseline, sea sickness pills….bands…sweets, googles, hats, clothes more clothes and all I can think of is how the hell did I get to this point and how the hell will this all fit in one bag! In the morning I’m leaving the Isle of Man to drive to Dover and then swim the Channel, the ENGLISH Channel. God I feel awful, I find my phone and dial Chrissie. She answers……”Chrissie what the hell are we doing!?”….”Hang on a minute”….”That’s better I can talk now”(Chrissie is at work, she escapes from the hospital ward and is now hiding in a cupboard so she can talk to me). “I know I am shitting a brick, Beth this is all your fault! you can”t freak out.” “oh I really bloody can.” I feel a bit better Chrissie is terrified, as am I. I hang up and phone Silla, same story. Except she’s actually dying…..even tried convincing her father(aGP) that she’s got some hideous weird strangulation stress heart problem. She hasn’t…..all that’s happened is it’s finally sunk in with all of us, we have to swim to France.
The boat off the island is at silly o’clock the next morning, I hate boats and early mornings so I’m not in the best of moods. I put on my cheery team face and get on with it. Thankfully it’s a calm crossing, we bundle in to the team Land Rover and start the epic drive down to Dover. Silla is driving, I’m in charge of car snacks….bad move! Not the driving, I mean me in charge of car snacks. I ate and slept my way to Dover. We arrive at the cottages pretty much 12 hours after the boat left the island, I am thrilled to see that we all have our rooms and bathrooms and that there are even two kitchens. They are also located on an old farm, total peace and quite..perfect. After a quick Tesco run and some grub it was off to bed.
The whole team are finally together, the weather today is just perfect. We head into Dover to do a few errands, check in with Freda on the beach. Head for a quick swim, this swim mostly involved splashing about and a bit of synchro. Embarrassingly I feel shattered afterwards, this is not a good sign. I decided to keep stum about this fact. Another Tesco run(swim teams eat a lot) and then back to the cottage to chill. Tomorrow is supposed to be our tide, we still haven’t heard. I decide a nap is in order, I hate waiting I am a very impatient person. I’ve been asleep maybe 20mins and my mother phones “have you heard yet? when are you swimming?” groan….I decide to get up. The rest of the team are bouncing around, squealing, phoning, flapping and stressing…..we’ve heard. “we’re swimming tonight at midnight!” Oh god, I feel sick again a mixture of dread and fear fills my body. All the usual reassuring words are floating around, “don’t worry we can do it”….”we’ve all the done the training” etc etc. Except no we haven’t all done the training, I haven’t! I’m seriously unfit. I haven’t been in a swimming pool since May, yes I’ve been in the sea a lot but I haven’t done any hard training for a long long time. I only found out I was swimming three weeks ago and for two of those I was away with work in France unable to get any swimming done. I’m filled with panic, I am the weakest link…. some of the team have trained so hard and taken all this really seriously for me it was always a bit of fun, something to tick off the bucket list, I feel a fraud, what If we fail and it’s all my fault. I am relying solely on the fact that I grew up in a swimming pool training for hours and hours a week, every week. That my muscles know how to swim as well as they do walk, I might not be fit but If I have too, I know I can swim for an hour and really that’s all it is. Swim for an hour have five hours rest, I can do that. Yes I can but I forgot to factor in that we’re doing this relay in the English Channel not a pool!
It’s midnight, we’re on the Jetty at Dover harbour standing next to a very still and quiet Anastasia. There’s no sign of the crew, Emma our team leader decides to very tentatively wake them up, the curtain twitches and several minutes later they’re on deck helping us all aboard. “You travel light ladies”, the crew says with a sarcastic tone. Once aboard I actually feel fine, we just need to get on with it now why waste energy freaking out. The boat heads out, it’s dark but a fairly clear night you can see the stars and the moon is shining. I take it as a good sign and I’ve also worked out that I don’t have to swim until sunrise, phew no night swimming for me! Chrissie gets ready, we listen intently to our instructions. She’s shivering on the deck as Emma attaches a glow stick to the back of her cossie and a flashing light to her goggles. She climbs down the ladder, waits for her signal and then leaps into the dark abyss. Heading for shore she soon disappears the only sign is her flashing light. The crew are impressed, “jeez she’s quick, we’ll get six knots out of her!” Once ashore we see a vague outline of Chrissie waving from the beach, then she slips back into the water and starts our swim, that’s it, we’re off next stop France!
