Friday 13 July 2012

The Waiting Game....

One of the key factors in swimming the English Channel is the weather. Ideally for a swim you will have calm seas, low winds and the sun on your back during the hours of daylight that you swim, making for a far more enjoyable experience during the 12+ hours of swimming I expect this to take.  Last week two solos were lucky enough to get such conditions for their Channel swims. This week, the weather has abandoned us!

We arrived in Dover last Saturday to be ready for my English Channel window to open. The window is a set period of time based on the tide that you can swim. I am swimming on a Neap tide, which in the olden days before GPS navigation was more preferable due to less volatile water movement than the Spring tide. When you book you are given a number in order of preference. When I booked my slot two years ago, I got position 2, which means that as soon as the first good swim day is available, the boat captain asks position 1 if they want to swim. If they say no, then they go to position 2, and so on. There are 4 positions per slot per boat. 

Atop the White Cliffs head to toe in Icebreaker wool!

My whole family are here now: Mum, Dad, Mark and Annabel, and we are staying at Varne Ridge located on the top of the White Cliffs of Dover. The view here is amazing. We look directly out across the Channel - and I have seen France twice this week! The rest of the time we watch rain storms pass by which is dramatic and exciting, and we spot ships where possible. Last night we even had a beautiful rainbow! Right now the sun is shining and the wind is not too strong, however within hours this will change and I will literally be able to hold myself upright just from the wind.
France - it's there!
The weather this week is not playing nice. In fact it has been foul. The last successful solo swim was Lochie Hinds seven days ago. Since then the weather has blown out and there are a lot of people waiting the opportunity to swim. I think I have actually met about ten solo swimmers this week who are all stuck in this waiting game. Add to that the rest of the swimmers, the patient and supportive crew members who accompany them, the boat captains, and the boat crew and you have a very big pile of frustrated people sitting in Dover right now!  And we wait on tenterhooks ready to go at any moment. But sadly it does not appear that the weather gods will smile until next week.  The met. synoptic charts and forecasts only go five days in advance = Sunday. My neap tide window closes next Wednesday 18th July, and after that we are back onto spring tides and maybe an opportunity to swim then.

The head games I am playing with myself to stay positive and strong, are just part of this mega challenge I set myself. I didn’t realise how hard this last stage would be, and in fact many swimmers don’t as not everyone has this trouble with the weather. Nothing quite compares to sitting on the edge of England, looking at France, knowing you can swim there, and not being able to do it due to circumstances out of your control!

Family fun on the White Cliffs of Dover - our view!
We are wearing three layers of wool and polar fleeces each! It is unseasonably cold, and are eternally grateful to the fabulous sponsorship from Icebreaker merino wool clothing who has kitted us out in what has become our daily outfits, as opposed to what we thought we would be wearing just for the swim. It was totally appropriate that the family pose in our Icebreaker gear on top of the White Cliffs of Dover this week!
The unseasonably bad weather throughout the last few months in the UK, means that the Channel water temperatures have been slow to warm up. They currently hover around the 15 degree mark on the English side, but thankfully the waters do warm slightly as you reach France. That is definitely something to look forward to! The water is so murky that I have spent this week getting used to swimming without being able to see my hands. A surreal alien movie like feeling!
Mark, Mum and I at Ramsgate "Royal" Harbour
My family are very patiently hanging out on the “Kent Riviera”, exploring the surrounding castles and local sights. Unfortunately after a week we are a little castled out!  And I am sure that I will never live down the fact they all used their annual leave to come and sit on the White Cliffs of Dover and watch storms pass through! Daily, Dad and I head down to Dover Habour for a swim, whilst my brother and sister head to the gym. Mum has been cooking up a storm back at Varne Ridge Caravan Park where we are staying. 

Bruce and I get ready for training
Varne Ridge Caravan park’s owners David and Evelyn promote the park to Channel swimmers, so needless to say everyone who stays here is involved in Channel swimming, hence there is a great sense of community around (and a great sense of frustration currently due to this weather). They also have fantastic sign boards for all successful Channel swims with the name, country flag and time of swimmers. I am looking forward to being able to join that wall! One of the most exciting things this week has been meeting a whole bunch of Irish swimmers who I have met through Twitter over the last 12 months. They have been an amazing source of advice, knowledge and support... many have already done solos, doubles and the Manhattan Island Swim, so there is plenty of swim geek talk going on right now! I have also spent most days swimming with a Queensland based South African, Bruce, who my family have semi adopted, who is the exact same predicament as me.

So for the next four days at least we will continue sightseeing, castle climbing, touring and sampling the finest of the Kent Riviera. There is a slight weather opening late Saturday, but the chances of the seas calming down in the short time available, is extremely limited. We are clutching at every word of hope from our boat captains that there may be a chance. Noone wants to see their goals literally float away.
I have been told time and time again that the Channel is her own mistress and only she will decide when you can swim! Until then, you must respect her. That I am doing, and wishing, hoping and praying that she delivers me an opportunity to achieve my goal that I have spent the last two years training for and that so many people have supported me to reach. Fingers crossed!

At Samphire Hoe - built from the fillings from when they build the Channel Tunnel
The view from Varne Ridge - amazing weather scenes
Post training coffee in the sun
Deal Castle: Mum and I