I was wasting useful tide. Really, I should have been in the water at 0430 to catch the strongest part of the ebb. The sun was brighter now and I could feel its warming influence as I waded a further 100 yards into three foot depth of water.
I hoped to swim until the flood made further progress impossible. This time I was armed with two Just Juice cartons down the back of my Speedos.
Ian walked as I swan the muddy water. I couldn't tell if I was making progress. The features on the flat horizon were too far away, the sea bed invisible just below my finger tips.
I drank the first carton of Juice after forty minutes and had a good look around. The lighthouse was much closer now. This morning, the same as last evening, I felt fish. They were either biting or blindly swimming into me. One fish swam straight into my goggles, no warning, just a split second of visual followed by a thump and no ore. On another occasion, I turned my face to breath and got hit on the cheek, a split second later and the fish would have swum straight into my open mouth.
The water was silky smooth, warm and helpful. This is more like it. A lovely early morning swim while bleary eyed mortals struggle out of bed. In the afternoon ebb at 1500, I shall continue around the headland aiming for Camber Sands or even Rye. It will be a hard day trying to catch up, but quite possible if the tides run for us. I hope I am ready, I really didn't want to work too hard before our first rest day on Sunday. At least Sunday will bring rest. I am concerned that I will be unable to receive sufficient refreshment without the boat in support.
During the few hours of swimming today, I had only one 200ml carton of Just Juice. The first out of 240 cartons donated by Brian Metcalfe, the President of the British Long Distance Swimming Association who also happened to be quite high up the corporate ladder at the RHM Foods factory in Ledbury. The carton was carried down the back of my Speedos as I swam. Quite effective really. I refused Nicolas' suggestion that I take a banana as well.
It is now 2300. Not much fun today but a lovely clear and calm night, not a breath of wind. Everybody is a sleep. I am laying on a pebbled area under a full moon. 400 yards from the lighthouse. The power station illuminated by orange light. It is late and I must start early tomorrow, I wish I could lay in. I haven't had the right day for nice thoughts but tonight is magic.
Day 2 Swim time 4 hrs 25 mins: Distance 4 miles
Total Swim time 10 hrs 15 mins: Total Distance 21 miles
Day 3 Saturday 12th August 1995
Having slept in the small tent, I had a bad and uncomfortable night. Not enough room to fidget. was awake by 0500 and up twenty minutes later. Hastily getting ready to swim. A quick breakfast of hot chocolate and a banana. The sun was already rising, a large red ball behind the row of still sleeping fishing boats which remained hauled up on the shingle. On the other horizon, the full moon resting above the power station. Not a breath of wind.
I was off Dungeness Lifeboat House within the hour and headed on towards the lighthouse. Foe a while I thought the tide had changed early. The view of the lighthouse refused to change no matter how hard I swam. It took ten minutes to accept the illusion. The featureless curve of the headland and the view did not change as I swam around the lighthouse. Eventually though, my effort placed the lighthouse behind me as I continued. The tide eventually turned at 0820 and I could not proceed against it. I had reached the edge of the power station. A refreshing mornings dip.
During the last ten minutes, I had been swimming through floating brown froth. About 400 yards ahead of m and 400 yards out to sea, I could see a fountain of expelled water being propelled twenty feet into the air in towering jets of noise and confusion. I expected to leave the water all green and glowing.
Ian had long disappeared, as I began the stony walk back to camp in bare feet. Nicola finds me half way back. It appeared Ian had fallen into a mud pool, up to his chest. Luckily extracting himself and walking back to camp, muddy and angry. I wonder if he will want to go home. Certainly a few more incidents like this will test his staying power.
Back at camp, I changed and had breakfast. The coxswain of the lifeboat William Richardson, came over for a chat. Ian spent an hour trying to get himself and his kit clean. His clothes now rinsed off, lay spreadeagled on the ground like a fatal parachute accident.
I intend to catch the best of the next ebb for the swim into Rye, a distance of about nine miles. With a good tide, it should take three hours. If it happens nicely, I shall continue a bit further. Knowing that tomorrow is a rest day, I could do with a few more miles.
