2012 English Channel Swim

7 - 14 September 2012



After having cycled through Africa, completed 5 Ironman Triathlons, run the Comrades Ultra Marathon, Climbed Kili ... I have decided to take on a slightly tougher option ...



... 34km of cold, open water swimming ... leaving the coast of the eternal "wanna-be" soccer nation, over to the "frogs" on the other side ...





Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Conquering the "Everest" of Swimming ... One year on (Janeen de Klerk)

In about January 2011 my friend Patrick had bagged a number of medals for a wide variety of challenges like the Cape to Cairo bike ride, full iron man, half iron man, Cape Argus, Cape Epic, Comrades marathon, climbing Kilimanjaro, Double Century Cycle rides etc. and was considering the next extreme challenge to add to his bucket list – the English Channel Swim.

Patrick and I over many years have shared training goals, training notes, runs and followed each other’s endurance events with enthusiasm and I know within a few minutes of finishing a Two Oceans or Comrades the first call I receive is from Patrick who has read every tracking sms or followed every red dot on the route.

So it was with admiration and a little “I wish I had the guts” that I watched from the sidelines as Patrick registered and began his preparation. This included eating anything he liked to eventually weigh 100 kg – extra blubber to brave the cold - and hours and kilometers of swimming in anything that had water in – the gym pool, Sea Point swimming pool, Australian waters, South Africa waters -and in any weather. In addition he still completed an Argus and an Epic. Cross training maybe??? or some may just say “mad”.

Patrick had indicated that when he was looking for a support crew he would consider me so it was with a sense of excitement and honour that I opened his email in May 2012 requesting me and two of his friends to be part of his support crew. Mike was very encouraging when I discussed this with him and his view was – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity not too be missed – and so with his support and a little bit of trepidation about Patrick’s “YOU MAY NOT GET SEA SICK” I accepted the offer.

The timing for Patrick’s swim was an ideal start to a trip that would end with my running the Berlin marathon.  So while Patrick trained, ate and prepared for his swim I kept my two feet on the road, reviewed my previous boat trips and concluded that sea sickness was not a number one risk. I scoured the internet with searches that included “supporting a channel swimmer” and I am not sure if I ever told Patrick but I found only 2 articles – 1 where the support crew described it as” hellish and never again” and in the other 2 of the swimmers crew got so seasick they were no help at all and the third slipped on the boat – knocked himself out and the swim had to be aborted because of an unconscious crew member. What was I letting myself in for!!!!.

September came quickly and it was not long before I found myself waiting for Patrick outside our designated meeting point - Costa Coffee at St Pancras train station. Return tickets to Dover bought we boarded the train – our journey had begun.  Both Patrick and I had expected the sea to be on our left as we approached Dover and one moment of panic struck when the sea was on the right – but we quickly concluded there was only one Dover and it was just the approach that was different.

I had envisaged that my stay in Dover would be like staying on some small wet isolated and not very attractive beach in an old beat up caravan. Boy was I wrong – our home for the next few days – a mobile caravan in Varne Ridge Holiday Park - situated on the white cliffs with stunning views across the channel to France. The park – home from home for channel swimmers is run by David and Evelyn who go the extra mile to help swimmers and their support team. Having hosted many a swimmer they have a wealth of knowledge to share and an uncanny knack of making each visitor feel unique and special. With swimmers from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Malaysia and South Africa getting weather reports, checking the tides and winds, speculating on whether their swim was a no go or a go Varne Ridge was ground control for nations united on one goal – the channel crossing!!!.

On our arrival David took Patrick and I into town and showed us the key points – the grocery store, the bus stop and the beach! Bus tickets for the week secured Patrick and I headed for a rendezvous with his South African friend – Myles – who coincidentally had the same “window period” for his swim. Human nature is interesting - 2 people facing the same challenge one with anxiety and an endless list of questions etched in his face and the other giving little insight into what was occupying his thoughts.  The two clad in their speedo’s with a South African flag on the rear tested the water and discussed the prospects for their swim. With Dover Castle perched on the stunningly beautiful white cliffs behind me I watched in the distance as other aspirant swimmers swam lengths from left to right while large ferries carrying passengers traveled eastwards from Dover and Calais. These sights would become very familiar and the beach a regular meeting point for us.

The next few days seemed to fly by as we stocked up on water and Cadbury’s chocolate rolls (recommended fuel for the swimmers on D day) and Patrick took me through my paces with his feeding regime and equipment and each day would end with a call to the skipper of Patrick’s crew boat – Anastasia – to get a heads up on the weather ahead and possible start date. The rules of the swim require that the swimmer has to swim in a speedo, may not hang onto the boat/rope or person and Patrick had “patented” a number of tools that would assist his crew in adhering to the rules while feeding him.

34 kms is a long way to swim and motivating the swimmer is key and while Vladimir (Patrick’s smurf mascot) watched silently I was prepped on the dos and the don’ts to encourage Patrick on. Vladmir having accompanied Patrick on the Argus, the Epic, Iron Man, a hike to Kilimanjaro and the Comrades has many a tale to tell but that’s a story still to be written. Patrick’s schedule detailed the time and nature of refreshment for every feed anticipated as he crossed the channel and in reviewing this I was constantly struck by the amount (and the detail) of preparation that was required for this event.

In between all of this I still had the time to experience some beautiful runs along the white cliffs and while doing so mulled on my forthcoming support role.

A constant silent reminder to Patrick of the support growing for him at home came in the form of a banner of photos and messages from friends and family that hung in our “lounge” and the more vocal came in the form of constant tweets and bbm messages.

