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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.