So much for good intentions. Having caught up on lost sleep while the flood was running, I was ready to do the business. The wind strength had by now increased from nothing to a SW f6. I was prepared to do battle with at least the ebb in my favour. However, the sea was hidden behind a pebbled dune, Having climbed the dune, all stripped and goggled for action, I was shocked to notice the state of the sea. Fierce waves were breaking onto the steeply shelving shingle beach. The whole body of water appeared to be on the move in the opposite direction of the now , two hour old ebb.
I entered the water at the point of the mornings exit. Put my head down and swam. it was difficult to stay close because of the breakers, so I moved out 50 yards. After ten minutes of hard work, I realised I had travelled barely 100 yards. I stopped swimming to check the power of the tide, adjusted my goggles and prepared to move off again. I those few seconds, the tide had drifted me back to my start point.
There was no point in continuing and so I left the water. Ian contacted Nicola on the mobile to stop her from driving to Rye and we made our way back to the old camp spot.
The lifeboat coxswain popped by again and offered us washing facilities and his back garden to stay the night. It was clear the wind was here to stay, even if it died down, the flood tide would return and make swimming impossible. With a wasting afternoon, we went to the coxswain's house in the flat wilderness of Dungeness. I fitted the bubble compass to the rib and removed the direct connection of the mobile phone from the battery. The contacts had corroded badly and the phone could not obtain power. Our communications were proving to be less than adequate, useless in fact.
The hand held mobile could not make contact with the boat phone, neither could we obtain a charger for it, to use from the car. The only method of recharging it, was off the mains. The boats mobile had much more power but it too always ran low. We did however, have an adaptor to enable recharging from the car. We realised that the mobiles were far too expensive for such a useless quality of comunications. Especially as each call cost 48p. after a month of rubbish comms, we were likely to have a £400 phone bill, for what?
We had hoped the mobiles would work but thay had immediatly proved unsuitable and unreliable. Half the time they were switched off to conserve power. As an experiment, they had failed the test. We must now obtain VHF radios before our lack of sure communications gets us into difficulty. The purchase cost (around £650) would only be a little more than the phone bill, had the mobiles worked.
Three days gone and we are still stuck at Dungeness. Tomorrow, being Sunday, is a rest day. Although we have really rested today. We shall be attending church in Hastings and meeting up with the mother of Sister Gibbons. The delay caused by the weather and my choosing not to swim on Sundays, places us in some difficulty. We must clear Lydd firing ranges by 0830 Monday morning. Otherwise we shall be grounded another day. There is only the Monday morning ebb tide which will allow the swim to happen in time. Following high water at 0200. The subsequent ebb will be strongest between 0400 and 0600. The wind must also be from the right directioon. I need the early start to take the best opportunity of escaping from this location. Failure to make it, will mean swimming through the firing upon the following ebb. The MOD would not approve. I cannot risk brininging this swim too critically into the minds of these people. We need to show some professionalism and keep the swim safe.
Havin only swum two hours today, I am well rested and still have Sunday free to rest. I don't really care what the tides do on Monday morning, all I know is that I must try to force the six miles to get past the firing ranges by 0830. At least I will be raring to go by then. we must start getting the miles done. I can't spare more than four weeks on this swim.
This swim wouldmake a great race for the worlds best professional and amateur long distance simmers. I wonder what the longest or toughest swimming race currently is and expect is is simply a one off swim, rather than a staged swim over many days. The South Coast swimwould have all the best ingredients. Strategy, stamina, speed, logistics, bravado, technical water, vagueries of nature. A race of it would make a prettty puzzle for any competitor. I must give it some more thought.
The tent is rattling in the wind. I wonder what Sir Ranulph Fiennes would do. There is no point in swimming for hours only to make a few hundred yards (even a mile), when the same distance can be covered in twenty minutes of half decent conditions. 2200 now and an early night calls. What a waste of a day. No nice thoughts.
Day 3 Swim time 2 hrs 00 mins: Distance 5 miles
Total Swim time 12 hrs 15 mins: Total Distance 26 miles
Day 4 Sunday 13th August 1995
The tent rattles throughou the night into the morning, another poor nigts sleep. I cannot get comfortable. I must have got to sleep though because I do wake up and the wind has dropped off. It seems that the early mrnings before dawn are the quietest. We all get up and pack away the tents by 0900. We say goodbye to the coxswains wife and drive off to church.
