Round Jersey Report – Part 4

This post is the last post in the Jersey series. Check out Part 1 to read about the run-up to the swim, Part 2 for the first half of the swim and Part 3 for the second half…

Back onboard the support boat “Sea Swimmer 2”, I was quite surprised to hear that my time was 9 hours 35 minutes. After the slight hiccup around halfway, I was sure that it’d be much closer to 10 hours. In any case, I was delighted with that time. To be only 3 minutes off of Julieann‘s world record was amazing – I’ve had the pleasure of swimming with her on a few occasions and she is a phenomenal swimmer! It was just past 4:00 pm on a hot and sunny day so getting dressed quickly was not a big priority, I decided that I’d be better off to have my recovery drink first. I mixed up my SiS REGO Rapid Recovery with some warm water and tried to drink it… It tasted rotten and it was all I could do to swallow any amount of it. After a few sups, I just threw it overboard and ate some chocolate fingers instead: I had no plans to swim in the next 24 hours so there was no point in forcing myself to drink something I didn’t like.

Photograph – Marilyn Le Guilcher

The “Dream Team” back at the marina after finishing. Left to right: Alice Harvey, Chantelle Le Guilcher, me, John Asplet, Mick Le Guilcher.

Back at the marina, we were met by Marilyn Le Guilcher and Marion Harvey who very kindly brought me cards, some very nice Jersey fudge and a little Jersey flag! I did eventually get dressed – using Vaseline (petroleum jelly) instead of lanolin on this swim made getting dried and dressed an awful lot easier… After meeting a few more local swimmers at the harbour, I was dropped back to my guest house where I fell asleep almost immediately on getting in the door! I didn’t have much time for sleep though as I had to have a shower and catch up with the swim-related back-ups on Twitter and Facebook. That done, I was collected again and this time went to St. Clement’s sports club for some protein in the form of a tasty T-bone steak. Only then did I notice that my back and the backs of my legs were quite badly sunburnt – it was very raw and prevented me from getting any decent sleep that night…

The next day, I took the morning to myself and headed over to St. Brelade’s Bay for a closer look than the one I got during the swim. It was a really beautiful place; a large sandy beach with a pier at one end, a nice park and plenty restaurants along the promenade. It would have made a great place for a swim but I didn’t have my gear. It would also make you eager to explore a bit more of Jersey.

Photograph – Unknown

A few of those gathered at “Wissant View”, i.e. Sally and Charlie’s house, with the official chart of my swim. Left to right: Alice Harvey, Martin Powell, me, Mick Le Guilcher, Sally Minty-Gravett, Charlie Gravett, Chantelle Le Guilcher.

That afternoon, I was again picked up (see how well the JLDSC look after their guests) and taken to the airport to welcome Sally Minty-Gravett home from her fifth English Channel swim in as many decades! Sally and her husband, Charlie, treated us to a very nice evening at their home, during which Charlie plotted my swim course on the Jersey marine chart and the crew all signed it. The next morning I caught the early flight to Gatwick, giving me enough time to head into London to repack my bags and be on the first train to Cornwall. It was great to see family and many other familiar faces when I got there!

And so ended the Jersey adventure! I had a great time and am really glad that I went and did it. Lessons were learned: if I feel like there’s nothing left in the tank the solution could be as simple as resetting the stroke, communicate with your crew, Carol‘s advice on feeding plans are well-worth taking, caffeine is magic and bring your own treats! The JLDSC are a great group of people and I couldn’t have done the swim without their help. I was looked after superbly every minute of my few days in Jersey and I can’t thank everyone that I met enough. Special thanks, though, to Mick, Alice, Chantelle, John, Martin and Marilyn who were an amazing support through the swim!

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Round Jersey Report – Part 3

Continued from Part 1 (run-up to the swim) and Part 2 (second half of the swim) from earlier in the week. This post is about the second half of the swim only. I’ll have a reflection on what went well and what didn’t go so well in Part 4 (final installment) tomorrow…

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Chantelle holds up one of the Twitter hashtags that were being used during the swim. These have been popular with Channel junkies since we got #CmonCraig trending during Craig Morrison’s English Channel solo in July 2012.

