Well, Angie said to write down my memories from my swim, so
here goes. She’s right that I should do
this as I’m already forgetting.
Before I started was an adventure in itself. I’d only been in England
for a day adjusting to the time change from the San Francisco Bay
Area. I called Angela Oram during the intermission of The Producers
in London to ask about my chances of going early. I’d almost forgotten
to even bring my mobile and I wasn’t really expecting to be getting
a time slot, so I was overwhelmed when she said, “Wednesday, 1:00
am, two other guys are here but they’re not ready to go, do you
want the slot”. Taking a moment to find my voice again, I emphatically
answered “Yes, Wednesday 1 AM!”
When I got off the phone I was so overwhelmed I rushed back inside
the theater with tears in my eyes knowing that I had a shot at my
dream and told Angie, “I’m going Wednesday, 1:00 AM”. It was starting!
Of course, it’s never that easy is it? First, I had to sleep and
eat, get to Dover and well there seemed to be a million little bits
of preparation to take care of before I would go. The anxiety was
already consuming and yet, it could easily be days or weeks before
I go despite the time slot.
The next day in London, I was to call Michael at noon and confirm
that the weather was still good. I just was so nervous trying not
to get excited I slept edgily. At 11:00 AM Angie suggested I call
so we could get on our way to Dover, as it would take much of the
day. Michael said, “The weather is good, but check in this evening
and come on down if its good”. I said I was coming to Dover regardless
and so we went on our way.
The night before was all nerves. I’d run into Suzie Dods in Dover,
fresh off a plane from Turkey and she’d insisted I get to sleep
early and I did at 6:00ish (PM), but I awoke about 15 minutes later.
So I rested in bed and just relaxed until 11:30 that night when
I was to get up. I managed only about another 40 minutes of sleep,
thanks to Angie indulging me in some quickie lovemaking – she knew
it would help.
We headed on our way at 12:15 am and I was terrified. The flag
on the castle was blowing fairly hard, the trees were blowing about.
The calm of the evening was gone and replaced by a steady breeze,
but it was a gale in my mind. A gale that was going to cancel my
swim I was sure.
When we reached the sleepy crew of the Sea Satin, Lance, Deano
and Chris they were googly eyed and rough-hewn. I’d woken Lance,
the lead pilot, with a phone call and he sounded like he ought to
go back to sleep and he assured me he would. Was that good or worrisome,
I didn’t know what to think.
The blessing was meeting Kevin Murphy, my observer. He was friendly
and enthusiastic and let me know he’d done 32 crossings. There on
the dock I was also greeted by two women, Kevin’s wife and a woman
named Alison who wished me good luck. She also said, “Don’t stop
swimming until you get to France.” I thought this was rather nice
as it was nearly 1 AM. Only after our boat departed did Kevin tell
me that was THE Alison Streeter, “The Queen of the Channel” who
had done a world record 43 crossings including triple crossings
– yes that’s three consecutive times across the English Channel
in a row. I was very honored to say the least and felt like I was
off to a great start.
The next few minutes may have been my worst the whole way. We moved
out of port in near total darkness. Inside the boat it was very
dark. I couldn’t understand what the goddamned instructions were
that I was being given by the crew. They puffed smoke at me as they
gave unclear instructions in an accent I struggled to understand.
Angie safety pinned a green light stick to the back of my Speedo,
I pulled my new white Dolphin Club cap over my earplugs (as I wondered
if they were legal). As I started to put on my Albolene to keep
from chafing. Kevin sent me to the outside back deck and I applied
it to my underarms and the front and back of my neck. I was all
nerves and stood there with my greasy hands not knowing what to
do. Kevin suggested I clean my hands on the towel. “Good idea” I
said. “I wouldn’t want to swim the Channel with greasy hands”. What
I didn’t do was clean my hands on my inner thighs like usual, something
I would regret later.
SURREAL, I thought. Were the boat’s diesel fumes getting to me?
We were at Shakespeare Beach already and all I could see of the
shoreline was a very dark beach with a massive cliff hanging over
it. We were away from the bright lights of Dover Harbor. Suddenly,
one of the crew shone a massive light onto the beach about 100 meters
away. I made sure to kiss Angie – she’s good luck! And said my see
you soon’s in France to everyone.
I could barely feel myself and knew I was in some stage of shock.
Did one’s nerves really hit this hard? I was ready wasn’t I? They
said these were good conditions right? But they were seafaring lads
raised on the seas, not swimmers. Were they leading me on?
