With radio comms, Joe tries to stay happy. Swimming conditions are good and peaceful. It gets dark and I lose the tide. The battle ashore is against the tide as well as the harbour emptying against me, it takes ages, it always does. The peace is sacrificed by the effort. I touch the harbour arm.
We motor into the entrance. "South Coast Swimmer, South Coast Swimmer" receives radio directions in the dark from "Moroni, Moroni". Blidly by faith, we follow directions. A mile and a half upstream, we come across Nicola and Ian standing on a pontoon. Another free mooring.
Back with Mandy and Trevor, we have fun watching an old Monty Python. The swim had a bitter and tiring finish, although invigorating, we alwyas lose it during the last hour. I feel better tonight. Its just gone 2300 and I have to be up for 0600.
Day 9 Swim time: 4 hrs 28 mins: Distance 8 miles
Total Swim time: 46 hrs 29 mins: Total Distance 87 miles
Day 10 Saturday 19th August 1995
Another bad nights swim. Even in a bed.I cannot lay on my side, my arms ache too much. I can't understand why I don't just fall asleep, I am so tired. I may have had some fitful sleep until Trevor came off duty, but he woke me up with his noise and I couldnt get back to sleep, it was 0200. I made a large pillow with the quilt and placed it under my back and arms. Instant comfort, soft. I lay back, naked, with no cover and fell asleep. I awoke at 0600, it was light and I was in the same position. Laying on my back with my ankles crossed. Still tired but needing to swim, I didn't want to get up.
It was 0800 before I got into the water. There was a fair wind blowing staright out to sea, not much help. The tide didn't help either (it never does against the wind). Ian was in the boat and I was bored. It took thirty minutes to loosen up, only to become stiff and cold during a feed.
The sea was choppy and the spray was cold. I shivered. The swim went on. I can't remeber what I thought about, nothing nice. My stroke rate was slow and my arm pull weak. When I tried more effort, my muscles screamed.
My coach, Tom Watch, would have shouted colourful and unusual words at me. I don't like the words even if I deserve them, but it is hard to be offended by Tom. The right person on the boat makes all the difference in performance. I miss Tom and hois crusty old sea dog manner. It has been one year since I swam alongside his boat, 'Wind Song'. I wonder where he got the name from. Tom thinks this swim should be a piece of cake, requiring not much more than floating along with the tide. I can't even find the tide.
The tide tables are too general, showing offshore streams. I need to know what is happening inshore. Inshore tides are different depending on coastal features, headlands and bays. there are eddies, strange currents, tide races, standing waves. All good stuff for training but not good for planning a long distance effort. You can't know what lies around the next headland. Travel by swmmmming is fun.
Even if I had the information to prepare an accurately timed swim, the tmes of day would be unsuitable. Ian would mutiny on the pretence of safety in nthe dark. How would he navigate? I am quite happy to swim in the dark, not all coastlines are difficult.
After swimming for an hour, I suddenly stop short. Two more strokes and I wpould have swum straight into the engine. I tell Ian to keep a better look out for me. He always seems to motoe ahead of me and to my left. My blind spot. This is dangerous. A while later I hurt my right thumb as it strikes the outside edge of the sponson, my head simultaneously hitting the rear point. Luckily, the stroke was with my right arm. The left would have pulled between the sponson and the propellor. Ian had realised the mistake, I think he switched off the motor a moment too late. I ignore it and swim on.
I swim one mile offshore as we pass Lancing. The sea bed is only fifteen feet below. I see fronds of rapacious seaweed reaching towards me like wizard fingers, not quite grasping. They bend with the tide as they point seaward. Eventually they turn towrds me, the tide has changed. I swim straight into it. Another mile before Worthing Pier. I had hoped to get further. Another age to get ashore, a boring and tiring swim that took four hours two minutes for just five and a half miles. Something must be wrong.
We anchor the boat in the shallows two hundred yards wets of Worthing Pier. The sun is hot, but I am cold. I eat some packed sandwiches and head under the pier for shade. Ian brings me a 99, my first ice cream of the swim. Luxury at £1 each.We cannot thnk of having an ice cream after each swim. We get a weeks groceries for less.
Ian suggests we get moving, he seems fed up. I am not ready. The tide still has three hours to get high. I want the timing to be right, I don't fancy swimming against it. I think Ian wants to get home earlier. We get our own beds tonight as we travel home for Sunday. I plan to swim at 1500 aiming for Littlehampton by 2000.
