Aspire Channel Relay 2014

Guest Blog here from Kate, who is one of the super Mermaids who swam around Manhattan with us.  She features regularly on the blog, as is often accompanying/ring leading mermaid adventures.  Hopefully she will be doing more blogs in the future…until then here is her great account of her channel relay for Aspire


I feel a bit of a fraud writing this blog seeing as my two fellow mermaids, Katie and Suz, have already completed Channel relays in super-fast times. Katie has done not one but two Channel relays, both for Cambridge University in the bi-annual Oxford v Cambridge Channel swim race, one year clocking up an incredibly fast time of 8hr25 minutes. I think it’s fair to say Suz took a slightly more relaxed approach to her training (cold showers for acclimatisation were a stroke of genius!) but her team had a stonking crossing and completed the distance in around 10hrs20 minutes.

My Channel relay story began in April this year, when Lisa mentioned that Aspire were looking for more swimmers/victims to join their 2014 relay teams. I have always wanted to do a Channel relay so I jumped at the chance to sign up. Fast forward to our first Aspire training weekend in Dover in May, where I met the rest of my team (the Aspire Seahorses) and did a number of half hour swims in the sea. What I remember most about that weekend was everyone telling me how lucky I was that the sea was so warm for that time of year (much warmer than the year before). I’m sorry, but I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would describe 13 degrees C as warm… And just by way of a reminder, Channel swimming rules dictate that you are not allowed to wear a wetsuit so it’s your cossie only. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

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Anyway, we made it through the first May weekend without catching hypothermia and I had another few trips down to Dover over the summer for some more training and cold water acclimatisation. The culmination was our two hour qualification swim in Dover harbour in June. I found this really tough and was desperately keen to get out of the water after about an hour, but somehow managed to force myself to stay in for the required time. Over the summer, unfortunately two of our original team members, Tessa and Kirsten, had to pull out due to an injured shoulder and rather more happily, a pregnancy. We were lucky that Paul, the Fundraising Director of Aspire and endurance triathlon nutter (doing the Arch to Arc this September, amazing – Paul’s blog) and Colin, an experienced Channel swimmer and observer, agreed to join our team in their place.

And by early August we were ready for the off. In Channel swimming you’re given a week’s window when hopefully your swim will take place. You don’t know in advance which day it’s going to be, however, as this is dependent upon the weather and sea conditions and who else your pilot is taking across to France that week. Our window started on the evening of Friday 1 August. The weather, which had been hot and calm for weeks, suddenly took a slight turn for the worse so we weren’t able to go on Friday or Saturday. I was pretty convinced that we wouldn’t be going on Sunday night either, and therefore decided to go for a swim at Tooting Bec Lido on Sunday evening with Manda, Katie, Brian and Pivo. Just as we were leaving the lido, my phone rang and it was Kay, our boat leader, telling me that the swim would start at 3am that night! Exciting! We were on our way to Boadeans for a meat fest so I thought I might as well continue with that plan and stuffed my face with a burger and chicken wings. Excellent Channel swim prep.

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One of my team mates, Andre, very kindly picked me up at midnight and drove me down to Dover. After some hanging around in a car park in the middle of the night (very surreal), by 3:30am we were on the boat and ready to set off. We chugged round to a nearby beach, where Andre jumped into the dark sea and swam to the beach. After standing on the beach for a few seconds to officially await the starting horn, he was back in the water and we were off!

After Andre had swum his hour leg, it was my turn. Although there was some light in the sky by this point (4:47am!), it was still pretty dark and lights were therefore affixed to my goggles on the back of my head and a glow stick attached to my bum (nice).

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I was worried that it was going to be freezing when I jumped off the back of the boat, but it felt surprisingly warm (well done heat wave!). As I was swimming my hour leg, the sun came up with a beautiful sunrise, which made it a magical experience.

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When I got out of the sea, I was pretty tired, having missed a night of sleep. I managed to have a quick nap on the deck snuggling up to a fender and awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. The 5 hours to my second swim seemed to fly by, what with supporting the other team members, eating copious amounts of pasta and porridge, drinking cups of tea (very kindly made by Kay) and enjoying the view. My second swim was uneventful but lots of fun, especially as the wind got up a bit so it became quite choppy. Then it was back on the boat for more relaxing and shouting at the other swimmers (supportively of course ;-)).

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At some point during this period, we started getting somewhat concerned as the change in conditions had put us behind schedule. When I got in for my third swim, therefore, our official observer Den told me that I really needed to swim as fast as I could, as if we didn’t hit the French coast soon the tide would push us the other side of Calais. I looked up and Calais was bloody miles away! So no pressure then… I got in and swam as fast as I possibly could for an hour. I kept looking up to see the white cliffs of France, which sometimes seemed quite close and at other times frustratingly far away. Luckily by the time I got out, we were nearing the shore and were going to make it. It was then over to Peter, who swam us into the French beach. I was incredibly fortunate to be allowed, with Colin, to get back in the water near the end of Peter’s swim to accompany him into the beach. Setting foot on French soil/sand was a truly incredibly experience, knowing that we had swum all the way there from England.  We completed the crossing in 14:49.

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After a quick celebration on the beach and a chat with a random French guy in tiny speedos, the three of us swam back to the boat for the three hour trip back to Dover. Everyone was over the moon to have completed the challenge, although poor Emma (our helper) was horribly sea sick so didn’t get to join in the celebrations 😦

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When we got back to Dover, we went straight to the Swimmer’s bar at the White Horse pub to have a pint and immortalise our swim with some graffiti on the ceiling.

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I had such an incredible experience and it was fantastic to have completed it with such great teammates, and to have raised so much sponsorship for Aspire (www.justgiving.com/katechannelrelay in case anyone would like to sponsor us post-event). I would really recommend a Channel relay for anyone who is into open-water swimming and would like an exciting challenge. Now it’s the Cosmic Rays’ turn as our friends Lisa, Hilary, Pivo and Brian (together with their team captain Parviz) take on their TWO WAY four person relay. Good luck guys!

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