Manhattan to Catalina to England
Scott Richards swims triple crown
Twelve months and 15 days. First Manhattan, then Catalina and now England. The Triple Crown of open water marathon swimming! I became the first person in history to do all three in less than 14 months. It seems surreal, but I did it!
The English Channel!
I actually swam the English Channel!
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL!
I love to swim. Always have and always will!
I continue to find serenity, peace and joy when gliding through the ocean water.
In the fall of 1972 I read a book about great American athletes. One chapter was on Florence Chadwick, a champion swimmer (from San Diego) who had set records crossing the English Channel among other great accomplishments. This really intrigued me. As a budding Florida age group backstroke champion, swimming 8,000-10,000 yards a day, six days a week, I thought “I can swim up to 20 miles, I’ll do that someday.” It’s hard to imagine that 35 years later this dream came true.
Last year, the 28.5 mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on 24 June 2006 was a fitting introduction to the long, long swims. The Catalina Channel crossing on 20 September 2006 was integral in learning about being in the water for 10+ hours in cold, rough conditions. However the English Channel is special. It is the “Mount Everest” of open rough water swimming. It would become the jewel in my “triple crown,” consisting of these three swims. It was and is a life-changing event.
Monday, 09 July, 2007, gave to me an experience that is hard to put into thoughts, images and words. Over the past two weeks since the swim, the depth and gravity of what transpired has crept into my consciousness in waves of intensity, causing a variety of emotions. I’m so glad that I kept notes every day, and what follows is an attempt at recounting the days prior to the swim, the swim itself, and the aftermath.
Before going through the events of the swim, I have to thank some very special people without whom this dream 35 years in the making could not have been realized.
First, I thank God for the ability, drive, opportunity and ambition to do this swim. In my prayers the days before the swim I asked simply “just give me the chance to get in the water and I’ll do the rest.” The weather had been so bad and there was a chance that I could spend two weeks in Dover and never get the opportunity to swim. Well, he gave me what I prayed for, and I feel blessed for the chance.
My support crew of brothers Dan and Pete and Scott Coleman was the best! Only after hearing of other attempts that ended with failure and near tragic, life-threatening results does one realize fully that you literally place your life in your crew’s hands. Dan was amazing. As the head of the crew, he was “point man” and was there for almost all 13 hours and even swam the last half mile (without any wet suit) with waterproof camera in tow in order to get shots of the finish. They all worked together, discussed every decision as a team, and placed my safety and a successful swim as the priority of the day. Scott Coleman’s experience of his past swims (England, Catalina, Manhattan and the Cook Strait) proved invaluable in letting the crew know what I might be experiencing. Pete documented the swim as well as one could with the boat being bounced around the entire swim, adding medical advice and providing the extra eyes to monitor my status. And all three had respective comic relief statements via the white board to keep me amused and my spirits up. Looking up and seeing them gave to me such a secure feeling.
My “land crew” of Jan Richards (Pete’s wife) and my girlfriend Debi Pierson gave to me a sense of family and relative normality at meal time and “down time” to an otherwise strange and “other worldly” daily experience of training and waiting for “the day.”
Bill and Audrey Hamblin of the Victoria House B & B were the ultimate hosts. They truly understand the needs of a channel swimmer and are gracious people, making me feel part of the family for my entire stay.
We all combined to make up what I had termed “Team YESDOC” with the motto of “At the end of the day, it’s what you do, not what you say.”
The Sea Satin boat crew was without par. Captain Lance Oram and his mates of Chris and Tanya were professional in their handling the severe conditions, keeping the goal of “let’s get Scott to France” as the priority. I had the “A team” of a boat crew in my corner the entire way.
A special thanks to all of the wonderful members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club. What an incredible group of people who support each other and share experiences, knowledge and wisdom of open rough water swimming. During the past 2+ years, I have become part of the LJCSC family and was proud to represent them in Dover.
Finally, although he wasn’t on the trip, I have to recognize my “unofficial coach.” My youngest son, Thomas Richards, has been incredible during the past two years and as I said in the Catalina story, was always there with the cry “Dad, get your butt in the pool!”
