A Recap and Thank-you

I can’t believe the high I have experienced during and since the swim. Something happened that day and I am truly grateful that it worked out the way it did. I remember sitting on the beach in Dover the day after the swim and having to tell myself that I had done it! The English Channel is such a mental battle and when they say 90% mental and 10% physical they are not far off the mark. The shortest distance from Dover to Calais is 21 miles, but in my case and ninety percent of other swims you end up swimming further. According to Andy’s G.P.S – I swam 28 miles.

I will never forget when I first realized that I might be able to finish the crossing. I had been swimming for about 5.5 hours and my fingers started to straighten out.  I can always tell if the water temperature is 15’C and below, because I develop what I call “claw hand”. Simply, it’s my reaction to the cold. It was about 10:30am and the air temperature was starting to rise and even though there was cloud cover I could sense the sun. I remember looking at my hand as it entered the water, with no “claw” and thought to myself “unbelievable…this just might happen today”! The water temperature had risen to 16’C. This made me tear-up a bit because at the start of the swim, I asked my mum to keep me warm. She kept her promise. I will never forget this turning point as the hours leading up were filled with doom and gloom. The demons hiding in that dark, cold hallway were filling my head with thoughts of “aborting the swim with some sort of dignity”. So when I realized for the first time that I was getting used to the cold, I was overcome with emotion.

I was now on a mission to make up lost time and get myself to France. I stopped feeding on Carbo-Pro because it was causing stomach cramps and coming right back up. I was now eating solid foods and feeling energized. At 7 hours we crossed the French shipping lane and I was feeling good. I don’t recall the next 4 hours other than looking over at the Louise Jane and all my friends on board. I could see Bonnie with a worried, concerned look, as she knew how much this meant to me. The rest of the crew would take their turns to rest their arms on the railing and watch me swim for a few minutes. I didn’t want to let them down and this made me even more focused and determined. At hour 8-9 I felt strong and was still concerned with making up lost time. I had originally thought my feeding times would be approx 30 seconds and when I look back I was taking, sometimes two minutes and when the tide and current are pulling you back this can amount to much lost time. I could feel the current tugging harder as we approached France and remember thinking that if it got any stronger I was in for a battle. At one feed stop, I asked Andy if we were sighting on a beach way in the distance and his reply to me was “just follow the boat”! I loved his reply because he was the boss, and I had all the confidence in the world that he was taking the best line. I had heard stories of swimmers getting frustrated and slapping the water because they could clearly see the French coast and wondered why they couldn’t just bee line it. I kept my head down and was actually surprised when Andy told me that I had one mile to go and now was the time to head straight in. I thought…one mile…I can finish this thing off in about 25 minutes! As I approached the shore I noticed how big the boulders were, but was not overly concerned about clearing the water line. I waited for a wave to pick me up and place me on one of the flatter rocks. I took two steps and fell forward only to catch myself. I laughed because I should have known better that my land legs would be gone after 12 hours! I turned around and could hear the Louise Jane blow her horn. I was not worried about the time on shore; I just raised my arms and gave a thumbs-up to the boat. Andy (first mate) kept me focused on getting on board the tender. I was absolutely covered in Lanolin and immediately coated the interior of the tender as I crawled on board. Stepping onto the Louise Jane was a welcome relief and all the well wishes much appreciated.

I recall the boat ride back as being somewhat surreal. Everybody had quickly dressed me in warm clothes, but I was not all that cold. We were moving at a slight pace as we had many passengers and because of this I don’t think Andy could have gone much faster.

As we left the French shore we passed by another boat with a swimmer approaching. He was about 400meters from shore. I later found out that he was an American that went on to complete the swim in approximately the same time that I did.

I had dedicated this swim to my mum who passed away four years ago and when we were about five kilometers from France I stood up at the stern of the Louise Jane and cast a photo of her into the Channel. She kept me warm in the waters so cold. I will never forget that moment. I know that she worried every time I would swim, but deep down I know she understands.

We arrived back in Dover about 8:00pm and it didn’t take long to unload all the gear and thank everybody involved. I know that all of us just wanted to rest and resume things the next day. I slept ok that night as I was still replaying the swim in my mind. We met with John and Hugh and decided to walk over to the White Horse Pub and see if I could sign the ceiling as a large number of successful channel swimmers had ritualistically done before me. I wasn’t 100% on what to write, but I managed to scribble my best. It was a bit of a laugh because as I was writing I had to stop every 20 seconds to rest my arms…wonder why?

Our vacation was quickly coming to an end. We decided to take the ferry to Calais (not swim), rent a car, spend a few days on the French coast and then drive to Bruges, Belgium for two more days and then back to London for one more day before we before we caught our flight home. British Airways upgraded us to first class, which was amazing. They had no idea I swam the Channel it was purely a fluke! (the flight)…I mean.


