A 60-year-old, Denver, Colorado-based engineer and amateur athlete with a date to swim the English Channel on September 6th, 2019. I wish to use my swim to raise money for two worthy causes: https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/karls-english-channel-swim and https://give.water.org/fundraiser/9140/ . Please visit the donation pages and learn about the outstanding work these organizations are doing. The pages are directly tied to the charities so 100% of your contribution will go to them. Profound gratitude to my employer, Stolle Machinery Company LLC for their support and encouragement as I train for this adventure.
The English Channel or La Manche is the body of water that separates England and France. The closest separation between these two land masses is represented by the Dover Strait. The straight-line distance between Dover, England and Cap Gris-Nez, France is about 21 miles. The strong tides and currents in the Channel are such that a typical swim crossing makes an S-curve so the actual distance covered is closer to 25 to 30 miles. The average time required to swim the Channel is about 13-1/2 hours. During the swim season (June-September), the water temperature can vary between the mid-50’s to the mid-60’s degrees Fahrenheit (about 13 to 18 degrees Celsius). By comparison, a typical recreation swimming pool is kept at 81 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 28 degrees Celsius). Channel swimming rules dictate that the swimmer may wear only a swimsuit (i.e. Speedo™), cap, goggles and earplugs. Swimmer’s grease consisting of Vaseline™ and lanolin or similar, is allowed and can help with chafing, but does not provide any insulation. No wetsuits, fins, snorkels or other aids are permitted. In order for the swim crossing to be recognized, it must be witnessed and logged by an observer. During the swim, carbohydrate drink feeds are provided by the escort boat every 30 minutes or so, but at no time is the swimmer allowed to physically contact the boat or receive any physical support from those on the boat.
Distance – The swimmer must be prepared to go a distance of well beyond 21 miles. Straight-line crossings are almost non-existent, even in the best of conditions. 21 miles equates to 1,478 lengths of a 25 yard pool.
Cold Exposure – Swimming in cold water takes heat away from the body 10 times faster than being in air at the same temperature. Hypothermia is a real danger and therefore a large component of training is acclimatizing to swimming for long durations in cold water.
Jelly Fish – It is very likely that the swimmer will be stung by jelly fish. Fortunately, the ones typically found in the Channel are not as venomous as box jelly fish, for example, which are found in the Caribbean and off the coast of Australia.
Seasickness – Swimmers are subject to a similar motion as boat passengers and therefore an anti-nausea medication, such as Dramamine™, is advisable.
Ships – The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with up to 800 ships per day. This includes ferries, container ships, fishing vessels and even naval convoys such as a Russian aircraft carrier group. While ships are aware that a swimmer is in the Channel, they have almost no ability to alter their course to accommodate a swimmer. Therefore, it is up to the escort boat pilot, with the knowledge of the swimmer’s ability, to plot a course to “thread the needle” through the maze of vessels. For this reason, the English Channel swim has been compared to a snail crossing an interstate highway or motorway.
Weather – The weather on the day of the swim has a very significant influence on success or failure. Generally, a swim won’t start if the wind speed is over about 17 knots (20 miles per hour). The escort boat pilot decides when the conditions are right to begin, which can occur anytime day or night. Regardless of the start time, several hours of the swim will be during darkness.