7th September 2012 – D day dawns – Myles has got his call and he’s due to start at 23h30 and Patrick’s waiting is about to end – he receives the message “good to go” at 3h30 on the 8th

Varne Ridge is a hive of activity and Patrick’s other crew – Paul and Dave previous channel crossers themselves arrive, “war stories” are traded, last minute changes to equipment are made and final lists are ticked.  Bed calls but sleep alludes and it’s all quiet on the western front till once again in the early hours of the 8th the park hums with activity and we head to the harbour and our designated boat. Myles by now has been swimming 3 hours and despite the early hour the harbour is abuzz – there are 3 other boats with swimmers mentally preparing for the task ahead of them. One – a swimmer from Australia- will attempt to make 3 crossings.
The skipper, Eddie Spelling, and his crew welcomed us all on board the 32 foot long boat – “Anastasia” much more luxurious than I had expected.

In the cool, dark and windless hours of the early morning the boat chugged slowly towards “Shakespeare Beach” where the swim would officially begin. Patrick clad in a speedo with a light stick attached to his rear (so we could spot him in the water)  and a South African swimming cap on his head stood legs astride and arms in the air while he was rubbed down with Vaseline and suntan lotion.  The boat was eerily silent as crew and swimmer alike contemplated what the dawning day ahead would bring. The grin on Patrick’s face more than likely disguised any feelings of nervousness and anxiety he was experiencing. This contemplative silence is broken by a question from Patrick on – “what do I do if I have to go…..” – we all shout in unison – “do it in the water”, he says “even if …” and we shout “YES”

Shakespeare Beach is reached, final goodbyes and good lucks are said, Patrick climbs down the ladder and swims a few metres towards the shore and in the dark a loan pale figure appears on the pebble covered beach. Two feet on the ground and one arm in the air signal that at 3.31am Patrick’s channel swim has officially begun. On Patrick’s phone I tweet “In the water and on his way”.

The boat turns and gradually leaves the dark white cliffs behind while travelling in an easterly direction across English waters towards the shipping line and our final destination the pebbles of a French beach – Cap Gris Nez.

It’s not long before a lone figure with a smooth, consistent stroke and rhythm is swimming alongside the boat.  Face down arm in, over and through, breathe to the right , face down, arm in, over and through, breathe to the left and so the pattern for Patrick’s 34 km journey was set.
It is still dark but the water is calm and fairly mild at 17 degrees and as the dawn breaks silver streaks of light make their appearance on the slowly shimmering sea and the colours of the South Africa flag on Patrick’s cap became brighter and more prominent. I am simultaneously overwhelmed with emotions that are a mix of comfort, anxiety and excited expectation. Mentally I communicate to Patrick – you can do it, don’t give up, keep going.

In discussing an expected time for finishing a channel swim Patrick had indicated it could take close to 14 hours and I wondered how I was going to fill so many hours on a boat. I never would have anticipated how busy I would be and how quickly the time would pass.

Patrick had to be fed every 45 minutes for the first three hours and then every 30 minutes thereafter. Feeding time did not consist of a choose of arbitrary items that could be thrown at the swimmer anytime but rather adherence to a detailed and varied “menu” that had to be carefully passed to the swimmer ensuring he did not hang on to the stick or boat while feeding. Patrick was alerted to each feed a few minutes before it was due when we hang a large Smurf “(he who shall remain nameless”) over the side of the boat.

Every item of food eaten or drink consumed had to be documented by myself and a swimming official. The latter’s role was to ensure that all the rules applicable for the swim were adhered to, to monitor the swimmers performance and condition to determine that he/she was still fit to continue and there was no pending health or safety conditions that would require the swim to be aborted. The pace of Patrick’s stroke had to be counted and recorded regularly – a significant slowing down in the average stroke rate would be a cause for concern.  Conversations held with Patrick had to be noted to ensure that he remained alert, lucid and aware.

Long distance swimming is tedious and unlike running there is no view to contemplate, hill to walk up or speed down it is just the monotony of the ocean, the side of the boat and continuous forward strokes. Keeping a swimmer motivated is therefore really important. We had a white board on which to write messages from friends tweeting, bb-ming or sms-ing or choose from a list of motivational words/names/phrases that Patrick had given us.  We selected these depending on how we viewed Patrick’s mood – they included Money; pain is temporary – failure is inevitable; names of friends or family, names of races/events where Patrick had been inspired/succeeded or those where he had struggled or baled. All personal reminders and motivators to him of the dreams, goals and sacrifices he had made to begin this journey.

The banner depicting photos and words of wisdom and encouragement from family, friends and supporters oceans apart adorned the side of the boat. A constant reminder to Patrick as he lifted his head to breathe that others were following his journey.

