This is part 5 of my blogs about swimming the channel in a 6 person relay. In this blog I’ll share some practical tips and information that might help.
You may start in the middle of the night in the dark or finish in the dark. So either way do some practice swimming in the dark. You’ll need to have light sticks to pin on the swimmer in the water and the swimmer who will be taking over. The boat has strong lights that will be focused on the swimmer at all times.
The boat comes with at least 3 members of staff so there will be someone watching the swimmer at all times. There is an official observer on the boat from CSPF to help keep the team safe and follow the rules. They will also be making notes and recording everything that happens during the swim for an official report afterwards.
It’s important to be as efficient as possible with the change overs for safety reasons so the boat can keep pace with the current swimmer. The current swimmer has to keep swimming until the person taking over has swam past.
The team agrees the swim order at the start and must stick to this throughout the day. It makes sense to have your fastest swimmers first. The first person in the team jumps off the boat and swims to the beach.
You’ll have to arrive a couple of hours before the swim is due to start. And it takes about 2hrs to get back from France. So it’s a long day. And depending on where you live you’ll likely need some accommodation before or after the swim.
You’re not allowed to touch the boat any time during your 60min swim until the next swimmer has started then you can get out.
You do need to take your passports with you just in case the Coastguard asks for them.
You’ll need to take food and drink and other essential items with you on the boat. Click here for a sample Kit List Relay Team
The boats do have a toilet and facilities to boil water. They also have a cabin but it’ll be tricky for everyone to sit in the cabin all day and if you get sea sick you won’t want to! So make sure you have clothes for the weather.
Depending on the pilot, the length of the swim, the time of day and other safety considerations your whole team may be allowed to swim to the beach at the end. You must swim behind the swimmer who is taking the team into the beach.
The boat won’t be able to go into shore because of the depth so will land about 1km off shore and send the swimmers in on their own to the beach. It’s hard to predict where you’ll land because it totally depends on the weather, tide and how fast the team is. We’ve been lucky both times to land on a lovely sandy beach!
Grease does not help to keep you warm and is mainly for chafing. If any of you need to use it you’ll need to use gloves and careful about getting it on the boat or in goggles etc.
What stroke can we swim?
Most people do front crawl because it’s the fastest strokes. In your relay team you’ll agree with the official observer what stroke your team is doing at the start and then you’ll need to stick to this throughout. It is possible to do other strokes and some people do but because the other strokes are slower you need to be really good at them in order for the team to be fast enough to get across – and I’m definitely not good enough.
Stopping in France
Once you get across you basically get out of the water. Have a few minutes to celebrate and then have to swim back out to the boat for the journey back to Dover.
Do I need my passport?
Yes you need to take your passport just in case the boat gets stopped by customs of harbour officials.
What about the sewage
Sometimes there’s some debris such as sea weed, rubbish and tree branches but generally the water quality is fine and I’ve never been sick from swimming in the English Channel.
What about the tankers
There are a lot of tankers! The pilot is responsible for keeping the swimmers safe and has all modern navigation and communication facilities so is communicating with tankers and ferries to manage this.
Yes there’s jelly fish. And you could get stung. And yes I’m still scared of jelly fish and scream every time I see one!
Can we have supporters on the boat?
With a team of six the boat is already a bit crowded so having extra supporters on board can make it a bit cramped.
Can my supporters see me finish in France?
It’s hard to know how long the swim will take and where you’ll land due to the weather and tide and combined with dodgy phone signals it would be hard to co-ordinate with a supporter on the shore in France. Having said that, I know it has been done.