Not that catchiest of titles but turns out that googling ‘motivational swimming quotes’ comes up with a whole load of shit and I used ‘Just Keep Swimming’ for my one-way Windermere swim a few years back.
Anyway, in September 2017, Cathy Rach, Patrick and I did an English Channel Relay. Within a few days of completing that, Cathy got ‘challenge happy’ and promptly persuaded us to sign up for a Round Jersey swim. Yes, we’d been drinking but surely that’s when all your best decisions are made?
In an effort to keep the Channel memory alive we opted for tides over the same dates and as such couldn’t get a boat or pilot until 2019. With 2 years to wait, you can imagine that training was put somewhat on the back foot.
After getting drunk again at Christmas 2018, we booked our flights and accommodation. Before that I think we’d all secretly been hoping that someone would pull out but with deposits paid and accommodation booked it was all becoming very real. Still, we had almost 9 months still to go so again, 2019 began with very little, in fact, no swimming training.
The deal with these open water relays is that they are jam packed full of rules and regulations. Certain swim hats only, no wetsuits for an officially recognised swim (despite what they did on Sink or Swim), a 2-hour qualification swim in 16C or less water and some medicals. Plus, there has to be an observer on the boat who essentially gets paid to count your stroke rate and write a half-arsed report at the end, all the while watching the relay ‘takeovers’ to check that no-one touches the boat when they shouldn’t, and that the new swimmer takes over in the correct format. We jumped through all these hoops for the Channel and ended up with an official Channel crossing time of 15 hours and 24 mins and an aforementioned half arsed report.
This time round, we decided we were ok with the Jersey swim ‘not being official’. We were doing this for us and not only did this mean less expense (no medicals or paying for an observer) but also less people on the boat, which is never a bad thing. (How all those Celebs managed on Suva is beyond me – no wonder Ross Edgely got his own boat). As an aside, our Channel swim was also piloted by Neil and his boat Suva and he was certainly more erm ‘grumpy’ towards us than he was with Linford Christie!
As our Sep tide approached our group whats app chat had a slight increase in ‘I’ve been swimming’ posts and with my partner Lee developing a love for open water swimming we were fortunate to get some half decent swims in over the summer months. I confess I was mostly in a wetsuit because well, I like it and they are warm. Acknowledging this would be no help for the Jersey swim, we did a run up to Bowscale Tarn one day where Lee jumped straight in and I spent a solid 10 mins building up to putting my boobs under the water, only to ultimately fail to achieve this seemingly easy goal. In my defence, it was really, really cold….
The week before our flight, we went to karaoke and things got messy. I hit the wine, sang some Gloria Estefan and then fell asleep in the pub - Lee had to carry me home. Not only did I have the hangover from hell, but somehow, I’d also really fucked up my shoulder. I figured the pain would go away but as the week progressed it got worse and worse. I eventually confessed to Cathy the day before the flight that I might have some difficulty swimming and could end up being something of a liability to the team.
And then I took the dogs out for a walk….Hector (our labradoodle) got bitten by a snake and went into anaphylactic shock. I couldn’t carry him (fucked shoulder) so spent almost an hour, hysterical by the river, over a mile away from the car trying everything I could to get him to the vets. Eventually we got there with some very kind help from a random family and we spent a very anxious rest of the day waiting to see if he’d pull through. There is no such thing as just a dog – he is family, and had I not been reassured that he was recovering and encouraged by Lee that he’d look after Hector, then as far as I was concerned Jersey was off. Despite this meaning only a team of 3, I knew that Cathy, Rach and Patrick had it in them to complete the challenge – with or without me.
However, with Lee’s reassurances in my mind, and somewhat emotionally exhausted from crying, I made my way to Manchester Airport to meet Rach and Cathy. Patrick was getting a later flight. It was as we met by the bag drop that we realised we hadn’t thought the packing through or discussed it for that matter. When we’d drunkenly booked the flight, we’d agreed that hand luggage plus 1 hold bag between 3 would suffice but failed to then discuss who would bring the hold luggage and what we’d put in there….. So I’m at bag drop with a half full huge mountain equipment bag and my hand luggage. Cathy then rocks up with the biggest suitcase you’ve ever seen and her hand luggage. In what can only be described as ‘Carry on at the Bag Drop’, we set about making a hold luggage Russian doll and well and truly kicking the arse out of the hand baggage plus a handbag rule. Only to be overweight with the hold baggage…. Cue more carry on and more wearing of clothes, with me barely able to carry anything myself cos shoulder was still well and truly fucked but eventually we got to the bar on the departure side of the airport. Winner.