Understandable as in most endurance events and in this case between 3.5 and 4 hours into the swim Patrick hit a low. Motivation and the response of his support team at this point were integral to his success.  It was here that I realised there would definitely be 2  crew members  I would ask to support my channel swim if I was daft enough to ever attempt it. 1 being the skipper who in a calm but firm manner disputed others advice with regard to the extent to which you increase the concentration of the energy drinks and with a quiet confidence reassured us that if guided Patrick based on his experience as a skipper for many a swimmer he would succeed. The other being Dave, a successful channel swimmer and a cancer survivor who had come equipped with a Santa Claus outfit to provide distraction and a whistle to attract his attention. Dave also made use of Vladimir – Patrick’s ever faithful mascot - to inspire him and Vladmir became proficient in waving an arm and 2 legs at Patrick while swinging from the side of the boat.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, Patrick swam further and the white cliffs of Dover were no longer visible time passed quickly as we all remained focused on our common goal. Terms previously foreign to me like SW Lane, Separation Zone and NE Lane (shipping lanes), stroke rate, Cap (ideal landing point) all become common vocabulary as we tracked Patrick’s progress. With a new acquired skill I become a champion tweeter responding to messages as friends and family woke and wanted updates and sent their motivational greetings or chirps like “go Patty cake; are you guys their yet; want a photo of France you could be in a swimming pool for all we know; the Stella Artois is calling”  

In the few odd quiet and still moments when the only sounds one could here were the slow chug chug of the boat and splish splish of a swimmer’s stroke I had time to wonder and admire Patrick’s  tenacity and endurance. Unlike a marathon runner a channel swimmer cannot stop with feet on the ground to take a drink or enjoy the loud cheers of supporters along the road one can only tread water for a few seconds, grab an energy gel from a stick and try and make sense of the muffled sounds coming from a single boat bobbing up and down a few meters away from you. Since 1875  only 1341 swimmers have completed 1801 solo swimmers – little wonder it is known as the “Everest” of swimming.

Patrick’s desire to finish was fueled and encouraged by the various reports we gave him of the others around him. Mark Bayliss an enduro athlete completed the Arch to Arc (140 km run from Marble Arch in London to Dover, a 34 km mile swim from Dover across the channel to Calais and then 290 km cycle race to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) in a record time of 73 hours 39 minutes and 12 seconds. Trent Grimsey an Australian swimmer Patrick met at Varne Ridge completed his swim just as Patrick first reached French waters in a record time of 6 hrs 55. Myles Wilson – Patrick’s South African friend and swimming partner reached the Cap in 13 hrs 11 minutes at almost the same moment Trent stood on French soil.

Sooner than we thought and taken slightly south of our expected destination by the incoming tide we could see the sandy French beach in the distance. If I zoomed in on my camera I could clearly see children and adults enjoying a lazy afternoon on the beach. An inquisitive catamaran sailing near us stopped to cheer Patrick on and I tweeted a photo and a “Charge ur glasses this man is gonna land in France soon”.

In water as clear and calm as a swimming pool we dropped anchor and shivering with goose bumps, a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye I watched as the skipper’s son climbed aboard a kayak in the water, Paul and Dave in speedo’s (and Vladimir in Dave’s hand) jumped into the water to accompany Patrick for the last few meters.  Knowing how incredible it felt to me to watch Patrick swim, stand up, walk onto  the sunlit warm French beach, raise his arms in the air 13h56 minutes after the same gesture on a dark cold English beach I can only imagine his combined feeling of exhaustion, exhilaration and sense of achievement. My final tweet “He’s done it 13.56 WELL DONE PATTY”

As the sun slowly began to set I watched as Patrick was towed back by the kayak and carefully climbed up onto the boat. With a teary eye and a dry towel I hugged Patrick – what an achievement and what a privilege to have been there to witness it. Just less than 14 hours in the sun and water were evident in Patrick’s slightly swollen face and tan marks where his goggles had been. Patrick retrieved some small stones from his speedo – testimony to his “I want to call myself a channel swimmer and put pebbles in my trunk”

The boat turned and began its homeward journey as Patrick dressed in warm clothes, bucket by his side and his arm as a pillow dozed oblivious to the most spectacular sunset and red sky that surrounded us and slowly drew the curtain on a momentous day.

Disembarking at the harbour Patrick was greeted and presented with a medal (chocolate) by Phil and Tara – two tweeting supporters!!!

How proud Patrick must have felt when we arrived back at Varne Ridge to see the South African flag flying from the mast in the wind and a huge banner pasted on our caravan that said “Congratulations on becoming a channel swimmer” – just more examples of David and Evelyn’s support and encouragement.

Patrick still had the energy to share a celebratory braai with UK friends who had travelled to Dover for the weekend. Pottering around the caravan that night both Patrick and I were struck by the fact that it still felt as if we were bobbing up and down on the waves – sea legs persisted. Sleep came easily that night for both of us.

The next few days were spent drinking large cappuccinos while reveling in Patrick and Myles success, exploring Dover castle, Folkestone and Canterbury, a memorable run with Patrick from Varne Ridge along the white cliffs to Shakespeare Beach (the start of the swim) and watching other avid swimmers stress and prepare for their crossing.

Wednesday 12th September 2012 outside Costa Coffee at St Pancras Station my journey with Patrick had traveled full circle and we were to head off in opposite directions me in pursuit of the Berlin marathon and Patrick a well-earned rest and no doubt dreams of the next challenge.
As Mike said – “and experience in a life time – never to be missed” Patrick thank you for letting me accompany you on this journey. I cannot convey adequately what a privilege it was to share it with you and to be there as you in your quiet unassuming way prepared yourself for the challenge and how with determination and endurance you accomplished what not many others have. Thank you for taking me on the ride (or should I say swim) YOU ARE SOLDIER!!!! 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

CLDSA Swims

The Cape Long Distance Swim Association has a great new website that has just been launched: www.cldsa.co.za

The official swims logged for Patrick Thomas over the last few years (in and around Cape Town) include the following ...

