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USMS Swimmers Attempt the English Channel

A few fun facts about the channel

Author Unknown | March 31, 2011

At least 14 current or past Masters swimmers will attempt to complete a solo swim across the English Channel this summer. They include Catheryne Di Prete (Tamalpais), 44, from Novato, Calif.; Liz Fry (unattached), 49, Westport, Conn.; Dori Miller (New England), 37, Arlington, Mass; Kevin Anderson (La Jolla Cove Swim Club), 49, Jamul, Calif.; Dave Armento (Atlanta Water Jocks), 50, Atlanta; William Blumentals (Stevens Technical Institute), 35, North Bergen, N.J.; Gilles Chalandon (Asphalt Green), 51, New York; Jeffrey Cleveland (unattached), 28, Los Angeles; Vince Herring (Minnesota), 65, Rochester, Minn.; Michael Huckabay (Arkansas), 44, Little Rock, Ark.; Jeffrey Hulett (unattached), 48, Golden, Colo.; Mike Humphreys (unattached), 45, Kirkland, Wash.; George Hunihan (unattached), 54, Milford, Conn.; and Mike Miller (unattached), 54, Kaneoke, Hawaii, who will be swimming with his daughter Mackenzie.  Capt. Matthew Webb was the first person to swim across the English Channel in 1875.

Swimmers will begin their attempts in late July and continue into mid-August.  Many of the swimmers will go within the neap tide window between August 7 and 16.  All have had to do a qualifying swim of at least six hours in water no warmer than 60 degrees.  Marcia Cleveland, USMS Open Water and Long Distance Committee chair, who has successfully crossed the Channel, advises an eight to ten hour swim in 58 to 60 degree water to prepare.  “This is not easy. You will shake, especially afterwards.”

The Channel is approximately 19 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point.  A nautical mile equals 2,000 yards or 1,852 meters.  The tides are strong and change direction approximately every six hours.  Currently, all swims start in England and end in France.  The middle nine nautical miles is a shipping zone.  There are over 600 commercial ship movements a day and the swimmers swim perpendicular to the traffic with expert guidance from their boat pilots.  There are also 80 to 100 ferry crossings between Dover and Calais every 24 hours.  The success rate each season is usually less than 50 percent for solo swims.

Most swimmers will have family members aboard the pilot boat, and some will include coaches and friends who have been instrumental in supporting this goal.  All have indicated that the support of fellow swimmers has been an essential part of their training, especially from those who have achieved this feat.  Says Dave Armento, “One thing I can say about the long distance swimming community is that they are the most supportive, sympathetic people I have ever met.  It is totally normal for one marathon swimmer to sacrifice his or her day to help another swimmer reach their goal.”

When asked about the biggest challenge they anticipate, Catheryne Di Prete thinks that for her it will be the mental challenge of preparing for the real possibility of poor weather and water conditions in the “Graveyard of Dreams,” the last mile or so that can take hours to complete swimming against the tide.  Dave Armento concurs: “The biggest challenge will be staying positive, long after I’m dog tired and freezing cold.”  Gilles Chalandon, on the other hand, considers these challenges the adventure of this journey and is more concerned about having enough people on the boat that aren’t seasick who can give him food and fluids.

Marcia Cleveland, who in 1994 became the 445th person to successfully swim across the Channel, has some experienced advice.  “Acclimate!  Swim enough yardage, swim in the dark, swim in all the rough and cold (55 degree) water you can find, try out different feeds in salt water, and when you feel like not finishing, think of all the people who have supported your dream and tell yourself, ‘Yes I can.’”

You can find out more about swimming across the English Channel in Marcia Cleveland’s book Dover Solo and at www.channelswimming.net and www.channelswimming.com.

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