And of course to my entire family, especially Dad, Marsh and Mom, a heartfelt thanks and love goes out to every one of you.
God bless you all!
DOVER TRAINING PERIOD:
So the journey started with my arrival in Dover on Monday, 02 July, 2007. Hooray for modern psychopharmacology as I slept the entire flight from Philadelphia to London. I left San Diego early on July 1 and spent my five hour layover in Philly with my nephew Justin. Boy the cheese steak was good and it was nice to break up the long trip and spend time with Justin who had just finished his third year of medical school.
After checking into the Victoria Guest House and meeting Bill and Audrey Hamblin who own and run the house, I made quickly to the harbor for a swim. The weather was windy and the water in the harbor was cloudy and choppy with huge waves visible out past the harbor outer wall. That was the “real” channel out there. My anxiety started to build in fear of not getting a “swim-able day” as the forecast for the next few weeks looked grim. I was alone in Dover, with my crew to arrive in the next two to three days. But I said “no negatives! I will get a day to swim!”
I wanted to get back into sub 60 degree water (no wetsuit of course, wetsuits are for wimps!) and donned my Speedo, goggles and cap. Just as I was chest deep in water, a police boat came over and said “please don’t swim as we have a lost body that may be a suicide in the harbor.” I was hoping this wasn’t a bad omen. Here I was, a psychiatrist, and the first Dover harbor experience was learning that someone had been lost in the water and possible suicide.
Returning to the Victoria House, I took a nap, had a nice Indian food dinner, walked to a much calmer harbor and then called Mike Oram, the head of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CS & PF) in order to notify him that I was in town and ready to go, and then went to sleep early.
Tuesday morning came and by 6 a.m. I was in the harbor swimming for 2+ hours and this really decreased my anxieties as the water felt great and not too cold at all. It was 58-59 degrees and I really felt that my acclimation schedule of the past two years had worked! I loved that I was swimming in “British” waters. That afternoon I swam for a second session of 1½ hours during which a huge rain/hail storm happened, but I thought it was really kind of amazing. The harbor is a giant, elongated U and “wall to wall” is just about a mile across. The left side (where the ferries to France were moored) was soooooo rough and choppy as the wind was coming from the south and pushed the water into the walls. The right side was calm (where the cruise ships and hover craft land) and protected. Directly out of the harbor is a long breakwater that limits the severe waves inside the harbor. I swam wall to wall a few times, making sure I gave each side its due turn. No need to be wimpy and stay in safe areas by this point. This was to be the last day of long distance training before the swim.
I went for another harbor walk that evening and saw two side by side sculptures of swimmers, one going in each direction. It was a monument dedicated to all the people who have completed the channel. I hoped that in a few days, I could get my picture by them and be a proud member of the channel club.
The next few days saw the arrival of Pete and Jan, then Dan and Scott Coleman the next day and finally Debi on the seventh. Dan and Scott ordered me, literally, to decrease my swimming so as to make certain that I was fully rested when the time came. It is still incredible to think of how one “tapers” for a 25+ mile swim!
I met other channel wannabees and veterans who were scheduled to swim in the coming days. But I stayed focused on the task of my swim, making sure that I didn’t get caught up in how and what others were doing. Thanks to Scott Coleman for this. He was great with keeping things focused. Dan donned his wetsuit and despite a first time yelp of cold on his face and feet, began acclimating quickly to the cold water and swam with me daily till the swim. We made a wager that if I completed the channel, he would swim in the harbor without a wetsuit for at least 10 minutes.
By the morning of the seventh, it was clear that I wasn’t going to get the perfect channel day. The extended forecast predicted high winds but a possible decrease on Sunday the eighth and Monday the ninth. Scott Coleman, at dinner on the seventh said calmly, “you’re going to go on early Monday morning.” I was second on the queue with a relay from London ahead of me. Starting on the sixth, I was to call Mike Oram (head of the CS & PF) nightly at 7 p.m. to check on when I might be able to attempt the swim. That night he said, “It doesn’t look good for tonight mate, the winds are force five and it’s bloody rough out there. Call tomorrow, as the BBC weather forecast seems to change every hour on the hour. But it looks like Sunday and Monday might be a go.” I asked about the relay and if they were ready to go and he said yes. He asked about me and my crew and I responded “we’re ready at any time.”
