After competing in triathlons for 9 years, I decided it was time to try something different. In the back of my mind I had always had this idea that I would try to swim the English Channel some day. Now, after almost 2 years of distance swimming training, that day is almost here!

Plot of my course

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Swimming in Dover Harbor

Well, I made it to Dover. I had some computer challenges so I was unable to post anything until now. I should be able to keep up daily now hopefully.

As usual, I could not sleep on the plane so I arrived pretty beat. I picked up my car and drove about 2 hours to my new residence for 2 weeks. Just like my last trip, the drive was beautiful. And fortunately I am improving my left-side-of-the-road driving skills. The European SD card I purchased for my GPS unit is working wonderfully. I would literally be lost without it. Ask anyone who knows me even a little. I am terrible with directions.

When I arrived I checked in, put my things in my room, and got ready to swim. Getting ready means getting dressed in swim suit and sweats, mixing my energy drink (Maxim), diluting mouthwash (to ease the rawness in my mouth from the saltwater bath), packing Vaseline, goggles, timer, towel to degrease, towel to dry off and then chewing a anti-seasick tablet. Then I drove about 5 minutes down the hill, past Dover Castle (which is incredibly beautiful) to the Dover Harbor (pic above). Then, before I have much time to think about what I was about to do, I took my loaded backpack and walked to the "beach". Beach is different here. No sand. Just golf ball sized, smooth stones and a steep slope. Then I stripped off my sweats to just my Speedo (there will be no pics...ever), put on my swim cap (did I mention no pics?), and greased up my arm pits, shoulders, and between my legs. The grease is not for warmth but rather to prevent severe chaffing caused by body parts rubbing together in the saltwater. Then I walked down to the water's edge. It's tricky to navigate barefoot on the stones and a bit painful as well. Just imagine walking on golf balls! To get in, I prefer to walk in at a kind of fast pace. I'm afraid I will gasp and swallow a bunch of saltwater if I jump in but I really don't like to dilly dally either. Just get in an go. The first minute is the worst in terms of shock. I get a brain freeze every time. But that goes away and then I get into the swim. I do laps around the harbor. One lap is about 1.5 miles. On the first day I only made it about 2 miles and had to get out due to the cold. The waves were rough but not as bad as it will be on the swim. I swallowed a healthy amount of saltwater. I think the jet lag affected me too but I was very disappointed. Last night I kept thinking if I had to get out that early there's no way I will make it across. But I just didn't have it. When I got out I was so cold I could hardly put my clothes back on. And my frozen feet walking about 30 yards on those darn golf balls!!! Dang that hurt. So when I got back I went straight to the sauna at the place I am staying. This place is awesome by the way. I will write more about it later. It's such a polar opposite to the channel. Like heaven and ... After the sauna I got a warm shower and then ordered room service. I organized all my clothes and swim stuff and got everything in its place (surprise, surprise). Then I went to bed whooped and disappointed with my performance.

This morning I woke up and felt a lot better. I think I slept about 10 hours. Must've needed it. I made a cup of tea in my room (very English of me), looked out across the fields out my window and saw hundreds of sheep grazing and quietly making sheep noises. It was absolutely beautiful. I decided I wanted to swim in the middle of the day, after breakfast had digested but before lunch. So I went to the conservatory and ordered the "full English breakfast". That consisted of eggs, sausage, bacon (ham to us), half of a large mushroom and tomato, fried toast and jam, and black pudding (which was like a dense black fried bread). And more tea of course. It was delicious. Lauri, can we have that every day at home? I will pay for that. The music in the conservatory was light and airy which matched my incredible view of the courtyard and fields of sheep in the distance. The main building of the hotel is over 300 years old. The service is excellent. I picked a great place to stay!

After breakfast I drove to Deal to get some food for the room and an adapter for my computer. The one I brought from home probably would work just fine in Belgium but not so much here. Deal was a neat seaside town. I didn't explore much because I was on a mission and wanted to get back to swim but I did manage to figure out how to park the car, not get towed and find my stuff.

