The sun gods were on our side as we arrived in Dover last weekend. Well actually Hythe... because Dover harbour is being dug up and is out of bounds for swimming on Saturday mornings... however, standing on the beach with France the only thing visible on the horizon, it seemed a good place to start my journey to swimming the channel. First up was meeting the rest of my team (Stephen, Stephen, Kalie, Charley, Polly and our boat leader Kay) and thankfully i couldn't ask for a better group of people to swim with. Friendly, supportive, slightly crazy and inspirational we bonded with our first sea swim. The water was a cool 12.3 degrees (your average swimming pool is at least 25 degrees), wetsuits are banned, and the swell was frankly big enough to have fun surfing in. Have I mentioned I've not (properly) swum in the sea before or swum open water without a wetsuit on...?!?
I really quite enjoy throwing myself in the deep end of challenges with little understanding as to quite what I'm getting myself in for, however it only took approximately 2 seconds before the cold hit and I realised exactly what I had got myself into. Struggling to breathe, the cold water felt like it was stabbing my legs and arms. The first few strokes were quite frankly horrendous, putting my face in the water was even more horrendous, however the process of attempting to swim and breathe before a wave either crashed over you or threw you off the top into the next wave quickly took my mind off the cold and within a minute I was swimming quite comfortably out towards the yellow buoy. Strict instructions had been given prior to entering the water that past the yellow buoy was the army firing range, however trying to spot the yellow buoy in the waves was a fun game in its self. Good news is no one got hit by a stray bullet, and 30 minutes later I was back on the beach, in more layers than I could count and deciding that this sea swimming without a wetsuit really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
The aim of the weekend was acclimatization, so once we had warmed up, we were straight back into the waves for a second 45 minute swim. I concluded that the best way to get back in was to just run into the sea, struggle to breathe for a bit and then start swimming. Having already been cold, this swim felt colder than the first but I felt a lot more comfortable swimming in the waves. The chances are if the waves are like that on the day, the swim will be postponed until the swell is more favorable, however, the weather can change quickly once in the channel and so we could end up swimming in those conditions in the latter stages of the crossing.
Once back out and warm, we headed over to the White Horse Pub in Dover (otherwise known as the channel swimmers pub, as all successful crossings sign their names on the wall) for a briefing and update from Aspire - the wonderful charity all this is in aid of, followed by a 2 hour pool session working on technique and drills. Dinner was at one of Dover's finest pirate themed restaurants (the food was delicious!) during which myself and Charley convinced Andrew (who organizes the swim events for Aspire) to let us attempt the 2-hour swim assessment the following day. You have to pass this swim at least 15-days prior to your boat date, and the next training weekend is 16-days prior to our boat date, leaving no room for any issues. Despite being told that only 2 people had completed it previously in May, the rest of my team jumped on board and said they would swim with us (despite already having there's from swim camps abroad), and with the promise to Andrew that we would swim together and get out if we started to get hypothermia we were committed!!
With building works halted on Sundays, we were allowed to swim in Dover Harbour, and as such, entered the proper world of Channel Swimming. Every weekend, people come to Dover to swim in the harbour to train for their crossings, identifiable as to what they are doing by swim hat colour. After a good covering of vaseline round the neck and under the arms to limit chaffing, the six of us entered the 12.3 degree water with the aim to stay in for 2 hours and get our CSPF assessment signed off, whilst the rest of Aspire did two 40 minute swims. We had worked out it was roughly a mile from the buoys to the harbour wall and back, and if we swum at a comfortable pace we needed to do it four times to make two hours. The first hour was great - the water was calm, the sun was out, and I quickly fell into a comfortable pace alongside Polly following Kalie's feet. During the second hour I started to notice the changes to my body as it got cold and my hands soon resembled claws, unable to straighten my fingers. Two hours later, we exited the water. Cold, shivering, but holders of the 2 hour assessment certificate that allows us to get on the boat in 5 weeks time.
Feelings after throwing myself in at the deep end for training weekend 1... i absolutely loved it :)
Want to watch a little video of what we got up to this weekend? Head over to the link below:
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