No.       Swim No.        Swim Date        Swim Route        Time        Crossings

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I am an English Channel Swimmer


“I want to call myself an English Channel Swimmer, 
and put pebbles in my trunks”
Patrick ThomasDover (UK) to Wissant (France)– 8 September 2012

 Patrick and Vladimir on their way to the UK (1 September 2012)
Two days after my swim I was chatting to a good friend Todd on the phone and he asked me what the view was like … of both France and the UK; while swimming the Channel. Lots of thoughts were mulling through my mind at this stage … especially as my success was only really sinking in at this stage.
It basically dawned on me that we don’t get a chance to “enjoy” the swim. We don’t look at the views, nor do we take time to actually appreciate what we are doing out there. Having prepared for nearly two years to do this; the last thing we want to do at this stage is fail … for whatever reason. We are more focused on succeeding at all costs, and not at all about being fortunate enough to be here in the first place.
The swim itself in non-stop … one arm after the other. Literally. We do not take the time to appreciate the ocean, views, sunrise or immenseness of our task – which is a pity. The reality is that we don’t have the chance to do that. We have to keep swimming, non-stop … besides real brief feed stops every half hour or so. Any length of time spent dawdling about results in you getting pulled of track by the currents … and subsequent extra swimming and work to do. There is no luxury of walking during a marathon, or coasting down a hill during a tough cycle.
Basically you keep swimming at about 80% intensity for well over ten hours …

The Days Before
The last few weeks before the swim are basically an ever increasing focus on planning, organising, stressing and getting absorbed in to a vortex of “success-at-all-cost” mentality. After having re-packed numerous times and changed some basic swim-feeding tools I had my bags ready and was off to London. London offered me a few days of relaxation and time-off, as there was nothing I could really prepare or focus upon at that stage.
… except the weather; obviously. At this stage we tend to check the weather over, and over again … trying to see what is happening during our booked “window period”.
My “window was basically from Friday 7 September through till Friday 14 September. I had a number Two Slot during this period – meaning I got second choice of accepting or declining a given day proposed by the skipper. The choice to swim would have been dependent upon the weather forecast, seas conditions, my health, etc.
I met up with my good friend Myles (also from Cape Town, and down for the same window period as myself) in Dover on the Tuesday before our window opened. Our fears of the water being too cold were soon put to rest … our first swim in the Dover Harbour settled this … 17 degree water simply felt awesome. The water was rather salty, but really pleasant all round.

Patrick and Myles, Dover Harbour (4 September 2012)
Varne Ridge Caravan Park – where I was booked in – was simply amazing. I had booked a two bedroom caravan, with kitchen and bathroom, for my stay in Dover. A very good family friend, Janeen, joined me for the trip – especially to have someone familiar on the support boat for motivational, emotional and level headed support. Mingling with fellow swimmers is superb, seeing their successes is contagious and Dave and Evelyn (the hosts) are simply superb people. There are also ample left over supplies and equipment, from previous swimmers, that we could borrow and utilise for our swim.
The next few days were a whirlwind of stress, prepping and finalisation of events. As it turned out the beginning of our window period was unbelievably superb with respect to weather – changing daily, but still generally great. I have known people who came to Dover and never got to swim at all due to poor weather; others that basically told their skipper on the last day … “I will go out even in poor conditions” …not wanting to go home without at least having attempted the swim.
As it turned out for me, my number one slot – with my skipper, in my “window” – decided to swim on the first day of our window. He was doing a specific triathlon from London to Paris, and wanted to go immediately. This suited me just fine; as Saturday/day two of the window was way better than the first day. As luck would have it Myles made the call to rather swim on the Saturday too … so we both got to swim our successful swims on the same day … 8 September 2012.

The Night Before
I was down to start my swim at 03h00 on 8 September (Saturday). Myles started with his skipper at 23h30 on the Friday evening already. Each skipper has their own way of doing these things. Tides, currents, swimmers’ abilities, etc all contribute to their decisions.
My two further support crews arrived in Dover on Friday evening about 19h00 – just in time for dinner and a slight repack (for the umpteenth time) and sorting of my equipment during dinner time. Dave had come all the way from the Birmingham area; a good 4.5 hour drive. Paul had commuted a good 90 minutes to Dover.
Some last minute changes were recommended, and a few very valuable ones implemented. Paul and Dave have both successfully completed the Channel numerous times and have supported other swimmers successfully. Paul was the “driver”, more focused and specific in activities and in what was expected at any stage. Dave was more chilled and supported us with the little touches … he brought a whistle and a Father Christmas beard and hat to vary the support and encouragement that was offered to me … variation is vital with the monotony of such a long event. Janeen was the personal support – she had the connections to all the people writing in support messages, she prepared the food and drinks and shouted all those messages from the supporters back home.
Janeen, Paul and Dave
Paul and Dave were both rather shocked and surprised at what I was planning to eat. A wide variety, and copious amounts, of food and drinks. My intensions were to have a large amount and simply eat what I wanted at each stop … rather too much and choice in the event of me disliking anything on the day. As it turns out this was a great idea – I have trained endlessly with certain energy bars … but on the day I simply had no interest to consume these at all.

  My equipment for the swim (7 September 2012)
With equipment packed and sorted – one final time – we all headed off to sleep about 21h00. This theoretically left us with some decent sleep time till 01h15 … but for some reason sleep was not very forthcoming at that stage.
Besides some strong chainsaw noises emanating from some sleeping individuals; my state of anxiety and nervousness was at a previously unfounded level … I can honestly say that I have never felt so nervous or scared for anything before. After the swim I spoke to several people, and they seemed quite surprised that I was nervous as they thought I was extremely chilled and relaxed in the days leading up to the swim.