My Fiancée Bonnie for believing in me.

My dad for all his support and helping the cause anyway he could. Also for the many cold water swims at Ambleside beach. It takes a lot of energy to motivate yourself to train in cold water, but with someone by your side it makes things that much easier.

Brent Hobbs for blazing a trail for me and others others to follow. I can’t tell you how instrumental he was in preparation for the Channel.

“Team Midlife” for all their support before, during and after the swim.

Team Aquatics for their recognition, sponsorship and interest in marathon swimming.

Bill Weymark for his more than generous sponsorship.

Cruisers Aquatic Club for their generous sponsorship.

Rick Gustavson for his genuine interest and for hosting an amazing pre Georgia Strait and English Channel get together at his home that included many swimming friends.

Martin McLaren for hosting a wonderful brunch post training swim at Bachelor Bay, which included a majority of open water friends including: Rod, Robin, Ursula, Patty, Mick, Beverly and many more.

The list goes on and on…I just hope I can show my appreciation in someway as we cross paths in this wonderful swimming community here on the West Coast.

What happened that day

Tuesday morning was calm seas as we boarded the Louise Jane in a nervous silence. We set out from Dover Harbour to Samphire Hoe Beach where we would start. The crew consisted of Andy the pilot, Andy the first mate, Steve the official observer from the Channel Swimming Association, Bonnie Curtis, Greg Gjerdalen, John Hamilton, Hugh Johnston, Hannele Gjerdalen, Luke Gjerdalen and Cole Gjerdalen.

First order of business was for my crew to apply grease to avoid chafing in salt water and maybe warm the body a bit.

Andy came within 300 meters from shore where I took the plunge into the 15’C waters and swam to shore. Once I cleared the water line the official observer blew his whistle and started his watch and I started my journey to France.

The first 2 hours were spent thinking about family and friends, including my mum who I would dedicate the swim too and asked to keep me warm. At 2 ½ hours my support swimmer Greg jumped in and swam beside me for an hour. This would prove to be great for moral. At 4 ½ hours I had my first “crisis”. I was in that horrible place where the “demons” start to play with your mind. Their argument was that if the water was to stay at 15’C for the next 8 hours how would I manage. This proved to much for me and I told the crew that I was having a hard time and was thinking about giving up. I  will never forget the adamant response they gave me and that was…  “you can do this…two years of training…think about it”. and then Andy poked his head out and said “are you tired Rod” I said “no” he said “your not even shaking man” and before I could say anything else, he said “put on your googles and lets go”. I remember putting my goggles back on and starting to swim. I was mad and angry and full of self pity because these guys had no idea what I was going thru and who were they to comment from their nice warm boat. I made a pack with myself that I would prove to them how cold I was and that their pleas to continue were of no use.

At 6 hours we had passed though the British shipping lanes and the water warmed a degree. This was to be my savour! I now could comprehend swimming further. I quickly thanked my mum, told her that she was beautiful and that I knew she was there…

Support swimmers can swim for an hour with you then they have to get out for an hour. Greg proved to be a vital part of the swim as I would anticipate his presence and hence boost my spirits.

At 8 hours the feeding plan went out the window. The high carbohydrate mix was starting to come back up and cause stomach cramps. I switched to solid food which threw my main feeder and fiance Bonnie into a frenzy. I asked for muffins, bananas, melon, hot water and coffee. I continued this for the next 4 or 5 feeds. I don’t know why but I was starting to feel stronger and could actually see France.

At 10 hours we were close to Cap Gris-Nez and the water was calm. I was strong and warm at this point, thinking maybe I can do this. I have learned from previous swims never take anything for granted and stay focused.

At 11 hours France was clearly in sight.

At 12 hours Andy put the tender in the water and escorted me to the landing area which was just south of Cap Gris-Nez on the rocks. I will never forget looking over at the greatest crew of friends that have come all this way to be part of this amazing journey. I took them from one extreme to another and for their patience and support I am truly grateful.

At 12 hours and 21 minutes I climbed on the rocks, cleared the water line, raised my arm just as the official blew his whistle. The crew cheered and the Louise Jane blew her horn. I had just swam the English Channel!

We did It!!!

A quick post to let you know that I crossed the Channel today in 12:21:00!

Will post with details as soon as I can…a little tired right now.

Green Light For Tuesday Morning

Looks like we have a go for Tuesday with a start time of 4:30am. I will try to post as soon as I can afterwards.

July 18, 2010 – Sunday

Just got of the phone with Andy – looks like he will take the relay team tomorrow (Monday) and then me on Tuesday. The forecast is for some rain, but otherwise sunny. The only thing that might stop us is the wind. Fingers crossed. The water temp is a little cooler than expected, but I will just have to swim faster!!!

