The Light Fund - English Channel Relay Swim 2022
A bulwark against invasion, a conduit for exchange and a challenge to be conquered, the English Channel has always been many things to many people. Today it's the busiest shipping lane in the world and hosts more than 30 million passenger crossings every year. However, this sliver of choppy brine, just 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, represents much more than a conductor of goods and people.
This June, two teams of hardy swimmers are taking on the mighty challenge of an English Channel relay in aid of The Light Fund and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (25% of the funds raised from the relay swim for The Light Fund will go directly to the RNLI). Each swimmer will take it in turn to swim the channel for an hour in rotation, until the team reaches France.
The team started training last year and continued throughout winter to acclimatise themselves to cold water ahead of tackling the chilly temperatures they expect to experience in the channel. While training they added Swim Feral Turtleback bags and swim spots to their kit – making their Channel training preparations that bit more manageable!Read more about their challenge:
What's the story?
A loose and unguarded comment one lunch-time after the first Covid-19 lockdown led to this challenge now becoming a reality.
The SOS went out for aspiring open water sea swimmers via LicensingSource in October 2020. That call was swiftly answered by no less than twenty "like-minded" licensing industry executives which through a combination of injury, personal circumstance and a dawning of reality has now been whittled down to a core fourteen.
The squad as of now comprises Anne Bradford (Poetic Brands), Mark Kingston (ViacomCBS), Simon Gresswell (SGLP), Mark Bezodis (YMU Group), Anna Hewitt (Spin Master), Stephen Gould (Bear Conran), Ian Down (Keystone Law), Kevin Langstaff (GB Eye), Katie Price (The Roald Dahl Story Company), Jason Goonery (SEGA), Terry Lamb (Corsair), Rhys Fleming (Dependable Solutions), Tasmyn Knight (Warner Bros.) and Kate Worlock (Sail GP).
With only six actual swimming places available as a maximum for an officially recognised English Channel relay, we boldly decided from the outset to field two swim teams chosen on swim speed ability, reliability and commitment. As if swimming to France wasn't challenge enough, we were now going to have a two team race across this infamous stretch of water.
Our swim will be officially observed and recorded.
Our pilots are Paul Foreman on boat Optimist and Simon Ellis on
boat High Hopes. Our respective team names are perhaps unsurprisingly The Light Fund Optimist and The Light Fund High Hopes.
The English Channel is a unique and demanding swim, considered by many to be the ultimate long distance swimming accolade. It isn't just the distance that is the challenge, but more, the variable conditions that one is likely to encounter. These may vary from mirror like conditions to wind force 6 and wave heights in excess of 2 metres.
The water is cold and all swimmers are strongly advised to acclimatize and habituate to it at least 12 months in advance. This means swimming in open water throughout the year (including Winter) and enduring cold showers where and when possible. There is a very good chance of meeting a range of aquatic life including dolphins, seals, long finned pilot whales, jellyfish and even sharks. There is also the clumping hazard of seaweed and plastic with the occasional rogue tree or plank of wood. It is the busiest shipping lane in the world with 800 tankers passing through and 200 ferries and other vessels going across daily. The latter are also permitted to dump their bilge in the Separation Zone between English and French waters. Lets see who lands that swim leg!
We are the No.1 slot on a Spring tide in the swim window of 30th June to 3rd July 2022. We will leave from Dover Marina and are likely to start our swim crossing at 2.00am or 3.00am (depending upon the weather) from either Shakespeare Beach or Samphire Hoe just outside Dover. Swimming in the dark at some point is guaranteed. The plan is to reach land somewhere around Cap Gris Nez between Boulogne and Calais. At that time of year and so early in the Season, the water temperature will be circa.14.0C with colder pockets down to as low as 6.0C. As a guide, the average water temperature of an indoor swimming pool at a leisure centre or the like is 29.0C. La Manche c'est froid!
The English Channel as the crow flies is 21 miles across at it's narrowest point, however, with at least three and probably four tidal shifts to contend with we are looking at a swim of circa. 40 miles (and possibly up to the record to date of 65 miles by Jackie Corbel in 28 hours 44 minutes) in an "S"-shaped swim. Initially we will be pulled up towards the Netherlands and then as the tide turns we will be flung back down again towards Spain. It will then be back towards Dutch shores with the next tidal shift before hopefully a final tidal swing which will see us land safely - all being well - somewhere on the French coastline.
The wind and weather can also be challenging as weather conditions over the Channel can change very quickly and often don't match the forecasts. Tidal currents on the French coast are brutal and many swimmers within 500 metres of reaching land have failed in their stoical attempt. To add further sobriety if any were needed, 10 swimmers have unfortunately lost their lives trying to swim across this notoriously unpredictable stretch of water.
We will each swim for one hour and repeat in rotational order until we reach France. Being on a small boat for 5 hours between swims chugging along at a swimmer's pace and remaining in one piece may be more of a challenge than the actual swim. The slower the aggregate swim time, the more painful and precarious the journey on the boat. Thanks goodness for Stugeron and Kwells!
We will follow English Channel swimming rules and wear only one textile swim suit (not extending below the knee), one latex swim hat and one pair of swimming goggles... there will be no neoprene in sight! We must not touch the boat nor indeed one another during each one hour swim stint and once we start we must follow the same sequential order of swimmer rotation. Not to do so - in part or in whole for whatever reason including sea sickness - will mean instant disqualification. Regardless of curve balls, the show MUST go on!
Including relay swims, more people have climbed Mount Everest
than have swum the English Channel - considered the global Holy Grail of open water swims.
The average age of a channel relay swimmer is 34 years and for
us this is 42 years... and only that low because young Tasmyn Knight has pulled our average age way down. Most of us are north of 45 years of age with both team captains in their late 50s and one swimmer even in his early 60s. Yes indeed - we should all really know better!
Approximately, 7694 swimmers have taken part in 1024 relay swims.
The fastest relay swim crossing is 6 hours 52 minutes by the US National Men's Swim Team in 1990. The average time for an English Channel relay swim crossing is 12 hours and 45 minutes and 11 seconds. With weather and currents no one knows what to expect except cold, nasty stinging jellyfish, Weever fish, floating detritus, sea sickness (both in and out of the water) and ten minutes in France without the need for a passport. Most relays of our general make-up and ability take between 16 hours and 20 hours to complete, however, until we physically get into the Channel and assign ourselves to Mother Nature, no one truly knows what lies ahead... let alone what lies beneath!
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