I started down the ladder without opening the rope gate – a rookie
maneuver. I felt embarrassed. Kevin stopped me and opened it and
I was suddenly ready to step off the boat and into the biggest adventure
of my life.
“Surreal”. This time I said it aloud as I stepped down the ladder.
It was! I stepped down and away from my crew and the worries and
the self-pressure seemed to float away with it. Onto the back platform,
and then I leaped into the water. Chilly, but not cold.
I swam the yards to shore and onto the one-inch pebbles that shone
in the spotlight. I stumbled ashore.
Baaarh! The boat horn sounded and I was to start with so little
time to think about it. I stepped into the water, dolphined through
a wave and swam up alongside the left of the boat.
We were off together now in a dance, me swimming in the boat’s
light, the boat following my pace and waiting for me. I might slide
from 2 yards to 12 yards from its side and up or back a few yards
but we were always close.
I slowed and loosened up my stroke fearing adrenaline would take
me out too fast. I knew I’d need everything at the end and preferred
to warm-up slowly.
The chill of the water quickly dissipated, it was warmer than home.
The first half hour seemed pretty long. I was getting edgy waiting
for my crew to signal me for my first feeding. Just as I was wondering
if I couldn’t hear or see my signals, I heard shouts of “feeding
time!”. I swam over to the boat carefully so as not to touch it.
Angie swung the Nalgene bottle out to me on the string and then
let it go. It nearly clocked me in the noggin. I drank which seemed
a bit difficult in the wave action. I listened to them as they called
out stroke counts and ??? but really struggled to hear it all. Swimming
in the dark – what I hadn’t practiced – thank god I was starting
I swam back into my solitude under the spotlight. I would work
on my stroke, really focusing on my alternate breathing and over
extending my hips and body such that my face pointed nearly vertically
out of the water on both sides and my body powered my speed, not
The side benefit of this was that it allowed me a spectacular view
of the dark sky. Dark except for stars between the clouds, Dover’s
brightly lit harbor, massive ships lit like Christmas trees. The
glow of the lights on the limestone cliffs I had just departed from
was gorgeous. My eyes had adjusted to the dark and I was seeing
detail all around in the 2 AM sky: clouds, shapes, waves.
The most spectacular thing was the sight under water. My hands
were aglow with little dots of light. I thought they were flagellates
like I’d seen in Puerto Rico. I wanted to call out to the boat and
ask about them but I decided against that. Instead I just watched
my glowing hands. The little lights would trail off my hands. After
a few minutes I realized this was probably just the boats light
catching the tiny bubbles at just the right angle to make them shine
like glow worms in a dark cave. Watching them actually helped my
stroke as I would stretch and reach patiently forward for an extended
The hour feeding caught me a bit by surprise. A huge floodlight
suddenly blinded me. I guess I wasn’t hearing them yelling at me.
Apparently I didn’t hear the air horn either. About all I found
to say during the first few feedings was “It’s beautiful out here”
because it just was.
As I got along past the first hour my usual “one hour down – nine
to go” mindset was useless. I had no idea how long I’d be out here.
Until France was all there was and I knew I’d make it today.
I swam further from the boat, which I enjoyed a bit so I wouldn’t
worry about accidentally bumping it. Occasionally I would be out
in front of the boat and could see lights off of the bow from an
English town just starting to appear from the other side of a large
point. Lights all around. The boats in the shipping channel seemed
close, but were still well off. Was that France, Calais lighting
the clouds in the distanced?
As I swam through my second hour the water got warmer. I felt better
and better. The waves started picking up a bit and I was reminded
that Kevin had told me the roughest spot would be 3 or 4 miles out
where the currents hit each other. I would see waves peaking and
cresting in the floodlight and occasionally bouncing off the boat.
At 2 hours Kevin and Eric said it was 66 degrees and I wasn’t surprised.
“It’s like bath water out here,” I yelled back, while backstroking
and enjoying my moments of contact. Angie had the feedings perfected
already. I was still adjusting to the boat’s forward movement while
I fed though. I kept the feedings short partially because it was
hard to feed with a moving boat, partially because I couldn’t hear
my crew well enough to have a good conversation and partially because
I was already getting eager to reach France fast. I settled back
into my rhythm.
Ziiiing! “Ow, fuck!” Jellyfish.
Two minutes into my 3rd hour I’d been hit and hit hard.
