Swimming the English Channel


People say that swimming the English Channel is the best and worst experience of your life. But you never understand the full extent of this statement until you are in the situation. My friend Shelley Clark (one of Australia’s greatest marathon swimmers) and I decided that we would swim the English Channel as a duo. We arrived in Dover on the 5th of August with our week window to swim starting on the 7th and going to the 12th of August.

On the day we arrived we called Michael Oram, our main correspondent and father to our Boat Captain Lance Oram. Michael told us that the weather was taking a turn for the worse and that we wouldn’t be able to attempt anything until mid-week. So we began the excruciating phone calls every night to see if there was going to be a break in the weather to allow us to swim. We continued training everyday doing laps in Dover Harbor and sometimes swimming in the local pool so that we had an idea of our pace. This was much to the local’s dismay, as apparently channel swimmers training in a pool is frowned upon.

We got to the end of the week and our spirits were dampened. It wasn’t looking good. We called Michael expecting the same talk as the previous six days, however this time we received a glint of hope as there was a twelve hour weather break. We were naturally happy but extremely cautious at the same time because we knew that British weather is extremely temperamental. Was this rollercoaster of a week finally going to result in us taking on the English Channel? Two hours later we received the confirmation call that we would be swimming on Friday the 12th of August, and we were to meet at the dock at 8 am. It was time!

We arrived at the dock with our supplies and massive smiles on our faces. This was it. No turning back. We were about to take on the English Channel. We left the harbor for the 30 minute journey to the starting beach.  Shelley dove into the water and proceeded to swim the 100m to the beach (for the start you must be clear of the water). The horn went off and Shelley dove into the water to begin the “Mount Everest” of swims.

We decided to swim in 1 hour time slots, this way we could keep our speed up and also not spend too much time on the boat as Shelley and I get very sea sick. We were swimming on a neap tide, this means that when the weather is bad it takes longer to settle.  With only a 12 hour break and another storm approaching, we were swimming into a massive head wind and the water was like a washing machine. It was going to be a slow swim.  It is no wonder that sometimes people wait 2 months in Dover and don’t even choose to swim. However we were very lucky as the water was a warm 64°F/17 °C and the sun was shining.

France was like an optical illusion it looked so close, but yet we were still 14km away. It was defiantly disheartening to feel like we weren’t making progress.  Just as we started to feel frustrated we had an unexpected surprise!  A group of about ten porpoises decided to join us for an hour; this provided some much needed distraction from the task ahead.

As the sun began to set we took our first steps up the beach on France. When I pictured this moment I defiantly thought it would be more emotional, but I think Shelley and I were just relieved to be land. Only having 6 minutes on France we frantically took photos and headed back to the boat.  We were thankful it was all over. However the worst part was the three hour journey back to Dover (Shelley and I were extremely sea sick all the way home). We arrived back in Dover at the dock both physically and mentally exhausted; we had joined a small elite group that had conquered the impossible.

Shelley and I would like to thank all of our friends and family for their support.  I would especially like to thank my mother Leslie, for all the support she gave us throughout the swim. We definitely could not have done it without you! A big thank you to FINIS for sponsoring our swim and all the support you gave us along the way.

Luane Rowe