Saturday July 9th 10:00am
Today we are swimming from Sandycove Island, Ned has a pack of accomplices accompanying him today, accomplices who know the lessons we are about to “learn by doing”, many have swum the English Channel and other challenging waters, this group are no band of merry men today, they are ghoulish figures on board to help Ned teach us lessons the HARD WAY, you know the way you never forget. I am amazed that I can read accounts from other Channel swimmers of ” what to do and what not to do”, but boy when you experience the discomfort of ” not a good idea” it is firmly ingrained in your deepest inner self….” Boy I am NOT doing that again during my swim”, Yes I would say today is shaping up to be a good learning day….THE HARD WAY.
Robbin and I enjoy the novelty of a ” late start”, we arrive at 9:30am to find a bustle of activity, Sandycove is no longer the sleepy little cove we have swum in over the last week, there are kayaks, boats, paddlers, swimmers, a hive of activity. As soon as we park we are called over for the day’s meeting, Ned gathers us around the top of the slipway and begins the rundown…
” In the Channel anything can happen, the more you experience of the ” what ifs’, the better prepared you will be, the best laid plans can and will change, your job is to ” SHUT UP AND SWIM” despite what is going on with your boat, pilot and crew.
Today you swim out around the island, you swim in the opposite direction that you have been swimming all week, the island will be one your right, be ready for further instructions, you will get fed by the boat, put your feed on the slip way to be taken in the boat, you have 5 minutes GO!
I scurry away to get my gear sorted, grease on, earplus in, cap and goggles, then my feed bag laid in the pile with all the other swimmers…
From here it is ” walking the plank again”, you guessed it….down the slipway….
The Torture Team are shouting at us to get in and swim, it feels like we are being prodded by electric poles by a farmer trying to move a flock of stubborn stroppy sheep, and then a swimmer dives in, like sheep we all follow, one after the other.
The water temperature is no longer a shock to my brain, my mind has become accustomed to 11-13 degrees Celsius ( 51.8-55.4 degrees F), in fact my mind says ” Bring it on”, my body however is not quite as convinced.
Off I swim, stretching out with long strong strokes around the island, I LOVE swimming in this direction, I favor breathing to my right and today I get a good view of Sandcove Island and the goats that live on it, it is also particularly clear water, below me are wonderful scurrying crabs, swaying seaweed, it is swaying in harmony to some hidden soothing music underwater and finally the fish, darting everywhere, YIP I am having fun, ” I love swimming”, I say to myself. Around the island I go, I notice that my mind has already begun calculating, where I am, how long I have been swimming, speculating that I will go around the island atleast twice, yes I am already steamrolling ahead in my mind taking control of the situation at hand.
Whirl, Wosh, Whirl….I am aware of cold bursts of water engulfing my midsection, suddenly I don’t feel quite as much in control as I did just a few minutes ago, “OK, just a boat, just a boat, they are here to help”, I repeat over and over in my head, little do I know they are not here to help, they are here to make things difficult, they are here to add confusion and some real live Channel scenarios….I will soon learn more.
I lift my head up, it is one of the bright orange boats, I don’t recognise anyone on the boat ” Rats no familiar faces”, I think, someone shouts at me..” Follow the boat, follow the boat, FOLLOW THE BOAT”, ” OK, I guess they want me to follow the boat”, I think and I do, ” this is fun, turn here, follow there”, I follow and I follow, then my mind pipes up ” Hey where is the island now”, Hey the boats taking you in figure 8s”, my mind keeps tossing out new scenarios, each new one confusing me, I override my brain” Head down SHUT UP AND SWIM” I instruct myself, and I do, PHEW, that was a close call.
So I swim , swim and swim, I have settled back down and get into a rhythm in my stroke, I have no idea where I am, then I feel a wave push me back, I pull my head up and look ” Hey that sucker came out of nowhere”, I think, on I swim cross that a rogue wave caught me off guard, next I hear shouting ” drink this”, a bottle is passed to me, ” ahhhh not MY bottle”, I had been banking on my feed, a shot of energy to help me be strong in the chilling water, ” DRINK, DRINK, DRINK IT”, the shouts from the boat continue, I want to please but am not feeling that ” this water is going to taste great feeling”, I spill alot, drink some and then swim on humming the Talking Heads song ” We’re on a road to nowhere”.
At the start of the swim I felt such purpose, as time has moved on my stroke has slowed, I don’t know where I am going and I feel a “ does it really matter stroke” creeping in, I snap myself out of it and start swimming with all I can muster. At our meeting this morning we were told to take responsibility and charge of ourselves, if we need assistance a fist punch in the air. I have decided to swim as long as I can, I swim on and JUST SWIM.
The boat comes by again, I don’t know how long I have been swimming or where I am, I stop and am instructed to drink water again, I look around, ” open sea that way, the other way, I don’t recognise any of the land in the distance”, ” DRINK”, there is a water bottle thrust into my hands,
” DRINK IT DRINK IT DRIIINNNNKK”, someone is shouting at me, I am not sure who, they are angry, I want to drink but my jaw is clenched shut, I manage to get the top of the bottle in between my teethbut as soon as I do my jaws clamps down around the bottle, it hurts, I tip my head back and do the best impersonation of drinking in a relaxed style with a smile, the impersonation fails miserably. Next thing I know the bottle is gone and Ned is yelling, ” catch those swimmers”, his arm is pointing that way, ” OK, that way swim to catch swimmers, I can do that”, I say to myself, and with that I swim off spinning my arms as fast as I can. I catch the swimmers and recognise Craig, I settle in beside him, we swim alongside each other for a bit and then he is gone and I don’t no where, I AM ALONE VERY ALONE.