Today is Sunday, I have until 0830 Monday to clear lydd ranges. Otherwise we risk another lost day. I decided a long time ago that I would not swim on Sindays. Preferring to attend church instead. This choice gives us only one good chance to clear the ranges. The tide will run from 0200. Two hours of good tide should do it. We choose to catch the two strongest hours to 'guarante' success and aim to start the swim at 0400 on Monday morning. This swim compromises safety due to darkness. Ian will be walking the shingle beach. I am not sure e will be able to keep me in sight. I think also that if the wind is favourable he may not be able to keep up.
We met Sister Gibbons mum at church in Hastings, but we all missed being at Taunton for church. It is friendships that make a place special, a stranger amongst a group of friends is only second best.
At church we are offered a couple of places o pitch our tents as we pass through the area. It is now 1800 and I am laying on a real bed inside a mobile home at the home of John & Florie Bond. We are thankful for their help in our efforts to keep Sunday special. They live outside Rye and breed Devon Rex cats. It is a bit hot and stuffy and smells of cat. I would have preferred a rough camp under the stars. Although the advantage here is the comfort and not having to pitch tents or take them down in the morning. We intend to leave here by 0315 in order to drive back to Dungeness and begin the mornings swim as soon as possible. We are all weary through keeping starnge hours, I could fall asleep as I write.
Joe is bored today. We need to get the boat back in the water, to give Joe more to do. Too tired for nice thoughts. I came here to swim and haven't done enough of it. I will be happier if I can get more miles for less hassle. The swimming is proving to be the easy bit. We spend too long riving, camping and fiddling with the boat. More swimming might be donenif I was alone with a walker carrying the gear. Or swimming with a waterproof pack. I must try that out and see how it affects my swimming.
I am sure if I sleep now, I will be awake by 2100 but must get a good night on this bed. 0300 alarms are not user friendly.
Well I fell asleep, about 1700 and was indeeed awake by 2100 just as the others were turning in. I thought I ould never get back to sleep but I did and had a good night for once, until 0300.
Day 4 Swim time 0 hrs 00 mins: Distance 0 miles
Total Swim time 12 hrs 15 mins: Total Distance 26 miles
Day 5 Monday 14th August 1995
Up at 0315. We clambered bleary eyed into the car and drove back to Dungeness. We were there by 0415. Just fancy, stripping off outside a power station for an early morning dip in the dark. The wind had slackened off nicely and blew NNW, the sky was surprisingly cloudy. I fitted a blue light stick to my goggles and spent a few moments fiddling with them.
Having got in, the water was warmer than the air. The swimming was tiring at first but I soon warmed up. The power station slipping behind me nicely. Although I could not feel any help from the tide. This bothered me, After a few minutes and once I was clear of the monster fountain, which was still asleep, I moved to deeper water to look for some help. It was still dark. Progress was made, but I felt no better than normal effort in calm water. I moved out deeper still, the tide wasn't there. In fact I felt slower further out. I was back insore on the hour for a drink, Just Juice from you no where.
As daybreak approached, the power station well behind, the battle commenced to clear the firing ranges. It was a battle. The wind increased and became northerly. The calm turned to a cold windy chop. I still maintained a pace and knew progress was being made. The shingle bank to my right was not quite featureless, with pebble dunes and range equipment. Occasionally I could see Ian striding along the top. His silhoette clearly visible against the backdrop of a dawn sky. It would have been a poor show had he been an SAS troopper on ops, but perfect for me to easily spot him. Although at times he completely disappeared as he walked lower towards the shoreline.
I was getting tired but cleared the ranges at 0810 having swum for 3.5 hours off the shingle beach. It was pretty montonous stuff. The water was awful. Sometimes a storm can cause a sandy beach to muddy the water so much that you cannot see your hands as you swim. On this stretch I couldn't even see my arms.
As daylight had increased, I realised thst the top few inches of water were clear. Underneath the surface, however, were various layers of coloured soupy mess. Patches of foam floated upon the surface. The smell was unusual, I tried not to consider the taste. Four hours of sewer stuff from Jury's Gap Sluice. The worst I have ever swum in, I will never swim it again.