The jelly struck the left front of my neck just as I was breathing
to my right. It slid across my chest to my right nipple. Then my
stroke motion pushed it back across my tummy down my left thigh
and then with a powerful kick I smacked it with the top of my left
foot. This kick was not my revenge for good measure. I was
simply going fast enough that by the time I felt the sting, I was
already past the jelly. I figured I was going 5-6 feet per second
so even if I’d seen the jelly I probably couldn’t react quick enough.
In the dark I was past before the pain registered into a cohesive
A quick inventory of the path of the jelly across me revealed that
it definitely stung all over. I could feel my movement causing the
tentacles stuck to me to release their toxins. I reduced my motion
a bit and eased up for a few minutes hoping unreleased toxins would
float away with their tentacles. After 10 or 15 minutes in which
I learned very painfully to not let my legs cross, the pain centers
were reduced mainly to my neck, nipple and foot. Thank god I hadn’t
swallowed the thing– that could end a swim.
I was now swimming scared wondering if the warm waters would bring
out swarms of jellies and I would get blasted by multiple stings.
Suppose I was allergic? Of the many things I brought, antihistamine
was the one I had knowingly never secured. Oh well – swim.
After swimming a bit bowlegged for 1/2 an hour I came to my feeding.
I still hurt a bunch and told my crew I’d been jellied. Kevin told
Eric this was a jelly area.
Back into my stroke, my perfectly beautiful swim returned. The
pain began to fade as if telling my crew had begun the healing.
Soon just my nipple and foot hurt. Within the next hour my body
would be back to normal except for when I kicked the top of my left
foot with my right foot. OUCH! Each time was like getting stung
all over again…and that lasted 6 more hours!
It happened a lot in hours 3 and 4. The waves got worse which surprised
me. I was getting bounced around quite a bit, swallowing bits of
water. It was like a typical day off the south tower of the Golden
Gate Bridge, bouncy, except it lasted for hours. Because it was
dark it was also disorienting. I had some trouble keeping going
straight and was concentrating so hard on using my stroke to smooth
out the swells that I would lose track of the boat. I would swallow
water now and then but never much as I was doing my water polo stroke.
The beautiful night lights were only visible when I breathed right
on the wave crests. Otherwise I was in a dark world. When I caught
glimpses of a new ship or a new view I would take a few strokes
just to check it out. I envied the folks on the boat who could see
easily from their high perch. Dover faded in the distance moving
around the other side of me as much as it moved behind me.
Just after 3 hour feeding I seriously wrenched my right shoulder
on a wave. Sometimes the swells were rhythmic but most of the time
they were unpredictable which was rough on my well therapied shoulders.
I might fall off a wave crest and feel a twinge. But now this was
In all my long swims I had never had a shoulder pain like this
– so sharp so painful and just brutal in the wavy wash of the channel.
I spent the next half hour backing off and playing with my stroke.
I called out for Advil at my next feeding. After a very painful
few minutes in which I realized 10 more hours of this pain just
wasn’t an option despite my telling myself “Pain is temporary, glory
is forever”. (Angie had picked this off the walls of the White Horse
Tavern). I did the smart thing and slowed my stroke, virtually eliminated
the finish of my stroke with my right hand and also stopped reaching
out as far with my right arm in front of me. I knew this slowed
me down and that pissed me off, but I had but one goal today – swim
to France no matter how long it took.
Angie got me my Cytomax and Eric handed me a Styrofoam cup with
2 Advil. It was sketchier taking the cup as our fingers were 2 or
3 inches apart – a touch is a quick disqualification aka total disaster.
This seemed all too easy a mistake to make with swells rocking the
boat and me around, but our hand off was smooth and I was off again
It seemed to me that ships were now passing behind me and at first
I thought I must already be in the separation zone in super quick
time (the separation zone splits the two lanes of boat traffic.
The north side had all the ships going west, the south has all the
ships going east – 600 a day). It’s the world’s busiest ship freeway.
I soon realized though that I was just in the middle of the westbound
side of the freeway. After that, I was just enjoying being in the
midst of these quiet giants that lit up the dark waters.
Not a minute too soon the sky began to lighten. As much as I enjoyed
the beauty of the dark I was ready to see the world, my girlfriend,
my crew, the boat, the waves, the shore of France – ok – that last
one would be awhile coming.
Sunrise on the water is one of the most beautiful things I know.
Sunrise for me on the English Channel was spiritual and mythical.
To me there is nothing more beautiful that swimming during the night
to earn a perfect sunrise.
