Saturday, July 23, 2016

English Channel Recap - Part 1

Avram Iancu and me - at the beach
Greetings from Dover.  We spent the day recuperating, drinking, eating, and relaxing yesterday after a long previous day.  I was sore - a bit from the swim and a bit from a restless night sleep.  Kat went for a dip in the harbor while I chatted with a few swimmers on the beach.  We had a total role reversal.  She swam while I watched, socialized (see picture to the left), and tended to her.  It was a good swap and one well-deserved.  The weather was perfect for both of us.  Relatively warm, calm waters allowed Kat to get in and swim solo around the harbor while I met new friends.  See Kat below in her seal suit?
Rough entry on those stones.  Good thing she had her trusty sidekick to hold her flip-flops.

Like I said, I stood on the beach, meeting new friends and talking about swimming (of course).  Above, you can see a picture of my new friend - Avram - who plans to be the first Romanian to swim solo across the Channel.  We got on very well and I feared our chat would ruin his opportunity to hop into a peaceful Dover harbor.  No need to worry, it was a spectacular day; too hot for me though.

My Swim Recap (Part 1 of 2 or more)

Enough about the post-swim relaxation, I want to recap the swim from start to finish.  Here is how it unfolded on Thursday, July 21st, 2016.

Morning (pre swim):  We woke up at our usual times; I got up to eat breakfast with the Churchill Guest House guests and hosts, Kat got up about an hour later, and Patrick slept until the last possible second (10am local time).  See picture below for photo proof of his position right before our scheduled departure.  I don't blame him, I would do the same - especially at his age.

Our plan was to meet Neil and the crew at the boat by 11am, assess the situation, and make a decision about whether to go then or wait until midnight.  We packed up our things, got a taxi to the Dover Marina, and hauled our stuff to the locked gate.  I knew we were early because I am habitually early and don't like to stress about time.  So, being early, we waited (see picture of Patrick...waiting but very patient).  Along comes a guy who kinda looks like Neil Streeter but way too clean shaven and tightly manicured to be him - at least not from my year-long recall.  It was him indeed.  We stared at each other as he walked down the gangway and then we connected.  It was a strange sensation just standing around looking out of place at a marina.  I almost felt like a displaced tourist.  After we confirmed our presence, Neil came back up and helped us with our bags.  It was nice to not have to haul our load down alone.

Deciding Factors:  Once on the boat, we made a quick decision to go.  The weather looked fine.  You need to understand what the word "fine" means for the English Channel.  For most waterways, fine would probably represent calm, warm waters.  Not so for the EC.  Instead, the word fine meant that the swell was about 2-4 feel (1m or so) and water temperatures hovering in the low to mid-60's F (15-17 C).  It was a fine day indeed and one that would shape up to be even finer as we progressed - at least that is what Neil predicted.  The forecast called for decreasing winds and a swell to subside throughout the day.  Neil asked me if I wanted to check it out and I said..."sure."  I really wanted to swim and I didn't care much about my time.  Donating another hour or so to the EC would be a small cost to just getting out there.  Seize the opportunity!

So we headed out.  The going was pretty rough at first - not in the harbor but as soon as we got outside the breakwater.  Things started getting a bit lumpy.  See Kat below not looking too keen on the idea of a whole day of lumpy seas.

The boat pitched back and forth due to our westerly heading and the seas and wind come from the SSE (hitting us in our port forward quarter).  That wind and wave combination - along with our heading made for some strange rocking and rolling for the first hour.  I grew up on boats so I those motions don't affect me at all but I know Kat and Patrick don't like the pitching motion.  

THE START:  We arrived at the beach roughly 40 minutes after our marina departure to a nice swell.  The waves were not breaking on the beach but it was pretty lumpy.  Between the wind, waves, and current (spring tide so lots of water flowing through the channel), I knew I was in for a good struggle.  The conditions didn't let me down.  Once we decided to go, I greased up quickly, had my final pictures, a quick kiss for good luck (from Kat, of course), and off I jumped into the churned up sea.  I swam to the beach where the beachgoers watched some crazy walrus-looking creature emerge from the ocean.  They may be accustomed to the sight but I got a chuckle as they all backed away when I approached.  Who would mess with a live walrus?  Just as Dover Harbor's beach offers an excellent foot massage with those large rocks, so too did Shakespeare beach  the west end of Samphire Hoe (see below aerial photo courtesy of Google maps).  