The Early Hours of the Morning
In the morning I basically acted purely on auto-pilot. It was kinda weird … totally numb with nervousness, the unknown. Suddenly the day we had worked towards for so long was there. It sounds so clich├ęd, but that is exactly what it was. Previously it had always been that day, one day, in the future … that day was now …Eish.
Dave and Paul were great as they knew where to go, what to do and just lead Janeen and myself down to our boat with all our stuff. We met three other boats/skippers down there at that time of the night. One lady was attempting a triple crossing (eventually managed two-and-a-bit). Brian, who was supporting Muna (I had met Brian several times on the beach). And one other person who went out too; on the boat Suva. All-in-all there were a total of nine skippers out there with their swimmers on that day. The conditions were simply perfect for everyone.
We basically got down to the harbour, parked the cars and headed for the boat. Soon after arrival we loaded our stuff onto Anastasia (our large and comfortable boat; about 32 feet long and can take up to 14 persons). I never actually got to go downstairs – I waited up top as we got going and ended up sleeping on top after I finished.

Anastasia (early in the morning, 8 September 2012)
Before we left the skipper requested his final payment … the final payment of a large sum of money… but which has been worth every penny for this trip and experience.
We were soon pulling out of the harbour at about 03h00. We had a 10 minute cruise out of the harbour and round to Shakespeare Beach;, from where I would start. Soon after heading off it was time to strip down to my Speedo briefs, goggles and cap … and then stand with arms up and legs apart, while I got coated with sun tan lotion and ample Vaseline against chafe. One doesn’t utilise the fat or lard anymore. Lanolin is also not necessary. A suitable application of Vaseline is sufficient to prevent any chafe – under arms, between thighs, neck and shoulders. I also had a light stick fastened to the back of my Speedo briefs and a flashing light on the back of my swim pack … after all they should try keep me in sight in this pitch black water and night.

 Applying the Vaseline and sunscreen

The Crossing
Its time to go now; you must leave … leave this comfortable space, warmth, camaraderie, support and love.
I felt a bit like a young lion or elephant that has been sent forth into the wild … forced to leave his herd and find a new life out in the wilderness. At 03h15 it is kind of nippy out, and definitely quite dark. The boat had offered visual and mental stimulation. People and warmth. Light. A buzz of activity…  and great support …
… and now I was expected to jump into this cold water … and swim away in to the unknown, darkness and bob along, alone, for the next twelve to sixteen hours … at that stage, with the anxiety, excitement and nerves it was a sudden lonely feeling.
Basically I swam the 40m to shore – onto Shakespeare Beach – stood up, looked at the boat, raised my arms to signal my start… and quickly started to swim. Swim. Swim … and swim some more.
I do wish I would have waited another few seconds to absorb the reality and moment of it all … but at that stage I was “on a mission” … succeed at all costs … now!
There really isn’t that much to say to describe the swim itself … it was really just a routine of placing one hand after the other into the water in front of myself … over and over again. Considering my 14 hours and average stroke rate of around 60 strokes a minute … that gives me a good 50 000 strokes I must have completed on that day. The 34km are equal to 1360 lengths of your local 25m swimming pool; and the total displacement I covered - taking into account my lateral deviation for currents and tides – would be equal to a marathon.
13h56 of non-stop swimming.
I soon got into a rhythm. I was actually surprised how soon I was comfortable, relaxed and happy to be out there. The anxiety, nerves and excitement dissipated; and I basically took my time to settle in next to the boat (after originally deviating and drifting away a couple of times). I was well lit up from the boat. There were numerous lights on the boat and I was basically quite content swimming along, beside the boat. This comfort made me all the more happy as I had heard that normally the first and last hours are the worst. I also know numerous swimmers who found it took them two to three hours to settle in and get a rhythm or a degree of enjoyment in their day.
I had opted for 45 minute feeds for the first three hours and then 30 minute feeds following on from there. A feed basically entails the crew notifying me, a few minutes before feed time, that I need to get closer to the boat (I utilised a large Smurf soft toy, that the crew hung over the side of the boat). Then having a drink bottle and plastic feed box thrown out for me – to eat a little morsel of energy food and take a good glug of drink…. At all times keeping these feed times to an absolute minimum … about 30 seconds max.

  Feed time
In retrospect I recon I should have fed every 30 minutes from the start. At two hours (roughly) I was real hungry, and getting a little chilly. By 3 hours I was not happy … I presume fuelled by a lack of sufficient feed/energy and coupled with the dropping temperatures during sunrise.
At my 3h30 feed Janeen recorded (on my feed sheet) that the crew was a bit stressed, as I had not talked at that feed stop at all. I have a tendency to always say something – mostly some dry, humorous comment or at least a thanks. At 3h30 I simply showed a thumb down sign and carried on swimming. I was not happy at all. I was cold, hungry, mildly nauseas. And mentally not focused at all… just not happy. I am sure this lasted a good hour to 90 minutes. And I had some major doubts as to how I would ever complete this task. When reflecting back on the whole swim, this was definitely the lowest point during the whole day out.
Over these 90 minutes the crew showed their worth … they started encouraging me more. They apparently upped the concentration of my carbohydrate drink (which is not encouraged long term, but good for a brief dose of carbs and energy). They got out a whistle, shouted support and wrote more frequent words of encouragement on the whiteboard. Luckily it was also the time when many normal people were waking up and starting to forward through their first support messages … it is unbelievable what a difference this can make.