The wind was cold, I was tired and it was early morning. The combination can make a swim very hard. The sun was up but not warming. Sister Powell failed to warm me up, although she tried a couple of times. I must get these thoughts sorted out. Do they really belong here? The trouble is that thoughts of good friends really do help make the cold hours pass more quickly. I doubt if we will ever meet again, maybe I haven't got used to the idea.
I could see Camber Sands in the distance about one mile off. Too wrecked ships are visibly stranded in the shallows. I tried to enjoy the early morning but was too cold. I swim past the wrecks. Both stood as sad sentinels, covered i green. Soon they too were behind me. I eventually reached the spot where the car was parked. The time was 0840 as I began to wade the 100 yards through the hallows and walk 800 yards up the deserted and wind blown beach. Traditional English breakfast, cooking on a camp stove, greeted me as I approached the car. Just the business.
I plan to swim again at 1420 to head for Hastings about ten miles away. I may be too tired, considering the early start this morning, but I must start to increase the water time. After a sleep in the car, I prepared to get wet once again. The wind had changed direction. The tide was high, giving me an extra half mile to swim. The red flag flew.
The soft sandy beach was crowded by holiday makers, herded into the ever reducing beach by the incomimg tide. Impossible to drag the trailer to launch the boat. I decided to swim un escorted rather than waste the afternoon. We arranged suitable vantage points for the crew to keep an eye on my progress. I set off with three Just Juice cartons.
Swimming with the ebb at 1440, almost directly into wind, I aimed for the outer edge of Rye Harbour arm, one mile out to sea. A red marker tower stood proud a further 400 yards off the arm.
I felt awkward though, a hazard to shipping, swimming out in the bay alone. It is certainly easier on the mind swimming just offshore and paralell to the beach . A speedboat came close for a look. A yacht motored out of Rye entrance flying the Tricolour and passed 50 yards ahead. We waved, I swam on. Against the wind, I judged thirty minutes would get me to the tower. Spot on.
After one hour, the tower was well behind and I headed for a mast above Fairlight Cove, about four miles distant. I now felt good swimming alone, no longer within the jaws of Rye. I felt no longer required to raise my head every fifty strokes to watch out for shipping. I swam over the first big jelly fish, missing it by two feet.
Gradually, I realised progress was slowing. I had been using a shoreline house as a marker and it had remained in the same position after ten minutes. The ebb by now should have been runnung its strongest. I was one mile out to sea, swimming stationery. With four hours still to swim, I knew I would never make Hastings accoirding to our plan.
I increased my stroke rate and made greater effort. Another ten minutes of hard work gave some reward as I saw distance from the house. The wind was almost head on and I knew I could never maintain such a pace of effort. I turned away from the mast and headed inshore. Progres was slow. Time was short and I was already two miles short of where I should have been by this time. I wondered whether the team had monitored my progress and knew my location.
Once I had reduced my seaward distance by half, I again headed towards the mast. The sun beginning its descent behind the cliff above the cove, casting a sparkling golden pathway, beckoning me along. I spent the next hour swimming directly into the light, not needing to look ahead for direction as I bathed in gold. If I hadn't been lacking in miles, it would have been a glorious swim.
The time was late, the efoort hard and slow. I could not guarantee a sfe landing behind the cliff within daylight hours, the extra distance too far. I came ashore at the RNLI slip at Pett Level and drank the last Just Juice. My mouth and tongue were a little swollen and did not approve of the citrus tang. I was thirsty though, having swum for three hours fifty minutes on just 400ml. I put up with the stinging drink. The juice had until now, been refreshing and desirable. Obviously, eight hours of salty mouthwash damages the palate and spoils the taste.
I am feeling stronger and have had a glimpse of the swimming I am looking for. All I need is a fair tide, helpful wind, a little more strength and ten miles of clear water. The early mornings offer paceful and enchanting felings spent swimming through the dawn.
I left the water and knocked on a ladys door and asked to make a phone call. The lady was old and reserved. I doubt if a wet an half naked swimmer had ever knocked on her door before, dripping pools of water. One minute later, I was in the car heading for Hastings to our prearranged camp spot (the back garden of Valerie Spina).
