After years of dreaming, three years of planning and training we are motoring out of Dover Marina to begin the Crazy Canucks relay swim to France. Cap and goggles at the ready I’m about to head to the beach at Samphire in the dinghy, jump in, tag the beach and start us on our way to what will be a 13 hour and 47 minute, 50-kilometre swim from England to France.
In our swim order, here are our strongest impressions of our big adventure:
Elaine (leg one (England), seven, and 13)
Motoring out of the relatively calm harbour into a rolling sea in the pitch black at 3 am and realizing the enormity of the task ahead.
Al, my blog’s The Handyman, our alternate and chief crew member giving me a quiet pep talk… “You have to set the tone for the day. No matter how bad it is in there when you come out say it was fine.”
Everything happening so fast but in the midst of it all thinking to myself, “This is pretty cool. I’m standing on the beach in England and me and my friends are about to swim to France. I have to remember to remember this feeling.”
The sun, an orange ball appearing as I breathed to my left and the dark sea. Beautiful.
Janet watching me swim as the sun rises.
Swimming steadily with random thoughts going through my head like singing the Sloop John B, wondering if the jellyfish are awake yet, how close should I swim to the boat?, good thing we did all that cold water training as this water is bloody cold, how long have I been swimming? check your form, it’s cool my team mates are watching, wondering what they are thinking? ah, I get how this works I swim up to near the front of the boat and then he turns the engine on for a minute and I’m near the back of the boat…this is normal, I wonder how this relay exchange thing works in practice and how easy it will be to get up the ladder? with the leitmotif always coming back to I am right now, this very minute in the waters of the English Channel swimming to France. How cool is that? Right?
Resting between swims lying down in the boat and still being able to hear the rhythmic slaps on the water from my team mates’ arms as we make our slow, steady progress toward France and tearing up with the thought of all that means. We are swimming France and I have some cool friends to do this with me…
Watching Janet in the water at the rail of the Viking Princess after her being so seasick and having to walk away unable to watch anymore with a mixture of pride in my friend while feeling badly for putting this scheme into action and testing her in a way that at times seemed might be beyond her limits. (It wasn’t — she is made of tougher stuff than even she knew I think.)
Taking a sighting, always trying to keep an even distance from the boat.
About three hours in watching Janet and Charlie feeling so ill and thinking, oh my God, I don’t think we are going to make it. This is too much. We are all going to be back in this boat and heading back to England and that will be that.
All the small interactions with team mates, support crew, boat pilots and observer throughout the day. Helping Charlie warm up after her swim when she was shivering uncontrollably and being sick equally uncontrollably but still magically, somehow, retaining her sense of humour. Borrowing John’s warm swim coat and realizing afterward what a brilliant job he did all day making videos and taking spectacular photos (much of which was used by Wayne to make a fabulous video). Confiding in Al my worries about not making it and his helpful, calm, reasoned, supportive presence. Keeping a close eye on Janet in the water and cheering her on extra hard. Chris’ calm, steady influence throughout the day and his general good humour and quiet confidence. Jaime’s excitement about the day and her can-do attitude that helped us look at it as somewhat fun. Watching Charlie give Ray the thumb’s up signal asking him to turn on the generator for the kettle. Gruff swearing Ray getting us all off and up the ladder in one piece. Coming out of the water cold and a bit overwhelmed each time to find someone with a warm towel and words of encouragement so you can muster it up to get back in there again even when the waves got huge when the time comes.
Having our English Aunt Ann and Uncle John such a big part of our adventure was amazing. From visiting Dover with us two years before our swim, to buying the team a round when we first arrived in England, providing us with towels, sporting our team sweatshirts, coming to Dover to be a part of it and getting to know the team at dinners and the pub, hosting Jaime at their lovely home after we left Dover and listening to our tale and sharing our excitement as they greeted us at the Dover Marina on our return and a ton of other supportive things means so much to me and Al and now the rest of the gang too.
Being so close to France for so long and making no discernible progress for hours thinking again that we wouldn’t be able to push through the current and get there or that it would take so many swims from each team member that the sicker guys would peter out. The wind and waves are building to a crazy pitch at this point too adding to the thoughts about the impossibility of it all.