After a non-eventful flight which involved gin and we eventually arrived on the Friday afternoon and went off the accommodation via the wine shop. As you can imagine, I was keen to take the edge off after a particularly emotional 36 hours. Matt, our lovely friendly pilot (Neil from Suva take note), had already said the weather wouldn’t work for us to swim until Mon at the earliest so we set about filling our time with some trips to the pub, a cream tea and a couple of sea swims. Thankfully the water was a very toasty 17C so life was all good in that sense. I was still in agony with the shoulder though and it was agreed that I’d do the 4thleg. The intention being that if we hit the time we hoped we would, I’d have to do the least amount of swimming. I felt a right twat as a result but completely understood where the team were coming from.
The Jersey Round the Island swim the distance is ~40 miles with some decent tidal assist. The start and finish are the Elizabeth Castle breakwater in St Hellier. At a very social 0700, we set off for our round the island swim attempt on Lionheart and a small vessel, cutely named Lion Cub, to guide the first 2 leg swimmers around the rocky bays of the south-east of the Island.
Morale was high and the first 4 hours passed quickly with Patrick lead man and Rach doing second leg. Cathy was third with me following up the rear. I managed to get my shoulder together long enough to do my hour legs and as you can see from the picture, it only really hurt when I stopped. But this period was the calm before the quite literal storm!
Around everyone’s second and third legs of the swim things got pretty rough. The wind was really strong, and it was creating huge disorientating waves. The jelly fish were also coming out to play, ranging in size from the little brown ones to some massive white ones. With the waves and a general lack of depth perception, every stroke came with tense trepidation of a sting. You’ll note the lack of pictures from when it was rough due to everyone just hanging on!
Rach started vomiting in the sea and was having real struggles. After her leg Cathy went in and conditions worsened. She was an absolute trooper in some truly awful sea conditions and how she just kept pushing despite the constant sea slapping in the face is testament to her determination and resolve. Rach was having an equally rough time of it onboard and upon filling the sick bucket it was clear that she needed some quiet time to see whether her sickness would ease and whether the boat would even stay upright. Reassuringly when Cathy spoke with Matt after her second hour, he informed her that he too was equally concerned the boat might have capsized on top of her. So that was nice. It also transpired that had Matt realised the weather would have been that bad he’d have cancelled the swim from the off. Fortunately, I was doing my second leg at this point so missed that conversation, instead I was getting my right bum cheek stung by a sneaky jelly fish.
Patrick was having a rough time in the waves too and with the handover point on the south-west corner of the Island we needed him to swim an extra 10 mins to get us into clearer waters as it was too dangerous to handover at that point in those conditions. This was a fantastic swim from Patrick and pushed us around the final corner leaving us with only half of the southern coast to go.
Despite Rachel’s inability to stop being sick, she showed immense determination, got her costume on and got in to do leg 3. She and Cathy had switched swim positions at this point to allow Rach a bit longer to recover. I kept telling her we were close, but I don’t think she believed me – I was confident she’d land it but got myself ready to do the last leg to the breakwater was it needed. It wasn’t, and after 11 hours and 3 mins, Rachel touched the breakwater to finish our circumnavigation swim of Jersey. (3 mins Rachel! – If only you’d kicked your legs xx).
So there it is. Our training was lacking, our planning even more so, the weather was against us and my shoulder is still fucked (have I mentioned that?!). But there’s nothing that some determination and enthusiasm can’t do. The swim was epic. I actually enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the lakes at home over the autumn and winter months (but without the guilt of wearing a wetsuit). Having said that, sea swimming is hard. There are waves and its salty. It chafes and gives you ulcers. It stops food tasting nice and makes your throat swell. So, no more sea swimming challenges, for a while at least. English Channel done. Round Jersey done. Some amazing memories made.