The World Cup vs. The English Channel

Posted: August 21, 2018 in Uncategorized


“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
                                                                                                    – Babe Ruth

No question… We’re in the game.

Okay, I used a baseball quote and a futbol title. We’re Americans swimming the English Channel and it will all make sense in a few paragraphs.  Let’s just roll with it, shall we?

Curtis and I both knew we needed to go back to Dover and try again for France.  But there’s a danger in doing something so epic again.  Although our unfinished business (our strike out) was a constant reminder to get back in the game, we both knew it was going to be different and, on some level, I think that scared us a little.

There’s a whole field of neuroscience behind how we recall our positive & negative experiences and how those memories impact our decisions.  Our attempt 2 years ago was both disappointing and extraordinary all at once.  “Let’s just relive the extraordinary bits!” we would say, half serious.

It’s in our nature to want to re-experience what was fabulous, but there’s an emotional risk to that.  Memories can be selective; Our minds retrieve bits and pieces from before, and we create a narrative for next time that is often unattainable.

If you’ve read my last post, then you know we were thinking we’d go back to Dover and win a bunch of money in the casino again, we’d go back to the same pub, meet more friends, eat dinner in that little Italian restaurant with the really good wine list… etc., etc.

But “again” is different, and it’s taken me awhile to realize that “different” is exactly how it needed to be this time.

Puke and Swim:

Picking team members for a Channel relay is serious business.  If one team member goes down (either physically or mentally) they bring the whole team down.  There are no second chances.  You get one shot at crossing the Channel and that’s it.  This was a big deal for me.  It’s a huge investment of time and money, and years of training, and you get one swim window, one day to go, and one chance to make it across.  Choose wisely!

My recommendation is to find people with a strong constitution who will persevere under pressure.  If you know people who will cancel plans over a hangnail & a headache, those are not your people.

Fortunately, we found each other.  Looking back, I have to laugh, because how many people do you know who would think “Puke & Swim” is a perfectly acceptable motto and wouldn’t mind having that shouted at them from the boat as they were battling ocean swells and jellies? I love these guys!  They were all completely on-board with the madness and willing to do what it takes to get the job done.  I am so grateful for this team of Puget Sound Swimmers!


From left to right: Randy, Curtis, Heidi and me photographed at our final training swim on Vashon Island before heading to Dover.


4 Days in Folkestone

Our swim window opened on the Spring Tide from July 11th-19th.  We had a “slot 1”, meaning that we’d be the first to go when the weather shaped up, so we were all optimistic that we could go quickly.  However, it was also possible that we could be waiting around for 10 days looking for ways to entertain ourselves like last time.  But this time was different.

We arrived in London on Monday morning, July 9th, and by noon that day I had already received an email from Michael Oram, our pilot.  He said the weather predictions were looking good in the Channel and was wondering if my team and I had arrived in Dover yet.  I started to realize that this might not be a repeat of “10 days in Dover”.  I sat down and read his message again and my heart leapt a little.  The weather in the Channel was looking GOOD!

With no time for fancy lunches in Chelsea, we hopped a train out of London and headed for the coast.  We decided to stay just south of Dover in a small town called Folkestone.  (okay, new train stop too!) This whole trip was off to a very different start and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  We could be looking at “4 days in Folkestone” and then we’re done. This is what I mean about expectations and trying to recreate a previous experience.  Everything was feeling very different right from the start.  No shopping in Chelsea, no trips to France for dinner, no storms at sea, no “10 days in Dover” … What’s going on here??

Long story short, we only had time for 2 cloudy-morning swims by the Folkestone Harbour Arm.


The photo above was taken just in front of the famous Folkestone Triennial Bell,
shown here:


Just a cool bit of info on this bell… It’s a very large 16th-century tenor bell that used to hang in the Scraptoft Church in Leicestershire.  It was evidently removed for not being in tune with the others. (naughty bell.)

