On Friday 14th August I got a text from Team Mermaids’ friend, Lisa Williams, saying that her Channel swim that was planned for the 1st week of September had been brought forward to start on Monday at 00:30. I knew this presented a problem as one of her crew members was Brian and he was on a plane to Tanzania so couldn’t just pop back to crew! I offered to help if I could and Lisa took me up on the offer, so on Sunday evening we arrived in Dover at 22:30 with other crew members Abby and Emma and met Loretta Cox, who would be Lisa’s observer.
At 23:00 we boarded Anastasia, the boat for the adventure, met the crew and the pilot, Eddie, and then made the trip around to the start point. We got Lisa ready which involved copious amounts of Vaseline, channel grease and sun tan lotion. I got a bit carried away with the sun tan lotion and started applying it to the front of Lisa’s legs at which point Loretta said “Is she planning to backstroke to France?!”… good point.
She dived in and swam to shore in the pitch black. We all knew Lisa was petrified about swimming in the dark and this part was really hard for me to watch as I could only imagine what was going through her mind when she was already a bag full of emotions. 00:32 she stood up on the beach at Dover and started her Channel swim.
The crew’s role was split down into 3 main areas:
Feeding (giving swimmer warning of feeds, preparing, feeding, documenting)
Social media (keeping people updated and passing on messages to Lisa)
Lisa was going to feed every hour for the first 2 hours then drop to 30 minute feeds for the remainder. During the night swimming the main task was keeping Lisa well lit so the sense of swimming in the dark was hopefully reduced. This led to “torch arm”, which is similar to the claw for those “Friends” fans, and this and an inability to multitask led to us, ok just me, blinding Lisa a few of times. Sorry Lisa!
The sun finally rose and with it we settled into a routine. With the sunshine also came the wake up of all the supporters and soon messages of support were coming in thick and fast via social media. We were writing some on a white board and hanging them over the side for Lisa. As the day went on the hardest part was knowing what type of message to write her. She was obviously getting fatigued rapidly and therefore, things that she might normally find funny might just p!ss her off at this point, so trying to find a suitable message plus fit in on to a white board was a challenge. A couple that got a chuckle out of her were “Swim backstroke, it’s easier. Love Nico”. Nico is Lisa’s nephew and the pure innocence of this message was a guaranteed smile. “Go Go Lisa, from the WHOLE of facebook” – evidently I was a bit overwhelmed by social media at this point!. At one point we also decided to write a message from the DCosta family. Elaine DCosta was Lisa’s friend who passed away and the reason why she was raising money for the Royal Marsden. It was tricky to decide when to show this message as we wanted it to give her a boost but at the same time we risked overwhelming her with emotion when she should just be concentrating on swimming. As it turns out it did make her cry (not ideal with goggles on) but I think it was positive knowing how much they appreciated what she was doing.
Over the following hours we nailed down the feeding routine, or so I thought, but a couple of incidents suggested the team still had work to do. We lost a paracetamol to the Channel and then someone who shall remain nameless dropped down the cup for feeding to then only let go of the other end of the rope it was attached to. The reaction of “that is not good” was priceless. So Lisa had to try and pass it up, whilst Abby lent over the boat to try and grab it and I stood in shock. I had a fear of the responsibility of feeding and this only cemented it.
Around hour 10 we needed Lisa to give a push so that there was a chance that she could land at Cap Griz-Nez within the next 2 hours. She hadn’t been eating for a while and only having the carbohydrate drink, so we knew she would be running low on energy. I suggested we should give her a caffeine gel, but said that we couldn’t force her to take it. Loretta, who was amazing the whole way through, said “YES YOU CAN”. Hahaha. I sheepishly stood back whilst they told Lisa to take the gel and she did. She also then asked for another one for the next feed. Phew!
Soon enough we realised that Lisa was not catching with her right arm, so had injured her shoulder and was obviously in pain. This also meant we were going to miss the Cap. This was heart breaking and started my emotional eating of jelly babies as missing the Cap meant that she was probably going to be swimming for another 4 hours at least. Lisa obviously realised this too and after that I dreaded every feed as it meant seeing the pain and upset in her eyes.
After missing the Cap she swam towards Wissant bay, at which point Lisa resorted to backstroke for bits to try to ease her shoulder and me and Nico were smug with our foresight and advice…. Well kind of. At this point we also got caught in an eddy, which meant that despite us heading straight towards the coast, Lisa was now being swirled to the right back towards the Cap. I was also checking the tracker to see what was actually happening as you can often lose perspective on the boat and at this point it looked like we might get swept past the Cap again… NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Cue more jelly babies being eaten.
Several jelly babies later, Eddie the pilot told the co-pilots to get in the smaller escort boat. Surely this was a positive sign and would boost Lisa to make the final push to shore. Even with the boat in I was still worried she was going to get pushed across the Cap and end up back where she was 5 hours ago. Eddie decided that the French needed to know we were coming so started blasting Rule Britannia at full volume. The tourists gathered at the viewing points on the Cap must have really thought the Brits were finally losing it! After what seemed like an age, we abandoned the escort boat and Lisa and could only watch on from a distance.
She had done it. She landed at Cap Griz-Nez, all be it a little bit later than expected, in 17 hours and 18 minutes.
So far Lisa has raised over £6,000 for the Royal Marsden and I think this can only increase once people take a moment to think about swimming non-stop for 17 HOURS and 18 MINUTES. For most people 18 minutes would be enough.
Thanks to Abby for not sacking me off feeding duty when I threw sugar over the boat!. When are we going to open our gourmet sausage sandwich café together? I am thinking a sausage and prawn cocktail crisp sandwich as our signature dish.
Thanks to Emma for being the “under deck hand” as me and more so Abby struggled with spending time downstairs due to queasiness. Also, thanks for teaching me how to act in a crisis.
Loretta for being an absolute rock. I am so pleased she was there to give us advice and reassure us as well as ensure Lisa got the right messages at the right time.
The biggest thanks to Lisa for letting me be part of her day trip to France and never giving up. I don’t think there would have been enough jelly babies in the world for me to deal with you not touching land!
Here is Lisa’s blog: https://lisaswims.wordpress.com/ and just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/LisaswimsEnglishChannel