After watching Chrissie swim and seeing Heather safely into the water I headed to bed to attempt to get some sleep. No such luck, after bobbing around down in the bunks for almost 2 hours I decided to get up, I headed to the loo. Suddenly I heard a scream ” what the fuck was that, I’m being serious something just slammed into my foot” I recognise the voice, Silla is swimming and by the sounds of it having a bad time. “you’re ok, just keep swimming!” Several minutes later……. ” I can’t see a fucking thing, I don’t know where the boat is.”You’re ok, just keep swimming.” Poor Silla does not sound happy, I feel sick and head back to bed and lie there staring into the dark for little longer. When Jo gets woken to get in for her swim, I decide to give up on sleep and come up on deck. It’s my turn in an hour, gulp!
As I’m getting ready the sun is starting to creep up, I’m so relieved I get to swim in the light. Just in case for some reason the sun doesn’t rise I got fitted with a glow stick and light! I’m ready, I think I’m ready, I’m not ready! Oh shit I’ve got no choice….. I’m being ushered down the ladder…..”wait, wait, wait…….GO!” I hit the water, Beth you dived in! You idiot, you dived in!!! From a boat, in the English Channel, you haven’t dived in for at least 10 years never mind from a boat…….. Right shut up and start swimming! I lined myself up against the boat and swam and swam and swam for what felt like an eternity. I had to remind myself to breathe, my asthmatic lungs screaming out with pain from the excursion I was putting on my unfit body, never mind the occasional gulp of diesel fumes or smoke drifting from the boat when the crew had their fag breaks. I just blocked it out and kept on swimming, one arm after the other. Emma watches us as we swim and holds up cards saying 30mins, 45mins etc. so we know how long we’ve been in for. It was longest hour of my life, normally when you go for a swim you get somewhere, you swim 15 lengths or from the boat to the beach etc. Not when you’re swimming the Channel. You swim next to the boat all you ever see is the boat, you never get any further or nearer, it’s like being on a tread mill…..your view never changes. You just swim and watch the boat, hence why the hour feels so long. Your only entertainment as you swim is what’s happening on the boat, as I swam most of the team made it up to deck, not to watch me but to chat, drink tea and watch the sunrise, which I could’t really see as I had the boat blocking it. As i carried on I found myself getting really jealous of the girls on the boat and felt like I was left out, all alone in the sea and no one cared. SHIT!!!! JELLYFISH!!! I snap out of my pathetic wallowing and start to play jellyfish slalom, I’m not impressed I hate jellyfish and my cunning plan of wearing factor 50 anti jellyfish sting sunscreen has backfired…..I’m not wearing it, It’s in my bag, It was dark when I got in, Beth you’re an idiot! I catch a glimpse of Emma as I breathe, she’s pointing and squirming I’m not sure what she’s trying to say. Just as I decide to refocus….. I put my hand into a much meatier Jellyfish, ah perhaps that’s what Emma was signing. I carry on, I don’t appear to be stung and even if I was stung I wouldn’t be allowed to stop! Five mins, yes……I head to the back of the boat, Chrissie takes over.
I get dry and warm and become one of the girls drinking tea and chatting as someone else takes their turn pounding the waves, It’s mostly uneventful. The suns really warming up, I should sleep but I don’t want to miss this. How often do we swim the Channel? I’ve relaxed a lot, I actually think I might be able to do this. It’s turning into the most stunning day, we’re heading through a shipping channel. Those ships are gigantic and you think they are going to slam right into you, some how they don’t. With out the skill of the crew and Pilot you wouldn’t stand a chance out here. A ship is near, I think our pilot Eddie has radioed for it to speed up so we don’t collide. Suddenly there’s a loud speaker announcement (this is new) “everybody hold on!” Oh shit, we do but obviously some one is swimming. We slam into some giant swell. I’m watching our swimmer, it’s Silla. She stops, the water just disappeared from beneath her. “It’s ok Silla, just keep swimming, only swell from the tanker, you’re ok.” She doesn’t look impressed but carries on.
