Monday, August 29, 2011

Coast guard to the rescue at Margate swim!

Dear Team

Just a bit of an update from us over here in the UK as we wait and prepare for our respective Channel Swim attempts. It's a long one with some exciting and interesting news, so please read if you get 5 minutes over a coffee break this afternoon.

Myself and Andrew Hunt arrived in to London late on Friday night and hooked up with Paul Downie and Shelley Taylor-Smith at St. Pancras train station early Saturday morning to catch the fast train down to Dover. We got into Dover at about midday on Saturday and witnessed six or seven swimmers heading out into the Channel for their swims in what initially appeared like great conditions. I remember sitting on the train and thinking that I'd really like to be out there, as taking advantage of good conditions is what it's all about. However, as it transpired none of those swimmers made it further than 4 hours that day, all getting caught in a severe storm that passed through once we reached our accommodation at Varne Ridge Holiday Park. We saw one swimmer later that day being transported to hospital in an ambulance off their boat with hypothermia. The sudden change in weather was a stark reminder that we really are at the whims of the weather gods down here.

Here's a video clip from Shelley talking about our excitement as we head down to Dover:

We went for a quick swim in Dover harbour that afternoon and the water temperature was fortunately very "doable". I then met up with my pilot (Andy King on the Louise Jane boat) who talked me through the plan of attack for next week. I am to call him each evening from now on at 7.30pm to suss out the opportunity to perhaps swim earlier if the weather is good. Our neap tide window does not start until Monday 5th September though, so going earlier risks a long swim on big tides, but chancing it until next week likewise means the risk of poor weather conditions and not getting a swim at all. After all this hard training over the last 3 years, it really does all come down to a bit of a gamble. As we've seen with Geoff, Lisa, Ceinwen and Wayne, you really don't know what you're going to get until you're out there. The contrast between Geoff covering 57km and Lisa covering 35km is entirely condition dependent and something that it's hard to prepare for physically. How long will I actually be out there for? Mentally this is quite a tough thing to come to terms with as well. Everyone constantly asks us "what time to do you hope to swim?" and in reality, assuming a successful crossing, the very first thing we'll be asked of anyone is "how long did it take you?" - however, we're rapidly realising that this number is totally irrelevant and incomparable from swimmer to swimmer. The real question is "did you make it?" but even then this not always a reflection on your ability as a swimmer given what we all witnessed with Wayne's amazing double attempt last month.

So, rather than mulling over what might happen, we decided to head down to Margate and a place called Joss Bay for a 3.8km swim race on Sunday morning. We were anticipating a few more swimmers for this race as the start list only featured about 80 swimmers, however, with late entries on the day this number swelled to a little over 100 we believe. The bay appeared calm and inviting but none of us could have predicted what was about to happen and that less than 5% of the entire field would actually finish...the rest having to be scooped out by the RNLI and coast guard!! We had to complete 3 laps of 1266m on a supposedly 100% accurate course and were warned that we should push north at all times as the tide was currently running north to south. We were told that the faster swimmers would be most affected by the tide as "slack water" was due to occur after the first hour which would enable the slower swimmers to complete the latter part of the course in less vicious tidal conditions. Not only was this completely wrong as it transpired with the timings etc but the tide completed shifted the opposite way about 40 minutes into the swim which directly affected the instructions to push north. Swimmers should have pushed south when the tide turned, but it's very hard to know this when you're out there, especially as a less experienced swimmer, of which there were many there on the day. A late start to the event due to the difficulty of laying the course in the tough tidal conditions didn't help things either. Tricky stuff.