 Somewhere in the English Channel – 8 September 2012
At four hours I took my first scheduled four-hourly Ibuprofen tablet … basically to reduce discomfort and tension in tired muscles. These tablets kick in relatively quickly and I feltl a noticeable ease in the shoulders and arms.
With all the support, adapted feeding, encouragement, mentally digging deep and going through my continuous mantra … “one arm after the next” … I came through this spot of bother quite chirpy and happy … I am sure the warming sun and light also had a positive effect.
Everybody asks what one thinks of while swimming. To be honest most of my thoughts revolve around my stroke rate, technique, efficiency and just keeping up a good tempo. The messages on the whiteboard, as well as the greetings and support called out to me, definitely helped … but I still find myself always drifting back to make sure my swim technique is alright. I have always noticed that my pace slows down considerably when I let my mind wonder elsewhere.
I had my long-ish list of key motivational names or phrases written down for my support crew. They were instructed to write a new one down every thirty minutes, and hold it up briefly for me to see. Out of this longer list I found two or three that really helped me through the swim. One of the dominant ones was wanting to have the congratulatory banner displayed across the window of my caravan, back at the campsite. All successful swimmers have this banner awaiting them on their return. Another was being able to walk into the Cape Long Distance Swimming awards evening (two weeks after my swim) with this accomplishment under my belt. There were several peoples’ names that come to mind as well. But in the end the strongest driver for me to carry on and complete the crossing was my own desire … by far the strongest driver on the day. I have done numerous adventures or sports events … but somehow I really wanted to accomplish something really difficult … and the longer I swam, and the tougher it got … the more I wanted to complete it …


The desire for this moment is what motivated me the most
It is weird how little things help keep your spirits up or let you question things. Hearing that Trent had completed his swim and broken the world record was great. I had met him and chatted to him a bit … he is a great Aussie youngster; and his record was a really positive thing. I do wish they would have told me when Myles finished his swim … it would have been a great extra little motivation for myself.
At times there was no one visible on board (which is naughty, naughty, naughty) … and it is weird how lonely it makes one feel out there … even if just for a minute or two, or a mere ten meters away. There was some nice music to be heard from the boat (although I do not remember what it was).
One doesn’t really pick up any stress from on board … not that there was any need for them to stress … but one did get a sense that at times they had discussed my speed or swim style, etc and suddenly came to the side to offer extra encouragement or motivate me to increase my stroke rate. I didn’t realise the extra concentration of drinks, and I wasn’t at all concerned when they substituted one drink for another … that was their call … they had the knowledge … I was just putting one arm in front of the next.
There were three moments that affected me to a degree … at one stage around 7 hours (at that stage I really had NO idea how far along we were) one of my supporters shouted to me that we should be able to hit the “Cap” (the ideal landing spot, but quite difficult to get right) after 11h30. This motivated me tremendously and I upped the pace noticeably. It cheered me up, energised me and made me push real hard. The only problem was that I still had about four and half hours to go … which I did not realise at that stage. After powering along quite strongly – and feeling real good – I started to put things together … especially considering that I had just had my second Ibuprofen. The penny suddenly dropped and I realised that this 11h30 was a long term forecast … and I was killing myself with my pace.
Even though one can’t slow down completely to a walk or rest a while by sitting down … one can slow down and recover a bit by going a slower, steady pace. Once I had digested this confusion and realised that I was still going to be out here for a while I relaxed and just kept plodding along and tried to discard these hopes and desires of landing spots or great times.
The next “issue must have been around 10 hours … I was suddenly really cold … although I still felt quite strong. I was just real cold. I mentioned it at the next feed stop and the team immediately sprang into action again … they adapted the drink once again with an increased carbohydrate concentration and started dancing and shouting to encourage an increase in my stroke rate. I had been (comfortable, and strongly) sitting at a 50 to 52 strokes per minute stroke rate … but now had to work a bit faster and harder to build up some warmth in my body. The conditions had been good enough to get a good slow, strong stroke rate and glide nicely through the water. But the slower arm turn-over did allow for my body to chill much more than I wanted.
Basically for the rest of the trip – a good four hours – I literally just pumped my arms and kept digging deep. They must have been some of the most focused four hours I have ever pulled through. Being tired, working hard and just plodding along. I was still a bit confused about my goal of reaching the “Cap” in 11h30 … especially because no other timeframes were shared with me. The only information I had requested was updates on which shipping lane I was in or when we crossed the “border” in the middle.
Towards the end … still not seeing any land from the water … you start getting a little frustrated. My third little “issue” was seeing the boat Suva ahead of me; one of the other skippers /swimmers that I was catching up to. There was some communication with me regarding pushing real hard to reach the “Cap”. I am sure I upped the pace and effort big time at this stage … but looking at some of the footage after the swim … efficiency is not exactly superb after so many hours of swimming. The weird thing was that they kept saying I was catching up to them … and doing real well … but Suva was drifting far off to the left and definitely “getting away”. It took me a while to realise that I was doing well. I was still quite strong and heading for the “Cap” (towards the right/South) while the swimmer off Suva had missed it, slowed down significantly … and was therefore drifting North/away to the left of me. The whole bit was at that stage a little confusing … but in hindsight makes perfect sense.
Unfortunately the turning of the tide, as well as my depleting strength, resulted in us just missing the “Cap”. The problem is that the land is set further back on both sides of the “Cap”. The changing tide, coupled with extra distance to the land, results in an extra two hours of swimming to reach land … if you do miss the “Cap”.
When I realised the enthusiasm and focus for this elusive “Cap” had subsided on the boat, I knew I just had to dig deep and carry on … “One arm after the next” … over and over again ... for a few extra hours …
At this stage I had some distant glimpses of land … land masses and cliffs you could actually make out … but geeez … one just didn’t seem to get any closer. The water had become extremely calm and flat … absolutely divine to swim in. and time just dragged on … and on … and on … that “terrible last hour” was ahead of me.
At the one and a half mile mark the crew started getting ready and excited for the completion. In the back of my head I knew I had this in the bag … but I still had endless doubts coming through my mind. Many people had stopped with total exhaustion with less than two miles to go. What if I cramped badly … right now? Sudden weather changes could surely scupper this attempt? And then I kept thinking of the unfortunate incidence earlier this year where a strong Irish swimmer died of a heart attach a mere mile and a half from the end … at this stage your mind plays many a stupid tricks on you.
As I saw Paul and Dave get ready to swim with me onto shore, I totally relaxed mentally. I gave it a bit more effort physically. Another crew member was already on a little kayak to drag me back to the boat after the swim. A yacht had come cruising past me The sun was out, it was calm, flat and beautiful. The coastal village of Wissant was growing as I got nearer and I could clearly see people on the shore … this had been the moment I had dreamt of so many times. Even writing this paragraph now, I am tingling with goose bumps … it is a moment I want to remember for ever.
I was soon approaching the shore quickly. Numerous people on the beach had stopped to look up at us. And Paul and Dave were close behind me, swimming to the beach with me. At one stage I looked back and it was as if Paul was about to jump onto me … kinda confusing … with a huge grin and all. I suddenly noticed this illusion was created by him already standing up, walking in the shallow water and looming over me … that thought suddenly signalled the end: “hey Patty, you can walk from here!”
I stood up and walked. A little wobble to gain my balance … thank goodness this was a sand beach I landed on … it makes the ascent onto the beach much more graceful. All videos I had watched up to now had been of people finishing the Channel on stony beaches where walking out of the water is not very comfortable at all.
As I stepped out the water I raised my arms … to signal that I was on dry land. It was amazing … but again I regret I didn’t relish in that moment just a little longer. There were numerous people on the beach … funnily enough they actually avoided me; and rather approached Paul and Dave to find out if I had really swum across the Channel.
It was too brief a moment to encapsulate all the feelings of the last two years; and the 14 hours I had just endured … but awesome never the less. Thanks to Dave for remembering to pick up some pebbles … important to accompany the ones I picked up in Dover a few days earlier. These I placed … as is expected by Channel Swimmers … into my Speedo trunks to take back to the other side (well, at least to the boat).
A nice little touch was a lady who had her iPhone with her on the beach. She captured my arrival and a nice photo of me with Paul, Dave … and Vladimir (my little smurf, who has travelled with me on numerous adventures … including to the top of Kilimanjaro, to Perth and strapped to my bicycle for the Cape Epic MTB race). By the time we got back to the boat the lady had already emailed the photos to Paul’s phone (he gave her the email on the beach) … which was a nice little touch.