Before I know it, it’s my turn again. We’ve been doing really well, making good time and France is finally starting to look a little bit nearer. As I’m getting ready Eddie pops up “right next swimmer, swim as fast as you can, the tide is going to change, carry you into France.” I’m looking at France, I have never swam that far in my life. “Erm that’s very nice Eddie but that’s really far.” “No problem you can do it, the tide will carry you AND if you carry on swimming at this rate you may well end up the fastest Aspire team this year!” “Erm great so no pressure then!” I feel sick again, Jill is looking super excited “oh a record, you can do it Beth.” I’m really not happy about this, I’ve never been the one to deliver. I don’t do competitiveness or records, I’m just here to make up the numbers.
I jump in this time and get straight on with it back into the same old pattern, swim breathe, swim breathe, the water is far more choppy than last time. This is turning into quite hard work, I carry on swimming as hard as I can. Jill and Emma are watching me, Jill keeps looking at her watch and looking at me and looking at France. I hate pressure, I block her out and keep swimming. I can’t see France you can’t when your in the water, Jill has wondered off to the front of the boat. Emma my timer and observer for the team has fallen asleep, the rest of the team is sat about having what looks like a little party. My feelings from before of being left out, abandoned and hard done by have come back ten fold. I want to scream at them all, where’s my support, I’m supposed to be the one getting us to France. I’ve been swimming for hours, you’ve all abandoned me…… Eddies not even going the right way! Emma wakes up, I get my half and hour card. I know it’s wrong, I have been in here for hours! Why isn’t the tendor being put in the water, why do I feel like I’m swimming backwards. Then I realise It’s not going to be me that hits France, the tide hasn’t changed. The rest of the team have been told this, mean while I’m still swimming my socks of trying not to let everyone down because we were supposed to be trying for a record. Finally Chrissie comes down the side of the boat and starts lubing up her inner thigh. I get a fit of the giggles, phew Chrissie is getting in. The pressure is off, it’s not me hitting France and we’re not getting a record. 5 mins…….I can get out.
When I get out everyones all smiles and well dones, I’m like a bear with a sore head. I Snap at everyone for ignoring me and being unsupportive…… (remember I haven’t been to bed). I do apologise but I meant what I said, we need to step up our game and be more attentive to the swimmer. I head to the front of the boat to entertain Chrissie as she swims, she’s knackered and this is her third hour swimming. I perform the YMCA for her, this seems to go down well. We’re nearly there, Chrissie will hit France! Eddie comes up to tell us we’re nearly there and that as the conditions are so good we can all jump in and swim the last bit to France with Chrissie, as long as she hits the rocks first. This is exciting stuff but I’ve just out the water, I don’t really want to get back in. I tell myself to stop being an ungrateful brat and get on with it, this is a real honour!
We all jump in and head for the rocks, Chrissie leading the pod. We have to swim over some divers, no big deal something we do a lot on the Isle of Man. There were however some really gigantic jellyfish, we hit the rocks celebrate and decide to start swimming back to the boat. Just as we turn back a diver surfaces and starts to shout at us in French, elated we all shout back BON-JOUR in our crapest French accents. He immediately switches to English “you are very silly…. I am Spear Fishing…… this is not a swimming pool” I suddenly notice the giant trident like spear gun he is waving at us in his hand and realise that there are also more spear fishermen immediately bellow us. That mixed with the swarm of giant JellyFish meant that we all sprinted back to the boat like we had never swum before. Being spliced by a spear gun would have been a rather dreadful end to what had actually been a fairly pleasant experience so far, so needless to say we canceled the planned Minke Synchro routine in French water and decided to celebrate with Champagne instead. We did it, In 12hours 47 minutes! And me, little old me, who’s incapable of running for a bus, who choses the pub over training every time, did it. I am and always will be a CHANNEL SWIMMER!