Most swimmers were wearing wetsuits and whilst myself and Andrew Hunt donned our speedsuits in a bid to recoup some of the advantage we were "giving" to our full wetsuit clad buddies, Paul Downie decided to go "au naturel" and compete in the bathers he will use for Le Channel. Adam was also in attendance and swam in his full wetsuit and was probably banking on a 60-65 minute swim over that distance. Little did he know he'd be in for over 2 hours! Just a few days earlier I had covered this same distance in just over 48 minutes with swimmer Mark Scanlon down at Claremont Jetty, so you can imagine my initial disappointment when I exited the water in 2nd place overall and in 55 minutes, having not been able to quite hang onto the toes of the race series leader in his wetsuit. However, that initial disappointment was quickly replaced by shock when standing on the beach with 7-time World Marathon swimming champion, open water guru and FINA representative, Shelley Taylor-Smith, the stark reality of why our times were slower than we had expected was starting to unfold very rapidly before our eyes! Places 3 and 4 made it out of the water about 15 to 20 minutes (!!) behind me (both seemingly great swimmers), but then after this there was no-one, no-one at all...not even anyone left on the course itself! Whilst I felt like I struggled to make it to the last turning buoy I wasn't totally aware at that point of just how rapidly the tide had turned directions and how much of an advantage I had gained by being close to that last turning point when it did. Over an hour went by and save for the odd swimmer who had decided that the current was too strong and that they'd quit the race, everyone else had been totally washed out to sea! At this point the RNLI and coast guard were called into action as it was apparent that people were at a significant danger of being lost to the sea completely. Scary stuff.

Paul D, Andrew and Adam were all still unaccounted for and at this stage and I freely admit starting to panic that in my haste to suggest this race, I had inadvertently jeopardised their English Channel swim attempts! I might even lose my business partner Adam?! After 1h45, Andrew Hunt came running down the beach from the cliffs with two other swimmers who'd been washed a couple of kilometres down the coast before deciding to hop out and run along the cliffs back to the start. Andrew commented that he was having an excellent swim and was only ~300m behind the leaders going into the final lap of 3, but then remained completely stationary, swimming on the spot for over 30 minutes, just 50m away from that crucial last turning buoy. He and the others then got pushed rapidly backwards and into the next bay (!) as the force of the tide strengthened. To witness this from the beach was just staggering! Eventually, both Adam and Paul D were scooped up by the coast guard and returned to the beach after having being out there for over 2 hours! Luckily the race organisers and the coast guard were able to retrieve everyone, which is a testament to their skills at sea rescue and prompt action - both myself and Shelley were worried for a while it has to be said!

Here's Paul Downie's GPS trace from the race. Note the rectangular course in the bottom right corner of the image (the actual course), but then notice how far left (north) he is dragged by the current, ultimately covering 7.02km as opposed to 3.8km on the day! Amazing stuff!

Here's Paul D running out of the water after being rescued:

...the man never stops smiling! :-)

So, what should have been a ~60 minute training swim for us all, turned into something MUCH more than that, but provided a very valuable lesson in tidal changes in the English Channel. Whilst we had to plough directly head-on into the current, which ultimately proved to be a futile exercise, when we cross the Channel, we'll always have this at our side. When you view Geoff's 57km GPS trace of the 34km English Channel crossing, you realised how this S-shape squiggle is not an error in navigation but a sign of the veracity of the tides:

For Geoff to even finish that day was truly amazing given what we witnessed yesterday when only 4 of the entrants actually finished the event successfully. What the race showed us though is the acceptance of the futile exercise of trying to swim across the tide and into land when it turns, as Geoff says you've just got to go with it and wait for it to turn again and for Geoff this was an additional 4 hours later!! Incredible.

Sorry for the long update. Hope you've found it as useful and insightful as we've found the experience of yesterday to be ourselves. Luckily we're all OK and are just counting down the days to the swim itself now...whenever that may be!

Finally, here's me and Andrew sat on the white cliffs of Dover preparing this Blog in the beautiful (but extremely cold!) morning sunshine:



Thursday, August 25, 2011

In case you missed it...

Dear Team

In case you missed it yesterday morning, please find below the link to my 20 minute radio interview on Australia's ABC radio station yesterday morning about our English Channel swimming attempts next week. I was talking with Glynn Greensmith who was very interested in the who / why / wheres etc of doing the swim. He thought we were mad! Managed to get a few good plugs in for Breast Cancer Care WA, Claremont Pool and of course all our training buddies!!