Saturday the seventh was a short swim of about 1.5 miles easy, and Debi arrived. I rested as much as possible and checked the weather forecast regularly. It seemed that Sunday/Monday were going to be days for swimmers to make attempts. I called Mike Oram at 7 p.m. that night and he reported that the London relay was a go for early Sunday and to call back the next evening. This began my excitement as I started to think “it’s really going to happen.”
Sunday the eighth is almost a blur in my mind. Breakfast at the Victoria House became a vital and invigorating ritual part of each day. Bill and Audrey would tell stories of past channel swimmers and were so upbeat and positive. I went for a very short warm up swim at the harbor and was told by Dan and Scott, “swim out to the red sail boat, over to the white one and straight back in. No more than that.” My crew was already preparing me to follow their orders! Debi took pictures of the harbor and after the swim I went back to take a nap. This may have been one of the best and smartest decisions that I made. I ended up sleeping almost four hours and woke up in time to go to a nice dinner down the street from the B & B. At 7 p.m. I called Mike and he said, “I’m just getting the weather so call back in 15 minutes. The relay was successful on Lance’s boat and if all goes well you’ll start in the morning.” My heart was pounding and the next 15 minutes seemed like an eternity. I called back and Mike reported “well mate, it looks like force 3-4 for the next two days, do you want to go?” I quickly replied “I’m a go.” The directions to be at the dock at about 3:30 a.m. and meet the Sea Satin (our boat) were relayed and I was so excited. Dan and Scott had gone to the docks that day and were prepared to get all our gear there on time and in order.
The rest of dinner was a blur and we headed back to the Victoria House. We heard reports that Jessica Sullivan from San Francisco was struggling off the coast of France. I had met her on my second day in Dover and hoped she would make it. (We later learned that she was pulled out after 14 hours with a bilateral pneumonia due to sea water in her lungs and she spent days in the Dover Hospital. The Channel sure can be cruel and unpredictable.) I showed Dan how I mixed feedings (Gatorade Rain, high complex carbohydrates, bananas and honey) and then he and Scott mixed enough in preparation for up to 14 hours of feedings for the swim.
It was now about 9:30 p.m. and I was off to bed. I was going to be swimming the English Channel within the next eight hours! Feeling like being in a dream, I was excited, scared, nervous, elated and full of anticipation. I made a short “pre swim video” and then tried to sleep but my mind was racing and I didn’t fade out until 11 p.m. but actually slept until 2:30 a.m. When I awoke, I was very thankful for the four-hour nap the day before as I felt rested and ready. I proceeded to shave my face (mandatory to limit any chaffing when breathing) and double checked my gear that I was bringing. Everything else had been done the day before with post swim bag packed with warm clothes, feeding bottles full and crew accessories supervised by Dan, Pete and Scott.
We arrived at the Dock at 3:15 a.m. and found the Captain (Lance Oram) and crew (Chris and Tanya) sleeping on the boat. With all our gear loaded on board we were ready to motor to Shakespeare Beach. All that was needed at this point was for the crew to get settled and for me to go through the final preparations for this long, long journey. After a short boat ride to Shakespeare Beach, I went off on my own to gather my thoughts. It was windy, a bit rough already, but not too bad. Lance reported “It’s about force three right now so we have a go.” Thoughts swirled through my head, and then I focused on a variety of mantras and mottos which I had adopted over the past year concerning marathon swims:
- Take the first hour and build up a smooth, strong pace.
- Keep your stroke even and strong despite any conditions.
- Don’t swim to France, swim from feed to feed.
- Don’t look ahead or back, just swim.
- You have trained hard, did long and cold preparation swims and you are ready for this.
- Don’t worry about the waves, wind or conditions. You can’t control them, just keep swimming.
- Don’t ask how far or how long or how much you have left to swim.
- Remember the last two miles are the hardest and have “that extra gear” ready to go when needed.
- LISTEN TO MY CREW AND DO WHAT THEY TELL ME! (This was the most important thing I did all through the swim)
- Enjoy swimming the English Channel; it’s an incredible thing to do!