 Successful: Dave, Patrick and Paul at Wissant, France
The return to the boat was quick … I held onto the back of the little kayak and got towed back in. I climbed onto the boat and just felt so relieved, happy and overwhelmed. A really great hug from Janeen and a dry towel … I was eventually finished and collapsed on a bench.

“Geez … I actually made it”
I didn’t hang around for long before I fell asleep … a quick change of clothes … I remembered to down a sea sickness table; the crew had already provided me with a bucket … I obliged with emptying my gut briefly and efficiently … and went off to lala land for the two hour cruise back home.

Lights out …
The most amazing sunset ever and the calmest seas went by unnoticed by me. Several people messaged and phoned … but Janeen politely excused me … thanks. I was far too tired and overjoyed to really take it all in.

An awesome sunset boat cruise back home for the crew
It took several days (actually life has been so busy since then, that it may only happen once I slow down back home) to actually sink in that I had done this. I don’t have a certificate or meal, nor a finishers shirt or results page in a newspaper to check up on … but this one event will stay with me more than any of the other commercial races and adventures I have ever done …
… thanks to everybody who helped me get this “one” … From the direct support on the day; encouragement during my swim; support and tolerance I received over the last two years; and all those that believed in me … also; all the love, support and friends I visited while on my  extended UK (France) trip.

“Thanks Myles … that was a great journey …” (9 September 2012, Dover Cliffs)


 ... And now only one question remains: “What is next?”





Friday, 14 September 2012

Thanks to so many people ...

Well ... it has been about a week since I swam successfully across the English Channel ... what an experience! 13h55 - most definitely THE most difficult thing I have ever done; and over the last few days it has slowly sunk in what I actually did achieve.



I shall update this blog, and other sources soon, with a little write-up on my experience down in Dover. I am currently still plodding around the UK (today in Birmingham) and will get round to that soonest.

Basically I wish to extend my thanks to numerous people, groups or organisations ... and as cliched as it sounds ... I know I am going to forget someone; please forgive me and let me know so that I can include them ...

Up front, and foremost ... and here I won't be able to mention everybody ... thanks a mill for all the friends (and definitely my colleagues in the office ... John, Joe, Bertrand, Simon, Chantel) who have kept up an interest, kept asking and kept encouraging me. Specifically those that took the time to message me during my swim (all the messages were passed on verbally during feed stops, or written up on a white board while I was swimming) ... it turns out these messages were unbelievably beneficial for my psyche and motivation along the way ... big-up to all of you :-)

Family and close ones ... thanks so much for all the endless support ... both before and in enjoying the excitement after ... YOU ROCK!!