Here's the link:

Please note that I personally struggled to play this in Google Chrome, but Safari and Windows IE should be fine - give it a pop!


P.S quick reminder that whilst I am away, anyone making payments for a new PAYG squad card at should please print out their receipt and present this as proof of purchase so that our coaches can issue you a new card(s). Thanks for your help with this! See you in 2-3 weeks time...depending entirely on weather conditions in the Channel.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We will be on the radio tomorrow!

Dear Swimmers

If you are able to tune in at the ungodly hour of 4.35am tomorrow morning (Wednesday 24th August) I will be giving an interview with Glynn Greensmith on the ABC radio station regarding our Team Channel Dare preparations for the Channel and obviously reporting back about the successes of the Team to this point.

Tomorrow marks the 136th anniversary since the first person to successfully swim the English Channel made it across to France. Captain Matthew Webb swam the channel with a mix of breaststroke and side stroke in just under 22 hours and covered an astonishing 64km (straight line being 34km) in a course dictated by the strong tides and currents - not too dissimilar to those encountered by Geoff Wilson last month!!

The mayor of Dover proclaimed after the swim that such an extraordinary fete of human endurance would mean that no one would surely ever be able to repeat it. A plaque erected in 1909 in his honour at his birthplace in Dawley, Shropshire by his elder brother Thomas reads simply:


...and has become the motto of all those that have followed him.

So if you can, please tune in for the interview and if you feel inspired why not pop along to our 530am swim session at the Claremont Pool immediately thereafter where myself and Andrew will be putting our final touches to our preparation under the watchful eye of Francene coaching on pool deck.



Monday, August 22, 2011

Le Channel here we come!

Dear Team

Hope you've had a great weekend - some sensational weather for this time of year - I even got a stupid sun tan mark on my forehead from swimming yesterday in the river!

Just a quick note to say that the remaining three of us who will be attempting the English Channel in the 5th to 10th September tidal window will be leaving this week for our final preparations and readiness in the UK. Paul Downie left yesterday and will be joined by myself and Andrew Hunt this Friday. We're all very excited and are praying for good weather.

We were calculating the other day how long we've all been training for this swim and it works out at 2.5 to 3 years, which is quite amazing really. Obviously we haven't all been focused purely on this swim for that long, but many of us started this journey with our first attempts at a Rottnest Solo swim in February 2009 and as such the idea of giving the English Channel a crack has grown from the enjoyment of training and competing at this local event. So, all you new prospective Rottnest Solo swimmers who'll be starting training with us this October for the Rottnest Swim - beware! The English Channel can be quite addictive!!

We've all done as much training as we physically possibly can and are in great shape. Just last week I covered 71km in training and am swimming faster now than I have ever done in my life, albeit a little on the porky side in an effort to keep warm! It's a different kind of fitness though - ask me to swim a fast 100m or even fast 400m and I'd be slower than I was before I started, such is the nature of developing our diesel engines as we have done. I had a cracking swim yesterday and covered just under 18km at an average pace (including stops) of 13'30" per km, or 1'21" per 100m. This gives me the confidence that I am as prepared as I could hope to be, however, as we've seen from both Wayne's extraordinary double attempt at the Channel and also more recently, local legend and regular top-5 Rottnest Solo finisher, Ben Hewitt, who got to within 1 mile of the coast of France, the Channel is an unforgiving place and you just cannot tell how long it's going to take you or indeed if you'll actually get there. Even Geoff, Lisa and Ceinwen were separated by nearly 5 hours and yet these guys regularly finish with 15 minutes of each other across to Rottnest each year. You just don't know and have to do your best on the day, given the conditions you are presented with.

We'll keep you posted on of our exploits as we go. In theory, all three of us should be swimming on the same day, which should make for some interesting viewing online your end!

I will be at the following sessions this week before handing over to our wonderful coaching staff on Friday:

  • Monday 7am and 9.30am
  • Tuesday 5.30am and 6.30am
  • Wednesday 5.30am and 9.30am great to see you all in some capacity before I head off.