I felt the boat was vulnerable parked outside in the street. I prepared to sleep in the car. Valerie cooked pasta, lots of it. It was good to be sat at a table and waited on, although tough at such a late hour. 2300 talking to our new friends. I had been up since 0315 and after the effort of the day, was now falling asleep.
Day 5 Swim time 8 hrs 15 mins: Distance 13 miles
Total Swim time 20 hrs 30 mins: Total Distance 39 miles
Day 6 Tuesday 15th August 1995
The car was uncomfortable, a poor nights sleep after being so tired. The car is full of kit, a real mess. We must sort it out and dump half the gear. Camps need to be set up and ready as I leave the water each evening so that I can sleep without hassle.
This swim would proceed more quickly if we used the boat and camped on the beach where we stopped. Just two of us, carrying the equipment in the boat. I had hoped to swim, sleep, swim. Not swim,set up camp, rubbish sleep, organise boat, swim. Certainly, if I were swimming six hours on six hours off, I would be too tired to do other things in between.
There was no way we could catch the early morning tide today, far too tired. So we are resting and reorganising the car. I aim to catch the 1500 tide and plan to swim unil 2100. We have arranged to sleep at Eastbourne with a dear friend Valerie Firman. A quick transition from swimming to resting would be good but unlikely. Another night beckons burning the midnight oil in catch up talk mode.
This trip was billed as an expriment. We are certainly finding the things that don't work or don't happen right. It is about time we find things that do.
So much for catching the 1500 tide. I needed a hair cut for weeks and was getting fed up with wet hair, it takes ages to dry. I asked Joe to cut my hair, thinking that I would get three more weeks af growth, enough for a barber to sort out later. Joe did a hatchet job and Nicola insisted that she tidy it up beforev we left. Joe enjoyed himself though.
We said our goodbyes to Valerie and drove back to Pett Level slip. Horrified, we studied the state of the sea, whipped by the wind. In Hastings it was calm. The wind was now fierce, head on. It would remain this way until I could swim around the headland, a distance of one mile. I didn't think that any progress could possibly be made.
We launched the boat down the steep slip, using the car as an anchor to hold the boat from running away down the slip. There were sharp waves buffeting the stern and breaking over the transom, threatening bto swamp the boat, as we edged the trailer into the water.
Ian sat in the boat as we pushed it off the trailer. He is not at all confident mixing it with the urgency of the surf. Indeed, he has great difficulty getting into the boat in a flat calm. Especially if onlookers are interested. Today we had collected a few and Ian sat proud. It simply made the task more difficult for the rest of us. Nicola got wet holding bthe boat in chest deep splash and spray.
For the few minutes gettingb the boat in, I should have been swimming. This is my sole purpose. I really do not expect to have to organise the boat while Ian sits high and dry. Joe in control, proudly took the boat out of a tight situation as the adrenalin fuelled shallows , surf, strong wind and a barnacle encrusted groin waited to tear hapless skin aprt and make waste the inflated rubber of the rib. Off Joe went, at full throttle to clear the danger area and kept going, to warm the engine I supposed. Although judging by bthe wave jumping, I suspected he wanted to tell Neptune a thing or two. Maybe he just wanted to scare Ian.
I entered the water at 1540 with no chance in this wind to get far. I doubted I would even make it to the headland. I did, it took one hour, quite surprising really. Joe looked good in full control.
I thought things would improve around the headland as the wind was no longer head on. In the event, progress was slower. First a scra on the cliff face took forever to pass, as did the coastguard lookout. The tide should have been ebbing its peak for the next two hours but the wind waws in full control.
We eventually saw Hastings in the distance. I decided to head in a little looking for sweeter vwater. It worked and I began to progress. I enjoyed some of this swimming. I can't wait for helpful conditions and more miles.
We reached Hastings at 1950 and I swam ashore next to a groin and rocks, west of the pier. Nicola had phoned to mention she was waiting at the lifeboat station about one mile back down the beach. A mix up over the communications and Ian thought she asked us to make for a slipway just past a boat shaped hotel. I had swummback to the boat and we motored slowly up and down the seafront looking for the slip.
