Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jersey to France

Well - I did it. I swam from Jersey to France yesterday in a time of 9.04.

It was a beautiful day - only the gentlest of breezes, and warm air temps, with water temps around 16 degrees. We set off at 7 in the morning, motoring out from St Catherine's Bay to a small beach, where I hopped off the boat and swam to the shore. I got the okay from the boat and waded in and started swimming. The water was flat calm and clear, and we soon settled into an easy rhythm of steady swimming and hourly feeds. On board was pilots Charlie and Mick, along with Chantelle, who had very generously given up a day of her holidays to help me out with feeds, plus acting as camera woman and general all-round supporter.

As usual, it took me a couple of hours to really settle down mentally and to just settle into a quiet headspace. At first, I was really distracted by the whole idea of the swim, wondering whether I was going to be able to finish, and obsessing about the later hours, but I eventually managed to calm myself down and just focus on swimming from feed to hourly feed. Mostly, I made do with Maxim, plus half a banana or some jelly babies every couple of hours. Happily, it all went down fine, although towards the end, I was starting to wishfor ANYTHING but Maxim, and don't want to eat / drink anything purple for a while.

For the first 5 hours, the sea was calm and the conditions easy and I was feeling great. For some reason, hour 6 was tough. I felt really achy and sore, and my energy levels felt like they were dropping. I thought I'd perhaps run out of steam, which was worrying so far from the finish, but after the 7 hour feed, I suddenly picked up again, so it was probably just a bit of a crash while the body adjusted where the body was metabolising energy from. Around that time too the wind picked up a bit, and there were some swells rolling in from my left. I'd been spoiled by the flat seas earlier in the swim, but in fact, these were fairly easy to swim in - regular and rolling, rather than slappy and unpredictable - and my pace didn't really change from earlier in the swim - c. 2 miles an hour, with a stroke rate of 62/63 throughout the entire swim.

By hour 8, I was feeling tired, but allowed myself to start thinking about finishing; I was so excited by the prospect of walking up the beach (and quite keen to be able to stop swimming!). On Sally's urging (relayed via Chantelle), I resisted the compelling urge to look up for the beach with just a mile to go, but unfortunately, we were heading into a wide bay, and every time I breathed to the left, I could see a strip of beach, which just never seemed to get any nearer. I knew I had a mile to go, which I reckoned should take about 30 mins; plus, I could feel waves coming in behind me, occasionally enabling me to surf forwards on them, making me think that I was probably making even better time. But what I didn't know was that as soon as I got pushed forwards by the swells, I was being pulled backwards again because the tide had turned - something that you can't feel in the water. In the end, it took me an hour to cover the final mile, and I was starting to think it would never end, but I finally saw Chantelle getting changed into her costume ready to join me at the finish (you've no idea what a welcome sight that was), and the boat stopped as the water shallowed. I carried on swimming until my knuckles grazed the sand, and I stood up and walked clear of the water. What an amazing feeling!!!

We took some pictures, picked up a shell and a stone, and then we swam back out to the boat, to a cheering Charlie and Mick. Charlie helped me negotiate the ladder and dug out my towel, while I plonked myself down on a bench, feeling a bit shell-shocked. I got changed and settled down for the 3 hour journey back, but unfortunately, within half an hour, I was back on Channel relay form, head in bucket. I'm really not built for boats. I felt sorry for Chantelle - she'd been feeling really queasy on the boat all day and was already looking distinctly green around the gills, so I really didn't make things any better. In between communing with the bucket, I did a live interview with BBC radio Jersey too, although I'm not sure how much sense I was making at that stage.

We arrived back at St Catherine's Bay at around 7pm, where the club swim was in progress. As soon as everyone saw the boat, they headed back in and I was met on the slip by a huge crowd of 70 or so people, clapping and cheering, giving hugs and handshakes. After a few minutes, I noticed that I was starting to shake - it was a combination of being a bit cold after sitting on the boat, and also, a massive energy crash from having been seasick and not having eaten anything since finishing the swim. I couldn't face anything sweet, and someone was dispatched by Sally to get me a toasted cheese sandwich from the cafe, which did the trick. As if by magic, by the time I had finished eating, my stuff had all been offloaded and was being taken up to my van for me, and I mustered the energy to drive back to the campsite, where I shared some of Jamie and co's chips and then stumbled back to the van to get showered and fall into bed.

So, all in all, a very successful day out. It feels really good to have completed the swim in a reasonable time and in fairly good shape. I've got a few aches and pains today, mostly in my right wrist and lower arm for some reason, but nothing serious, and my energy stores are replenished after a day of dedicated sitting about and eating everything that comes into reach. It was lovely to get up this morning and look out across the campsite to France, and to think "I swam there yesterday"!

None of this would have been even remotely possible without the expertise of Charlie and Mick. Charlie poured over the weather charts and picked the perfect day for me, and the piloting and navigational skills of him and Mick meant that I got where I wanted to be successful and safely. Thanks guys - you're wonderful. Also, Chantelle was a complete star, always ready with my feeds, treats and encouragement, plus taking lots of great video footage. She'll be doing the same swim in August, and I don't doubt for a moment that she'll be successful. Thanks to Sally for acting as communications central, and to everyone who sent messages of support and encouragement, which were passed on to me during feed breaks and always gave me a boost.

I'm heading home on Saturday to begin planning out the final stages of my training for the big swim, but in the mean time, I'm going to carry on sitting about feeling pleased with myself, and enjoying what was a great day out in the water.

Pictures and hopefully some video to follow once I've worked how to download things from my new video camera ...


  1. Absolutely Fabulous achievement Karen, congratulations.
    Taking notice of Peter's advice at Dover2 has clearly paid dividends.
    I hope all the final preparations for The Big Swim all go well, I'm sure they will,
    All the very best,

  2. Hurrah! You're amazing! Can't wait to hear news of completing the big swim. Then we'll have a joint your channel/my thesis celebratory coffee, ok?

    Juliet xxx


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