Getting in for my third swim with words of encouragement from boat pilot Ray and swimming harder than I ever have in my life while still having no idea if we were getting an inch closer to France.
Climbing up the ladder and seeing that we were so close that we were actually going to make it! Total and utter breakdown. All the emotions and worry I had bottled up for 13 hours come flooding out…laughing and crying and ecstatic. This is what blows my hair back. This is why I want to have more adventures to spice up the hum drum to give me things to think about when I’m lying in bed at night. This exact minute of complete elation I have carried around with me every day since July 26 and hope to carry at least a spark of it forever. WE SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL.
John (leg 2, 7 and 13 France)
Two things stand out for me. Seeing the dinghy with no spare swimmer in it meaning they thought I’d make the beach! Then actually getting to the beach. After pouring it on for the third swim and wondering if I was going to make it, these two highlights will stick in my mind forever. The beach being the most vivid!
The beach fought me. I thought I was in and stood up and started striding but then it dropped off again and I was back swimming some more. I couldn’t stand up on the final beach rocks and my toes jammed between them. They were sore for a couple of weeks afterwards. I had to crawl on all fours. The surf was a bit of an issue but the water got much warmer in the shallows! Making damn sure I got above the high tide line and up close and personal with the cliff. Oh yeah, everyone wants souvenirs — where to put the rocks from the French beach? I realized I had to swim back to the dinghy and couldn’t hold handfuls so I filled up my speedo!!
Worst moment? No much, maybe the shivery half hour after the first swim where I thought hmmm….this is going to be hard and the thought of two, possibly three more swims seemed daunting. Seeing how seasickness was becoming a factor with the team was also worrisome.
I am viewing this as a once-in-a-lifetime “bucket list” event. And of course, it would not have happened at all without Elaine’s dream. I am really glad you had this dream Elaine.
Charlie (Legs 3 and 9)
We have all used the word EPIC a lot describing this adventure and I really can’t think of a more fitting term to sum it up. I am no stranger to ultra distance racing and pushing beyond what I had perceived my limits to be. This swim was different in the fact that the actual swimming was the easiest part. All the fears and mental hurdles proved to be more challenging as did the physical ones of seasickness and hypothermia. In most other events I have been able to train in similar conditions (weather, hills, distance, terrain, etc.) to prepare myself. In this case, the only way to prepare for swimming in the middle of the ocean with no land marks as points of reference is to do it when your boat pilot says it is go time.
Not many grandmas can share a story like this with their grandkids. I hope it lights a spark in them to set a crazy goal of any kind and achieve it one day when they are older. Maybe one of them will take me to school for show and tell, if they still have such a thing.
Her smile belies the seasickness and hypothermia Charlie endured throughout the day.
The best part for me has been the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie our team developed. the media coverage was so unexpected but pretty cool, especially the congratulatory postings from celebs like the Queen and the Prime Minister.
One of more than a dozen articles published. We were also featured on CBC Radio.
None of us would have succeeded without the support of our life partners. Mine was outstanding even though he thought I had lost my marbles when I agreed to give it a go. And of course this absolutely would have never been possible if not for the dream of our Den Mother and all her planning and cat herding. Huge shout out to Elaine.
I have three tips for anyone thinking of making the attempt:
1. Book the Viking Princess, piloted by Reg and Ray Brickell. Best there is but you need to book early. I am still in awe of the way they stayed so laser focussed on so many computer screens, radars, radios and cameras to keep us out of harm’s way, even when the seas turned nasty. It was obvious by their excitement and celebration when John succeeded in climbing ashore in France that escorting swimmers is more than a job to them.
2. Stay at the Churchill Guest House. Alex was so welcoming, helpful and supportive. Cool old house with lots of British character, kitchen and laundry facilities and perfect location to walk to restaurants, grocery stores and the beach for a swim.
3. Have a chat over a pint with someone who has done the swim or at least attempted. I’m available if they are buying.
Chris (Legs 4 and 10)
Definitely one of my life highlights for me. I have been fortunate to have done some pretty interesting things, seen some great places and this really is one of the best.
