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Christian Ayala Espinosa 
21 – 22 September 2013 
 

Today we have our swimmer from Mexico, a few days short of his 31st birthday. We first met Christian last night as we motored out of the harbour on Sea Leopard, to check the conditions. Gosh, it was rough, the sea rolling the boat all over the place and bringing on that uneasy feeling that sickness would be the order of the day. It was immediately obvious the swim should wait and pleasing to note that Christian and his team seemed happy to do so. I was asked whether I also thought the swim should be postponed 
(as if I might have had any superior knowledge that may have changed their minds). Of course, I was the only Channel swimmer on board and my experience suggested only one thing, I wouldn’t even dream of starting the swim. 
 
OK, so it would be a morning start and therefore a night time finish. At 9.00 am Christian looked happy, excited and confident (with a slight question mark). 
 
It was really good to see six Channel boats vying for space at Shakespeare beach. First away was Suva, 
then Sea Satin, Optimist, ourselves on Sea Leopard, Anastasia and finally Gallivant. (Viking Princess 
appeared an hour or so later and heading over to start from Samphire Hoe) . Today will be an epic 
swimming day. Six Channel boats each accompanied by a swimmer in the water, making their passage 
to France, the hard way. 
 
The weather has obeyed the opinion of the forecast and had settled with almost no wind. The sea 
calmed to a small chop, under a very full overcast sky. After diving off the boat, Christian has swum 
ashore, where a number of various parties had gathered to send off their swimmers. Kneeling for a 
moment in prayer, Christian steps a few paces into the shallow surf and dives in again. His journey 
has commenced. It is 0945 and we are already cheering. 
 
Christian has a lazy looking stroke, 55 strokes per minute and looks rather slow. I hope he is being 
lazy on purpose and hope this is not the best he has. His style looks home made and lacks the edge 
of a trained swimmer. It is a little worrying. It appears Christian has only been swimming a few years, 
previously being a boxer. It is a great scene, so many swimmers and one of them will be making history 
today. I can’t explain how exciting it is to see so many swimmers alongside a flotilla of small boats, 
spreading out down Channel almost in line abreast. The British way. Dunkirkesq. Adrenalin in slow 
motion. 
Christian gets swimming again. It is clear his team have not rehearsed their feeds alongside a drifting 
boat. I cannot stay silent and offer suggestions to improve things. First we arrange for his mouth wash 
to be ready and hung over the side as near to the front of the boat as we can easily reach (It must not 
be thrown out to him). This would cause him to swim into the boat and be treading water alongside 
the hull. As Sea Leopard drifted forward, Christian would finish the first bottle and find himself 
confronted with the next feed. Each feed in turn would be approached as the boat drifted forward. 
 
I had taken a taste from his hot chocolate, and yes, it was really too hot. I asked Vanessa (Christians’ 
wife) to make sure the next drink was warm enough to gulp down in moments, not hot, not cold. I believe a Channel escort boat is not the place for a wife, who is ften forced to witness a terrible struggle from their beloved husband. Vanessa was fantastic, no tears, no worries, just solid and lovely. And when the time would tell, she was the best cheerleader ever. 
 
1215. I have taken off my fleece jumper, it is warming up. There is no wind. Soon it will be time for the 
third feed and we start to prepare and plan for it. Christian looks a little weary. Stroke rate now 54. 
1250, the feed worked much better although the forward speed of the boat was a little high and the 
feed ropes too short. The feed was over in a minute and Christian look surprised as we cheered him on 
to get swimming. I think he hoped for a longer rest. 
 
1300. A six man rowing boat is heading to Dover. Looks like Sylvain and Gallivant will have a close 
encounter. I hope as they row past and see him swimming butterfly, they will have an idea what real 
men do for sport. At 1325 another six man rowing boat get close to Sea Satin, a kilometer down Channel from us. Five minutes later a full sized Compass Jelly drifts past Christian, missing him by twelve inches. Christian doesn’t notice. The fog has lifted and England is now in full view, although France is nowhere in sight. Stuart Gleeson (the skipper of Sea Leopard) makes me a hot bacon sandwich. The calm water has not robbed me of an appetite but I hope Christian cannot smell the food. 
Christian swims out along the harbour wall getting used to the conditions. First feed is on the hour, our swimmer is happy, talking, instructing his crew for his next feed. 
 
About one kilometer up Channel, we can see Sylvain, the butterfly swimmer, almost level with us. It looks like we will have a comfortable crossing with no sickness. 
 