I really don't want to swim this afternoon, thank goodness it will be with Joe. I am not swimming well or happily and wonder how long this afternoons swim will take. I look forward to a day off and my own bed. Maybe I will feel better by Monday. Monday mornings tide is quite early and we face a 100 mile drive before it. I wonder what form the mutiny will take.
I fall asleep in the shade under Worthing Pier and am wakened by Ian at 1510. It is clear Ian is crewing the boat. Nicola and Joe have already left for Littlehampton. I am unaware of the problem. Another hard swim without Joe.
I am frustrated by Ian's apparent eagerness to get moving. All dressed up in orange waterproofs and multi coloured bouyancy aid, peaked cap and goatee beard. Talking into the VHF like action man. He tries to look the part with the colours. Goodness knows, he would need them if he went over the side.
He has packed my sports bag with my clothes and towels but finds a packet of sponge fingers, with just three left. Removing them, he carefully places the clear plastic moulded packaging onto the cast iron beam structure of the pier. I am irritated and watch him quietly out of the corner of my eye.
Ian moves off, intending to leave the rubbish behind. I follow on, approaching the rubish, about to retrieve it as I reach out. At that moment Ian looks behind and towards me, to check that I am following. I quickly change my stance. Leaving the rubbish alone, not wanting to so obviously correct his actions in front of him. I try to keep the peace. The swim will be tough without Joe.
We wade into the sea. I am stripped and ready to swim. Ian in his full gear, as usual. As the water reaches my trunks, I raise my bag higher. Ian does the same. He mentions about the increasing depth, should't I fetch the boat closer inshore? I am frustrated and quip that if I can walk out to the boat , then so can he. Yhe water reaches my chest. Ian follows behind. I throw my bag aboard and vault into the boat, beginning to apply the vaseline in the usual places. Ian arrives, placing his bag aboard and looking bemused. Like an upside down beetle.
I know he cannot climb into the boat in a dignified manner, I don't offer to help him. He tries to vault the sponson but lacks the coordination and practice. Hampered by his bouyancy aid, he makes a couple of mamby pamby attempts and eventually scranmbles in over the back, despite wrongly positioned arms and legs. He thanks me for helping him. I didn't.
I reply that I wanted the entertainment. Ian is certainly out of his depth in anything over three feet. As an experiment, Ian's ability in this trip is quite illuminating. His swimming prowess is absolutely zero and he can't drive. He struts along like Mr Bean, radio in hand. Why is he here? We could use a multi skilled team member. I wish John Mellor had not moved to Bristish Columbia. Strange how some people just have it. A few nights ago when we slept under the stars, Ian was in my wifes tent wearing red pyjamas. Ian is my friend.
I swim off at 1530 towards Littlehampton, leaving Ian to prepare the boat, raise the anchor and catch me up. I search my mind for Sister Powell, it doesn't take long. I wish Joe or Nicola were in the boat. I needed them this time. The water is cold but calm. I notice a slight tidal drift in my favour, thank goodness. I try to relax into the next few hours effort. It takes Ian seven minutes to catch up.
My feeds are erratic, I have resorted to asking for them when it suits me. When Tom prepares a fed, it is always ready on the hour or offered in advance. He would simply place his arm over the side of the boat, holding the cup of Lucozade containing half a banana, afloat inside. I would be aware of the time and would have swum into position awaiting the banquet. Ready to reach out and accept the cup. The feed takes moments.
Now I have to stop swimming, call out to the boat. Ian doesn't come to station with me, I have to swim to him. He switches off the motor for safety, losing vital control authority and the wind blows him off station. I tread water and drink. Ian restarts and oh so slowly comes towards me to recover the bottle or cup. He overshoots as I make a strenuous and cramp inducing stretch to pass the botle back. Another pass and I get a snack. My body heat drops from cool to goosebump cold.
The discipline of feed times have gone, I shiver. What are the alternative methods in making this trip? Perhaps me in the water and Joe on the boat with all the equipment. No land support. We simply travel and camp. No plans to make, we just go as we please and take what comes. Camp fire, fishing, starlit beaches......certainly the right spirit for adventure.
Ian likes the importance of plans. Rendezvous, locations, radio calls, refuelling, maps and charts and being off the water by dark. When these plans don't turn out the way Ian hopes, he curses. Rediculous failure. What went wrong? Where is the land support? Why have they ignored the hourly radio call? Where can we berth the boat? Where are we sleeping? Where is the food? Why is it dark? Any failure in plans is a major disaster to Ian.
