While I visit here often, I haven’t posted before – primarily because there are so many great swimmers here that I didn’t feel as if I had anything to contribute. I thought I needed more experience before I could provide value. Last week I swam about 20.2 miles of the 20.7 miles it takes the do the English Channel. I made the French inter coastal zone in nine hours. Then spent three and a half hours going almost no where – felt like inches – before being pulled. Even though I wasn’t successful enough to finish, I do have some observations now that I haven’t read here (there is so much here, that maybe I just missed them) and I hope that they may be valuable to someone – so I am sharing.
Instead of light sticks, I used Road ID lights (made for bicyclists). One clipped to my cap. One to my suit. And one around my left wrist. Bought them from Amazon. (Road ID Supernova. This is a tip I received from a Doug McConnell, a 2011 successful English Channel swimmer.) Much lighter, smaller and easier to use than light sticks.
To feed, I just use bottles and rope – with GU duct taped to the side. One thing we did well was to attach pull buoys to the bottles (with carabiners and a short rope). The swim started at 4pm, so almost all of it was in pitch black. I could spot the lighter colored pull buoys before the water bottles. I think it might also be a good idea to wrap a wrist strap light (mentioned above) around the water bottle.
Instead of using Vaseline, I used Aquaphor. It lasted a lot longer for me than Vaseline does.
I know all the men have dealt with this issue, but my whiskers rub me raw pretty quickly. Even in shorter swims like Boston Light, I come out bleeding from the shoulders. I went the route of growing the beard out. With seven days whisker growth covered with a layer of Aquaphor, I had no trouble. There was still Aquaphor in my beard and armpits 12 and a half hours later.
The Bad and the Ugly:
I don’t normally chafe between the legs (one advantage of believing kicking is overrated), so I don’t put anything (Vaseline or Aquarphor) there. I am still raw on my inside upper legs days after this swim. I intentionally gained a few pounds for this swim – so am I thinking some of the extra weight went to the upper legs and caused chafing that I don’t normally experience. So, if you gain weight for a swim, be careful – past experience may not be a good guide.
In the pitch black night, I couldn’t get a good, constant orientation on the boat or the boat direction. The lights on the boat weren’t of uniform size, location or intensity. When I moved away from the boat to keep perspective, the crew got very nervous that I was “drifting” away accidentally. When I got as close as they wanted, I could not tell where I was or I had to crane my neck unnaturally to see the wheelhouse. This was a constant problem. I should have studied the lights before I got in the water. Or stopped at darkness to study the lights. Or told everyone ahead of time (including my teammates, some of whom had never seen me swim) that I was going to swim farther away from the boat than “normal.” This problem caused a lot of zigzagging – most of it intentional – and was the reason I was pulled from the water.
I should have done a much better job of crew assignments. I have bad hearing and wear ear plugs, so I can’t hear anything once I am in the water (even during feeds) – it is too late once I am in the water to correct my communication deficiencies. I should have been much more precise in my instructions.
Anthony, Thanks for the information. Every little bit helps even for those that have a couple under our belt. Congratulations on a great swim.
Thanks for the insightful writeup on your swim. We are all learning, all the time, and sharing expedites that.
We (Sandycove Island Swim Club) mostly use Adventure Lights electronic lights. The Guardian fits nicely onto goggle and can be seen from 1km away, and set to steady or flash, with a longer Lazer Stik on the swimsuit. The good visibility reduces crew's panic also. I'd planned to use a spare Lazer Stik on a feed bottle last week on a swim I was crewing but the Viking Princess has a lot of light and the swimmer didn't need it. Putting a green light on a crew member also means the swimmer will have an identification on a darker boat. All the pilot boats are different at night, some darker.
I'm a lanolin or Channel grease only person, I don't know what Aquaphor is. If using lanolin remember it'll be hard in the middle of the night unless you left it somewhere to get warm. A Channel grease mix avoids this problem. I've never had issues with beard (or other) chaffing with Channel grease or lanolin.
I suggested a retractable dog leash as a feed line earlier in the year, a few people have tired it, and all like, including myself. Strong, compact, unlikely to snarl. We were dropping mouthwash after feed every 2 hours, so I dropped the feed bottle to the swimmer first, then as he finished I let the mouthwash bottle slide down the rope on a carabiner, like a zip-line, so he wasn't dealing with two bottles at the same time,and also not wasting time waiting for the second. I was really pleased how well it worked, especially in choppy conditions.
Better luck next time!
Hi Anthony, Sorry to hear you didn't make it across last week. I, too, was reluctant to post until after I had experienced it for myself - the EC in July was my first swim over 10K.
I used Vaseline, but then I don't usually grow a beard unless it is a Full Moon.
I wore a comfortable costume with very thin straps. A tighter costume with thick straps would have been quicker but would have chafed. I originally put on a kneesuit but my crew advised me to change at Dover Marina because of the potential for chafing - it actually turned out to be a good decision for a very different reason! (Hides!)
I also used the Guardian lights as mentioned by loneswimmer. They worked really well.
We attached about 15 of the "snap" glow sticks to the side of the boat. These were fantastic and I found it easy to maintain the line with the boat.
My first feed was a disaster. We tried using a pole with a cup in a holder. We had practised beforehand with using it at the pool. However, when used in combination with a rocking boat and a fast Spring tide we found that I couldn't lift the cup out of the holder unless I had a 10 metre long extendable arm. The result was that the first feed ended up in the sea. Unfortunately I had also asked for replacement goggles at that feed, and the goggles with brand new flashing Guardian light also disappeared into the distance. We tried again 5 minutes later with bottle on string. Simple. That worked brilliantly and remained the feeding method thereafter.
I was level with my eventual landing point on the French coast at 12pm. Unfortunately it took me until 6pm to finally land! I'm not sure that anything could have prepared me for those final 6 hours of torture, other than the fact that I had studied lots of swim maps and I knew beforehand that the finish was going to be difficult.
I do hope you give it another go. It is so worth it!
I think we all learn something new after every swim. It took a swim or two for me to figure this one out: children's liquid ib profuen. It's a life saver. I mix it in with feeds, so I can't taste it and I get a small but steady supply. It's amazing.
I learn as much or more from the write ups about "unfinished business" swims than the successful swims. Thanks Anthony.
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