1100 hrs. Fog is building up over Dover, there is a fine mist (almost a drizzle) on board. The cloud cover continues way down to Dungeness, but appears to be brighter mid Channel. France well hidden.  
 
The swimmers are beginning to be separated, some seem a mile away. The butterfly swimmer is making no further ground on us – maybe too slow to contemplate a world record. Unless the tides work well for him. 
 
Coming up to the second hourly feed and Dover is still fog bound, but we have nearly swum clear of it. The sky is brightening up, winds dropped off completely. The water though, is much the same 
with gentle wavelets. 
 
Sylvain is now on the horizon and has not caught us up. A tiny Compass Jelly drifts past. Our swimmer is swimming 1.2 knots (1.8K Per hour) – too slow? For his second feed, Christian had asked for hot chocolate, but it was way too Hot. After the first sip, it appeared to have burnt him and he spits it out. His feed was a complete mess. First a fruit drink (Gatorade) to rinse his mouth, water and two fingers full of meat. Each feed being handed to him one at a time. 
Christian has to swim to each one. The feeds take well over two minutes. 
 
 
1350. Feed time is slick. Four bottles in 45 seconds and our swimmer didn’t have to reach out or stretch for any of it. But now we see how the Channel can break your heart, I take the lattitude numbers and it seems Christian has made no progress at all in this last hour, towards France . We have simply moved parallel to the coast. Shakespeare Cliff is now directly astern. It looks the same for our butterfly swimmer. 
 
We should soon be in the shipping lane. We have dropped below the Varne Light Ship which is now to our port and about three miles ahead. We will miss it by miles as the flood tide takes control. I reckon it will never be close enough to photograph. The wind has dropped to absolute zero. The water smoothing out. Maybe Christian will swim smoother too. I am concerned he is just too slow to cut across the flood. The ships are getting bigger though, so something is happening. 
 
1430. Odfjell tanker changes course and goes behind Gallivant (now a dot on the horizon still level with us). A couple minutes later it passes behind us, we wait for the bow 
wave. 
 
1450. Christian is feeling a pain in his shoulder and asks if he still needs to swim so hard, now he is aching. He is told to slow down a bit. The feed is not so efficient but at least we have made some ground towards France. We are a third into the shipping lane and four Channel escort boats are still in view. The water is still flat, the air a little misty 
and still zero wind. 
 
1530. We hurried Christian (more than he liked) through his one minute feed. The quick feeds are not what he has prepared for. His coach Alievandno is planning to swim alongside Christian for ten minutes. 
 
1600. Water is going glassy, but we are too slow, even in such perfect water. Might this be a twenty hour swim? Water is getting more glassy, but Christian is still swimming slowly despite such fab water conditions. Maybe he is pacing himself for a long swim. It might be 20 hours. Looking comfortable and happy enough during his feed. 
 
1630. News from Reg Brickell, his swimmer has an injured shoulder and the swim is aborted. 
 
France is now shrouded in mist but the French shipping lane is close and the ships are becoming more noticeable in the distance. The zero wind has increased to a small draft. Nothing much going on around here. The other Channel swimmers have separated in three directions all a mile apart. 
 
1705. The air is getting damp. 
 
1750. Christian complains of sore lips. We give him melon to eat, he likes it. Also vaseline to rub on his lips. He turns on the green flashing light on his head but is unable to operate the light stick attached to his Speedos. We have entered the separation zone. 
 
1815. It is quiet out here. A little spooky. No boats, no land, no lights, no birds, no jellies. Just water everywhere. The other swimmers boats are just blobs on the horizon. There are just four ships in the French lane across the whole horizon and in the deepening dark they appear only as grey shapes. There is now a slight wind causing the water to ripple. Soon we should have covered half the distance in miles but I doubt half the duration of the swim in time. 
 
1820. Just seen a Channel boat turning back. Can’t tell which one, too far away. Sea Satin, I hope it’s not Bryan Avery. Clouds are brightening up over France and there is a slight  
creamy pink undertone on the underside of the clouds. There is no sign of a sunset though. I guess it will just get dark. I hope when the sun rises in the morning we will not doing one knot but seven knots and well on our way back to Dover. 
 
Christian looks comfortable at 50 strokes per minute. There is not much talking on board. We are all getting tired and it is going to be a long night. We hope the water will remain nice and flat. 
1850. Feed time. Darkness has finally descended upon us but Christian is still bright, happy and not cold. Calais is dead ahead and brightly lit in orange light. 
 