The sky was a pink hue with scattered clouds. The water began to
calm and wind was virtually non-existent. I could finally see Angie
in her ski jacket and my Dolphin Club ski hat. Eric was bundled
up in my thick long fuzzy jacket. Ok, so it’s cold out. Thank god
it’s not windy. We all watched the sunrise. I saw Angie shooting
photos and reminded her of the video on the digital camera. It was
so beautiful I wanted to make sure they captured it. I could now
see the ships: tankers, container ships, ferries and strange looking
behemoths with multiple masts and shapes. I’d never realized such
big ships came in so many shapes, colors and configurations.
Everyone was a bit giddy with the morning. The white cliffs of
Dover sparkled behind us – a lot closer than I would have liked
hadn’t I swam further than that already? Eric was calling out that
he could see France – I definitely couldn’t.
Angie and Eric spent a while entertaining me by flashing me all
sorts of things on the whiteboard. Angie asked if I’d have her baby,
Eric drew pictures and wrote that he’d ordered me a beer in France.
Angie wrote that I was a “badass motherfucker”. We were definitely
having a good time and the time passed quickly.
I felt better – my shoulder pain had subsided, the jelly sting
kept me almost laughing. I now for better or worse could see the
jellies in the clear water and they made me jump outta my skin.
In general however, I just stroked along having a great time in
this awesome swim. I didn’t need Angie’s reminder that I need to
remember to just enjoy it because I couldn’t do anything but enjoy.
In fact I felt so good I picked up my stroke technique a bit, kicked
harder and thought I’ll make this a fast crossing too. 10 hours?
11 hours? Who knows I’m cranking now. I’ve never been going this
fast in a long swim. I’ve never had my stroke this on, I’ve never
had energy like this, I’ve never felt this good ever in any long
swim, triathlon or anything.
I zipped along dreaming of my smokin’ quick crossing time. It’ll
impress the hell out of people, but it’s simply hitting on all cylinders.
Maybe the spring tides are faster too – maybe I’ll break 10 hours
flying in on the tide!
I kept my feedings short. Angie had it down perfect. The bottle
dropped perfectly out to me. I unscrewed the cap of it and the pre-opened
powergel came loose. I downed it in one or two gulps washed it down
with 8-10 oz of Cytomax and was gone back into my stroke like a
pro going for a great time. Cristophe had set the world record doing
2-6 second feedings – so what the heck I’d try to keep mine under
15 seconds or so.
Eric and Angie yelled to me that they had just mentioned my name
on the radio. I had passed the other 2 swimmers in the Channel today
and one had started an hour ahead of me and the other was a relay.
I was “kicking their asses”. This only reinforced my feeling that
I was in fact cranking.
Eric kept yelling out “France” and pointing. Angie and Eric gave
me encouragement. Angie’s mom called and said “Hi”. I could see
Angie smiling and talking on the phone for a few minutes. This was
way cool! I loved it – good vibes.
I saw plenty of Jellies and marveled at them. There was a redish
orange one with thick tentacles that looked dangerous. Do they
have Portuguese Man-O-War here? I wondered fearfully. I narrowly
missed some small opaque ones that literally passed within 2 inches
of me as I rotated though my stroke. Almost more scary were the
little almost invisible ones where you wouldn’t see anything but
a slight luminescence off their outermost edges. I had been stung
by ones like this in the Carribean and it had hurt for days, so
they scared me a little more. I was lucky though, even though I
saw at least 30 and even managed to put my hand into the topside
of a couple where the stinging tentacles don’t get you, I never
was stung again. Occasionally, my crew would be pointing to something
in the water and I’d often then see a jelly coming at me. I even
sort of enjoyed the unique looking one that looked like two cereal
bowls with the openings pushed together and a stream of tentacles
hanging down below.
I figured I was well past halfway when during my 6 hours feeding
Eric said, “When you pass that big buoy you’ll be halfway”. “What?”
I thought, “really, ok, so maybe I’m not going all that fast but
I’ll still be in in 11.5 or 12 hours.” It was rather disheartening.
I had great energy though and picked up my pace again. However the
goddamned buoy didn’t come towards me quickly. I realized first
it was a huge buoy, second I was going sideways both in the direction
I was swimming and on the current. Though I’d thought I was only
2-300 yards from the buoy it took me most of the half hour to pass
Halfway down though. The water kept getting smoother and I was
a bit tired but I worked my strokes for distance and kept a strong
pace. 10 1/2 miles to go.
France came into view. Yeeha! That felt great. I could actually
recognize the coast and towns and see what I thought was Cap Blanc-Nez
though it was still far off.
