Chalkwell Redcaps

Chalkwell Redcaps

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Sea Urchins - Relay Channel Swim

Back in December when it had been confirmed that we were going to be swimming the channel as a relay team Jade asked us all to write a blogpost. It was supposed to say how we felt about taking on the challenge and what our fears were. These are my thoughts - I must admit that I didn’t fancy the idea of being cold, feeling sea sick or being stung by jellyfish, not to mention crossing the shipping lanes and the fear of being eaten by a shark. Cost also came into it as it is an expensive thing to do but was just about manageable. The deciding factor was that I definitely wanted to be part of a team that was attempting such a huge challenge. So a team of six of us – Jade Perry, Tony Mellett, John Willis, Josh Stratford, Craig Johnston and I decided to take on the challenge of swimming across the English Channel to France. 
There were a good many challenges ahead of us, some of them easy such as we had to pay for our boat, get medicals done from willing GP’s and join the CSPF. But a couple of devastating things happened to the team. First of all Craig couldn’t get his medical form signed off by his Dr and so was unable to swim. Then later on at the end of April Tony Mellett was sadly taken away from us by a sudden heart attack. We were all devastated and it left a huge hole in our team, one which Tony Marshall wanted to fill for his friend Tony.
So Tony joined us and we were a team of five. We then needed a name for our team. Jade asked her sister Amber if she could ask her school class to come up with names for our team and design a logo for our hats and hoodies. The winner received a swimming hat from our swim. I then had to overcome my own fears. I combated the cold by just getting in and seeing how long I could stay in for and gradually increased the amount of time I was in for. We had to do a two hour cold water qualifier which I wasn’t looking forward to but on the day in May we just got in and did it in 13.8 degree water. And in all honesty it wasn’t that bad.

Unfortunately I was unable to combat my fear of jellyfish and literally just avoided them! I stayed out of the water during jellyfish season as it was like jellyfish soup and just the thought of them lurking and blobbing about freaked me out.  I just don’t understand what they are about, they’re strange and upsetting and might sting me. I did get stung last year and it really wasn’t that bad, just felt like stinging nettles but I still didn’t fancy going near them!
We then had to start properly training once we had done the cold water swim. We combined this with training in the pool at our indoor club RADS and sea swims when the tide was in at Southend. We also had a fab training weekend down in Dover Harbour practising swimming for an hour and then resting for an hour. It was completely different at Dover, the water was clearer and colder and we got a sample of what it was like to swim with ferries making the water choppy. We also had a particularly awesome session back in Southend too where all five of us were together and swimming during the golden hour before the sun set. We swam out to the big yellow buoy quite a way out and back again through the boats, it was also special as it was the first time we all got to train together as ‘The Southend Sea Urchins’.
So we then had to make sure that we had everything we needed. We had to make sure we had enough swimming cozzies for the possibility of four or five swims as well as swimming hats and goggles, towels, warm clothes, woolly hats, gloves and thermals. We had to think about what food we would want to eat on the day and what energy supplements we might need as well as having plenty of water and hot drinks too. I packed my bag a few days before we went but inevitably I unpacked everything again otherwise I know I would have forgotten something. The most important item was our passports. No passport meant no swim due to new regulations from France. Fortunately everyone remembered theirs. So all we had to do after that was wait for our window to open and hope for some good weather.

Unbelievably our window opened on Sunday 7th September and that was the day we swam. We had all gone down to Dover the night before in the hope that the swim would be confirmed for Sunday. Jade drove down in Bert – her camper van and stayed in Dover – Tony drove down once we had confirmation and slept in his car and the remaining four of us – Josh, John, Pete our fantastic Dr/Support crew and myself stayed in the Best Western Folkestone as it was the closest and cheapest option. Pete took us all out for dinner at a restaurant called Don Giovanni where Josh and I had pasta, John had a calzone and Pete had seabass and veggies. We all flopped in our beds at about 10pm and tried to sleep whilst waiting to hear from Jade as to whether we were going to swim the next morning.
We had our swim confirmed at about 11pm and then were up at 4am to get dressed and packed in the car to drive the twenty minutes or so to Dover harbour.  Once we arrived in the Dover Harbour car park we had to go and fill a form in for each car and pay about £7 to park for 24 hours, which wasn’t bad. We then gathered up,our stuff and went to find our boat – ‘Gallivant'. The crew were amazing all day and started by helping us load all of our belongings and food onto the boat and we then waved goodbye to Jade’s Mum and Dad who had driven all the way over from France in their campervan. We hoped that they would make it round to Shakespeare Beach in time to see us start off.
As we sailed around the corner to the beach we were pleased to see them. Josh was first to start and after he was briefed on what to do – jump in, swim to shore, start on dry land, wave when ready and go go go on claxon! Then we were off. We started at 6.13 and so that meant we would change over on the ’13’ of each hour. Josh did amazingly well and set off at a steady but fast pace. He did get stung by a brown jellyfish but shrugged it off and kept going. The water was unbelievably still and incredibly glassy. We watched the sun rise into a perfect orange circle in the sky as we cheered Josh on. Jade had laminated some signs so we could see how much time had gone by – 30 minutes to go, 15 minutes to go and 5 minutes to go. As well as a motivational photo of Tony Mellett who couldn’t be with us physically but was most definitely on board with us.