For me, the disaster was caused by the emphasis given onmaking the plan in the first place. Don't make plans, then they don't go wrong. The trip would be made by learning along the way. Coming across what we might. The spirit of the swim is lost within the many little plans. Pre arranged ideas of what comes next steals the adventure.
Ian would go crazy if we failed to reach a harbour and had to sleep on the beach or at anchor on the boat, without land support. The situation could easily arise. Certainly a disaster if he had planned to be three miles further up the coast in a safe marina.
An adventure, if we had made no plans and simply chose to stop here. Clear skys, fish biting, deserted beach, camp fire. I like the romance of adventure Tolkien style, I am not getting it.
My swimming is reaching uncharted territory. The first few days were a gentle shake down. I became loose, the muscles ached less and I swam strongly. I am now tired. The accumulated hours and miles do not allow my arms to recover. I expected a week of warm up, a week of strength and two weeks of deterioration, limping home the last few days and crawling up the beach. In this last week, I have adopted a Sir Ranulph Fiennes vwersion of a polar plod. I am too tired to put the effort in, resisting the temptation to let a bow wave flow and putting all my energy into the swim. Eventhough this might invigorate me. First I must be stronger, happier, correct in my mind and at peace with the water, rough or smooth. I must become more disciplined and fitter for the task. I am perfectly happy to swim four hours twice a day, Not quite ready to swim two sixes.
Tom would say that anybody can swim eight hours a day, especially with a break inbetween. Therefore this swim is not much of a test. I need to put in twelve hours every day, or cover twenty miles every day. Maybe other swimmers might be more capable. For me, it is hard enough work, not just the swimming. I am an ordinary club standard swimmer, not elite, nor world class. This swim is different and stretches my ability. Piece of Cake for others? Perhaps.
I often wonder, who is the better swimmer? The one with the ability to swim the Channel in under ten hours, or the one with less ability, but still suceeds to swim across, but in seventeen hours? Anyone with ability should perform to a higher standard. How much greater is the achievement of a lesser person in reaching the same goal? My athletic effort takes longer because I have less ability, strength, commitment or whatever. Yet I still give what I give and finish exhausted.
Each day that I have swum lately, I have started stiff and tired. I wonder how next week will differ as the experiment continues. We have some technical sections to cover soon. I am struggling with the effort because I am not getting the enjoyment. I nearly missedthe scenery between eastbourne and Brighton because of the struggle. I must get the enjoyment and adventure back to balance out the aches, colds and irritations.
Four hours and seventten minutes for eight miles. Not too bad considering. I know I have increased my strength but I wonder what I could give if I wasn't so jaded and running on empty all of the time. If I was having more fun.
We moor the boat in Litlehampton, free.
Day 10 Swim time: 8 hrs 19 mins: Distance 13 miles
Total Swim time: 54 hrs 48 mins: Total Distance 100 miles
Day 11 Sunday 20th August 1995
I lay in bed at home in Taunton and am late for church. My arms don't ache so uch. We repack the car, leaving behind over half the gear. Ian has three sports bags full. He must repack into one, just like the rest of us.
Day 11 Swim time: 0 hrs 0 mins: Distance 00 miles
Total Swim time: 54 hrs 48 mins: Total Distance 100 miles
Day 12 Monday 21st August 1995
Stayed in bed until 0900, got ready slowly and collected Ian. We drive back to Littlehampton and visit the harbour master to check the tides. Joe in the boat. I start to swim at 1630. My arms ache immediaty. We start the swim against the tide, to allow as much time to reach Bognor Regis before dark. The first hour and a half gave slow progress. Then came slack water, followed by a marginally helpful tide. The water is warm with some cold patches, the sky clear, no wind. Joe has fun trying to catch birds on the plane. We have fun, messing around, feeds take a long time , we waste some.
My arms ache less after a while but I still swim carefully. Polar plod, taking care of myself. I wonder how the swim might progress if my arms continue to ache more each day. I am tempted to give more effort to relieve the boredom but think better of it.
The sea is still a murky green, grey, brown. Absolutely nothing to ook at. I wonder why after more than fifty swimming hours in this country, there is nothing to see. Fifty hours eleswhere would offer fabulous underwater viewing. The longest wim in the world has to be better than this.
Three and a half hours gets me to Bognor Regis befor dark. My arms don't ache. Swimming through the shallows, I become aware of a foul smell and strange flavour. The water thickens. I stop swimming to have a good look around. Putting my foot down, it sinks a few inches into goo. I land east of the pier after wading through the last ten feet of water through thick rotting seaweed soup. Too thick to swim in. Who would want too try? I leave the water covered in particles stuck all over my body. I stink.