By the 5-hour feed, I was starting to feel a little bit more positive. I no longer felt like I was going to fall asleep in the water and could see that the next headland was getting nearer. I took the feed (300 ml of warm High5 4:1), kept my mouth shut and swam on – that was me able to tell myself to keep going rather than needing the crew to tell me. By the next feed, I was feeling more confident still: I knew that if I lasted another 30 minutes we would be switching to the 1-hour feed cycle, as scheduled, and this would make a big difference psychologically. I took the gel and asked for some jelly babies at the next feed as a treat. A few minutes after the feed (5 hours 40 minutes in), I could see that we were rounding Grosnez and about to head south along the western side of the island. I was mentally prepared for a long slog across St. Ouen’s Bay from L’Etacq to La Corbière as I was told that you lose much of the tidal assistance at this point and it’s further than it looks! I told myself to swim feed-to-feed and I’d get there eventually. At this point, the crew started transcribing some of the encouraging tweets onto the back of my feed schedule and showing them to me which was nice.

The next feed was at the 6-hour mark – it was 300 ml of warm High5 ZERO and two jelly babies – again, I said nothing and swam on. I could see the long sandy beach to my left so I knew that I was well over halfway. Knowing that I’d now be feeding every 20 minutes rather than every 30 was also a comfort. The next feed was 200 ml of warm High5 4:1 with a Twitter report! At the next feed (gel), I told the crew that I was feeling better and asked how many hours it was “to the lighthouse” and Mick replied: “a few”. I could see that we were making progress so carried to the next feed, which was a High5 ZERO and two jelly babies, completing the first 1-hour feed cycle, so I asked if it looked like I’d break 10 hours and Chantelle said that she “wouldn’t say no” so that was good news. I had now been swimming for 7 hours…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Approaching the lighthouse at La Corbière on the southwestern corner of the island.

By 1:40 pm, my stroke rate was a steady 60 spm and we were approaching the lighthouse at La Corbière. At 1:47 pm (7 hours 20 minutes in), I had a regular feed of High5 4:1 and, from my limited knowledge of Jersey’s geography, knew that were at the southwestern corner of the island. We had lost a lot of the push from the tide but we were on the final leg of the swim now and making good progress. This was where I felt the advantage of feeding every 20 minutes: I could put in a good effort between feeds and it didn’t feel like a very long time, I could now easily thinking 1 and 2 hours ahead. The  view into St. Brelade’s Bay was also a nice distraction at this point. At 8 hours 20 minutes, I had the last two jelly babies onboard with my regular feed and, 20 minutes later, I took my last SiS caffeinated gel – I had some High5 gels as spares but they don’t suit me taste or stomach! I felt a little tired again but I knew that the caffeine would perk me up. I asked for some chocolate in 10 minute’s time anyway…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Just past Portelet Bay. I was very confident of finishing at this point…

After 10 minutes (3:17 pm; 8 hours 50 minutes in), the crew appeared with three chocolate fingers, as requested, but also my regular High5 feed which wasn’t due for another 10 minutes! They had followed the plan to a tee until now so I knew that it wasn’t a mistake, they obviously had a reason for giving me the feed early (I now know that it was to take advantage of the current near Noirmont point). I wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing. They pointed out the black and white tower at Noirmont and told me that it was the last point before crossing St. Aubin’s Bay to the finish. This was intended to be my last feed! I said that was fine but had other ideas in my head – I was sure that it would be a drag getting across the bay and that I’d need a boost to get over the line…

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Approaching Noirmot after the last feed, the last landmark before the end of the swim! This is my favourite photograph from the swim.

A few minutes later, we rounded the point and headed straight across the bay. My stroke rate was back up to 65 spm at the 9-hour mark. The next time a sighted forward, I could just about make out the diagonal black and white markings at the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater. Though it was already very calm, the surface of the water flattened out even more as we progressed across the bay – it became “glassy” and I felt like I was swimming in Knockananig Reservoir on a dead summer’s day. The crew seemed to be getting excited at this point, doing plenty of waving, cheering and clapping – it’s amazing how much of a boost a bit of noise can give you – and the more noise they made the harder I swam. I began to sight more often as well to be able to judge more accurately how hard I could afford to swim at each point.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Crossing St. Aubin’s Bay, the black and white marks at the finish line visible.