So a little before noon I made it back to the water. This time I figured out a way to tie my drink and Scope to a buoy far from land so I wouldn't be tempted to stay on land at feed time. (Thanks Bonnie C. for the carabiner clips! They already came in handy.) I also left my cool finger timer in my back pack so that I wouldn't constantly check how long I had been out. I decided to my goal was to do 2 laps (3 miles) or 3 laps (4.5 miles) if I could take it. Today I am happy to report my swim was MUCH better. It was still cold as heck but I got though it in pretty good condition. I did 3+ laps or between 4.5 and 5 miles. Not much for a pool swim but it was good for a channel swim. I even felt good enough afterwards to pick up a rock to bring back and to take a few pics.

My routine after the swim was the same. Whirlpool, sauna, and hot shower until my body gets back to normal temp. I am so glad this place has those facilities. Got to run to dinner now but I will try to post pictures from today later. Bottom line though... today was a good day!


Tobey-Anne Saracino said...

My only advice...when going into the round about...if you are getting off of one of the exits stay in the outside lane, if you are going 360 around then stay in the inside lane and move over right before you get off. George and I learned this the hard way and ended up in the Police Department!!!

Swim Allan Swim!! Don't let Freda push you into swimming too much. Do what you need to especially if your shoulder is sore. If the conditions/winds are bad I recommend staying right along the jetty. The left side gets REALLY rough.

Enjoy every bit of the experience!!

liz fry said...

It takes a few days to adjust to the harbor...the temperature, the waves, dodging sail boats (give my regards to the one with the red hull-- I run into it every year, yes, it is anchored).
It sounds like you are enjoying every, sauna, Channel swimming a different meaning.

All the best,


neil said...

Makes me want to go "across the pond" Allan. Except I would stay out of the water...:) Any idea which day your swim will be? I'd love to talk to you after it's complete—after you towel off and warm up a bit I guess. I kid, best of luck. Your News and Press article is out this week.

Neil Hopwood, editor News and Press

Tamara said...

Glad you made it safely! Different swimmers at the YMCA asked me about you yesterday and today, so I'll be checking in with your blog often so I can give them updates the next day. Take plenty of pictures so you can bring them back to us at the Y and show them off. Have a good swim tomorrow! Enjoy the scenery!


Karol said...

Thanks for the great update Allan and will continue to monitor your progress! I know that you're very determined to complete your mission and remember that the 'Y' team is rooting for you! KJ

Tiffany said...

Sounds like you'll be in great shape for the swim next week. Keep up the good work and "biting the bullet" so to speak with that cold water.

Allan said...

Thanks for all the great posts everyone! I can't tell you how much they mean to me. It gets me so pumped up and motivated to stay in that cold water. I just wish I could read them while swimming.

For everyone's benefit, Tobey and Liz have both swum the English Channel and have given me great advice. As I was getting ready to get in the water today I reflected on how lucky I was to have met them and Freda (the Channel General) and to have a good pilot (Eddie Spelling) to help me learn. There are so many things I didn't know that can make a big difference. Like using mouthwash, drinking Maxim, not looking at your watch, just swimming to the next feed, etc. I am very grateful that they take the time to help out a newby.

Anonymous said...

"I just wish I could read them while swimming"

Just imagine that marine "devil dog" Shire barking up a storm behind you telling you how worthless you are if you don't finish! That should do the trick!!!! :)

On a lighter note, I've committed to praying for your sorry behind over the next week to ten days every night. Basically until you finish the channel. You should feel very privileged--I never do that for anyone, not even my wife! ;)

Blessings and inspiration,


Allan said...

Michael - Tell Jim I found a place to get my perfect pre-swim meal...sushi! (Inside joke - I got really sick during a triathlon once. I couldn't figure out why until Jim Shire asked what I ate the night before. I had sushi that apparently was not so good. My nickname after that was "Sushi".)