Claire Russell – Channel Swim (part 12)
En Route to France… The Swim
The waiting was agony.
First, we thought Sunday, then Monday, but then the weather looked better for Tuesday. The 6pm forecast the night before showed patchy fog. So even when we set off at 5.45 on Tuesday morning, we weren’t certain that I would be swimming.
If the fog was there, then the swim would be postponed until Wednesday, and the weather was due to hold for a few days. We had No1 son, Elliott, ready to film. Sister Nicola and hubby Robin had come to see me off.
Thank fully there was no fog! Hurrah. I was like a coiled spring at that point, just wanted to get on with it.
My crew were all ready. From L to R… Pam, Nicola, Sarah and Ali. We loaded the boat and sorted the paperwork. First were the passports, we all had ours but immediately my heart sank. I had forgotten to tell Elliott to bring his passport. Without it, the French border control have the power to stop the swim and send us back. We had to pull away and leave him on the jetty.
I felt awful, but Elliott was amazing. Clearly disappointed, but he took it so well. I was very proud of him for dealing with it so well. My job was to not dwell on it and get on with the swim!
On the trip around to Samphire Hoe, the girls started getting me ready. Second application of P20 sun lotion- it was forecast to be in the 30’s and I could easily burn. Then came the Vaseline. Pam was in charge of the lube pot, she is a proper ‘Mother Hen’ and enjoyed every minute.
By 8.15 I was ready, jumped off the side of the boat, swam to the beach and cleared the water. Robin, Elliott, Nicola and special swim buddy – Margot were waiting to see me off.
I had visualised this moment for months…Excitement, anticipation, I felt ready. I didn’t hang about, a last prayer, kiss and hug. The horn sounded at 08.20 and I was on my way, just as the tide was turning to take me with it.
A photo of mum was attached to the boat, so I could see her every time I took a breath.
The sea was a very comfortable 19.6 degrees. It was a bit choppy, but nothing I’m not used to. I tried to swim my normal pace and not get anxious about and go too fast. Swim MY swim. I was aware of another boat- The Pathfinder supporting a swimmer- overtaking me. He was going so fast I expected to see a water skier on the back of the boat. I later found out that he was a 16-year-old lad from Paris. He finished the swim in 9 hours… very Impressive. The record is just under 7 hours.
There were plenty of jellies around, but most of them were quite deep. I was stung only 4 times in all. Much less than I anticipated, but it still made me swear!! After a couple of hours, the sea became much calmer, the Dover cliffs were no longer visible, and I was having a blast swimming the channel. I was thinking about all the people who were tracking me, and the many that had sponsored me. Especially patients that had just stopped me in the surgery and put a £20 note in my hand- many of them pensioners!
Stuart was very complimentary about my swim stroke and said we were on target for approx. 13-hour swim… I found out later!!
At about the 7-hour mark things started to go wrong, I started to feel nauseous. I don’t think the diesel fumes helped, but mostly it was sea sickness. Even on a calm sea there is still a swell. I had anticipated this and was due more seasick tablets. Sadly, I brought them back, then started vomiting back my feeds, and then fluids. My pace was dropping. I wondered if the travel-sick pills were making me feel sleepy, but in reality, that was partly the motion sickness.
Without any fuel to work on, naturally my stroke rate dropped, and I was slowing down.
It was great when Ali jumped in to buddy swim, but I realised how slow I was going, just by watching her pause in her swim stroke. Normally I would give her a good run for her money!!
I swam for several hours like this, just determined to keep going. Stuart came to the side of the boat to talk to me. I needed to pick up the pace to catch the tide. My head was in it to win it!!!
There is no way that tide was going to push me back, so I dug deep and gave it everything. Not sure how long for- It felt like an hour- The crew were all singing and dancing on the side of the boat, clearly having a great time. I could see France and I thought…’This is it, I’m going to get my pebble!” I really gave it everything I had- which wasn’t much to be honest, I was running on fumes!
Then they revealed to me that we had missed the tide. To land the swim would mean swimming another 5-6 hours. I didn’t like the prospect but wasn’t ready to give up. I gave them the thumbs up and carried on swimming- IF you could call it swimming by then, more like zig zag floating!!No fuel or liquid for nearly 6 hours, it was getting dark, I was cold and completely knackered. I was called to the side of the boat, so Stuart could look at my eyes, dutifully I pulled up my goggles and that was the point that I thought, I’m done. The crew and Stuart had already made that decision. The ladder was down, and I was on that boat before I knew what hit me. I HAVE NEVER BEEN SOOOOO GRATEFUL OR HAPPY to be back on the boat.
Pam went into Mother Hen mode and I proceeded to vomit my way back to Dover.
I was dehydrated and showing signs of hypothermia. It was the right and safest decision.
Robin would have been a ‘bit upset’ if he didn’t get me back.
So…. I swam the channel, well most of it.
I did swim from England to France… the wet bit at least.
Naturally I am disappointed, but the English Channel is only 21 miles.
I swam 46k (28.5 miles) in 13.13 hours.
And my Mum watched every stroke from the side of the boat. Always was and always will be such an inspiration.
Thanks to so many people that have sponsored me. YOU have raised over £2000 for The Heart of Kent Hospice
Thank you all from the heart of my bottom x xx
Massive THANK YOU’S
To the crew and Stuart for keeping me safe; To Deb and Restoring Health for keeping me working; To Ray Gibbs for awesome technique coaching; To G and the Monday masters training squad for pushing me so hard that steam escaped from my bottom; The Dover training group of volunteers for getting me ready- plus all the fantastic swim support. I have made so many wonderful friends on the way; My work colleagues deserve a vote of thanks for putting up with me banging on about swimming for months.
Lastly my family, who believed in me all the way and especially Robin who deserves a medal for his patience.