Lance said I’d be getting a 3 mph push sideways. I felt like I
was swimming sideways when I wanted to be going towards shore. This
annoyed me. The Sea Satin kept pointing right towards Spain when
I wanted to go straight to France.
Two hours after my pre-halfway feeding, France loomed large on
the horizon. I thought I could see Cap Gris Nez. I was now into
smooth near glassy waters and feeling fast. I figured I was back
on track for 11 hours so I asked “How far out am I”? 10 miles was
the answer I got. I wanted to shoot someone. “You mean, I’ve only
gone 1/2 a mile in two hours?” Whatever they replied was difficult
to understand, but something about the currents blah, blah, blah.
While I dejectedly reset my mind on a 16 hour swim I began to wonder
what fucking swim path my pilots had me on. Then I remembered these
were just the things you deal with swimming the Channel. I realized
Lance wanted me in as quickly as possible and…he was the expert
not I. Maybe the current would push me towards the Cap and my time
would still be quick. He knew what he was doing and has been across
hundreds of times with swims and this was my first….enjoy right!
I knew I wasn’t yet ready for Eric to get in the water as I was
still too fast for him. He didn’t look ready for the water anyway
as he was still in my heavy jacket looking cold. I had previously
suggested that he’d probably get in around seven hours to give me
a support swim. However, I had discovered just a few days before
in San Francisco that he was in terrible swimming shape despite
having recently done a triathlon. Maybe when we got a little closer.
Soon a welcome diversion occurred. I was well into the easterly
shipping channel and saw a huge container ship bearing down on where
we’d be in a few minutes. Ok this was not the first time I’d thought
this. Whether coming in from Alcatraz or swimming the channel, I’d
learned that these gargantuans sped deceptively quickly while I
moved relatively slowly. They typically passed far in front of me
while I rode their wake.
As I kept swimming the tanker kept bearing down. I wondered how
the Coast Guard was calling this one – they let all the ships know
where the swimmers were in the Channel. The tanker got closer very
quickly. I was about to talk to my boat when I realized they had
stopped behind me. I quickly turned around and breaststroked back
along its side. It was my only real break of the entire channel
swim, maybe 30-45 seconds to chat with my peeps as the massive boat
passed in front of us. I had a moment to look around and really
see that I was in the middle of the English Channel. I enjoyed where
I was, cool stuff, smiled, admired my crew. Then, just like that,
I jumped back into my strokes, rode the swells and swam my way into
the ship’s backwash. I had gotten there quickly enough to feel the
water churning and was actually pushed around in the water that
its propellers had just cut up, like bobbing about in a super strong
Along the way I’d noticed a few seagulls just floating near me
as I swam past them. I figured they didn’t know what to think of
a swimmer in the middle of the channel, something they’d probably
never seen before. I swam within a few feet of one and it didn’t
even budge, totally unafraid of me. Well the next time I came upon
a seagull I decided to have some fun. Even though it wasn’t in my
path, I angled left and chased it for a few quick strokes until
it realized I was going to catch it and then it flew off. I could
hear the laughter of my crew, this was fun.
At 9.5 hours I was starting to get pooped, I told Eric to join
me at 10 and requested more Advil. The Cap, my intended finish was
now visible though still distant. I knew the currents swirled around
it. This was a perfect time for Eric to get in and help, not later
when I might have to sprint and Eric could be a liability if he
couldn’t keep up. Now, I’d be ready for Eric and knew he’d help
me get my stroke together. I remembered how I’d felt during my 10
hour training swim and at this point I’d been way past pooped, I’d
been totally exhausted, this would be fun.
The Advil exchange was sketchy as the boat lurched just as Angie
handed the cup down to me. We both jumped back not to touch. Then
on the second try we got it right. I got my power gel and Cytomax
and signaled to Eric where to go. He jumped in with rabid enthusiasm,
yelled something moronic about him being the one to beat or something
that just pissed me off and took off swimming backstroke.
To explain, my brother has a way of being super competitive with
me as well as being super supportive of me. Twelve years my senior,
he enjoyed superiority over me in everything while I was a kid and
taught me to enjoy sports. As I grew and became stronger and started
beating his swim times, he closely guarded his sports that he excelled
in, tennis, golf, table tennis. When I started getting better than
him at certain sports, he would take up others that I didn’t have
interest in or become an expert in what he still was superior at.
