The English Channel…
I won’t copy and paste reams of information about the Channel from other websites, but here are a few key points that give you a rough idea of what Swimming the Channel involves and what some of the main challenges are:
– 21 miles across, in a straight line at the shortest point. The straight line part is key, tides lead to an s shaped swim, which is usually between 30 and 40 miles in length.
– World’s busiest shipping channel with 500+ ships passing through a day – not including ferry crossings and smaller boats!
– To avoid collision, ships travelling North use the French side of the Channel, and those heading South use the English. There is a separation zone between the two.
– From June to September the water temperature is usually between 15 and 18 degrees… lets hope the weather warms up soon so that the Channel doesn’t stay below 10 degrees this year!*?
– Air temperatures can play a huge part in a swim, they vary greatly but will be cooler during the evening than the day
– Tides are strong in the Channel, particularly during Spring Tides when there is the most difference between high and low tide. Most swims are attempted on a Neap tide, for this reason.
– Captain Matthew Webb is the first, known, person to have successfully swum the Channel solo. His crossing took 21 hours and 45 minutes on August 25th 1875
Main Challenges for Swimmers in no particular order!
– Strength of tides – particularly near France, when you are already tired
– Cold / hypothermia
– Taking on too much salt
– Wildlife: Jellyfish… and those shadows that play tricks on your mind…
– ‘Things’ floating in the water… drift wood… rubbish… sewerage… ‘flotsam and jetsam’ and seaweed – which can be knotted together in large mats.
– Changes in weather – including fog. The weather can change rapidly in the Channel and has prevented many swims from being completed.
– Chaffage – ouch! Yes people do use things to try and prevent this, usually Vaseline / Lanolin
– Feeding – it’s imperative to take on enough calories / energy and hydration during the swim. At some point in the swim, usually around 6 – 7 hours, the body will start to convert it’s own fat to energy… which can make swimmers feel very ill and be very uncomfortable
– Mental strength
– Waves / Chop / Swell
Below are some videos to show the crossings of some friends and inspirational swimmers, that you may enjoy watching:
Gertrude Ederle: 1926: First woman to swim the Channel!
Stephen Jones: August 14th 2012
Alan Clack: September 2012
Helen Gibbs: 3rd September 2012
Trent Grimsey’s World Record Swim: 8th September 2012