Communications then failed due to low battery power and it was beginning to get dark. We studied the coast road through the binoculars unti we found the car and I swam ashore in the deepening dusk, to clarify with Nicola for the location of the slip. Apparently, there wasn't one in the whole of Hastings. It was also low water, so a long haul up the beach beckoned. The alternative being a deep anchor off shore for the night, waiting for the tide to come in.
Joe motored the boat back to the lifeboat station and brought it ashore beside a walled area alongside the local fishing boats. Some fishermen assisted us by tractoring our boat over the steep shingle to the high water line. It was now 2115 and completely dark. I had been in my Speedos throughout and was cold.
Communications have been our biggest proble single problem. We certainly need radios. Without them, we will continue to have similar difficulties and maybe worse. Mobile, even powerful ones, simply don't work.
The evening was a big problem, especially after the evenings irritations looking for a landing. We had arrnged to spend the time in Eastbourne. Having made so mshort a distance today, Eastbourne is still forty minutes away by car. We would not get there until very late. Probably 2300 by the time we unloaded the boat of removeable ites, spare engine and equipment.
I was most concerned that I had not swum sufficient ditsnace of miles, due to the slow conditions and wasted time. The only way to recover the situation was to simply swim. I doubted the crew would want to have anothe 0300 start from Eastbourne just so I could be dropped back at hastings for a 0500 tide.
I suggested we camped where we stood, on the beach, between the boats. I needed to swim off early. Ian appeared most surprised, even reluctant. Was I serious?
I came here to swim. I needed miles and if I was happy to spend such early hours in the water, I expected my crew to support me. This evenings debacle turned from disaster to mighty triumph as we stayed put
I am writing this under torch light while laying beside my boat under the staers. Ian in rebellious attitude, didn't even want to try to erect his tent on the shingle and is sleeping in the front section of my wifes tent. Nicola is asleep inside alng with Emily Firman who joined us for the evening. Joe is already asleep on an airbed laying on the shingle next to me.
The wind has died, the stars are shining and the water is making soft midnight music. I am tired and need to be up at daybreak but I don't care. The boat is ready to launch and I could be swimming withiIn minutes of waking up. This will be a great improvement if we can get the boat in quickly.
Joe will crew the boat single handed. Ian doesn't want to be onboard so early in the morning. Emily would like to accompany Joe, I would be happy with that if the sea is calm.
I wish we could camp like this every night. A deserted beach, driftwood fire, the stars. No hassle trailering bthe boat to a 'paid for' camp site. This is the life, much more like it. I don't think Ian agrees, he likes creature comforts more than nature. Roll on deserted night btime beaches. Todat would have been a disaster but for tonight.
Day 6 Swim time: 4 hrs 10 mins: Distance 6 miles
Total Swim time: 24 hrs 40 mins: Total Distance45 miles
Day 7 Wednesday 16th August 1995
I was tired but could not get comfortable enough to sleep. Joe was next to me and together we were sandwiched between two boats. I had no soft mattress and the pebbles dug deep into my arms, which ached already. By 0300 I ascerted my fatherly privilege and turfed him off the airbed.It was immediatly beneficial, I slept. t around 0430 the tractors fired up and disturbed our peace and they pushed the fishermens trawlers across the pebbles and into the sea. The palce was coming alive. the seabirds were awake and so were we, it was still dark.
I got 'out of bed' at 0520 not in too much hurry. Nicola had a bad night, uncomfortable with ntummy pains. Made worse by Ian blocking the exit to the tent as he slept.
When all was ready, we began to push the rib about and down the shingle beach. I slipped my footing and trod on Ias foot. He fell over and cursed. This swi has been full of incidents that cause minor upsets, but you shouldn't get angry about them. They go with the territory. If Ian hadn't been forced against his will, to sleep on the beach and the time was half decent, I am sure he would have laughed it off. Despite any pain, laughter is a vital ingerdient, we should try it more often.
The boat launced easily and Joe crews alone. There was hardly a puff of wind or ripple on the sea. Perfect. Joe motored us to Hastings pier and the mornings swim began at 0700. It is so much more comfortable and relaxing to swim in calm water. After a while I was warmed up and begaon the most enjoyable swim so far.