That beach looks nice and sandy from above but don't be fooled;  those rocks are tough on the feet.  I crawled out, looked like a baby giraffe as I finally stood, turned around, and then waited for the horn to sound.  The crew blew the horn and I was off!

EARLY SWIM:  I struggled to find my stroke for the first 2 hours.   The waves, wind, and chop interfered with my breathing - at least initially.  I am typically a bilateral breather but my fast side is breathing to the left.  The favored side for the boat and the conditions, of course, was to breath to the right.  OK, off I went to settle my stroke down and get into a rhythm.  That rhythm finally came but at about 2 hours - perhaps 3.  I was excited to be swimming across the English Channel.  How cool was that?  I thought it was pretty neat.

FEEDING:  My feed plan was to swim uninterrupted for 2 hours and then feed every 45 minutes.  It was a well-thought out plan given my experience during the Catalina Channel swim.  During that previous swim, I fed every 20 minutes and found that the frequency was too high and the feeds were not necessary most of the time.  So, I opted for 45 minute feeds during the EC and I think I chose correctly.  Also, I had fed for the entire swim in Catalina and, after consulting with many swimmers and judging from my own prior swim, I knew I could go for at least 2-3 hours without feeding since I almost always swam at home without feeding.  Many of those workouts lasted at least 2 hours if not up to 5 hours and I trained myself to conserve energy.  Again, I think that was a good call.  I swam consistently for the first few hours without any worry at all.  

SHIFTING OVER:  About 6 hours into the swim, I decided it was time for me to shift over to the other side of the boat.  I had enough of the waves hitting me in the face and my neck was getting a little sore.  Once I made up my mind, I asked Sam (the crew aboard SUVA) if Neil would mind me moving to the starboard (right) side of the boat to continue.  She said "yeah, OK with us."  I was really looking forward to getting back to my comfortable side and reducing the amount of sea water hitting me in the face.  The move was perfectly timed.  When I shifted over, I fortuitously hit the point of my swim where the tide changed and I started going out to sea - the Atlantic instead of the North Sea - and I could concentrate more on my stroke and less on my breathing.  That shift came at about the apex of my initial trajectory.  You can see it below:
 You can also see from the figure above that the dots got closer during that period - simply because I was no longer being pushed by a strong tide.  The slack tide happened right as I passed through the "separation zone" or part of the channel where the traffic shifts from one direction to another.  I now felt comfortable both with my stroke and my breathing.  Life was good.  

FEEDING ON THE GO:  Kat and Patrick mastered my feeding routine and I had all the faith in the world that they were looking out for my best interests.  Only one mishap occurred and it was so minor.  A bottle (water only) flew away after they tossed my feed toward me.  No worry but I did feel bad that we added more plastic to an already polluted sea of plastic.  Sorry ocean; I promise to pick out more than I put into you.  The combination of CarboPro, CarboPro supplements, plain water, and mouthwash (not mixed together mind you) sustained my energy and interest throughout.  My feeds were less frequent but perhaps not terribly quick.  The bottles we used - ones I posted about in a previous blog entry - had relatively small mouths so the fluid took a while to exit.  That delay created a much slower feed than I expected.  I would recommend a wider opening for anyone looking for tips on what to use for their swims.  More on those tips later.  

So at this point, I was about half-way through my swim, I was breathing on my "good" side, and I felt fantastic.  The wind and waves didn't really calm down and I still felt the push from my front right side.  Regardless, I felt fine and knew I was making reasonably good progress.  


We need to pack up now.  Our plan is to catch a train to London and tour the city.  I intend to post another entry either later tonight or tomorrow.  We have 5 days of non-swimming adventures ahead.  I'll post more soon.  Thanks for following.

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