Walking onto the promenade, a family approach for a chat. Stuffing £5 into my hand for Children in Need. A little further along, a group of older ladies give me a clap. i deserve it for swimming through that stuff. Apparently Meridian TV are filming it tomorrow for the news.
Valerie Mapley offers us a shower in her house two hundred yards away, along with garden space for our tents. Joe anchors the boat offshore.
Luxury, a hot shower. Twelve years ago, Valerie had offered the same service to Rob McCloughlin during his solo circumnavigation of mainland Britain by kayak. We have a comfortable camp. Tomorrow we head for Selsey Bill, it should be interesting.
Day 12 Swim time: 3 hrs 30 mins: Distance 5 miles
Total Swim time: 58 hrs 18 mins: Total Distance 105 miles
Day 13 Tuesday 22nd August 1995
Not a very good nights sleep. Have started to take Ibuprofrn muscle relaxant tablets. An experiment to see the difference. I wonder if my arms will ache in a few days.
At 0830 I walk down to the beach to commence the swim to Selsy Bill. Ian on the boat. The wind a favourable f2, along with slight help from the tide. Overcast though with a three mile visibility, we had to aim for the Bill by compass.
I have to wade through the smellt stuff. Not a pleasant chore first thing in the morning as a prelude to a swim. I swim on immediately my nose thick with the smell. Arms ache straight away, not a good sign. After thirty minutes, the ache stops as long as I don't work too hard. Progress is good considering my lazy effort. A pleasant swim if the sky had been clear.
I swim through a hundred threads of seaweed. Each one wrapping itself around my neck, c;linging on for thirty seconds before slipping slowly away. Sometimes a whole clump will embrace me, they don't slip off. I pull them away to reduce the extra weight and drag.
A small brown jelly fish, eight inch diameter, drifts a few feet under the water, out of harms way. I duck dive down for a closer look. Suddenly I notice the tentacles, almost invisible, six feet long. I escape.
My swimming feels better but I resist the tempatation to blow away the cobwebs and work hard. The slow stroke is boring me. I approach Selsey Bill, the lifeboat house standing proud, a square box on stilits. The landmark becomes clearer in the haze. We judge an hour away, it takes forty five minutes.
We had planned to stop here to rest while waiting for the next tide. I choose to keep on swimming until the tide stops running favourably. I wanted to get around the Bill before it was too late. The swimming is easy. One mile in twenty minutes, I round the tip. I want to keeep going further but our plans meant I needed to meeeet the others back at the lifeboat slip. Why did we make the plan? Reluctantly, I get about the rib and we motor back. Four hours thirty minutes. I should have kept going.
1530, time again to get wet. We have taken advise from the Selsey Bill lifeboat. It should be possible to swim if we head straight out to sea, one mile, to round the sand bank, prior to heading back along the coast. This course would waste two iles of effort for no miles of coastline. The alternative is 400 yards of srong flood between the coast and inner edge of the sandbank, apparently impossible.
We motor to the Bill to take a look. The challenge is irresistable, two miles or 400 yards. I go over the side as the flood snatches me away from the boat. The lifeboat was right, imppossible. Swimming against the flood, I went backwards. I take a line across the tide to struggle ashore. The tide is much weaker between the shelter of the groins. I swim hard, inch by inch. Each groin a major landmark. The sea speeds over the submerged wood as I slowly swim over on full power. One groin down, six to go. Eventually, the groins behind me and no shelter in front. The tide is supposed to be weaker by now. I angle my swim offshore tryring to find the westerly stream. There isn't one. The first mile takes an hour and a half. I swim closer inshore and struggle on, at least here I can see my progress, one pebble at a time.
It seem that the ebb tide empties out from Chichester harbour and always flows East. The following flood also flows East as it refills the harbour. There isn't an inshore Westerly stream. It might have been easier to head straight for the Isle of Wight, almost twenty miles off shore. All I can do is nibble away at the distance. At least the tides are neaps. Springs start in a couple of days. The wind is unhelpful but the sky is blue and the air is warm.
More struggle, trying not to let my frustration show. Joe trys fishing with his new hand line and catches nothing. He then jumps over the side to test his life jacket and teases I an to do the same. Eventually, I reach a slipway at Bracklesham Holiday Village and decide to end the battle. Three hours and thirty five minutes for less than four miles. If only I had kept swimming this morning, who knows.
