How did it all come to be?
In 1873 Captain Matthew Webb of the steamship Emerald read about J. B. Johnson who had made an attempt to swim the English Channel but failed. He was inspired by this and started training. On the 24th of August he jumped in at Dover, smeared in porpoise oil and started this challenge, with his daughter passing him food and water from the escort boat.
Strong currents prevented him from reaching the shore for five hours but finally, just within 22 hours zigzagging through the channel, he reached Calais having swum 64 km and being the first recorded person to have successfully crossed the English Channel. Quote by Captain Matthew Webb: “Nothing great is easy.”
What makes the English Channel such a challenge?
The narrowest point of the English Channel, also known as The Strait of Dover, is 18 nautical miles/20,7 land miles/33,3 kilometers from Shakespeare Beach (Dover) to Cap Gris-Nez (Calais). It is nearly impossible to swim a straight line from Dover to Calais. You have to follow the currents, which requires you to swim an additional 10 to 20 km.
It’s not just the distance that makes this crossing the ‘Everest of open water swims’. The weather conditions are harsh and precarious, the currents are strong, the water is freezing and contains jellyfish and it also happens to be the busiest shipping lane in the world.
My coach explained to me that the first 25km
is just the same as any crossing, but the last bit is where the challenge starts and The English Channel lives up to its name.
The coast will seem so close but I just won’t seem to get nearer. It is very likely that I’ll be swimming for a couple hours without even getting one meter closer to the shore. I’ll just have to keep swimming to make you sure I don’t lose distance instead of winning it. I’ll just have to wait for the tide to change. This requires a great deal of mental willpower, determination and perseverance.
Weather, Temperature, Tides and Currents
In July, when I will be swimming, the water will be around 15º to 16ºC. I won’t be wearing a wetsuit so I’ll have to get used to swimming in cold temperatures.
A good air temperature is just as important as a good water temperature. Most of your body heat will be lost through the parts of your body that are exposed to the air. The amount of daylight hours plays a big role in this. Luckily the days are still pretty long in July!
The booking periods are set so as to follow the neap and spring tides. I will be swimming during a spring tide (11th-19th of July). Four positions can be booked per slot. I have booked the second position for that week meaning I am to swim on the second good day of that time period. It all depends on the weather really.
Spring tides are when the tides are at their maximum strength and the weak tides are the neap tides. The Strait of Dover is known for strong tidal flows with large rise and fall in water from high to low tides.
The currents are extremely strong and you’re very dependent on them. Near the end of my swim the tide could change against me meaning I’d have to swim 2 hours instead of what might look like a 20 minute swim.
The English Channel is very treacherous and you never know what to expect..
The Channel Swim
My pilot is Michael Oram with his boat ‘Gallivant’, a Dutch Steel Motor Cruiser of 11 meters/36 feet long.
On the boat will be 3 crewmembers, an official from the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, my coach, me (though I won’t be on the boat much ;)) and then there’s room for six more people. So there’s enough space for my parents, brother and sister to join. 🙂
First we get aboard and boat towards the beach at Dover, I’ll jump into the water and swim towards the beach. Then they’ll blow a whistle or making another sound, I will jump back in the water, the timer starts running and my Channel Swim begins. After 12 to 14 hours I will arrive on the beach at Calais. Cheer, jump for joy and celebrate that I’ve made it, make some cartwheels (if I still can) and then swim back to the boat, which will take me back to Dover.
The French government doesn’t want Channel Swimmers to stay in France because it’s all organized by an English association, so every Channel Swim is always from Dover to Calais (on some occasions it’s also possible to go from Calais to Dover but it’s unorthodox). People also do two-ways and three-ways.
During the swim I am not allowed to wear a wetsuit, touch the boat or the people on the boat or I will be disqualified. The official from the CS&PF will make sure everything goes according to the rules and he will also be the one to time me.
It’s also possible that dolphins or seals will be swimming a few meters/kilometers with me. Pretty damn cool! 🙂
Around 2000 people have successfully crossed The English Channel since Captain Matthew Webb including about 30 Dutch people. The last Dutch person in 2016, the last Dutch female in 2003. Until July 2018. 😉
My coach is Marcel van der Togt, he has trained and guided many people across Het Ijselmeer and The English Channel. He has even swum across The English Channel himself!
He is also the coach of a famous Dutch swimmer who is now training to swim De Elfstedentocht (nearly 200km). He has so much experience and if anyone can get me across the Channel it’s going to be him. Famous quote by Marcel: “You use The English Channel to learn life lessons.” He’s damn right about that!
If you want to know how he became my coach check out the ‘Stay Updated’ page and read my blog. 🙂
On average I train five times a week. In the winter all my trainings are in the pool and when the water is warm enough partly outside. I train at SwimGym, a pool set up by Olympic Swimmer Johan Kenkhuis for adults who want to swim lanes in peace or improve their technique or become better swimmers.
You can follow a ‘SWOD’ (Swim of the Day) which is a training coached by a professional swimmer. One part of the training is for technique, which has a different focus point every week and the other part is for endurance or sprinting.
It’s also possible to book a personal training with one of the coaches.
Then there’s ‘laps’, you book an hour (or in my case two or three) and then you can swim for yourself/swim your own program. There’s a maximum of twelve people per hour so you have to book in time or the lanes will be full. The coaches often give you tips when you’ve booked ‘laps’ as well.
Marcel sends me what to do every week; it includes three programs he’s written for me (he adjusts them to how I’m doing), and the amount of kilometers I have to swim that week. I just have to do that and tell him how it went/what times I swam. Once every so often I also have a test to see where I’m at and he’s there too then.
When I swim outside it’s either a training to withstand the cold, to try out food for when I cross the Channel or to overcome my fear of swimming in open water. Someone (often my parents) will walk beside me on the bank or sit in a boat next to me for moral support, to make sure I’m okay and to hand over food.
I hope I’ve been thorough enough but if you have any questions then please go to the ‘Contact’ page and send me a message. 🙂