Chalkwell Redcaps

Chalkwell Redcaps

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Conquering Windermere: 15th August 2014 by Jane Bell

Conquering Windermere: 15th August 2014

12 months ago myself and Tony Mellett uttered the words 'Let's swim Windermere'. We got a team together and began plotting......
Early on we approached Ben Jaques with a ‘selfish little proposal’.  We wanted to reccy the lake by row boat to find out just how in the heck these things are accomplished.  It didn’t take too much arm twisting for him to agree to being a guinea pig, swimming the 10.5 mile length solo while we supported him and sized up exactly what we were letting ourselves in for.

Next we needed a team and the concept of ‘rowers and throwers’ was born.  The former to man our support craft and the latter to look after our nutritional needs and monitor our condition in the water.  Meetings were held.  And by meetings I mean banter-filled barbeques to discuss logistics and resources (hic).  Ben’s reccy swim was scheduled for 28th June and myself and Tony’s attempts for the weekend of 16th August.  The Lake Wardens were consulted who, by all accounts, proved to be very approachable and accommodating, highlighting the necessary hazards of the lake.  Rowboats were secured for both weekends and soon enough our support teams held their hands up and committed to escorting the swims.  Myself and Tony had a training plan which involved notching up to the distance by taking part in the BLDSA 9-mile Champion of Champions series in Dover Harbour in mid-June, followed by a 2-way crossing of Lake Bala in mid-July.  Surely that would do it??

But in the early hours of 2nd May my mobile phone woke me from sleep and I took the devastating news that Tony had passed away very suddenly at 10pm the previous evening.   Incomprehensible as he had dropped me home less than an hour and a half earlier, after our usual pool session with the Thursday Night Garons Crew.  The world and our plans ground to a halt while we mourned his loss with his and our extended Redcaps families. 

But we all agreed that Tony’s swim plans must go ahead.  And indeed they did.  Lesley Cook stepped in to swim Champions with me.  Shaun Hales, Wouter Van Staaden and Ben Jaques provided kayak support and Vicki McFarlane pitched up land-side to warm us up and gee us along for the gruelling affair.  Tony’s wife Sarah, her daughter Sally, grand daughter Emily and Sal’s boyfriend Stu accompanied myself and John Willis to Wales to support our Bala swims.  Ben’s Windermere reccy was axed in favour of him taking Tony’s place for the August assault on England’s longest lake.   
When we finally arrived in the Lake District she seemed to be meeting all of her stereotypes, with   Hurricane Bertha doing her worst for the weather.  Light showers interspersed with torrential downpours and high winds.  But a window of opportunity seemed to be emerging for Friday 15th August and, with the wind blowing from the North, we decided on an early departure from Waterhead, at the top end of Windermere.  Considering how abysmal the weather was in the days leading up to the swim, and indeed those that followed, somebody was definitely looking out for us from above.    

Our proposed route was to swim towards 10 o’clock aiming for a tiny buoy-marked island named Green Tuft.  There we would hang a left, swimming headland-to-headland down the Western aspect and behind the islands.  Just before the halfway point at Jemmy Crag we would have to exercise caution as we crossed the chain-link car ferry.  If at all possible the Lake Wardens had advised us to go behind the ferry.  Judgement on margins of safety would be required for any attempt to dodge it!  From Jemmy Crag lake traffic would be quieter and it would be essentially down-hill to the steamer pier at Lakeside and a sharp left to the yellow buoys at Fell Foot which mark the end of the lake and start of the River Leven.
At 09:01 on Friday 15th August we took to the balmy 18.2 degree waters in memory of Tony.  John Willis manned the oars for Ben while Helen Wildin threw food at him and played coxswain.  Shaun Hales and Vicki McFarlane supported my swim and Family Mellett (plus Harry the dog) waved us off for what was to be a full day of swimming. 

I took a cheeky little head start while Ben did his usual slow entry but it wasn’t long before he streaked past me.  HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!!!!  Everyone was shouting and it seemed ages before somebody got through to him.  A few minutes later, back on the correct bearing, he thundered past again and his team edged away into the distance.  Bye bye Ben & Co., see you on the other side!!  
Our teams were under instruction to feed us on the hour, every hour and we had a selection of sweet and savoury foods to snack on, a tiny morsel at a time.  For me fruit pots were an absolute winner.  Glugging down the sugar water before scooping little chunks of peach and pineapple into my mouth while floating on my back.  And, as filthy as it may sound, the odd handful of chicken & mushroom pot noodle was delightful, no chewing required.  Ben opted for Helen’s homemade flapjacks and the co-op’s very own Scotch Eggs.  Scotch Eggs with a twist that is, because they weren’t actually Scotch Eggs at all but mini Chicken Kievs.  An easy mistake to make but apparently the garlic butter in the middle was deliciously molten to make swallowing them much easier so I guess they were a success.

Behind the islands the wind picked up and was against us for a while, the Western valleys funnelling the prevailing Northerly back up-lake towards our start point.  Fuel-stops were necessarily kept short and sweet in this section.  But just long enough to take a phone call from Lesley Cook, enquiring as to our progress.  Nice touch Lesley and much appreciated!!  Another lovely moment behind the islands was a surprise visit from Sarah and her family who had hired a motor boat to come and pay a visit.  In the days leading up to the swim I had repeated a silent mantra: Get In, Switch Off, Swim, and it took quite an effort from Team Mellett, Vicki and Shaun to rouse my attention for a quick and surprised ‘Ahoy There!!’. 
Stroking in excess of 70 per minute, Ben put in a stupendous effort and reached the chain-link crossing in just two-and-a-half hours, timing it just right to get behind the ferry without having to hang around.  When I approached the same point, an hour and a quarter later, the ferry was being loaded and was nearly ready to leave.  Spurred on by Vicki, however, I got my head down and sprinted straight in front of it, shaking with fear in the water but trusting her judgement nonetheless.  I turned around to thank the captain with a thumbs up and was greeted with the honking of the ship’s horn and an applause by passengers and crew as they set sail for Bowness.  Again, just the kind of encouragement needed for a swim of these proportions.  In fact most vessels out on the lake that day took the time to wave at us and cheer us on.  And Ben had an encounter with a lady on a rock (Mermaid?  Fantasy?  Delirious hallucination??), who encouraged him with the words ‘Only four miles to go!’.  Hmmmm, thanks…..