Jade was in second and she powered through the water. I was next, and although it was a shock when I jumped into the 18-19 degree water I soon got used to it and swam my hour. Tony was in next swimming close to the boat and even when his hat popped off his head he swam with it in his shorts and completed the hour at a good pace. John was amazing in his eye of the tiger swim trunks and cracked on and completed the five hour cycle with a consistently speedy stroke. The second five hours whizzed by fairly quickly considering what we were doing. There were patches of cold water and stretches of compass jellyfish which had me quite frightened to do my second hour but Pete held a thumbs up signal the entire way so that I knew that I wouldn’t encounter a jellyfish. We all got through the second hour unscathed except Tony who managed to get stung by a jelly but he didn’t tell me in case I got scared again.
We had really gotten into our stride by the time our third swims came round, although we were getting cold and tired but we kept cheering each other on and singing and dancing to music on our little speakers, which was a boost that we really needed. Josh had really suffered with the cold after his second swim with a bad case of the shivers and was really dreading going in again but he literally dived right in (later telling me that he thought it might make the swim shorter!). At this point it became apparent that we were closing in on France even though we still couldn’t see it in all the haze. Jade in her bright green alien costume this time was in for her third swim and she literally smashed it. I later found out that something had bitten Jade while she was swimming. It turned out to be a small crab that had grabbed on while Jade was swimming and made it out of the sea with her attached to her bottom!
I was then told by the pilot that we were 1.2 miles away and that it was possible to land it. Sarah Mellett, Tony Mellett’s wife had asked if someone would like to take Tony’s yellow smiley hat with us on the boat and the team had decided that whoever landed it would wear his hat. I’m honoured to say that I got to be the one who wore it and once I jumped in I tried to do my absolute best for Tony and the Southend Sea Urchins. I kept swimming next to the boat and was told with about half a mile to go that the rest of the team would be allowed to swim to shore with me but that I had to stay in front so that Laura our observer could ratify the swim with me getting to dry land with in my hour.
I kept swimming but it got to a point where the boat had sailed as far as it could and I had to go into shore on my own. The water became unclear and I immediately started to panic that a lurking jellyfish might sting me, especially as I could no longer see the boat or Pete. I kept going a while longer and the white cliffs of France started to get bigger until my hands touched something, which I’m very pleased to say turned out to be sand! I looked up and could see people on the beach not too far away so thought that I would try and stand up. To my immense relief we had made it to France! I ran up on the beach and waved at the boat and was then joined about a minute later by the rest of the Urchins. We all hugged and congratulated each other on the beach. Tony had brought his waterproof camera with him on the swim into shore and so we were able to ask the three people that were on the beach (waiting for a swimmer on another boat to land) to take a photo of the five of us all together after completing our challenging swim from England to France across the English Channel.
 We then had to get back in the sea and swim back to the boat. Pete later told me that he had asked the crew if they would pick us up in the dingy but the crew replied ‘You don’t climb Everest and get a helicopter back down’! Words to live by right there I think! We then had a three hour boat ride back to Dover where we dried off, packed up, looked at photos, tried to contact our friends and family in England to say that we had smashed the Channel in a time of 12 hours and 51 minutes and then watched the moon rise and dozed off. I can’t thank everyone enough for supporting us all year to achieve this monumental task. We have managed to raise £3772 at the last count for cancer research and we still have money coming in, I hope we can break £4000. I especially want to thank Pete for being my hero all day long. He looked after us, cheered us on, made us hot drinks, made us laugh and I really don’t think I could have done it without him. When we arrived in Dover we got our belongings off the boat somehow as there was stuff literally strewn about the boat! We thanked the crew for being so amazing at looking after us and getting us across to France. Then we hugged each other goodbye and Pete and I got in the car and Pete drove us home. We finally got into bed about 1am after a gruelling 21 hour day, absolutely shattered but unbelievably happy.