I'd just like to thank you all sincerely for all your effort, support and interest in our little "big" challenge especially over the last 6 months. It's been a truly great experience training with 6 other likeminded individuals and we've had some wonderful support also from our respective support crews and paddlers for our long weekend swims. Without you guys we simply could not have made this work. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Allez Swim Smooth!!!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

St. John's, Ceinwen, Wayne and back on Friday!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you're all doing well...I can guarantee that you've had better winter weather in Perth than we've had summer weather in Canada - it's been shocking!!! 10 degrees and super foggy and rainy for all but the first day that we were there!! Such a you'll see from the photos below, St. John's in Newfoundland is such a picturesque place that it's a shame we didn't see more of the vibrant colours whilst there:

As you may recall me saying, I was over in Canada primarily to photograph my brother-in-law Kevin's wedding to his fiance Leah. This went really well, though I had to be extra creative with the photos given the dreadful weather that particular day.

The photo of me about to kiss a cod (!) of all things is part of an ancient rite of passage to become an honorary "Newfie" called "being Screeched in" - which essentially involves reciting some strange celtic passage, eating some local bread, knocking back some dark rum ("Screech") and then kissing a cod. It was a lot of fun it has to be said!!

Back in June 2010, two of the coaches who flew over for our 3 day Coaches Education course were from St. John's of all places, so when I told them I was heading over they invited me to their squad to run a half-day video analysis session last Sunday for their swimmers. This was a great experience and they were all very accommodating and proceeded to then pick me up every morning at 6am to go swimming for 2hrs at either the local "pond" (a small lake) or the 50m pool at the University. They even entered me for their local triathlon as a team swimmer and I managed to lead out the swim with a hefty lead over second place which was nice...they all thought I was mad though swimming in just my bathers as it was about 14 degrees! My appearance as a "crazy Aussie swimmer" made the local news too as another Aussie / Kiwi (Russel Crowe) was also in St. John's at the same time shooting a TV show - there was a lot of Aussie hype that's for sure! This was all really helpful though with me now being just 3.5 weeks away from my show-down with the English Channel.

Speaking of which, I know most of you were watching Ceinwen successfully complete her English Channel swim last Friday, but in case you missed it, here are the details:

Ceinwen completed the swim in 12h55m in tough tidal conditions. Well done Ceinwen - awesome effort! We're all extremely proud of you!

Sadly, Wayne "The Train" Morris got pulled from the water during his Channel attempt on Tuesday. The weather had been looking dodgy in the lead-up to Wayne's swim, but when the opportunity came up to get a swim in, Wayne had to take it. Things were going very well indeed and he was smoking along for (we think) ~8hrs, but then the weather changed to a Gale Force 8 and 40 knot winds and all boats attempting the crossing had to abandon for the very real safety risk to Wayne and his entire support crew.

We're all very saddened to hear of Wayne's unfortunate experience, but please keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned to as there is a chance he might get chance to re-attempt the swim if the weather improves later this week. If anyone can do this swim, Wayne can, so let's all get behind the big guy and wish him the very best!!

Lastly, I'm just sat in the (business!) departure lounge at Toronto airport awaiting my (business class!) flight back to Perth. I've saved up a few frequent flier points so decided to treat myself to an upgrade and get a good night's sleep so that I can be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for you all upon my return to Perth! I'm like a kid at Christmas with the anticipation of flying business class on an A380! They even have free beer and food in the business lounge - awesome! I get back in on Friday evening and will be back on pool deck at 1pm on Saturday (please come along if you can!) and then back to normal from Monday at 7am.

I've missed you guys and can't wait to get back into the swing of least for a couple of weeks before I then shoot off for my own stab at the English Channel. My hair's longer and my waist line is even wider (!) but I'm in good shape and keen to have a good crack at the swim.

I hope you've all enjoyed having the other coaches look after you in my absence and look forward to seeing how you're all swimming.