'Lessons learned from the Channel'
1. I went to England with the knowledge that I was there until I got my chance, a one way ticket.
2. I also knew that many don’t make it but was determined to give it my best and if the channel gods said ‘no’ on the day, I would be back. (Still going back again for a 2-way – it gets in the blood)
3. I realized that I was there for a job, I didn’t sight-see. I got up ate breakfast, swam, hung with friends, lunch/email, nap, swim and made dinner, bed. I chose to stay where I could cook because I actually can….. I did a lot of reading (for gritty cop novel – Martina Cole is a great author, or read about Captain Webb or always Harry Potter in the local vernacular ‘it helps grow your ‘English.’’ I also listened to music, put together puzzles. Unless you know you are grounded for a couple of days, don’t head all over Canturbury, Dover Castle, etc because if you get a call at 6-9PM for a 2:30AM departure, you are exhausted. Save a week for after your swim to do all of this.
4. Make friends, they will be friends for life!
5. Don’t take anyone on your boat that will enable you to quit.
Your mother peeking over the deck and saying ‘sweetie, you look cold’ doesn’t help.
Your best friend who says ‘are you sure you don’t want to get out’ doesn’t work either.
I got a crew in Dover because this swim was about me. It might be different next time that I don’t know. I do know less is better. I don’t know how many have failed with a huge crowd only to succeed with 1-2 the next time but I know quite a few of them.
My perfect person is someone who loves me enough to stand up to me and sarcastically say ‘you want to quit?’ Because with me it gets a F.Y. response, I have such class ;-).
So know yourself and who you need. The only constant is people who want you to succeed for you and know this day is about you. In my book they also have to be able to entertain themselves while I take care of me.
6. Never under any circumstances abuse your crew!
I know I don’t have to say this but I was crew on a Cat. Channel swim last year where the swimmer got ugly when things got rough. I almost jumped over the side to strangle her, myself. Throwing your feed bottles because you want something else is a no-no as is swearing at your crew. Now swearing with them for example ‘that is a huge f****ing ship’ is appropriate.
If you want to change your feeding, let your crew know at a feeding and they will fix it at the next stop. Roll over and bark at them like a seal when they toss your food….
Personally it is my job to entertain them a little, dirty jokes, blond jokes. I specialize in smart ass remarks. Two way trivia to be answered at the next break is fun. My crew on Tahoe started to ask me Geometry questions - that is just plain mean…. So I rounded the answers and told them just to surprise them, I was really close to the correct answer.
But your crew, feeders, pilots and observers with you are a team. Without them you would be lost literally and figuratively so communicate, say please and thank you.
7. I love the history of a place, for example:
Loch Lomond – Robert the Bruce taught his men archery on the islands
Vikings came down the Loch in long boats, etc
Loch Oich – Bonny Prince Charlie hid from the English
Loch Earn – Home of Rob Roy, etc
Lake Tahoe – Washoe Indians sacred place
Island of Manhattan – American Revolution History, Civil War, etc
Now the Channel has a long history and I was lucky to be there during D-Day celebrations so there were stories about American Flyers who joined the British prior to entering the war and D-Day. There are places in France that the Allied Forces are celebrated every year. But to me one of the stories that touch me the most are of Dunkirk’s ‘little boats’ in the evacuation of Dunkirk France. If you know nothing about it, here are some web links:
I figured if those little boats could do continue to cross it, I could make it once….
8. Eat things that settle well on your stomach. I saved the Indian Food I was craving for after the swim.
9. Feeding, I found prior that bottle tied to a string with Maxim and GU attached to the bottle with pony tail bands around the neck worked. I went to straight Maxim about hour 7 my stomach couldn’t take the GU. I also have a touchy stomach so every four hours a bottle of very runny oatmeal, room temp made with maxim helped. The apples don’t digest for me, so plain or cinnamon Oatmeal. Love porridge also but have to have it runny to drink it.