I am lost, ” is anyone watching me”, I wonder, I swim on, my hands are like claws, my body that has been aching from the cold doesn’t seem to ache any more, I stop, I swim, I stop , I swim, at some point I no longer remember if I am swimming or not, I am disorientated, my body unresponsive and my mind muddled. I punch my fist up in the air to signal for help, I don’t recall much from here, I am not sure how quickly the boat came to pick me up, I do remember thinking, ‘ OK you are in control, YOU are going to climb up the steps into the boat YOURSELF”. So the boat comes by, I hear the boat talk about pulling me in, I smile inside about a cunning plan to climb up the ladder on my own, down comes the step ladder, I look at it commanding my legs to step up and my arms to reach out…..nothing happens…I command them again, still nothing happens, my legs are defiantly not moving, next thing I know I am scooped out of the water, Donal wraps me in a towel and then a blanket, he sits me down on the boat beside him and I latch on to him like a starfish on fish tank glass. I burrow myself into his side and tuck right under his arm, he warms me, I feel safe.
After a bit Ned shouts ” time to get dressed’, Doanl helps me pull a pair of big corderouy pants over my suit, a fleece pullover and Ned’s big long jacket.
My swim is over for the day, and now that I am on the boat Ned and Donal have switched gears from gruff confusing torture pilots, to patient, kind and instructional, the cooler opens up, hot chocolate, bread rolls, ham and cheese, Ned makes us sandwiches and the two of them share their knowledge of swimming, I am the luckiest penguin out there, I am able to watch the other swimmers and hear Donal and Ned’s comments, how the remaining swimmers are doing, who is weakening and who is picking back up, it is invaluable, I learn alot.
” I can help, I have lots of post on cold water swimming on my website www.loneswimmer.com “, says Donal, I make a mental note of the name.
I am taken back on how in tune Ned and Donal are to the swimmers, from the water it felt like they didn’t know what was going on and were not aware of my location, being in the boat I see that these two are ” as sharp as a tack”.
The remaining swimmers have been instructed by Ned to swim to a beach in the distance, they make it, some swimmers leave the beach, there are no directions from there, some of the swimmers stand around wondering what to do next, others get back in the water and resume swimming back towards the way they came.
After a bit of time has passed, enough time for a couple of sandwiches our boat motors to the island, Craig is the last man swimmer left on the island, he is not having a bar of it getting back in the water and we scoop him into the boat, I feel for him, my recent feelings of hypothermia are still fresh in my mind, he is wrapped up in blankets, I pull the hat of my head and pull it over his.
The swimmers are making good progress back towards Sandycove Island the start of our journey, looking at the terrain on the way back I find it hard to believe that I couldn’t have recognised where I was when I was swimming, there is that inkling in me saying ” I can’t believe you couldn’t get to that beach, I know you can do it, until another day beach, another day”, I threatening say the words in my head, ” watch out beach, I’ll be back someday”
There are a group of 3 swimmers and 2 swimming alone, ” see how comforting company is”, says Ned, I do, ” when they get around this corner, they will be deflated, they will think that that corner is Sandycove Island and it isn’t they have one more to go”, Ned is right, when the group round the corner there is still 1more stretch to go until Sandycove some of them drop their stroke rates, but then one kicks in and the others follow. Then one swimmer refuses feeds, ” that’s it, she does that one more time she is pulled out”, says both Ned and Donal, I make a mental note, don’t say NO to your crew and pilot.
We finally make it back into Sandycove, the first 2 swimmers in the group we are watching land and fist pump each other, then a hug , I feel their elation, it is great towatch, despite all the cold and the tremors I wish I was there with them, sadly I am in the boat. It is too shallow for Ned to drive the boat into the slipway, ” can you wait a bit til we get you a ride in?”, Ned asks both Craig and I together, I look at Craig, he looks at me, we could swim in, I am excited to be able to swim back to the slipway, we both jump in and tread beside the boat, ” sprint to the Island first”, shouts Ned, ” it will do you good”, and we do, and it is FUN. We reach the island huffing and puffing and then stretch it out to the shore…….we’re there fist pump!
LEARN BY DOING: Here is what I learned today, long higgle-t- piggelty list, but what can I tell you my brain slowed down out there…..
- Head Down, JUST SWIM
- Don’t try to figure out where you are JUST SWIM
- If the boat leaves don’t worry JUST SWIM it will be back
- There will be waves JUST SWIM
- Never Give Up JUST SWIM
- JUST SWIM until you get there or are pulled, your crew is watching you, they know your stroke.
- Take your Feeds and JUST SWIM
- Positive Comments motivate me more to JUST SWIM
- Take out the uncertainty by being as prepared as you can to JUST SWIM
So we are at a point I was willing to arrive FAST, 15 swims complete and just one to go, how could I be feeling sad about this miserably painful week coming to a close?
It’s the people that get you through. So what’s on the schedule tomorrow….8am 6 hour swim. Oh and the parting gift from today’s swim a chipped front tooth from my clen
Closing Thought: No team can ever be whipped if they hang tough together and refuse to be beaten