At my six hour feed I was eager to hear if Ben had landed yet and Vicki put in a call to Sarah to receive the news that he was into the home straights.  Half an hour later he touched the yellow buoy at Fell Foot to become ‘first man home’.  Helen was so overwhelmed at the blinding effort he had put in that she jumped off the boat to join him in the water and pass on her congratulations.  Erm…. FULLY CLOTHED!!!!!   
A little under two hours later, 8 hours 25 minutes after taking to the waters, it was my turn.  Catching sight of that yellow buoy for the first time I shouted into the water ‘We’ve only gone and bloody well done it!!’, then made the final push for home with the team shouting and waving from the shore J

So that’s Windermere for you.  10.5 miles, England’s longest lake.  If anybody fancies a shot at it then it comes highly recommended and we have all the contact details and know-how to impart.  Enormous gratitude once again to our teams, on land and on the water.  We really could not have done it without you and any time you need support for a swim or any other stupid challenge then please do cash in your chips!

Myself and Tony had more lunatic swims planned over the next few years and, in some way shape or form they will all be done.  But for now I pass the Mellett Memorial Baton to Tony’s relay team, the Southend Sea Urchins.  Jade Perry, John Willis, Tony Marshall, Lizzie Long, Josh Stratford: Go smash that Channel!!

For Tony xx

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A Memorial to Tony Mellett

In memory of a Redcap..... Tony Mellett

Redcaps were overcome with grief and sadness recently when instead of the usual Facebook banter of "who's swimming where" and "jeez, that was cold today", we were horrified to open our facebook page to the following message from Club Chairman, Iain Keenan.....

Redcaps raise their arms and slowly enter the water
A moving tribute swim for Tony.
........This is the hardest and saddest news that I have ever had to communicate as Headcap. Our good friend and dedicated REDCAPS member Tony Mellett has tragically and unexpectedly passed away following a heart attack. Our thoughts, feelings and love go out to Sarah and his family at this extremely shocking and difficult time. Tony was a big character in many ways. Those that knew Tony knew him to be a warm, friendly, kind and loving man with a great sense of humour. The fact that ...he was so well known in the club to all members young and old is testament to his warm character. He loved his swimming and was a key member of the REDCAPS. His dedication won him the 2013 Redcaps Swimmer of the year trophy and he was currently in training for his second go at the Channel relay. I am still in shock with the news and can't quite believe it. We will all miss him so much but he leaves us with some amazing memories and a passion for swimming that I hope will endure in all of us. We are a club and a community and I know you will all support Sarah and her family at this time. In the coming weeks and months we will think of special ways in which we can pay our respects but please can I request that at this time we allow Sarah and her family the space to come to terms to their tragic loss. We will also support each other as I know what a huge loss this is to all of us........

The saddest Crowstone Crawl ever

Sarah's Story.....
Standing on the shoreline looking out to sea
Wishing that my husband was standing here with me
A part of me is missing now; now that he has gone
Each day for me a struggle as I try to carry on
We came together 20 years ago and married 2 years later
Almost 18 years of happiness our love could not be greater
Taken now so suddenly for me a massive loss
Making joint decisions neither one of us was boss

I look out on the ocean I feel your hand in mine
I know that you are with me; I know you’re doing fine
Onward I must travel now but I can feel you near
My grieving heart is shattered but today I feel no fear
Once you were a soldier many years ago
A protector of this land of ours, and the seeds we sow
Fighting for this country your flag the union jack
All of this a memory now, no time for looking back
Standing on the shoreline looking out to sea
I smile as I remember as you swam away from me
Family and friends will miss you; tears will now be shed
All we have are memories now stored inside our head

Every family member from the smallest to the tall
The children and their offspring here we name them all
Paul and Chris and Toni, (she was a daddy’s girl)
Tom and Sam and Sally each one a special pearl
Grandchildren made the number up adding to the fun
It really made no difference be it granddaughter or grandson
Emily, Rhiain, Isobelle, Riley, and James as well
You adored them all you see, and everyone could tell

Blue & Ace and Poppy we were due to see them soon
And there was always the new arrival due, yet another boon 
But Tony was the biggest kid high fiving with the best
Playing games and boggie swapping, along with all the rest
Further back in time we go, still more there is to tell
Parents Jim and Bridget, I bet you gave them hell
Brother Allan and twin sisters, Debbie and Tricia too
Every single one of them will miss you like I do

You were a special person touching all those that you met
A caring, considerate and loveable guy never any regret
Funny and so witty when amongst your friends
But still private when it mattered I adored you to the end
Your passion for the open water it would never wane
Every opportunity would find us here again
Sometimes I would wonder did you love it more than me
This love affair, this passion with the wonder of the sea

Standing on the shore line lost but not alone
Watching the waves rolling in, white and topped with foam
Remembering your smile that captured my own heart
Tony I may miss you but we will never really be apart.

Champion of Champions
Fellow Redcaps, Jane Bell and Lesley Cook swam in the Champion of Champions event in Memory of Tony Mellett.  H2o magazine published the longest day which you can read here followed by a moving tribute to a true champion.  Rest in Peace Tony. x.