News, Veteran News | 30 October 2023

Royal Anglian Veterans swim the English Channel

A family team including a former ‘Poacher’ and a former ‘Steelback’ successfully swam the channel as a relay on 9th October 2024.

After two years in the planning ‘Team Newmarch’ (Geoff 71, Russell 46, Alistair 44, Giles 42) set off before first light to cover the 22 miles to Cap Gris Nez. The team had plenty of experience as both Alistair and Giles had swum the channel solo in 2012 and 2022 respectively. Russell too was well acquainted with the sea having represented Australia in the Triathlon World Championships in the Gold Coast.

Official custom ‘Budgie Smugglers’, made in Sydney, were commissioned especially for the occasion. Russell who lives in Sydney and Giles who lives in Singapore flew in a couple of days before the scheduled swim. Logistical support on board was provided by ‘Mum’, Jenny, who did sterling work in keeping a constant supply of hot drinks and food running for the 14-hour period.

Royal Anglian Veterans swim the English Channel

The biggest question before the start was who was going to lead off bearing mind it was early morning and dark. This was decided quite simply by a couple of rounds of ‘Paper, Scissors, Rock’ and it was Alistair who lost. So, the swimming order was Alistair, Russell, Giles with Geoff bringing up the rear.

The Rules of the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) are quite ridged if you wish to swim under their auspices. Swimmers can only wear swimming trunks, cap, and goggles. Relay legs are one hour and the relieving swimmer may only start once the other swimmer is on board. Escorting boats must have a qualified adjudicator who monitors and logs the attempt. Each boat skipper and crew are all carefully selected by the CSA so everything is as professional as possible. Our boat, Viking Princess 11, its skipper, and crew had already made over 31 successful crossings in 2023 so the team knew it was in safe hands.

On the morning of the swim, we met the boat in Dover Harbour Marina at 04.00 ready for the high tide at 0530 when Alistair would start the swim hidden in the gloom of the overhanging white cliffs. After a short trip out the harbour the boat motored around to the designated beach. With a flashing light fastened to the rear his goggles, a searchlight pointed at him from the boat, a loud hooter sounded, and Alistair started the swim.

The water conditions were good, flat calm with only a hint of a breeze. In the general excitement on board Alistair’s hour seemed to go quickly, and he completed a distance of3.5Km. Russell followed, and he left the water just as dawn was breaking, 3.6Km. Giles, who had successfully swum the channel last year in 11 hours 19 mins swam 3.8 Km. Geoff realised early on that this sort of competition was well out of his league and his first mark was 2.7Km.

Just after dawn Geoff approached Phil the deck hand and boat’s adjudicator to ask permission to fly the Regimental Flag from the rigging. His reply was “Absolutely.” A moment later it was fluttering above the boat in the morning sunshine.

The day progressed in good weather although a fresh wind got up about 10 o’clock and stayed with us for the remainder of the day. Unfortunately, this made the surface quite choppy which slowed the everyone down.

Royal Anglian Veterans swim the English Channel
Royal Anglian Veterans swim the English Channel

When you’re swimming you can’t see anything apart from the murky water you’re in, and the side of the boat alongside that gives you direction. You have little idea of have how you’re going, only that you look forward to the ten-minute warning, the five-minute warning, and finally the whistle which indicates your time is up. You then swim around to stern of the boat, grab onto the ladder lift and then feel the relief as you’re lifted aboard to be welcomed by a hot drink and a towel down by the other members of the team.

In the middle of the Channel, we saw the extent of marine traffic travelling north and south. Cross Chanel Ferries, Container ships piled high and huge super tankers over 300metres long all passed us bye, some even hooted their horns in encouragement. The white cliffs faded from view and then the French coast became discernible through the heat haze.

As we crossed into French waters all our mobile phones received welcome texts from our signal providers but explaining the costs that were going to incur on our mobile data roaming. We had now all completed two legs each and to our untrained eyes the French coast still looked a long way off. Before the swim we had anticipated doing three legs each, so roughly 12 hours in total. Phil our experienced deckhand gathered the three non-swimmers together in a huddle and explained that the ‘Chop’, as he described it, had slowed the attempt and that unless each of us put in a very good third leg we could be looking at about 14 hours as the tide would turn and make it even harder.

Over a cup of hot chocolate, we swimmers resolved to make our third legs as fast and as far we could. Clearly Phil had put the ‘wind up us’ and we certainly didn’t want to finish the swim in the dark. The prospect of one of us swimming onto an unknown shore which could be rocky was a good incentive to swim faster.

When Geoff finished his third leg he had no idea how much distance he had covered. It wasn’t until he was lifted aboard that he could see how close the French coast was. To his amazement it was a little over 350metres away and Alistair was already swimming strongly towards the shore, escorted by the boat’s inflatable dingy. Through our binoculars we saw him stand up then carefully wade to the beach. Once he was the regulation metre out of the water, the hooter sounded, the stop watches stopped, and a big cheer went up from all on the boat. The time: 12hours 17mins 37seconds.

Intriguingly, Alistair was met at the water’s edge by a French Channel Swimmer who lives near the beach at Cap Gris Nez. During the swimming season ‘Patrice’ tracks the various CSA boats across the Channel on his phone. He aims to welcome as many successful swimmers as he can, and like many before him, Alistair received some beach pebbles and shells as a souvenir of the swim and of Cap Gris Nez. Once Alistair was back on-board celebratory photos were swiftly taken in the setting sun and we all paused to take in the achievement. It was a great team effort and an experience that will live long in the memory.

Ask the members of the team whether they would do it again? I’m really not sure what their answers would be………

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