- Appreciate the opportunity that has been placed before you!
- Enjoy the journey!
Finally, I said a prayer thanking God for this chance. I asked him to watch over me and the entire crew.
Time for “psych up” music and I put the iPod in the portable speakers. It seemed appropriate for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The music blasted out the words and music of Karn Evil #9, 1st impression, part 2. “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.” My brothers chuckled when they heard this from down below and they knew I was in the right place mentally. “Come inside the show’s about to start. Guaranteed to blow your head apart, you gotta see the show! It’s a dynamo! You gotta see the show! It’s rock and roll!” Little did I know that I would literally “rock” and “roll” with the waves for the next 13 hours!
I was ready now to go up top. Once on deck, I put in ear plugs, donned my cap and goggles and stood on the stern, ready to swim over to the beach for the start of this final leg of the “triple crown.” The crew pinned a light stick to my suit and I stated “we won’t need that; I plan to be done well before dark.” The boat mate Tanya replied, “That’s the right attitude!” The sun rises early in July and sets late so it was light enough to see the beach.
Scott and Dan, gloves on, lubed up my armpits, inner thighs and neck to stop any chaffing, but otherwise I went without any other grease. The water was a brisk 58 degrees. The Channel awaited a swimmer. I readjusted my goggles (more on this later), adding some fresh water on the inside to keep from fogging. Lance stated “swim over to the beach and get above the high water mark. We’ll blow the horn and you start when you are ready. I want you to swim to the port side (left) of the boat so we can limit the wind and waves from you.”
I stood on the back transom of the boat and took a few deep breaths. Dan, Pete and Scott all wished me the best and said words of encouragement. A lot of this seems foggy as I was in another world in my mind.
I was about to swim the English Channel!
I jumped in the water, shook out my shoulders and proceeded to swim the 25 yards to the beach. Just as I had done for the Catalina swim, I walked up the beach and kept my back to the ocean. I wanted the moment of seeing the channel to be special when I turned around. With back still turned, I knelt on the shore and said my final prayer of thanks to God and to please watch over me and the crew and then I stood up.
The horn sounded. Turning around I saw the back of the Sea Satin, crew on board and miles of water in the distance. This was an incredible feeling. Two years of preparation and the time was here. I raised my right arm to signal that I was ready, dropped it, and began to wade into the water.
Within a few steps it was deep enough to swim and, pushing off the bottom, I took the first of what was to be thousands of strokes in the direction of France. The water was very murky with limited visibility of maybe six inches due to the silt from the cliffs of Dover. I made quickly to the left side of the boat and just kept saying inside “I’m swimming the English Channel, this is so cool.” I felt good in my shoulders and despite a mild chop, set a pace that felt comfortable. Not too hard but fast enough and smooth. Breathing every third arm pull it felt about 66-68 strokes per minute and the crew later verified that I was right on in my assessment.
The first 30 minutes were almost a blur to me. It was like being on auto pilot. During a breath, I grabbed a quick glance behind me and saw the White Cliffs of Dover and the Dover Harbor. This brought me out of my trance and I realized that the waves were now 2-3 feet and choppy. I was trying to stay close to the boat and had to work hard as the wind was coming from the south (my right side) and with the waves was pushing the boat closer to me. I was about 3-6 feet from the side of the boat for most of the swim. The water was a pea green color filled with only small bits of what looked like shredded seaweed a few millimeters in size. This view was virtually unchanged for the entire swim.
Early on when it was just choppy
It was just before the first feeding that I noticed my first problem. My right goggle had gotten some grease on it and was blurry. I had unknowingly tried to seal it harder by pushing my right shoulder onto it after breathing like I normally do, but the grease was thicker and wider than usual and scraped onto the lens. It wasn’t too bad, but since the boat was on my right, it was hard to see the white board out of this goggle. I tried to wipe the goggle but no real change in the visibility happened. It just pushed the goggle deeper into the eye socket.