About 35 minutes after the last feed, I asked the crew (without breaking stroke) for a caffeinated gel. I could see Alice get one ready but it soon disappeared, they crew didn’t want to stop at this point as we were so close to the record. Mick appeared from inside the cabin and signaled that I had 10 minutes to go. John, who I hadn’t seen for about 7 or 8 hours, then appeared which made me think that we must be very close! Then all the crew signaled that I had 5 minutes left – I looked up and could see the finish only a few hundred metres away. I put my head down and swam as fast as I could, having not fed for 40 minutes, for the breakwater. I touched the barnacle-encrusted wall (right behind where I started) very relieved to be finished. I gave the crew a thumbs-up, tumble-turned and kicked off the wall back to the boat. I managed to haul myself back onboard with some dignity and the crew told me my time: 9 hours 35 minutes.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Finished – 9 hours 35 minutes later! I celebrated with a pool-style tumble-turn at the breakwater.

That’s enough writing for today! Watch out for Part 4 (final installment) coming tomorrow…

Round Jersey Report – Part 2

This post is about the first half of the swim only. To read about the run into the swim check out Part 1 from yesterday. I’ll write about the second half of the swim in Part 3 tomorrow…

Photograph – Unknown

Touching the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater in the morning sun to start the swim.

I was picked up from my guest house at 5:30 am by Mick, Marilyn and Chantelle Le Guilcher and Alice Harvey. They were, as was I, a little concerned at how little stuff I seemed to have with me – it didn’t look like I was prepared for a day’s swimming! It was a 5-minute drive to the marina where we met co-pilot John Asplet and kayaker Martin Powell. We walked along the pontoons to the boat, a nice new half-decker with plenty of crew space. All set up, we motored out of the harbour to the end of Elizabeth Castle Breakwater, towing Martin in the kayak behind us. There was a short discussion with the Coast Guard about shipping movements that morning: there was only one ship due out but they were delayed by 5 minutes so we got the all-clear to start. I got changed and greased up and jumped into the clear water. The rule is that you must be touching the breakwater to officially start the swim – I did this, pushed off the wall (with a few dolphin kicks) and was on my way at 6:27 am.

Photograph – Marilyn Le Guilcher

Navigating through the Gutters about 1 hour into the swim. This is why you need a kayak!

The first 2 hours of the swim were pretty uneventful. It was calm and not in the slightest bit cold. I followed Martin in the kayak while the boat navigated its way through the many rocky reefs off this part of the island. I had my first feed of 300 ml (warm) of High5 4:1 after 30 minutes and passed Green Island after 44 minutes (Chantelle says that the average swimmer reaches this point at around 1 hour). I had the same feed again at the 1-hour mark and an SiS GO Isotonic Gel (60 ml; blackcurrant flavour) after 1 hour 30 minutes. By now we were at La Rocque pier and I was feeling very strong. My stroke rate to this point was a steady 67 strokes per minute (spm) and I was feeling good.

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Swimming past the end of the pier at La Rocque: Martin kayaking and Marilyn waving from the pier.

As we approached the pier, I could really see the speed at which we were moving. The video below should give you some idea of the tidal assistance that I was getting at this point. My apologies for the poor quality of the video – it looks well on my phone and my laptop but I’m not very good with uploading to YouTube yet!

After passing the pier, we were clear of any reefs so Martin was free to head for shore and exit at Seymour slip. I now had to follow the boat instead of the kayak. I was a small bit surprised as I thought I had at least another 20 minutes left of following the kayak. We were now headed north across the Royal Bay of Grouville, though I thought we were still heading east! There was a lot of seaweed and scum on the surface but nothing as bad as Sandycove during the winter. The water was like glass and my stroke rate was  68 spm. I carried on to the next feed, 300 ml of High5 ZERO at the 2-hour mark, completing one of my 2-hour feed cycles – I planned to do another two of these, taking me up to the 6-hour mark, before switching to 1-hour cycles.

Photograph – Alice Harvey

Passing Mont Orgueil Castle having just changed my goggles…

The next major landmark was Mont Orgueil Castle above Gorey Harbour. I could see the castle up ahead and was told to aim for the sailboat moored below it. I couldn’t see that very well so asked for a change of goggles. It seemed a bit bright with the clear goggles at first, and they also seemed a bit tight, but they settled down and I had much better visibility than I’d had earlier in the swim. The castle was an impressive sight as I swam past it. More importantly, however, I could see St. Catherine’s Breakwater up ahead. On my fifth feed, Mick told me that if I could get to the breakwater in 10 minutes I’d be level with Julieann Galloway‘s progress, i.e. on world record pace! I put in a solid 10 minutes of swimming and made the end of the breakwater bang-on Julieann’s time and travelling at over 6 knots (obviously heavily tide-assisted). I kept up this pace well past the breakwater. We didn’t head west close to the island, instead heading north to where Mick could find some good tidal runs. Even way out from the island it was still flat calm!