Currently, it is suspended from a steel cable strung between two 20m high steel beams, placed 30m apart.  A fine place to meet for a swim!

Anyhow, I digress!  We got… THE PHONE CALL!

The weather looked good, we’re going out Thursday morning, July 12th. Be at the Dover Marina by 5:30am and “we’ll have a nice daylight swim!” (to quote Michael).

And now to quote Heidi: “Squeeeeeee” !

Our little house in Folkestone was full of anticipation and excitement.  Curtis cooked spaghetti Bolognese. (This man has never let me down when it comes to food!)  We’re all old school, so we carbo-loaded to our heart’s content the night before our swim.

The World Cup

Before I fast-forward to 5:30am, I need to tell you about a little soccer game.

Wednesday night was the World Cup Semi-Final, England vs. Croatia, which brought a fortuitous serendipity to our Channel relay.  (I can write that now, looking back… but let me assure you, we did not think that at the time!)

Looking out from the windows of the house we rented, we could watch as the town prepared for a massive outdoor party.  “What the hell is going on??”  This place was about to erupt the night before our swim!  Don’t they know??  We’re swimming the English Channel tomorrow!

They were setting up an enormous TV screen and speakers down by the harbour and the crowds were already starting to gather.  Honestly, all I was thinking was “How the hell am I going to sleep through all this craziness?”

Our 4am wake-up call meant that I needed to go to bed around 9pm, and this party was going to be in full force by then.  Win or lose, we were in England, and this town was about to go nuts.

I made a plan.

I rarely do this, but I’m going to give a big shout-out to Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones.

Best. Ever. Invention.

Just pop in a fresh battery, flip the switch, and then… “whoosh” … I was launched into near-silence.  I couldn’t even hear the seagulls (and that’s saying something).  Sleep was assured!

July 12th, 2018

The taxis arrived at 5am to take us to the Dover Marina.  In a death-defying, no-speed-limits-here, why-didn’t-I-fasten-my-seat-belt, super-fast drive, we arrived early and waited for our pilot, Michael Oram to bring around his boat Gallivant.  Curtis searched for a Starbucks, but sadly, the marina did not have a single coffee shop.  (Someone could make a ton of money with a little coffee cart during swim season… just sayin’).


A Quiet Marina: 5:15am, July 12, 2018

After an unsuccessful coffee-hunt, we discovered that we were actually going out with Michael’s son, Lance, on his boat Sea Satin (Lance, I suspect, might have drawn the short straw after the game the night before).

After quickly alerting our friends and family to the boat change to get the trackers straight, we met our pilot and crew.  The serendipity I mentioned earlier was about to become crystal clear.  We met our observer on the dock, who was the sweetest woman you’ve ever met.  Then we met our pilot Lance and his crew of Jon, Paul, and Jason.  It didn’t take long to appreciate the combined years of expertise on the boat.  They were all professional, on-point, and serious about the task ahead.  Yet, they balanced all that with a charming and personable familiarity.  There wasn’t a shred of doubt that we were in the best of hands.

After a recap of the rules, we motored out of the Dover marina towards the beach that would be our official starting point.

Shakespeare Beach

Sea Satin made it’s way to Shakespeare Beach just before 7am for the start of the relay.  Lance brought his boat around as close to the shore as he could, and then as the rules state, the first swimmer (me!) has to jump off the boat:

(there I go, no fancy dive or anything, just a plunge!)


Next, I have to swim to shore:


Then, I have to walk up on the beach so that “my big toe is not touching the water” (per the rules) and wave my arms around like a nutter. (okay, nobody told me to do that.  Just excited, I guess!)


At this point, Lance blows the horn on the boat and that’s the signal to start swimming!  I’m off…


Our swim began at exactly 6:56am and my first hour had begun.

Attention spans are short.  I’m going to leave this here and figure out how to make the next 17 ½ hours interesting!  (and hopefully dig up some more photos in the meantime.)



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