We motor the remaining four miles to Hayling Island inshore lifeboat station. The second busiest station the UK. They have a brand new Atlantis 75 rigid inflatable, £65,000 worth. We are allowed to camp and set up as it falls dark. Our dome tent needs no pegging down. Ian struggles with his ridge tent, the ground is too hard for his pegs. The boat gets a free berth in the marina a mile or so into the estuary.
I pour over the charts and discuss tides in the lifeboat house. The Isle of Wight still seems too far away. Nicola will be going home while we atack the Solent, our landing points unknown. We need a morning tide to get there, not wishing to cross the Solent as it gets dark.
Who knows what tomoorow will bring. We could head further towards Portsmouth to keep the crossing short. We could try the crossing from here. I suppose it all depends on the weather.
The weather has generally been good, at least, it hasn't been dangerous and if we had not planned to have Sundays off, nature would never have offered us a rest. I look forward to a day off. My swimming has been more relaxed lately, despite the lack of mileage.
Day 13 swim time: 8hrs 05mins Distance 9 miles
Total swim time: 66hrs 23 mins Distance 114 miles.
Day 14 Wednesday 23rd August
Another poor nights sleep, I just couldn't get comfortable and need to fidget in my own space. I get up at 0900, should have been up sooner really. We drive to the marina only to find they don't sell 4 star. This causes more delay as Nicola finds a petrol station with fuel for the motor. Joe motors out of the marina as we head back to the lifeboat house. I had forgootten the vaseline and needed some to rub into the important places. The tub is thrown to us and Joe motors to last nights exit spot.
The wind blows f4 and I have to swim right into the teeth of it. Progress is slow in the rough water, it takes two hours to reach the easterly edge of Chichester entrance. Further progress is impossible although I try for ages. The lifeboat house, clearly visible one and a half miles away. Swimming gets me nowhere.
I turn away from the shore, the tide is more helpfull in this direction, although it takes us out to sea. The land falls away, Portsmouth looks tempting, too far off really and the heading would keep us well out to sea in poor conditions. The Isle of Wight looks nearer. I choose Portsmouth.
The combined wind and tide makes progress slow, it appears we are getting nowhere. Perhaps we should go with it and aim for the Isle of Wight. Eventually we seee two buoys, 200 yards almost ahead. I swim for them in vain and drift past them in the wrong direction. An hour or two later, we are no closer in. Joe in anxious at our lack of progress and is concerned for his safety. We really are stuck here. Joe forgets that I could get in the boat and we could motor ashore in ten minutes.
The swim is hard in poor and failing conditions against the tide. Worse for not getting anywhere. If only there were detailed tidal stream charts. Despite these problems, my arms don't ache and I am happy to stay with it. Still no progress after four hours, then gradually, very slowly we head in. As we make some progress in the slack, the returning tide gradually takes over and sweeps us to South Hayling. It rains. We get ashore after five hours and thirty one minutes. Joe is relieved, so am I. Seven miles of cost covered. A vet hard mornings work for so few miles. I am relieved and happy I was able to swim well thoughout , without becoming desperate.
There will be some interesting swimming over the next few days especially as the weather forecast is worrying. No nice thoughts, in fact I cannot remember whether I thought of anything in particular. Perhaps I am simply knuckling down to the work and switching off my mind.
Having left the water, I cat nap in the car while the rain poured, gradually clearing by 1900. Time to consider where to camp and berth the boat. Langstone Harbour looks to be one hours swim away. Although I don't fancy getting wet, I strip off and swim on up the Solent. Joe prepares the boat and catches up after five minutes.
I warm up quickly and am surprised that my swimming is so fluid and loose. At one stage I think I am actually getting good. I progress with resonable effort against a slow tide and wind. Darkness draws in and we cannot see the harbour entrance. I swim ashore 3/4 mile short. This is bad news, it means more work getting across to the Isle of Wight in the morning amd once across, not progressing far enough along the coast. Even worse though, it shows my swimming is still not producing the results in miles, even when I feel good. One hour fifteen minutes.
Back aboard the boat, Joe and I motor off to a free berth in Langstone. It is dark as we cross over the East Winner sand bank and head inside the estuary. WE have no idea where to go and cannot see the guiding lights. We radio Nicola, there is nor reply, she hasn't got there yet.
A radio call comes in to us from MIke Church. His boat is Called Electra. Realising our situation after hearing our radio calls, he directs us to the hidden marina entrance. In complete darkness, we are still lost. We ground the propellor in the soft silt and pick up a mooring rope which stops the engine. Jpoe thinks the engine is lacking in response and reverse is being tempermental.