I was super impressed with the way we handled ourselves. Supportive, gutsy, can do attitude. Calm, cool and collected. Keep Calm and Carry On! I think we all just decided we were going to be successful and put our minds to it. Well done.
I think out of the water was great! Very nice to travel with the gang and we got along famously. I think that translated into the way we did the swim.
Would I do it again? Yes. I think it is one of those iconic events and I’d be happy to help another team make it happen for themselves.
Chris had some amazing legs and made tracks for the team.
I am very happy that I was part of this team effort. This is something that I would never take the initiative to do and I am grateful to Elaine for dreaming this, making it a reality and for inviting me along for the fun. What I learned about me? When I put my mind to it, I can dig deep and get it done, the training, the cold water swims and the day itself. It was not easy but doable. I know I would do whatever I had to to hold up my end of the bargain. I trusted that everyone else would. I was nut surprised that everybody did.
Biggest revelation? Shit we were lucky. The stars aligned for us. Give or take, 50% don’t hit the water (weather), 50% of those don’t make it. That is a 25% chance you will be successful. Not good odds. But we did it. I think Elaine added some descriptive words to that?! (Yes, I sure did.)
Many thanks to each of you for a wonderful adventure. Next! (Editor’s note…there is a move afoot to attempt a Crazy Canucks relay of the Catalina Channel in California in 2018…at least with a good representation of the team and possibly some new blood.)
Janet (Legs 5 and 11)
The swim was monumental in every way! The training, the injuries and then doing it against all odds — for me at least. I would never have thought that I could come back from my panic attack a few years ago to swimming the English Channel.
-I can do this! Swimming in the ocean at Kona with Elaine, joining the master’s swim group, swimming in the lake bit by bit, doing the Across the Lake and Rattlesnake swims and finally the channel all with Elaine’s encouragement and companionship and in the end the channel – who knew!! A sense of accomplishment – I have butterflies again writing this.
The swimming part turned out to be the easiest part even with the big waves – there was no fear which was very surprising – I can do this. Fortunately the jellyfish were below me so they weren’t an issue and I wasn’t worried when I saw them. On the second swim I didn’t see any jellyfish. I really appreciated seeing everyone watching me from the boat – when people left I wondered what had happened to them. Mostly my thoughts were still except for thinking I’m doing this and not letting anyone down.
Best parts were getting it done. I really appreciated the group of people I was with – no one freaked out when I started throwing up – there was silence for a minute I think but then everyone went back to what they were doing. There were suggestions to change positions in the boat and to lie down which were gratefully appreciated.
The worst part was the sea sickness – I felt so helpless but it never occurred to me not to do my swim although I found out later I caused everyone a bit of concern when I got in the water.
Everyone has been pleased for me for doing it but I don’t think people get the enormity of it. It is really hard to put into words what we went through.
I would like to thank my rock Chris who got me through the sea sickness and supported through every step of the three year journey. I would like to thank the team for taking over my watches. The team really came together even though we hadn’t spent much time training together – I didn’t meet John until we got to Dover. Most of all I would like to thank Elaine for everything she did to get me to the goal. Even though Ray came across as a real tough guy his job was to get across safely and he certainly did that. Reg was a charm. Alex was wonderful – he was there with suggestions when needed – he was quietly supportive and helpful – the perfect host.
It was an amazing day full of life long memories and friendships. Thanks.
Jaime (leg 6 and 12)
Jaime never stopped smiling all day.
I think the whole experience is still really sinking in. Looking at the stats the other day and realizing that we are one of only 5 Canadian relays to ever swim the Channel (through the CSA anyways) was a bit eye opening. As well, there have only been 36 successful solo swims by Canadians. That makes our adventure all that more remarkable!! Thanks for having this dream, I would never have been involved in anything like this if not for you.
– not getting sea sick. Probably sounds sort of selfish but this was my biggest fear and whether it was the Bonine or my natural sea legs, I was extremely relieved that I felt good all day. Can’t imagine what Janet and Charlie endured.
