Thursday, 30 September 2010
Dover Day - 30th September 2010
No swimming today; but was still soaking wet!!
Last night I took a call from Fiona to say that someone she vaguely knows has been given his 24 hr call to swim the channel; it’s his last chance before the season ends today and if he doesn’t take it then he misses it for another year. As it was such short notice and because it was about the third time he’s been given notice, only 1 out of his 7 crew were available, even his wife couldn’t go as their children were unwell! So he called Fiona to see if she could be a crew member and if she had anyone she could bring – so there we were driving to Dover last night at 10pm with bag packed full of very warm clothes and waterproofs, ham & cheese sandwiches, penguin biscuits and flasks of sweet tea; rather unexpected as I was planning an early night!
We got to Dover, after a 90 minute drive through torrential rain, and met them on the docks. Really nice chap, being supported by his best friend and only crew. The Pilot boat (not a CSA registered boat!) were just pulling in and were expecting us sharply so they could get going. Even though it was raining hard and sea conditions were sounding tough, the decision to go was taken and after loading the boat, introducing ourselves and waiting a short while we were off; it was 1.45am. The boat was basically a medium sized fishing boat, manned by the Pilot, his co-pilot and an “unofficial” official – I am so pleased I am going with an official CSA pilot! They didn’t even help him (us) carry all his provisions to the boat! It was almost amusing when the official came to complete his paperwork and not only kept calling Fiona “Jo”, but didn’t even check any bags in case there were untoward drugs in there or anything; really not encouraging.
We sailed out of the calmness of Dover Harbour and within seconds the boat was being thrown around like a rag doll in a washing machines; boxes literally sliding everywhere, his best friend throwing up and Fiona and I simply hanging on to the sides. After about half an hour we stopped moving right near the beach and Fiona applied the lanolin and grease to his body (I couldn’t see in the dark if she was enjoying that or not!) and then off the side he went and swam to shore. Watching him swim to shore in the dark we couldn’t really see how rough it was, but he must have felt it. As soon as he reach shore the Pilot honked the hooter and the game was on. He ran back into the sea; now it was about 2.45am I guess, and it was him verses a very troubled sea. With his friend still throwing up it was down to Fiona and Me to keep a very watchful eye out on him, with Fiona shouting for the first 20 minutes at him to watch out for the boat! After about another 20 minutes, with the conditions now absolutely dreadful, the boat being thrown everywhere, his friend sill throwing up and the Pilot getting concerned for both his boat and the swimmer the decision was made to call it off. So an hour into the swim he was back on the boat feeling really upset and we were heading back to Dover with every other wave lifting us up and simply dropping us back down. I have to say, and I say this as someone without previous experience, that letting the swim go ahead in those conditions was perhaps not the correct thing to do; even if was the last chance of the year!
The plus point to all this was that he came back safely; OK so he never managed to make it due to the weather, but in those conditions just getting back onto the boat safely was a miracle. For me I learnt a lot; I experienced the highs and lows of a channel swimmer (albeit second hand), I got to see the process from Dover to boat and back again and I got to see the channel in complete darkness and in a storm. Oh and not forgetting, I got to understand the importance swimming under the official CSA banner.
Having got home at around 5am, I grabbed about 2 hours sleep and then headed to work; where I currently am and on my third coffee already.
An unusual but very interesting unexpected evening!