We motor slowly into safety and are greeted by the crew, Mike and Maureen. We are knidly offered bunk space aboard Electra for the night. Electra is a posh power boat. A free shower in the clubhouse is absolute luxury. I finish before Joe in order to get the towel for myself, before Joe got it wet. Lights out 0020 for an early start tomorrow on the 0830 tide.
Day 14 swim time 6 hrs 46 mins Distance 8 miles.
Total swim time 73 hours 09 ins Distance 122 miles.
Day 15 Thursday 24 August
I slept better last night and didn't want to get up as usual. We cleared up and sorted out the kit we would take to the Isle of Wight. We would have no land support for the two nights we expected to stay. Nicola would go ahead to Swanage. We loaded the tent and sleeping bags, dry clothes and food, all wrapped in layers of bin liners, to protect from sea spray. We said goodbye to our hosts who gave us a donation for Children in Need.
It is interesting how some people can be so helpful to strangers at times, especially when there is some common ground. Church members help church memebers. Yachties help yachties. Ex Jap POWs will help other Jap vets. This world would be a far better place if this concern for each other extended to all groups of people, without first having to rely on pre-requisite associations in common.
We hope to meet Nicola at Swanage on DSaturday. We will then drive home for Saturday and Sunday nights in our own beds. WE are halway through this swim in the time I allowed, but not halfway through in iles. We have some technical days to come.
Joe controls the boat and Ian mans the radio as we motor out of the marina and harbour entrance, back over the sands and I get wet. We wanted an early start but wasted forty five minutes waiting to get out of the marina while the water level rose. I enter the water at 0915. These wasted minutes are absolutely critical, they count during the tail end of the swim during the fight to get ashore before the tide changes. Alternatively, a prompt start would allow an extra mile of distance along a safe beach. We have rarely allowed ourselves spare time by an early start.
Our course is a virtual straigt line linking the two Solent forts marking the dee[ water shipping lane and our start point east of Winner Sands. However, due to tidal drift, we expoect to pass wll to the right of these. We allow two hours to reach the first fort, Horse Sand Fort. IT takes two hours ten minutes. My swimming is a little stiff and I hope that I will be ready for the big crossing to Swanage. Somehow I don't think so. I should really be heading straight through the Solent, not across it.
Although I am stiff, my arms haven't huirt so much this week and I haven't been quite so irritated by Ian. I am far less exhausted, despite the lack of sleep. I cannot recall my thoughts after a swim, my mind must be shutting off. I used to catch a thought and allow it to occupy my mind for half an hour. Simple thoughts to think but that repeat end to end like a scratch on a record. Thoughts that take my mind of the pain and cold and from considering the hours still to do. This hasn't happened lately.
Sister Powell hasn't popped in for a while, at least nothing specific that I can remember. Sometimes just the name and the sweetness. Like a medicine that takes a moment to swallow and it forgotten but gives support and comfort for ages.
I can remember spending some time in considering the differences that might occur in tyhe conduct of a persons life, when believing between the existence of God or not. Regardless of the elief, how should we conduct our lives? I concluded that we should live as though God lived. IF God is as real as the scriptures tell us, then eternity will be the greatest adventure. The way we live now willcertainly affect our opportunities in Heaven. If there is no God, then all we have is now. Just this mortal life to live one way or other. Perhaps in this case, it would be even more important to live it right. Is this life the only time we have? I don't think so.
Thoughts can make or break a tough swim. It is certainly easier to swim when there is no excess baggage in your mind to weigh you down. Far better to have thoughts that uplift and inspire. As an experiment towards the longest swim in the world, thoughts are impportant things. We cannot afford to be bothered by the mortgage or overdraft or individuals.
Lately I have had no special thoughts, just the green brown sea filling my field of vision. Tired limbs with too many miles to go. The chart always makes the journey look short. Eight miles of sea takes a lot more effort than you realise when you want to tackle it twice a day for a month.
Horse Sand Fort begins to slip past half a mile to my left. A ferry is steaming along the shipping lane, I reckon a collision course in ten minutes. I decide to sprint for five minutes to pass in front and then a bit more to gain some sea the other side. After giving this effort, it becomes clear the boat had changed it's bearing, a collision is now certain in five minutes, unless I stp swimming now.
I ask Ian to radio the ferry to ensure thay have us in visual. I should not have needed to ask, he should already have made the call. Ian makes the call to P&O Pride of Hampshire and the captain informs his passengers of our presence off the starboard bow. The ferry looks rather tatty as it passes two hundred yards in front while I begin to swim.