It looks far closer than the ten miles it must surely be. England is nowhere to be seen. Christian is aware of Calais , the apparent closeness suggests he is much closer than half way. The truth is much different. We are not quite halfway. Its been 9 hours 45 minutes. Christian is still swimming too slowly and it looks like a twenty hour swim and maybe more to get in. Maybe the slowest swim of the year? Even Sylvain swimming butterfly seems to have passed us, although he is a mile or so up Channel. 
 
1950. Christians’ stroke is down to 50 again and appearing almost as a single arm catch up. Oh ! France looks so close compared to England but half way is disheartening. We haven’t told Christian. 
 
2005. Feed is taking a little too much time for our pilot who comes out to chivvy him along. Christian is still being fed from four bottles or containers. Now is the time for him to swim and be patient. To allow the next few hours to pass and then we fight to get in. I do not believe if he swam harder and gained maybe an extra 100 yards between his feeds (now every 30 minutes), it would benefit him. Better for him to keep swimming comfortably and save the additional hurting. Then increase the effort to get in, hopefully before sunrise. 
2015. We have hung a few orange light sticks over the side to illuminate the hull of the boat. It looks quite pretty. Maybe the wind has picked up a little bit, I can feel it pass my ears, the sound is gentle and the water remains calm. Lets hope the weather remains as it has been all day and does not give us a tougher ending than a twenty hour swim is bound to do anyway. We have been blessed by calm weather. Now I am going to worry for the next hour or so, it could still go so wrong for him. 
 
2125. Christian is not crossing the French lane fast enough. We are worried the ebb tide will keep him too far off the three mile buoy or might change early. Either way, the flood will just take him back up Channel and away from land. Christian has upped his stroke rate to 60 a minute, although his pull looks weaker and may not be providing much extra speed. We will know soon enough as the next couple of hours come and go. Thankfully the wind and water remains calm and is giving Christian every opportunity. Our butterfly Swimmer looks to be in a worse place. 
 
This is a tough game and a heart breaker. But Christian has heart and is showing it. 11 hours 45 minutes so far. 
 
2130 Feed. We have told Christian to work hard for two hours. The ebb is running at 3 knots and the three mile buoy is six miles down Channel. We need the ebb to keep running and not revert back into the flood before we reach the buoy. In this tide, we will be at the buoy in two hours. 
 
2200 We are yelling and cheering Christian to keep working. He is swimming with heart but we need speed. 54 strokes per minute, but is looking weary and indecisive. Christian has still too much to do but we hope he is giving himself every chance. 
2320 Three mile buoy is so close. Adrenaline in slow motion returns. It maybe only 400 yards off, but we can’t tell yet if we are inside it or outside. We are hoping for more ebb. 
 
We are outside. The buoy is passing in front of us, but we have missed it by only 200 yards. Christian must soon be encouraged again to renew his efforts, to keep swimming, hard. If we have more ebb, we might get in, otherwise it will be the usual long haul to Sangatte or Calais. Christian has been swimming for 14 hours now. It is a vain hope thinking we can use what is left of the ebb , then the slack and get the flood to push us into the Cap. The lighthouse teases us, it looks closer than the three miles. Christian swims across itsorange glow. We will miss it by two miles as we begin our second drift past it shortly, on our way back up Channel. 
 
Christian has a lot more swimming to do, but he has enough heart and will keep swimming. Thankfully the water is flat now and there is simply no wind, this might make all the difference. We are beginning to believe he might just get this swim finished. It is midnight and we have had the last dregs of the ebb. We will soon be heading back to Calais with a very tired but determined swimmer, who has never complained. He has been working so hard. 
 
1220 Christian has no speed across the returning flood which has only just started its heart breaking course. Sea Leopard is in neutral more than it is in gear. We fear the flood will take him back out and we don’t get closer than this, even by the time we reach Calais. 
0100 Christian is getting weaker and seems unable to increase his work rate sufficiently to get across the tide. Although I suspect he can keep swimming for much longer, we need speed to get across the tide and in to shore. 52 spm and we are encouraging him to work hard and he is responding. It must be hurting him to have been encouraged so much, to work hard for so long and still we are asking for much more. If only we were half a mile closer in, he might be able to relax as we reach shallower water and get inside the Cap headland. 
 
We are still too far out for comfort and are lining the rail of the boat and cheering in English and Spanish. Christian has given so much he should simply stop swimming, how could he give more. We see it in his face, the way he breathes. His stroke is a mess, it slaps the water as it is over ruled by effort and strain , a complete lack of finesse. But Christian draws upon something and still he is swimming. We are cheering him on as if he were in the last 100 yards of a one mile race. Only we know, he has to respond for easily another hour. One more hour of struggle and then maybe Christian can relax into the last one mile. It may be too much for him. 
 