10. Tell your boat if something is going on. I started to get sick 9.5 hours in, losing everything. I ingested too much saltwater. I’m pretty good at puking and swimming so my boat didn’t know I was ill because I didn’t want to get pulled. Mike O. told me later they would have tried to settle my stomach with tea or something. They wouldn’t have pulled me at all but could have made it better. So don’t hide it from your boat. I also have done an 8 hour swim extremely ill. So you can be seasick and still swim. That isn’t a reason to get out.
11. Take time to roll over and look around, know that you are doing something amazing! There is no water quite the same color of the channel, or cliffs quite that color except on the French side. Don’t miss it!
12. On the other hand don’t watch the White cliffs or look back or ahead, nothing changes. The cliffs don’t get smaller, the lighthouse doesn’t get bigger. Just swim.
13. If your chance comes on a spring tide, go for it. On my day, three women finished on a spring tide, each one 2 hours later than the previous. Just realize you are getting more for your money and you will see more of the channel.
14. Be prepared to miss the Cap (Cap Gris’Nez). I was 5 minutes behind the swimmer who made the Cap and waved to the lighthouse as it passed by to my right. I knew it would be at least 2 more hours and it was. But I considered the Cap a gift if it happened. I got to see the lighthouse at night!
15. Don’t use a whiteboard, by the time you can focus, you have to put your head back in. It does screw up your stroke and if it is raining…. Worse. Use hand signals. I’m pretty deaf in the water so:
a. a flat hand meant move away
c. holding up my bottle meant ‘FOOD’ and I was a well trained seal (Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on me)
d. My crew also used a horn to get my attention even though I was watching them closely. A couple of times we had to let freighters go and the needed me by the boat… Heck they are bigger!
e. ‘Thumbs up’ meant I was doing great and I really like seeing that signal, it was one I could make back while swimming.
16. Don’t put an hour count on your swim. Decide you are in until you beach yourself, beyond that all you have to do is concentrate on swimming between feedings. Ali once said that even a paper cup will eventually wind up on French soil.
17. You will have bad spots, but know they are temporary. The pains will pass, stretch your back at feeds, do breaststroke to stretch your arms, change your stroke a little. There were a couple of times when I cried into my goggles “why did I do this to myself’ but I knew it was going to pass. I knew when my bad times were, about hour 4 just for the hell of it and hour 8 when I go from burning fat to muscle. But they are just temporary, no need to worry my crew when I know that. And guess what? They did pass just like they did in training. This is when it becomes a mind game, you have a strong one. Play it well.
18. Have dark goggle and light googles, preferable 2 pair of each. Have a couple of suits and caps just in case. If you take medicine at all, have 3 sets in different areas and ziplock bags. I have had mine fall over the boat, capsize with a kayaker, and just get wet. Having extra of the important things will east your mind and help in ‘that just in case scenario.’
19. A lot of people expect the channel to magically change their lives. It only does when you have done the work. It doesn’t make the girl/boy friend propose, or the job to get better, etc. all that takes its own work. But it is a journey to be enjoyed and cherished it will change some things. you know you can work hard and finish. It expands your friendships and puts really interesting people in your life. You will always be a channel swimmer and that is fantastic company to be in.
20. This one is about me, I like to keep my adventures quiet a little and then after celebrate. That way it only my stress on my shoulders, I tell success or fail or usually someone else tells but that is just me.
21. I kept a journal of my trip, pictures I drew and took, parking pass at Dover, some receipts, etc. Wrote in 4 different colors and doodled, what ever feels good.
22. When you finish, make sure you go to the ‘White Horse’ and sign the wall. Do it with friends around. Maybe one day I will sign the wall, there wasn’t anyone left in Dover my year, but I’ll get it done one day with friends around.
23. A day or so after, go to the cliffs above Shakespeare’s Beach and that area and look at the accomplishment, let it sink in. You are going to be one of the few and remember the folks that came first and the one that will follow.
24. Last but not least, when you get to France, don’t forget your rocks. Take quite a few, give them to the people that helped you get there. Your team of core supporters. And keep at least one for yourself.