I swim slowly having worked too hard for those few minutes, into the wake of the ferry, no cause for concern. Time passes slowly as we head for RYde. No Mans Land Fort behind and to the left of us, we soon run out of time as the tide changes. One mile offshore. If only we had started earlier. If only we had chosen to swim the length rather than the safer route across the width.
The tide is directly against me so I head in a little more to swim across the tide. The mile takes ages and we dodge the hovercraft and jetfoil. I swim ashore half a mile west of Ryde pier after four hours ten minutes. Much later than expected, I had hoped to have swam further along the Solent towards Cowes.
The tide is far too strong to battle against and will not improve untill 2100. I cannot nibble away at more miles today, unless tghe crew were prepared for a night time swim. I am left with twenty miles to do to reach the Needles tomorrow, too far because we only get one tide to do it in. Althougyh the tide would be strong and include two periods of slack, I still might only get 7 hours worth. A tough order unless conditions are perfect. Certainly not impossible if all goes well but the wind is strong and is set up for a head on attack. This will negate the help of the tide and create standing waves in parts. Strength sapping stuff but if successful, I should get a long rest before the push to Swanage.
I get back on the boat and we motor to Ryde pier to spend the rest of the day on the beach. Joes anchors the boat and we prepare to settle on the sand when a holiday maker asks if we are with the lifeboat. He draws our attention to a girl floating off in a plastic kiddies dinghy. The strong westerly breeze and out going tide carrying her through the structure of the pier.
Ian is ashore so I tell Joe to prepare the boat while I run over to the pier to see she gets clear. In the moments it takes for me to reach the pier, I notice the small dinghy had already passed through and was fast becoming a small orange blob, half a mile off shore. There was no way she was coming home.
I run back to the boat as Joe finishes lowering the negine, the water just deep enough. Like Baywatch heroes, we both vault into the boat, I reach for the ignition as Joe raises the anchor. Disaster, the key turns and nothing bhappens, I try again, nothing. Bob Elloit our powerboat instructor had prepared us well. Iy only took an instant to realise the kill switch cord was not connected, but why was the cord no laonger attached to the key? I try to wedge the switch open and turn the key a third time, still nothing. Thankfully Joe notices the coiled red lead of the kill switch on the floor. Seconds later we are planning in a few inches of water towards the pier.
James Bond would not have slowed down as we passed under the pier between the metal structure of girders and uprights. As we clear the pier, I notice the orange blob out to sea. Thank goodness I saw her direction and distance earlier. I would not have looked that far out for her otherwise. WE chase after her, it doesn't take long. As we approach we find the girl facing directly into wind and against the tide. She is kneeling in the dinghy and paddling with both arms , Gollum style. Trying to propell herself back towards the pier. The toy paddles long gone. Despite her efforts she is drifting out to sea at an alarming rate.
As we pull alongside, the girl just keeps paddling. She is wearing a black Speedo swimsuit and is wet with wind blown spray. The boat appears to be surprisingly dry in the circumstances, it would be swamped with the first breaking wave.
The girl is slight and skinny, shivering and vacant. A sixteen year old body taking care of a girl whose mind tells her she is still eight. We lift her easily into the boat. Joe wraps her in a windproff jacket, her whole body shivering. A good sign, real cold comes later after the shivering stops., I know.
We motor slowly back to the beach to reduce the windchill. A group of holidaymakers watch us ashore. As we help the girl to dress a lady takes over to save her embarrassment. We talk to the girl and find she has run away from home and spent the last of her money. Last night she slept rough. While we get her fed and warmed up, we decide to phone the police to take care of her. In a simple way, the girl thanks us for helping her and we watch as she leaves with a policeman.
She must have been frightened by the speed with which her predicament escalated. It took just moments for her to lose her paddles under the pier and drift away. Her efforts to paddle back by hand would have only served to tire her. She would have done better to paddle across the wind / tide trying to land a mile or so further down the coast, except of course the land falls away.Better still she should have simply waved her arms in distress, crossing then back and fro, above her head, preserving her energy. Once tired and cold she would have rappidly succombed to desperation.
As it happened, she had been seen by others and her plight reported to the lifeboat. It took ten minutes before the inshore rescue boat arrived on the scene. A bright orange 6.5 meter rib. A dry suited crew of three seated on a central jockey console, searching the end of the pier. The girl was already well on her way with the policeman. Joe and I wave the rescue boat to come in. With some pride we say we got there first and all was well.
