andy’s english channel swim: august 2007

2006 swim

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TUESDAY 22nd AUGUST 2006    

It was exactly a week after the first call to swim. The first call did not materialize due to an electrical fault on the boat. The week’s wait was starting to take its toll, but finally the weather forecast allowed us to dare hope for a swimmable day. Up to now there had been no chance of a swim and pub lunches followed by afternoon siestas were becoming addictive! This time we felt that “Lady Channel” was going to be good to Andy.

As soon as we got the “all go” from pilot Chris, Cecilia and Marise started preparing the LAST inevitable pasta dinner. Andy had been relaxing, or trying to, all afternoon. Dinner was delicious and festive and we all felt excited for what lay ahead. Everything was prepared and ready to go and now only a few hours sleep stood in the way. We had to be at the boat at 06h30 on Tuesday morning. Hugh and I managed to sleep well – quite a change from the night before his swim in 2004. Andy also had a good night according to Cecilia. Soon it was time to get up and make our way to Dover harbour. The weather was okay but not perfect by a long shot. This time the boat was ready. Chris was skipper, Tony was his right-hand man and Sarah was the Observer. Our team was Cecilia, Marise, Hugh and I, (Fran).

Andy seemed quite relaxed and he and Hugh stayed off the boat chatting to Steve and Barend, who had come to see him off, until the last minute. No point in sucking in all the diesel fumes! Plenty of time for that lay ahead. Yuck!!! By 07h00 we were on our way to Shakespeare beach. The sea was pretty lumpy, but it usually is due to the water bouncing back from the harbour wall. The water temperature was a lovely 18 deg Celsius. Cecilia greased Andy and without much fuss and plenty of well wishes he got into the water to swim to Shakespeare beach where Steve and Barend were waiting for him to give him a good send off. Andy’s swim officially started at 07h27 in broad daylight.

Now the team on board could get all the feed bottles sorted so that we would be ready for his first feed at 08h00 and every half hour thereafter. We did try to accommodate Andy’s wish for feeding every 25 mins but it was going to be too much of a mission keeping time – sorry Andy. It was cold, but we were confident that the sun was on its way and that the wind would disappear giving us calmer conditions. After all, the weather man said so!

 It was not to be………

Andy’s stroke rate fluctuated between 50 and 52. He was swimming easily in spite of the rough conditions. The boat was “rockin ‘n rollin” so much that Cecilia and Marise were hanging over the side after the first hour. Cecilia was so disappointed as she wanted to do the feeds and keep him motivated at all times. She managed to watch Andy between her seasick bouts but it was hell at the back of the boat with all the diesel fumes. Hugh and I took over the feeding station. We had to brace ourselves and wedge our feet into corners so that we wouldn’t fall over. In the cabin everything was falling about, even the heavy tool boxes were being flung onto the floor as the boat lurched. Andy was such a pleasure, always full of smiles and appreciative of the comments and info we wrote on the white board. At one stage, probably about 3 hours into the swim, there was a glimmer of hope for better weather. No such luck. Andy soldiered on uncomplaining. He was so looking forward to seeing the ships crossing from right to left! (over half way). At 5 hours 30 he too was seasick and felt very cold. I told him to try swimming a little faster to warm up and I also made him some warm honey tea for his next feed. It went down really well so that was the feed for the next two stops. He also wanted honey sandwiches. Thank goodness for that honey! Fast fuel was a thing of the past and flat coke became the favoured drink.

After about nine hours Hugh also succumbed to seasickness, as did our observer Sarah. Fortunately I had taken pills and was still okay, so I managed to attend to all the chores – feeding, texting, taking photos, motivating and observing. Could not believe how fast those half hours were passing! I tried to watch Andy all the time and to make eye contact so he would not feel so lonely. It was far too rough for any of us to swim with him. The sea was getting rougher and the wind had switched from a north to a SW which caused side-on swells that crested a lot of the time. Andy was rolled over a few times. Still he kept on without a single moan or harsh word. We could not believe that he could carry on in such appalling conditions – but he did!

Sunset was spectacular and it was time to attach glo-sticks. Because of the rough condition it was not an easy task. By now Andy had been swimming for about 12-13 hours. Most swimmers would have abandoned their attempt long ago but Andy said he was swimming till he ran out of water. Approaching France in the dark is not ideal. Andy was worried about the surf and rocks. Unbeknown to him, our pilot was also very concerned that he would not be able to land Andy. We were now going for about 15 hours and Andy wanted to know how much further he had to go. Cecilia and I did not want to tell him that only 3 nautical miles remained because it is impossible to predict how long it will take. We persuaded him to put his head down for another half hour but then he insisted on knowing the distance. It was still 3 miles and then we realized that the tide was washing him down the French coast and he was effectively swimming on the spot. He knew. As soon as he heard the distance he immediately calculated that it was roughly still a Robben Island swim. This was the deciding factor. He was getting out. No amount of persuasion from Cecilia or me could change his mind. We also came to the conclusion that he was definitely not hypothermic – he converted the 3 nautical miles to kilometers faster than we did! Cecilia knows her man and she told me that Andy was finished – hardly surprising. He now called us the witches because we wanted him to suffer a little more! Seeing him get out at this point saddened all of our team but we perfectly understood. His swim was the epitome of grueling. A swim he can be immensely proud of. I thought he looked amazing for someone who had just swum for 15½ hours. His face was hardly swollen and his speech was perfect. He even still had a sense of humour. He didn’t look cold but I’m sure he must have been by then. Cecilia tried to get the channel grease off him but the stuff sticks like hell so only the worst was taken off. A hot shower is what was needed, but that had to wait. Wrapped up snugly in blankets, he and Cecilia looked like two love birds sitting chatting and cuddling on the back of the boat as we started our return to Dover. It took about three hours to get back – just shows that the tide can hold even the boat back. Andy slept the whole way back while Hugh, Cecilia and I snuggled together to keep warm. We were all exhausted.

As we entered the harbour, we couldn’t believe our eyes as we spied Steve Klugman waiting there to give Andy a huge welcome. It was about 03H00 on Wednesday morning and he came down to help us off-load. What a wonderful guy he is. Driving back to Varne Ridge felt almost surreal after 21 hours on board. We were still feeling the motion of the boat as we fell into bed for a well deserved sleep. It was a very hard day at the office.

We feel so privileged to have been a part of an experience of a lifetime. It will never be so hard again. Andy’s next Channel swim will be a doddle in comparison.

Please don’t wait as long as Hugh did – it took him 32 years to finish his swim! We would love to share it with you when the time comes. Thanks to you and Cecilia for allowing us to share this with you.

Andy, we will second you anytime! We think you are a machine!! Well, well done.