An unbelievable thanks must go to my support crew on the boat ... Janeen, Dave and Paul. YOU got me through the swim. The simple, straight forward and continuous timing of feeds and motivation were great! Paul gave ample motivation and challenges before the swim already. Dave's little thing; like a Father Christmas hat and beard, whistle, feeding pole ... all added a little touch and helped with the smooth swim we had. Janeen (and thanks to her husband Mike for letting her leave him for such a long trip) ... you are the BEST!! A close family friend who was keen to join me from the word go, for the personal support, love and dedication ... this will never be forgotten!



The weather gods and lords of the oceans ... I promise to (nearly) never bitch about sea and weather conditions ever again ... you laid on the most sublime day ... how amazing. And any aspirant swimmers ... come train in Cape Town ... the English Channel feels soooo warm :-)



Eddie Spelling, and your crew, on the boat Anastasia ... thanks form the escort. Thank god you didn't shout any instructions to me ... I could not get a grip on your accent ... eish ;-)



Evelyn and Dave - at Varne Ridge - the best accommodation out there. The support, assistance, supplies, caravans ... everything just great. The campsite vibe was amazing - apparently one of the best in many years. Within a few days there were about five successful swimmers, great groups of people and  enthusiastic support crew.

Fellow swimmers and crew ... great to have met all of you ... Allan, Muna, Brian, Donal, Trent (well done again on your world record ... and all the best for your swimming career going forward) ... I have forgotten some names already ... so sorry ... but you yourselves will not be forgotten.

Phil and Tara ... meeting us at the end and spending the few days together ... really great.

Mark Bayliss ... firstly well done on your amazing race (Running London to Dover, swimming the Channel, and then cycling to Paris). Secondly thanks for keeping to the first day of your "window" period ... you left me that perfect day with respect to seas and weather ... shot!

Speedo SA ... thanks for the awesome kit ... cap, briefs, bag and jacket ... whoop, whoop ...

Martin and Phil ... past and current gym instructors ... and the great bunch I train with regularly at Body Vision Gym ... your endless support and excitement is great ... Ean, Willi, etc ... thanks!

The open water swimmers back home ... especially the English Channel swimmers ... your advice has been so useful and important on this trip ... Barend, Roger, Ryan, Andy, Hugh, Brian, Gary ...

Janeen ... again ... and all those that contributed to the banner Janeen put together ... oh boy ... I still get goose bumps thinking of it ... it hang off the boat all the way and was one hell of a motivator.



Last, and definitely most importantly ... thanks to Myles!! I entered for this event very early last year (February 2011). A little while after entering, and after having mentioned it to several persons, I was informed that someone else in Cape Town was also down to swim the Channel this year. We were eventually put in contact with each other ... and that is how I met Myles. Same age as me, also living in Cape Town and surprisingly down to swim during the exact same swim "window"/week as I was in early September 2012. Your support, encouragement, endless swimming, time, stress-manager and good friendship will not be forgotten. I am really grateful to have been able to share this journey with you.



And to top it off ... we both got to swim and succeed at the English Channel on the same day ... 8 September 2012 ... what are the chances??




Friday, 7 September 2012

Down to swim tomorrow 8 Sept 2012 at 03h30

Hi there all ... probably my last post till after my swim. I shall not be updating this page during the swim. Facebook and Twitter have made things much easier these days ;-)

I am due to meet the skipper at 02h30 Saturday (tomorrow) morning; with the idea to head off from Shakespeare Beach at about 03h30 ...

My nerves are killing me!!!! Excited, stressed, happy, unbelievable ... all eventually coming true.

The best ways to follow me are the following

Twitter (even if you are not on Twitter yourself, you can follow on the following link):
https://twitter.com/Adventure_Pat

Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/SwimPatrick

Tracking of the boat ... follow link and select the boat "Anastasia"
http://cspf.co.uk/tracking

Words of encouragement can be sent via sms to +44 7500 687 157 (or +27 72 575 3483)

Cheers for now ... off for lunch and a snooze :-)



Friday, 31 August 2012

The time has come ...

... tomorrow I am off ...

Some final packing tonight, and off I fly ...

It has been a long and interesting journey to get to this stage. From an impulse decision to enter, through a gradual build-up of training and eight months of specific training program effort.

It has been fun ... especially the eating and putting on weight ;-)

I have had some real boring training sessions; and lots of great sessions ... especially once I got stronger and faster and I really noticed how my swimming improved. I had a noticeably great period about three months ago when I changed my stroke and had amazing improvements in stroke efficiency and speed.

My body has also changed considerably ... besides the weight gain (all for insulation obviously), the broader shoulders, bigger arms and chest ... mmm ... but it does make the clothing choice a little difficult.

So ... off tomorrow ... via Johannesburg. Two days in London, and then off to Dover.

In one week my "window" opens ... lets just pray the weather and sea plays along ... last week no one managed to swim ... eish!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Final longer swim in my Speedo Kit

What an awesome morning! I went out and swam a (PB) Robben Island to Blouberg swim this morning. The day was an absolute beaut. Chilly water, at around 13 degrees Celsius. Flat, clear water. Sunny, blue skies and no wind ... what more could we ask for ...


Thanks again to Speedo South Africa for sponsoring us some kit. Myles and I each received a great Speedo tog bag, a South African cap and briefs, and a handy Speedo windbreaker jacket ... real fab, I must say.


Eight days to go till departure for the UK. Exciting stuff ... nervous, stressed, excited ... all words that come to mind. There is way too much to do still - both work-wise, as well as swim prep, shopping and admin ... and lots of sleep and R&R ...

Keep smiling and see you soon English Channel :-)