I wondered to what lengths he would go, would he soon be doing Jai-Alai
and Austrailian Rules Football? I was never really concerned with
beating him, but I did enjoy watching him scramble to defend his
turf. Over the past few years, he’d occasionally go overboard, bragging
to people we didn’t know that he was going to “teach (me) to ski”
even though I was a far superior skier or telling strangers that
we’d both played college water polo when he’d actually played intermural
and I’d been on a Division 1 powerhouse. My style was never braggado,
but I also didn’t like feeling like my accomplishments had been
Swimming was my domain though. Even though he had been quite an
excellent swimmer himself, he just wasn’t close to my level, especially
now at nearly 50, after two heart attacks and on drugs that keep
your heart going nice and relaxed.
Hence, I was a little testy hearing him yell something about me
not being able to catch him, typical him, I would just have to shut
him up! So, you could say I was a little shocked that I all of sudden
realized that I wasn’t catching up to him. The painful part was
that he was still swimming backstroke damnit! He turned over to
swim freestyle and I wondered for a second if he’d already shot
his wad bursting for the first minute in the water just like he’d
done last week in SF, but goddamnit! he was now pulling away.
This was actually quite good. Trying to catch him I concentrated
hard and found my stroke again and started to catch him. We were
a little too close together and fearing disqualification for touching,
I spread way out, maybe 40 yards from the boat with him inbetween.
After a few minutes, I caught him and then just kept this nice faster
pace for a while.
When I guessed that I had about 5 minutes left I decided to pick
up the pace a notch. I simply didn’t want to go through the rest
of my life hearing how my brother was faster than me when “we swam
the English Channel”. The very thought had me miffed. I started
pulling away. I would get about 10 yards up then let him catch a
little. By the time the feeding came around I could easily pull
As I fed, Kevin asked if Eric was going to stay in for another
1/2 hour and I asked how he felt and he looked pretty pooped, that
vacant look. However, he was in total support of me, he would probably
kill himself to keep pacing me for another half hour if I wanted.
Though he’d done well for half an hour, much better than in SF,
he wasn’t going to last much longer and I saw that both of us knew
that. I told him to get on the boat and there was a bit of relief
in his face.
As I resumed swimming, I realized that in competing with my brother,
my faster pace had left me a little exhausted and I decided to slow
my pace and rebuild my energy. Just then, Angie started flashing
me signs on the whiteboard.
From the view, I figured I was 2-3 miles out. Angie flashed “4
nautical miles”. “Shit”, I thought as I worked out that to be nearly
5 land miles. Ok, 2 1/2 hours to swim I thought.
Then Angie flashed “Can you get your stroke count to 60?” I shouted
“Is that faster or slower?” All day long I’d been between 62 and
67 so I thought momentarily I was being told to slow down and save
myself for the finish. But Noooo! I was being told to pick it up.
She then flashed something ugly, “You might miss the Cap, go faster
if you can”. I noticed the cheery enthusiasm on the boat had shifted
to caution and concern.
I found that the threat of missing the Cap was a great motivator.
I found a gear I’d never had past the fourth hour of any swim I’d
ever done. I was working to perfection my alternate breathing and
stroking powerfully for maximum distance. Ironically, my pains were
suddenly disappearing allowing me to put even more into every stroke.
My stroke count kept up around 70 plus for my next 1/2 hour and
nearly the same for the 1/2 hour after that. I was on fire! I briefly
figured I was cranking in, riding this crazy spring tide I knew
so little about and I would in fact be on a French beach sipping
a beer quite shortly.
I super sped my feedings cutting them to 8-10 seconds. My crew
was now shouting like crazed fans when I’d gulp down my cytomax
and hurl the bottle away after a few seconds. My formerly sleepy
disinterested seeming pilots were now cheering enthusiastically
pushing me to greater speeds. It was fantastic – for the first time
in my life I experienced a true runner’s high. I felt no pain!
The Cap came into close relief and the glassy water started to
get a bit choppy. A new jellyfish type about 5 inches across and
very clear appeared a couple of times and was just another confirmation
that we were getting close to France.
From the boat Angie fed me constant updates. “3 nautical miles”
what the hell? I thought how am I still that far away?
… “2.5 miles – Go Baby!” – jeez that half mile was awfully long!
I knew I was now battling the infamous currents and I was game.
One hour, two hours more how long could I keep up this insane pace?