At the next feed (second of the second cycle), the crew confirmed for me that I’d matched Julieann’s time to the breakwater. I get the impression that they were expecting something more enthusiastic than a “very good” and a prompt return to swimming! I continued on at the fast pace, which, with the benefit of hindsight, might not have been the greatest idea. Just after this feed (3 hours 3 minutes into the swim) we were at White Rock and approaching Bouley Bay. This meant little to me but all the locals were surprised that I’d reached this point so early! The next feed was, as scheduled, another SiS GO Isotonic Gel and only 15 minutes after that (3 hours 45 minutes into the swim) the crew told me that I was at the half-way point…

Photograph – Chantelle Le Guilcher

Passing the mast near the quarry on the northern side of the island – the half-way mark!

I was reluctant to believe them, conscious of the fact that still wasn’t 4 hours in, but reconciled it by reminding myself that the spatial and temporal half-way points were not necessarily the same. By now, we were a long way off the coast so even though we were moving very fast, it wasn’t as noticeable to me and this was a psychological anticlimax. As well as that, I was still swimming in a high gear – I had been for well over an hour. This wasn’t a good combination and I became mentally and physically fatigued at the same time. My stroke rate hadn’t dropped much though (down to 65 spm). At the 4-hour feed, I asked the crew if I could have some chocolate at the next feed. They kindly gave me some out of their own stash!

Photograph – Unknown

Approaching Grosnez about 5 hours into the swim.

At this feed, I told the crew that I doubted very much that I’d be able to finish. They sounded surprised and told me that I was doing really well. They also told me that there was no need to swim as fast as I was swimming and that I could afford to slow it down for a while. We decided that I’d slow right down and have some jelly babies in 10 minute’s time. I swam off at a new stroke rate of 58 spm and, after 10 minutes, I stopped and had the jelly babies. I agreed to keep swimming slowly and asked to have an SiS GO + Caffeine Gel (60 ml; berry flavour) in another 10 minutes. I swam off again and Chantelle got changed to swim with me for 30 minutes after the next feed. After the 10 minutes, I had my caffeinated gel and asked for Chantelle not to get in, suspecting that I’d be out at the next scheduled feed (due in 10 minutes). As I swam to the next feed, the caffeine worked its magic and I started to feel more awake and stronger. The next feed was 300 ml of warm High5 4:1 with no extra treats. I had now been swimming for 5 hours and knew for certain that I was at or had passed the true half-way mark, I could also see that we were approaching the northwestern corner of the island. Now, I wasn’t so certain: I might make it, but I might not. Maybe now it was worth continuing…

I’ll write about the second part of the swim in Part 3 of the report tomorrow.

Round Jersey Report – Part 1

After the rest of team Crosóige Mara had gone home after our English Channel relay on Saturday, 13 July, it was just me left in Dover on the Sunday night. The following morning, I checked out of our holiday home in St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, got a taxi into Dover and headed up to London on the train. My plan: to stay with my uncle in London until I got the call to go to Jersey. This way, I would save money on accommodation and wouldn’t have wasted any money traveling if the swim never took place. My tide didn’t open until Sunday, 21 July and closed on Sunday, 28 July so this gave me a week or so to enjoy the heatwave and become better acquainted with London, especially her great choice of swimming locations (which I will review in a later post), and catch up with a few friends…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Camden Lock is very near where I stay in London. It’s great for a walk and a bit of people-watching, especially when it’s scorchingly hot, but definitely not an enticing swimming location!

On the evening of Sunday, 21 July, I called the pilot, Mick Le Guilcher, who was standing in for Charlie Gravett while he was in Dover with his wife, Sally Minty-Gravett, who was swimming the English Channel that week. He said that the weather was looking good for a Wednesday (24 July) swim – good news as this was the optimum day to swim as far as the tide was concerned. I immediately booked my flights and accommodation and let everyone know what was happening. I was delighted to be going, I had heard so many stories of people being weathered out in Jersey so found it hard to believe that my swim was actually running to plan!