– the look on your face when you realized John was going to make it to France – pure joy! One of my favorite pictures and moments of the whole day!
– I will never forget the feeling I had hanging onto the ladder as I waited to jump in for my first swim. What a huge mix of emotions – my heart was pounding out of my chest! I was shaking I was so excited, nervous, exhilarated and down right terrified! Then it was go time and there was no time for hesitation, I just had to jump in and swim. Wow, getting a bit emotional just thinking about it. Definite highlight in my books.
– my second swim in the big waves was SO MUCH FUN!! That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day for me. I remember the boat lurching back and forth so much that when I turned to breathe, sometimes it seemed like I could reach up and touch John and Al. Pretty cool experience.
– John reaching France of course and seeing Chris and Charlie holding up the Canadian flag as he made is approach
– watching how ill Janet was getting and wondering if I would even get a chance to swim if she wasn’t able to make it through her first swim. Thank goodness she was a trooper!
– after Charlie got an update on our progress and was told that there was a possibility that some of us would have to swim 2 or 3 times more. That was disheartening news and I started to question to some extent our ability to make it.
– not having my family in England with me to share in this experience. Even though I know it was not a kid-friendly kind of trip and there is absolutely no way we could’ve managed it financially, it would’ve been the icing on the cake to have Ian and Ella there. Ian would’ve been in his glory had he been able to come on the boat – he would’ve loved chatting with Reg!
Jaime swimming strongly on her first leg.
THINGS I WON’T FORGET
– the hush that fell over the boat as we left the protection of the Dover Marina and headed out to sea. There was definitely a lot of nervous energy. I’m not sure about you, but I was thinking “Holy shit! What the hell have we signed up for?!?!” Not too long after, I saw you swimming alongside the boat in the dark, steady and strong strokes and thought “Hey, this might not be so bad”
– the jellyfish – I will never again in my life witness jellyfish like I did during my first swim. There were so many of them down below and although I was frightened at first, the fear diminished and they were really amazing and beautiful creatures to look at. Not many people get a chance to see them from that point of view. Pretty frigging cool.
– the taste of the salt water. My tongue felt about 3 times it’s normal size!
– the great sleep I had in the hold of the boat on the way back to England. The hum of the engine and sound of the boat bouncing off the surface of the water was mesmerizing. Best sleep I had in days!
I am happy with my training given my location and juggling of work and family life. However, I wish I could’ve made it up to Sylvan Lake more often than I did and a trip to Vancouver for a couple of dips in the ocean before hand would’ve been nice. Just wasn’t in the cards though. Glad I did both the Rattlesnake and Across the Lake swims in 2015 without my wetsuit. Definitely boosted my confidence knowing I didn’t have to rely on the buoyancy of my wetsuit to feel comfortable in the water. What I think was most difficult was training on my own – you, Jan and Charlie were lucky to have each other to swim with. I think a proper Master’s swim group would’ve been a benefit to me as well but Innisfail doesn’t offer one. I did improve my speed a little bit over the past few summers but I was hoping to be a bit faster than I was. Oh well, I may have lacked in speed but at least I wasn’t cold! That is what I am most proud of. It’s very intriguing to me how you can train your body to tolerate the cold water. I really began to enjoy swimming in the cooler water and I think all of my ridiculous dips in the cold lake served me well. The only time of the day I was really cold is when I woke up in the hold of the boat after my big nap on our way back to England.
CHURCHILL GUEST HOUSE
Can’t say enough about these guys. The accommodation was lovely as were the hosts. Alex really went above and beyond to make us comfortable and help us out in any way he could when it came to our swim. Betty can cook a mean breakfast too. Thoroughly enjoyed my stay and like I said, the set up of the guest house and close proximity to the downtown made it a much better choice (in my opinion anyways) than Varne Ridge.
This was definitely a once in a lifetime “bucket list” type of adventure for me. So glad you talked me into doing it – it was such an unbelievable experience! Have no desire though to do a solo swim or another relay. Curious to see what you guys come up with for new swim adventure ideas! The swimming across to Summerland with the bottle of wine sounds fun!