I knew from reading and fighting currents in the SF bay that every
few yards I won against the tide would make a much larger difference
later on. Even though I started to fatigue I fought and fought,
the pace, the technique. I knew I wasn’t bonking so I just went
as hard as I could never backing off for a second. Worst comes to
worst I figured I’d eventually get tired, slow down and end up grabbing
that beer a few miles down the coast in Wissant or Sangatte. Nothing
was keeping me from France today!
The boat was bringing me around the west side of the Cap. . I actually
seemed to have passed its shores and its lighthouse and it seemed
to me I was now swimming down the coast towards Spain. I struggled
for every yard and followed my boat captain diligently trusting
their knowledge. I worked my ass off swimming up this river of a
current closing the actual distance to shore only .6 miles in one
Suddenly I felt the water temperature go up and I knew I’d just
broken through one current into another. More rapidly now I started
really closing the gap to the Cap which thrilled me. Oh Fuck me!!!
I realized I was also suddenly shooting in an eastward arc riding
a current much faster than I around the Cap. My crew was shouting
at me, feedings got shorter and I gave it everything I had. At 13
hours – longer than I expected to go, I was still .6 miles off shore.
The fairly smooth water suddenly got very rough.
I practically lurched forward. I was in yet another messy current
moving towards shore at…a normal pace, nothing was actually pushing
me away from the shoreline anymore, back to my 2 miles an hour pace
I thought with so little to go. I watched my boat rocking hard side
to side and wondered if I’d see Angie or Eric getting sick and told
myself not to worry about them.
It was all me now. Two hours before when I’d thought I was within
40 minutes of finishing, I’d almost told Angie “no more feedings”
Even though I knew I was close I didn’t say anything and fed pouring
Cytomax down the hatch in one 2 second gulp and trying not to lose
any yards. It was clear anything could happen out here.
I put my head down to get extra speed, but noticed how quickly
I was being swept around the Cap, its lighthouse going from being
far to my left to being in front of me and then to my right. The
sharp edged boulders of the shoreline were clear to me and I could
see people on shore. I was within 400 yards! As the lighthouse went
to my right, we kept pointing at it, All of a sudden when I looked
we were 500 yards out, then 600. I was sweeping out and had missed
the Cap. For every few yards East of the Cap, the shoreline angled
away, but not too steeply.
I realized the current was faster than I and I didn’t want to fight
a losing battle and just get further from shore while trying to
get to the Cap. I’d rather swim directly across the current and
end up having to swim the extra mile of length to Wissant. I was
exasperated and shouted, “what’s going on?” Eric flashed a sign
that “the eddy will take you in”. Yeah I thought but I’m in an outward
current not an eddy. I knew the difference.
A boat full of what looked like swimmers came out from the shore
and cheered me on. While I appreciated the enthusiasm I was sort
of bummed when I figured out this was the relay and they’d somehow
passed me back even though I’d never seen the boat til just now.
But I saw how much they were yelling for me and what the hell I
soaked in their smiles.
I kept stroking crazy fast like a man being attacked by bees and
while the boat directed me more westerly, I hedged a bit and pointed
myself a bit more easterly. I was past the Cap now and about three
quarters of a mile from shore. I saw Eric getting ready to get in
and about 10 things ran through my mind, starting with “not fucking
now!” I didn’t want us to get separated and endanger my finish or
my brothers’ life. Then I realized if he was getting in…things
must be about to get better!
Sure enough just as he got in, the water calmed down and the currents
were gone! We started moving toward shore about a half a mile east
of a white colored restaurant I had scouted the previous summer.
I relaxed a bunch and swam in enjoying every stroke lifting my head
to check out the shore, the Cap, the big rocks and to look for a
few feet of beach where I could step onto a beach rather than boulder
my way onto France. Eric cruised near me and the only concern was
not touching Eric.
What in god’s name is the boat doing now? The boat instead
of pointing me straight to shore was angling about 20 degrees east.
Did they want to make me enjoy my swim for a little while longer?
Scared of touching Eric, I was being forced east and this really
pissed me off. How long were we going to extend this swim for?
Eric backed behind me so as not to interfere and I turned straight
towards shore finally able to go my own way. Insult to injury!
The boat sped up, pulled in front of me and then turned sideways
essentially blocking my way into shore. Fuck them!!! I thought.
Rebelling, I swam around the boat and pointed straight in. It was
then that I realized the boat had turned sideways because it had
to. It was getting too shallow. The beach was directly ahead. Eric
and I swam the last 200 yards to shore.
We were coming to shore near some very big nasty boulders with
little bits of empty rocky beach between them. A 30 foot cliff rose
above. My last few yards I negotiated a number of large under water
rocks and the surf was crashing over them.