I went for my last swim before the big event on the Monday: a nice leisurely session under the sun in London Fields Lido, Hackney with Diarmuid Dennehy, a former Fermoy SC swimmer now living in London and training for an English Channel 3-person relay this September. Having got all my stuff together I had “time to take in a show” in the West End for my last night in London! I got a ticket for The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward Theatre through my cousin, Brian Fenton, who is an understudy of Daniel Radcliffe (that’s Harry Potter to the lay person) in the show. It’s a brilliant dark comedy and I’d highly recommend that anyone go and see it but it suits an Irish humour better. This was also a good way to relax before the swim and escape the ferocious heat outside!

The next day, I flew from Gatwick to Jersey – short but scenic flight taking in the south coast in England, the Normandy coast and the Channel Islands. Coming in to land on the island, it suddenly dawned on me just how big the place was! I was met at the airport by pilot Mick and JLDSC swimmer Alice Harvey, who had done the swim herself and who would be crewing for me. They took me to my guest house in St. Helier and I spent the afternoon exploring the capital and getting something to eat. Alice picked me up again in the evening to go to the Club swim at St. Catherine’s, where I met co-pilot John Asplet, kayaker Martin Powell and second feeder/observer Chantelle Le Guilcher, as well as other swimmers and committee members from the JLDSC. I had dinner (again) there also! When I got back to the guest house, it was time to prepare my feeds, etc. and get some sleep. I was being collected at 5:30 am for a 6:25 am swim…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

This shows the view from near my guest house. Jersey has big tides! It was on its way in when I took the picture but you can see the rocks all the way across the bay. This makes it necessary to have a kayaker for this section of the swim…

I hope Part 1 wasn’t too boring, I didn’t feel like launching straight into the swim report though. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of the report tomorrow, I’ll actually get on to talking about the swim at that stage!

Round Jersey Solo completed…

Another very quick post just to confirm that I did complete my Round Jersey solo swim on Wednesday, 24 July in a time of 9 hours 35 minutes. I beat the Nick Adam’s record for the fastest swim by a male by 15 minutes and was only 3 minutes behind the overall record held by Julie Farrell. I am now the fastest man and second fastest person to have swum around Jersey so I am delighted with this result.

It was the perfect day for the swim: a great spring tide, no wind, warm sunshine and water temperatures between 16ºC and 17ºC. I also had a fantastic crew headed up by pilot Mick Le Guilcher and first mate John Asplet with local Round Jersey swimmers Alice Harvey and Chantelle Le Guilcher observing, feeding and giving great support. Martin Powell also kayaked with me for the first 2 hours. All of the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club were very welcoming and hospitable. I received cards, chocolates, Jersey fudge and a heap of other niceties at the end of the swim.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I will do a proper write-up with photographs and so on once I get home. For now, i’m going to relax and enjoy the rest of my holidays here in Cornwall…

Jersey, here I come!

This is going to have to be quick as the battery is nearly gone in my laptop and the charger is broken. I spoke with my pilot, Mick Le Guilcher, yesterday and he said that, at the moment, Wednesday is looking like a good day for my Round Jersey solo swim. So, I fly out tomorrow morning and hopefully will be on my holidays in Cornwall by Friday evening. The Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club have their own tracker which should be on the boat and you can follow it at bit.ly/jerseytracker on the day. There may also be the odd update on the @JLDSC Twitter account.

If the swim does go ahead on Wednesday, it will start around 6:25 am and should take about 10 hours to complete. This is my last blog post before the swim so if you’d like more updates over the next few days keep an eye on my Twitter account @owenswims93 to keep up to date…

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Gearing up for Jersey

Well, today is the first day resembling summer! It’s very sunny, very warm (17ºC) if a little windy here in Fermoy and the forecast for the next week is reasonably good. This brings great relief as it seemed for a while like the summer would never come. The water has been very cold but now it has some chance of heating up – good news for those os us planning 2 and 6 hour qualifying swims for the next few weeks!

I leave for Dover on 7 July, the day after the Lee Swim, for our Crosóige Mara 2-way English Channel relay and won’t be home before my Round Jersey solo window opens on 21 July. This leaves me with just the month of June to complete my 6 hour qualifying swim for the Jersey swim – doesn’t sound too daunting, but the weather so far this year hasn’t helped… Things are looking better now though so it’s just a case of getting the metres in the shoulders and the hours in the water. Being a student means that I don’t have any excuses  in terms of not having the time. We’ll get there!

Off to attempt my 2 hour relay qualifier now…