There is not a breath of wind and the sea is like a millpond. There is just the tide to contend with. Christians’ resolve to keep giving everything he has is clear for all to see in the pitch blackness . We are cheering still. He must surely think he has nearly finished considering how long we have been cheering him on. 
 
0130 Christian has responded and after two hours of constant encouragement since the three mile buoy, is edging in. Now we are quiet to allow Christian to concentrate on the next thirty minutes without being shouted at. Without being ordered to keep swimming or to go faster. Goodness, he simply cannot go faster anymore, but he can keep on swimming. In the shallower water, swimming is all he needs to keep doing, he will get across the tide, then its just keep on swimming until France gets in his way. He’s doing it. 
 
0145 We are in shallower water now and the tide has less effect. Christian asks “How far”? It is still a long way……we don’t tell him. We can hear him groaning with the effort but he still does not complain. There is little point, we all know how tough this swim has become for him. We can see it in every stroke and hear it in every breath. We cannot bring ourselves to telling him there are still two hours to swim, but maybe now, he can swim these last hours without so much effort. 
 
He is down to 48 spm, but pops in an odd ten faster strokes. He swims as if he has run out of strength, but still asks more of himself and tries to swim faster, only managing a few strokes before dropping back for a couple of minutes. Then a few more faster strokes, and relax. He simply cannot maintain a faster pace. Actually, he doesn’t need too. He will hit France soon enough. 
 
France is close now, the cliffs and beaches are silhouetted against an orange glow of lights behind. The water is flat. Maybe the hard work really is over and we just need to keep him swimming another hour. It’s been 16 hours now. 
 
0200 Feed. We tell Christian he has beaten the tide and only has one hour left to swim. We lie, (it will be two) but he will get ashore as long as he can keep swimming. 
 
0225. Only one mile to the cliff under the monument. The tide is weak now and maybe we can swim him straight into shore. Surely, he can make it inside an hour. “No more hard work, just keep on swimming”. We have believed it for only a short while….He really can do this. 
 
0230 Gallivant is shining its torch onto the shore, our butterfly swimmer has made it? Will he be doing a two way? 
 
0235 I tell Christian it is his last feed , only one mile to go. It was a bit early to tell him this, but a timely boost for his morale. He had suffered some really hard swimming for so long and would have expected to have been ashore by now. 
 
0250 Garry is preparing the dinghy. Christians’ children are yelling down the phone to him and we are playing the ‘Rocky’ theme tune. I doubt he can hear it. 
 
 
0257 Gallivant passes us on its way back to Dover. Sylvain has become the first man to swim the English Channel, butterfly. And there he is , now swimming freestyle alongside Gallivant for his two way? (It turned out he was simply loosening his shoulders for a mile or so). It won't be much longer now for Christian. 
 
Christian just keeps swimming, the dinghy is launched. It motors alongside Christian, as we in the escort boat stay offshore. The dinghy follows our torchlight towards the cliffs. We are cheering, still. But Christian is now way ahead of us and out of sight and earshot. 
 
0323 We see a shape stand clear of the water on a small patch of beach, under the cliffs, under the monument. 
 
Christian has become a Channel swimmer. 
 
Sea Leopard sounds a Morse code through its horn.  
 
Vanessa is excited and relieved, almost giving thanks. 
 
Christians’ coach Alievandao eventually sits down in acontemplating mood. 
 
Carlos celebrates in Spanish and English. 
 
Gavin? Well Gavin was just an invited photographer, who got his first glimpse of how ordinary men do extraordinary things. He kept taking pictures, in the knowledge he will never experience these feelings, ever again. 
 
Stuart Gleeson, our skipper, was quietly relieved. This was one swimmer that deserved every single minute of opportunity. A swimmer given more degree of allowance than others. Had Christian not spent those hard hours swimming to and away from the Cap, this swim might have looked like a lost cause. 
 
And it was my privilege between 21 & 22nd September 2013 to observe and ratify his swim. Christian Ayala Espinosa swam the English Channel in 17 hours 38 minutes and in doing so, he showed a handful of witnesses how strong a man can be when strength is all he has left. I remain in total awe, to have been shown how it is done. I wish I had just a bit of what Christian brought with him in his epic battle to swim the English Channel. 
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