At one hour the first feeding was quick and efficient, maybe a total of 10-15 seconds. Dan just dangled the bottle via the bungee string into the water. I grabbed it and rapidly twisted the top and consumed the 14 ounces. Throwing the bottle to the side, I resumed my stroke and pace. One unexpected complication was that the crew was so high up that when I would look to them, I had to overextend my neck on the right side breathing and look up and back to see them. A day later the right side of my neck would be sore due to this.
For the first three hours the swim was fairly uneventful. Swim, feed, swim, feed, with Dan and the crew providing some comic relief on the white board. Jokes from Cheech and Chong, family inside jokes, and occasional stroke rates were relayed to me. At about three hours I began to see large container ships, tankers and cruise ships heading south. We had made it into the English side of the shipping lanes where ships all go south. I felt good and strong but it was getting rougher and the wind was picking up so it was harder to keep my stroke even as the choppy waves made it hard to stay smooth. Dan put up on the white board “STAY CLOSE AND FOCUS.” The crew as a whole was concerned that I was getting too far away from the boat and I needed to stay focused on being close to the boat in order to protect me from the waves and wind combination.
In all my other long distance swims, I had the luxury of being far from the support vessel and was able to just swim. This time I had to be aware of where I was at all times in relation to the boat. The water had become clearer, but there was nothing to see. Only the propeller and rudder under the boat were available for viewing entertainment. I began to understand that sensory deprivation in the English Channel was going to be much more intense than anything I had experienced in past marathon swims. It was hard to sing songs in my head because of the need to focus on the boat’s position. This was going to be a swim that I earned mentally as well as physically.
Lest I forget, the swim is not a straight-line swim. The tidal shifts in the channel are huge and are like an hour glass being turned over every six hours with a flow Northeast for six hours and then a 180 degree shift and a Southwest flow for six hours. The period of time just before and after the tidal shift is a relative no water movement for about one hour. (Up to 30 minutes on each side of the tide shift depending on the wind and seas.) This makes the swim course a kind of inverted “S” in shape. The channel is 21 miles across, but one tends to cover up to 30 miles of water due to the tidal shifts and course correction. This is where the expertise of the pilot and boat crew can make or break a swim. Lance and the crew had seen my speed and strength and were plotting to get me to Cap Gris- Nez if possible. We’d learn later that the northeast flowing wind and waves limited my flow to the south during the out going tide in the middle part of the swim and led to me just north of the Cap. The English Channel is an unpredictable body of water.
At about five hours my right eye goggle began to give me some pain on an ongoing basis. It was getting harder to tolerate this as well as being difficult to see the white board messages without having to change my breathing pattern. I shouted out “new goggles” as they prepared the next feed. I took the feed, tore off the goggles, and they tossed in a new pair. My brother told me later that they became very worried when they saw that my right eye was almost completely swollen shut. I just knew it hurt due to the pressure and salt water. The new pair of goggles were horrible! They fogged up immediately and felt lousy. I had at least four pair of extra goggles in my gear and asked for the first pair back. Dan went down and dug to the bottom of my case and got a new pair. I threw the second pair to the boat and they landed in the water. I yelled “screw them, just give me a new pair.” I got the new pair and they were wonderful! After just five or six strokes I yelled out “I can see!”
I later reasoned out the problem. I had a pair of “perfect” goggles which I had used for the past four months and my Swimman mp3 player was hooked on these. The night before the swim, I detached the mp3 player (not allowed for a channel swim) and laid them on the bed with the “back ups” but apparently I forgot which ones were which. Once I got these on my eyes I never had a problem for the rest of the eight hours of the swim.
In the next hour the conditions continued to slowly deteriorate and after a feed (they now were giving me feeds every 25 minutes as I was working so hard due to the conditions) the boat got a bit ahead of me. I looked up and aimed for the left side of the boat. But the wind and waves apparently pushed the boat to the left and suddenly WHAM! I hit the stern of the boat with my hand. The crew yelled out at me to get to the side and stay swimming with the boat. After the swim I learned that the captain and boat crew saw this event and became concerned with my mental state. They wanted to be sure that I wasn’t getting delirious.