This swim is for Children in Need, this young lady was c ertainly one of those children. I am sure the lifeboat crew would have located her had we not been there. Although 15 minutes later, she would have three miles into the solent. By then her distress would have been life threatening. We may have saved her life and ceratianly we saved her the misery that would shortly have set in .
While we we comforting the girl and helping her get dressed, the tide continued to go out and left our boat high and dry. We couldn't budge it as it bit into the wet sand. An evening swim looked doubtful, I would have liked to nibble away at another mile or so. The boat would have to wait until 2230 before it would refloat, it would be nearly dark.
Tyhe day moves on and as evening falls we set up the tent on the beach. The tide is well on it's way back up the sand. Our push towards the Needles begins at 0900 tomorrow morning. If we suceeed, Swanage will still be a battle. The tide simply does not last long enough although we could divert to Bournemouth and add a day or so to the swim.
I want the Isle of Wight to Swanmage , somehow the route is magic. I don't know if I can or should try it, the chance is slim in my current unrested condition. Should I try regardless? I think it is better to try and fail than it is to fail to try. It is all about the tides and the water coming out of Poole harbour . The swim could succeeed in 6 hours within a tide, or it could all go wrong and take 15. I don't know if the boat can hold 15 hours of fuel. Can I swim the equivalent of the English Channel if the tides catch me out? If so, will I stll be able to swim in the days thereafetr or be a weak liability?
Well, the answers to these knid of questions are exactly what this swim was designed to answer. I am not really ready for such a test.It is now 2230 and the boat has been afloat a while. High tide is about an hour and a half away, I wonder if the tent is far anough up the beach.. It won't pitch any higher. The only other place to pitch is in the middle of a roundabout on the seafront. I think we will be ok, the tides are still neaps.
Day 15 swim time 4 hrs 10 mins Distance 9 miles
Total swim time 77 hrs 19 mins Distance 131 miles
Day 16 Friday 25 August
Disturbed in the night by lager louts making nois and rattling the tent as if they were bravely poking a dog with a stick. Too scared to look inside the tent, thank goodness. We ignore them and eventually have a peaceful night. It doesn't hurt so much now as I lay on my arms. In between sleep I listen to the waves and weather and try to guess the time.
The wind rattled the tent more than the lager louts and was still up to it's tricks by morning. We needed to be away by 0900 the boat was just afloat by 0800. For breakfast I had a Mars bar and drink of Lucozade and got ready to swim. The wind was a turbulent f4/5 and I had to swim right into it's teetrh nfor six miles until Cowes. There would be no way we could make the Needles without a helpful wind. The sky is overcast, the worst it's been this trip.
I walk ten minutes to yesterdays exit point while Joe and Ian pack up and prepare the boat. I start to swm, there is no advantage with the tide yet as I am early for once..The waves are choppy in the wind and slap at my face and arms with every stroke. I make little progress and feel miserable and cold. Slowly the tide begins to work but cannot compete againsts the effects of the wind. The sea state gets worse as the two forces oppose each other.
This is one stretch of water where the tide would be very useful if only the wind was slack or a dereamworthy helpful. Instead the wind takes it's full share and throws every wave into my face. Every glide produced from each stroke is snapped short upon each impact with a wave. My neck aches as I turn unuisual angles to breath in the only spaces a wave may leave me. At times Icannot breath at all as the wave steals all the available spaces. Occasionally I miss three or four breaths in this way.
I can only see the boat while it is directly alongside. Ian has a nasty habit of either staying on my blind side or motoring 50 yards away. My line of sight is reduced by the waves and I can't see the boat. I wonder what he would do if I removed my hat and stopped swimming, would he find me? My bright pink swimming cap may look foolish but at least it is visible, thats why I wear it.
After two and a half hours, we approach Cowes, I am surprised in this weather. I thought it would take at least three. I now have four hours od tide left and some slack to get as far as possibble. As we round Cowes, the entrance is full of boats spectating the powerboat trials. Power boats are racing at full speed each trailing a Gazelle helicopter in hot pursuit at fifty feet, James Bond style again.
The water around Cowes is sheltered and flat, I can now feel the tide, it is quite good really. Shame about the wind. As we progress further around Cowes we get the full force of unhindered wind playing against the power of the tide at it's most powerful. The seas build higher. The effort of the battle keeps me warm as I begin to enjoy the fight. This is good training water. Tom Watch would have us swim in similar water and expect us to smile afterwards. We always wouild.