I walked ashore. Awesome!
Eric raised his arms to signal to my observer that I was clear
of the water. I felt absolutely great, not very tired and enjoyed
basking in the sun. I let out a hoot of delight to my boat with
my arms raised.
A lone sixtiesh man was reading not 10 yards from where I came
to shore. His face was an expression filled map, his nose had more
ridges and shapes than the Matterhorn “Bonjour”, I said. He said
a few things back in a thick French I couldn’t understand. Eric
started shouting in English. “He just swam from Dover, England”.
“Douvres, Angleterre” I translated and then did a swimming motion.
The man was amazed, he thought I’d swum in from the boat!
He got up to shake my hand very excitedly. We chatted with this
man in English for a few minutes and discovered he was a German
tourist. A French beachgoer from 30 yards down the beach must have
overheard as he got up and came down the beach to shake my hand
too. The first man’s wife came back from her walk and she congratulated
me animatedly with Euro kisses.
I eyed the white restaurant and thought of how for the past year
I’d fantasized about landing and getting a free beer in France while
I stood there in a speedo. I’d even practiced this in Wissant the
previous summer and gotten the owner of a beachside bar to promise
me a free beer if I landed there. However between me and the restaurant
was a boulderfield and I wasn’t in a mood for intense bouldering
in a speedo. Moreover, there was no way I was swimming over there,
Besides, I’d used up much of my 15 minute limit on shore already.
I realized there was a beer waiting for me at the White Horse Tavern
We waded back into the water and swam lazily to the boat. I was
ecstatic. I realized now my thighs were severely chaffed and they
stung incredibly. My shoulders were pretty worked but none of that
mattered anymore. If I couldn’t swim for a month who gave a damn,
I did what I came for.
I was an English Channel swimmer for all eternity.
I climbed victoriously onto the boat. Angie was thrilled. My crew
of swarthy sailors suddenly looked like my best friends at the pub.
Kevin told me all about what was going down on the boat while I
was in the water; about how strong the currents were and how I just
kept going, never faltering, never looking fazed at all.
I got my kisses from Angie and soaked up the sun till I started
getting cold. Then, I took a blanket and enjoyed the boat ride,
marveled at the shores, pointed out the jellies from the decks.
Chris, one of the pilots, showed me on two maps exactly the course
I’d taken across the channel. I had definitely had much bigger tides
than I had expected. I had been swept miles east initially and then
double that back west. To the uneducated, my giant reverse ‘S’ course
looked like I’d been been led by a drunk across the channel. I sat
with Angie and enjoyed our beautiful 3 hour boat ride back to England.
Dane greeted us at the harbor. So close – so far, what a bummer
he’d missed it. My only true disappointment this day. He’d done
so much to be here and yet I’d had to leave mere hours before he
could join us—that was the channel!
Once back on shore, I realized my arms and hands were a mess, I
could barely hold anything. As I walked into our rented flat I exclaimed
“My thighs are bleeding!”
Soon, my right shoulder and arm was in incredible pain, but my
smile was huge and I was in a mood for celebration and going out
on the town. I tried to take a short nap and woke up half an hour
later feeling nearly paralyzed. I was in agonizing pain and couldn’t
get myself out of bed. I couldn’t use my arms, my bleeding thighs
hurt to move and I had to go pee out all that Cytomax Now!#$%#!
Angie helped me get upright. I could barely keep from passing out.
I was not in good shape, a total wreck. The White Horse and my beer
would have to wait for tomorrow. I couldn’t hold a pen anyways.
My crew was out cold. Totally zonked from being awake for nearly
24 hours. We slept! Or at least they did while I kept waking in
dazed partially paralyzed delerium needing to pee again and again.
Once I woke with my upper body hanging off the bed and barely got
myself back on and was reminded of how my training buddy Nigel had
literally destroyed his shoulder to the point of needing reconstructive
surgery because he fell out of bed following his Tahoe swim. I had
wondered how in the world that happened, I had just barely avoided
the same fate myself. I couldn’t even wake my snoring crew they
were so deep in slumber. I was both having the worst twelve most
physically painful hours of my life and yet buzzing from the fact
I had just swam the English channel. In my pain, my eyes would well
up with tears of joy. After a few cold showers, a slight overdose
of Advil and some homeopathic trauma drugs, I finally slept for
a few hours. I woke like a stiff and happy zombie already starting
to feel better. From here on it was all glory!