At the next feed Dan looked right at me and asked our pre-arranged Cheech and Chong skit question. “Scott, where’s Dave?” I responded quickly, “Dave’s not here.” Test one passed. Then he looked and asked “Where were you born?” This surprised me and I said back “where was I born?” He became very stern in his look and yelled out “LOOK AT ME. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?” Here the story gets a bit complicated. A few days earlier at dinner, the team discussed cities that have bad traffic and I told a story about getting lost in Boston about eight years ago. I pulled over and asked a gentleman if he could tell me where I was. He responded “you’re in f***ing Boston.” They all laughed at the story. Well I was also born in Boston. So, when Dan asked the question the second time I responded “IN F****ING BOSTON!” and proceeded to go back to my job of swimming to France. Test two passed! Later I was told the entire support crew broke down with laughter and they assured the boat crew that I was more than OK.
So now it was over six hours into the swim and it became progressively more rough and windy. Again the white board gave the message “STAY CLOSE.” I was wandering as much as 10 feet from the boat and my stroke count was erratic due to the worsening seas. Finally, Dan put up the message “LOOK AND CONCENTRATE.” He was being very serious and my focus changed to staying within three feet of the middle of the boat. At times I could look at the captain’s chair almost eye to eye when we were on the respective crests of differing waves.
Gradually a tall yellow buoy came into my view. It was the Sandettee light that signaled mid way in the channel. Later, when looking at my chart course, this is when the tide changed and I began my due south push with the tide change. The yellow buoy seemed visible for an eternity, but it gradually faded in the distance.
I just kept on swimming, feeding, swimming, feeding, swimming and feeding. Then, what was a defining moment for me happened. I began to see container ships and other large vessels heading north. I was on the French side of the channel shipping lanes! This was a major breakthrough for me mentally. I was still making progress toward the coast of France.
At what I now think was at about 8-9 hours, various colors of jellyfish began to appear about 10-15 feet below me. They were just beautiful in color: yellow, orange, blue, green and purple in multiple combinations. They were nowhere near enough to sting me and they gave some variety to my visual cortex. Then the white board said “Seaweed ahead.” I prepared for large clumps of seaweed. But it was small patches compared to the giant kelp beds that I swim through at La Jolla Cove. I half expected my brothers to break out the fishing poles and see if they could find some fish under the seaweed.
Ten hours into the swim someone asked during a feed how I was doing. “I’m tired” was my simple response. The waves had been 4-6 feet with a constant 15-20 mph wind for the past 3+ hours and I was fighting the water in conjunction with swimming through it. Inside my head I said, “boy it’s rough out here.” But at the same time I said “but you’re swimming the English Channel. How cool is this?” Anytime I had a negative thought, I remembered that I had the privilege to be swimming the greatest body of water in the world of swimming. There was not even a thought of stopping or not finishing.
Then I did something that was on the “no-no” list. At a feeding, I took a sneak peak ahead and saw the French coast. I could see France! Yet I knew that I had a long and arduous journey still ahead of me before it would be significantly closer. I was doing my job and stayed focused on just swimming from feed to feed.
By the 11-12 hour mark, they decreased the feeding times to every 20 minutes and added some Ibuprofen and Electrolyte mix more regularly. After the swim they told me “within 3-5 minutes after these feeds, you just looked stronger and your stroke rate would increase.” Around this time, on a feed, Scott said to me “about two miles left, you’re on course!”
I was now in a whole new place as I had never swum this long or far. There was no question of if I would make it. Internally I just said “I WILL make it to France!” My stroke rate had been 62- 66 per minute for the past 11+ hours, but now was the time when I needed to be efficient, work harder, endure the pain and stay within 2-3 feet of the boat as the wind and waves were intense.
The crew now had a change in their attitude at the next feeding. “We’re going to every 20 minutes and you HAVE TO DRINK THE WHOLE THING!” I had been only drinking part of my feeds and pouring the rest on my head. They also started to add hot water to ensure no hypothermia would set in. Dan began to tell me to pick it up and I responded with a stroke rate of 68 per minute. The end was near! My thoughts centered on “all the training for the past 1½ years has come to this. Put that extra gear into motion.” I had a burst of new found energy and strength that countered the waves and wind. I was going to finish this with dignity, class and strength!