Keep you posted…

July 16, 2010

July 16, 2010

Weather has been very windy the last two days. We met with our pilot Andy King today at 11:00am. He took us aboard the Louise Jayne, which is named after his late sister. Coincidentally, my sisters name is Jayne Louise. Andy seems very qualified as a seaman and has done over one hundred crossings. We talked about the weather and so far it does not look good until Monday and he has a relay team to get across before me. I will keep you posted.

Yesterday we were joined by our good friends Greig, Hannele and their boys Luke and Cole. Greig will be swimming along side me for parts of the swim. This will definitely be a bonus as it can and will get a little monotonous out there.

As far as sight seeing goes we walked the Cliffs of Dover and because it was a clear day we could see France! It was a bit daunting, but all I have to do is point myself in the right direction and keep swimming…

July 14, 2010

I talked to our pilot Andy King. Friday is not so good, but Saturday and Sunday may be ok. I am the #2 swimmer in a Que. of three. I will be in contact with Andy closer to Friday.

For some reason I didn’t get the best sleep, maybe five hours. The guest house accommodation includes breakfast. So far, I have opted for the English breakfast, which consists of two eggs, sausage, ham, baked beans and toast. I definitely could get used to this, and it certainly helped the lack of sleep.

We walked down to Dover Harbour (10 mins) where they have a huge protected recreation area. Historically, the majority of channel swimmers come and train here.

When we arrived I noticed a group of swimmers from Libya on the beach preparing for a training swim. I talked to their coach and sure enough they were planning to swim the channel as a relay team. This would be a first for Libya.

I swam here for about 1:15mins. The water temp was about 16’C . I did notice how much saltier the water is here and made a mental note not to get lazy and ingest to much. After the swim we talked with the group from Libya and took some photos, it was great fun to meet them.

Next Stop Dover

July 13, 2010

Today is Travelling day. We took a cab to the Victoria Train Station from our hotel. On a side note is was kind of sad leaving London because of all the incredible sights to see knowing that we had just scratched the surface. Everything here is very accessible via the public transportation. On a personal note, I must confess that I am not the greatest with confined spaces, like the London Tube. Team “Midlife” thought that they would experiment with me…as Hugh put it “Lets just take the champ underground to see how he does…” well the champ lasted about one minute. It’s funny, I would rather swim the channel than ride the tube!

We caught the train to Dover at 3:30pm which was a very fast and scenic way to go, it lasted about 1:30mins with a total cost of 27 pounds.

Arrived in Dover just in time to check into our bed and breakfast (Maison Dieu Guest House) . Met with the owner Diana French who immediately gave us tea and cookies and took us though the logistics of our stay. We later walked into the City core (5 mins) and had a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant. To finish the evening off we walked down to Dover Harbour where I stuck my toe in the water and ran out screaming like a little school girl! Just kidding…the water is cold, but not that cold.

Lastly, we walked along the promenade where we paid homage to the local hero Captain Matthew Webb who was the first person to swim the channel in 1875.

July 12, 2010

July 12, 2010

The swim is getting closer, but we are still in London…

Woke up this morning and made my way to the Porchester Recreation Centre. This a great facility only five minutes from our hotel. It was built in 1926, originally as a bath house and it has a 30metre pool, which is kind of an odd size as far as pools go. I swam 3500m at a reasonable pace.

Today we were joined by two of good friends John Hamilton and Hugh Johnston. I had no idea Hugh was to be travelling with us as they kept this a secret from the very beginning, including a going away dinner party last week. I will never forget walking down to the Lobby, glancing over to see John, and then seeing this person next to him that really looked familiar…welcome Hugh!

London is an amazing place. Today we visited Buckingham Palace, attended an hour long service at Westminster Abbey, walked through Trafalgar Square and lastly had a wonderful Indian dinner at Piccadilly Circus.

London Calling

We left Vancouver for London, England on Friday, July 9 at 8:30pm. We arrived at Heathrow Airport Saturday, July 10 at 1:40pm. Having to sit upright for ten hours on a plane is always an arduous task. The weather is hot (28’C) and sunny.

Quick itinerary, just in case you are interested; Stay in London for three days, leave for Dover on Tuesday, July 13. Stay in Dover for as long as it takes. My tide window is from July 16-24. Best scenario would be to swim early that week and have the rest of the time to travel. We will do our best to keep you updated before, during and after the swim!

After we landed in Heathrow we ended up taking a London Cab to our hotel. We were bound and determined to stay awake at least until post dinner as we wanted to beat the jet lag as best we could. Our hotel is situated very close to Hyde Park and the Serpentine Lake, where they actually have a swim club. Hyde Park is huge with great sights including the Kensington Gardens, King Alberts Memorial and Speakers Corner.