I saw a sail boat and could see that we were getting very close now. Finally the crew said “this is the last feed, head for the beach.” Cap Gris- Nez was just to the south and we were headed for Wissant Bay, just north of the Cap. I could see Cap Blanc- Nez to the northeast of Wissant Bay. The intense wind and waves limited the southern tide push and so I had to break through the tide here or it would be another 2-3 hours if the tide changed again. I put my head down and pushed harder.
Then I noticed that Dan was out of his clothes and getting ready to enter the water. I slowed a little and then stopped to see where he was, only to get a chorus of “DON’T STOP, KEEP SWIMMING.” Off I went to the beach. It was beautiful and only about 400 yards away now. I could see a large cement bunker from WW II on the sand and houses just to the south on the coast. Suddenly the water temperature shot up dramatically. It must have been 70 degrees at least. I rode a few waves and then my hand hit the bottom.
I HAD MADE IT TO FRANCE!
After a final body surfing of a wave, I stood up in mid-thigh deep water and began to push to the land. I had to clear the high water mark to end the swim. Suddenly the vision of the Normandy landing came into my head. My dad is a WW II veteran and I knew he had lost friends in the Normandy landing. I wasn’t going to crawl or walk. I found myself running up the beach. I ran all the way up to the bushes that lined the beach and touched them. The boat had sounded the horn already, but with my earplugs in, I didn’t hear it. I was running up for all those men who died for freedom. I was a channel swimmer on a mission!
I turned around to see Dan on the beach, with no wetsuit, yelling and screaming “you did it! He greeted me with a big hug.
I DID IT! I SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL!
13 hours and 20 minutes in sub 60 degree water with no wetsuit!
I was exhausted, yet elated at the same time. The feeling is indescribable.
I was now an official channel swimmer.
Dan looked at me and with deep emotion in his eyes said, “you did a great job.”
I looked back at him and said “like Forrest Gump said in the movie after running, I’m tired; I think I’ll go home now.”
We took pictures on the French coast and after 5-10 minutes of basking in the glow of an incredible accomplishment, we headed back into the water for an easy swim back to the boat.
I was in a state of almost pure elation when I climbed back in the boat. Greeted with cheers, hugs and joy, the team wrapped me up in my post swim clothes, sweats, blankets, sock hat and gloves. I drank some hot chocolate and after about 25 minutes, I began to shiver and tremble. My core temperature was adjusting now that I wasn’t generating heat anymore. This lasted for about 20-30 minutes and then stopped.
I was asked “how are you doing” and I said OK. I told the team that “I think I had only about 2-3 hours left in me so I’m glad we made it.” On the ride back to Dover, I learned that if the final push hadn’t gotten me through the tide, it would have switched and at least another 2- 3 hours would have been in my future.
The team said I looked beaten up. They described it like “Rocky in the first movie but without the blood.” My right eye was still pretty swollen and I was tired.
The ride back to Dover was rough and I asked if it had been like this on the boat during the swim. Pete answered that it was. He then said something that brought me to the verge of tears. “That was the greatest individual athletic performance I have ever seen.” What does a brother say in response to that? I was speechless. That rarely happens to me.
Dan was busy calling the San Diego North County Times newspaper writer who had done a story on my swimming before I left for England. He told him of the success and tough conditions. Dan then called Dr. Jay Rindeneau so the email ring could be notified and then he called my dad. I spoke with dad briefly and could hear the pride in his voice.
We arrived back at the dock around 9:30 p.m. I gave the boat crew team shirts and hats as gifts of thanks and expressed my deepest gratitude for their skills. Bill and Audrey met us and took me back to the Victoria House while the team brought the gear back.
Debi and Jan met us at the Victoria House and I just hugged Debi. She had been warned by Dan, “don’t be surprised at how bad he looks, but he’s OK.” I hadn’t seen a mirror yet and later I would be aware of the swollen eye. I whispered in her ear “I did it honey, I really did it!”
AFTER THE CHANNEL:
The next day I collected a bet from Dan. He said he’d swim in the harbor for 10 minutes without a wetsuit if I swam the channel. He did even better, swimming almost 30 minutes. I swam down with him the first 20 minutes and then got out.
Debi and I took a walk in the afternoon. I got my picture at the channel swimmers’ monument.
I had earned the right to be in the midst of the channel swimmers’ monument.
That night we celebrated at the Blake House for dinner with champagne flowing.
Then it was off to the White Horse Pub to sign the wall. It’s a special pub that allows only channel swimmers to sign the wall, ceiling or any open spot. Scott signed first to commemorate his 1996 swim and then I signed below him.
On Wednesday we packed up all our things and headed out of Dover for a few days of sightseeing. First was a day in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh museum and then the Reich Museum, returning to London on Friday. Taking a bus tour, going to Abbey Road, the Hard Rock café and seeing Monty Python’s “Spamalot” filled my time in London.
But the final cherry on the top was swimming for 40 minutes in the Serpentine Lake in the middle of Hyde Park on Sunday, 15 July. While Dan and I swam together I looked to my right and was amazed to see three huge swans swimming right next to me. It brought tears to my eyes. They glided along with no effort and I gazed at their beauty.
What a journey.
At the end of the day, it’s what you DO, not what you say!
Crossing the channel has been a life changing experience. It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It pushed me past any previous physical and mental barriers that I could imagine and was the most gratifying accomplishment in my life.
As I look back at the entirety of the swim, a few things stand out as exceptional.
1. Standing on Shakespeare Beach in Dover just before the start and realizing "I am going to swim the English Channel," then wading in and taking the first few strokes was almost surreal. I was in a state of awe and joy at the same time.
2. To look up at any time during this grueling 13 hours and see my brothers on the boat gave me a sense of security and safety. The event forged a bond with each of them that goes deeper than can be expressed. What a blessing to share this with them.
3. I never even thought of quitting. In fact, at the hardest times, God blessed me with the thought "this is hard but it is so cool to be swimming the English Channel".
4. When I got to France, something happened that I didn't plan. As I felt the bottom hit my hands, I thought of all the men who died at Normandy in defense of freedom and at that point decided "I'm not crawling up or walking up" and proceeded to use my last bit of energy to run all the way up to the bushes in honor of those who died for freedom. Thoughts of my father fighting in WW II were at the forefront.
5. I not only completed the Triple Crown, but did it in record time while working as a physician and parenting my son. This proved that anything is possible if you really want it. The author Richard Bach wrote in the book Illusions: “You are never given a dream without being given the power to make it come true………You may have to work for it however.”
After getting back to the States, I found my goal list that I wrote four months before the swim. I had forgotten about this and there were five goals listed
- To swim successfully across the English Channel without injury.
- To be prepared mentally and physically for the challenge.
- To recover quickly after the swim.
- To swim under 12 hours
- To appreciate and enjoy the process/opportunity of swimming the English Channel and to do it with class and dignity.
Four out of five isn’t too bad and when I think of the conditions, number four is the least important of them all.
I felt that I crossed with class, dignity, humility and reminded myself that "this is an amazing thing, don’t ever forget it."
And as I said after Catalina, It’s a team accomplishment. It’s not “I did it”, but rather “we did it!”
Scott “the Yesdoc” Richards, MD
Manhattan Island Marathon Swim-24 June 2006
Catalina Channel Solo Crossing-20 September 2006
English Chanel Solo Crossing-09 July 2007
About the Author:
Scott B. Richards, MD resides in San Marcos, Calif., and is the father of two sons, Thomas and Dylan. A 1977 Cum Laude graduate of Pine Crest School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was an All State high school swimmer for four years, he holds a BA in psychology from Marshall university (Summa Cum Laude, class of 1982) earning All Southern Conference swimming status his senior year. Medical School training at Temple University (1986) was followed with a residency in psychiatry and fellowship in mood and eating disorders, both done at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. He served in the US Air Force as a staff psychiatrist from 1990- 1992 and currently practices psychiatry with specialty in eating disorders for the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in Vista, Calif.
Since completing the English Channel, Scott is focused on “coaching” his older brother Daniel to a successful Tampa Bay marathon swim (April 2008) and upcoming attempt of the Catalina Channel solo crossing. Scott is considering attempting a crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain to Africa) in 2009 and remains an active member of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club.