Heel wat ochtenden Vroegzwemmen heeft lid Mike Hosie in het Flevoparkbad getraind, regelmatig nadat coach Marjon Huibers hem efficiëntere zwemtechnieken had bijgebracht. Op 8 september zwom hij van Engeland naar Frankrijk in 16 uur en 25 minuten. Kijk op youtube voor een videoverslag of lees zijn uitgebreide verhaal (in het Engels). Daarin ook waarom hij zo graag in het Flevoparkbad traint en hoeveel hij gehad heeft aan de lessen van Marjon (niet alleen Total Immersion-coach, maar ook secretaris van de Vereniging Flevoparkbad).
I have been working towards this over the last 5 years since I led a crew attempting to row from London to Paris in a Cornish Gig (rowing boat). We managed to do it but bad weather prevented us from crossing the Channel – we had managed all but 21 miles out of 500 miles! I said then that I would try again but next time on my own – I would swim it!
I was originally due to attempt the swim in 2014 but complications following an operation prevented me from doing it that year. Later that year everything started to come together with work bringing me to Amsterdam in spring 2014. I managed to find the two things that would make the biggest difference to my chances of success. The first was the 50m outdoor pool at Flevoparkbad and the second was coach Marjon Huibers! Flevoparkbad is a fantastic facility that allowed me to concentrate on my technique in a friendly and welcoming environment during the week, with my longer distance swims being done in the English Channel at the weekends back in the UK.
I was introduced to Marjon Huibers who agreed to coach me and change my stroke and technique to one that was more suited to long distance swimming. The combination of the pool and meeting Marjon really worked as I could be coached and then practice things easily and I was also able to swim most mornings before work for 90 minutes. I loved swimming outdoors and the pool is a great facility (takes me back to being a lifeguard at my own local open air swimming pool when I was younger man – sadly replaced with houses in recent years and a great loss to the community). The people at the club are a nice mix of serious and not so serious but they are all swimmers; all friendly and interested to see what I was doing. I really enjoyed being able to swim without interruption and alongside many other good swimmers. You can learn a lot just from watching and comparing.
The swim really started with a journey to Dover on Monday (7th) late afternoon with my two support crew. We stayed overnight in a hotel and confirmed arrangements for the Tuesday (8th) early evening in the Monday. We were informed that the forecast for the Tuesday had changed and it was no longer looking good for a swim with the winds being forecast to be force 4/5 and the waves being 1m. Ideal conditions would be little or no wind and waves no higher than 0.2m. The support boat was not keen but said they would take me if I insisted. As I only had the Tuesday before the conditions became impossible to swim in, I did insist and they agreed to take me.
We met at 03.00 the next day (Tuesday) for a 04.00 start off Shakespeare beach just outside Dover Marina. I think the pilot and crew expected to be back in Dover for breakfast but I wanted to at least give it a go rather than just turn round and go home. I had to swim to the beach and start out of the water which I did at 04.00.
The first 2 hours were in darkness with quite a bit of rough water but I managed to get into a rhythm and started to get away from Dover. I was fed every 30 mins by my support team on a mix of carbohydrate powder and water which was fed to me in a small milk bottle handed to me at the end of a fishing net. Once you start to swim you are not allowed to touch the boat or any person until you finish the swim. The rules are very simple – you start and finish on dry land and between those two points you must be “unaided” physically. You must only wear speedo type costume, goggles and a cap -that’s it! Nothing else!
I found the challenge to be more a mental than physical challenge. You are doing something in a very strange environment with a long way to go, cold water and big ships. You are constantly questioning whether you can do it. Certainly for the first half, after that you have the advantage of being over halfway, getting closer with each stroke and seeing France more clearly. But the secret is to break the swim into small sections – you swim from feed to feed and time overall becomes less of a concern. In fact I did not know how long I had been swimming until after I had finished. The convention is not to tell the swimmer how far or where he has got because the tides will make it difficult to judge what is left to be done and the swimmer could be seriously demotivated by being given a false impression of what is left to be done.
Around half way across you have crossed one of the shipping lanes and had a good look at some very big ships. The coast guard will have put out a warning that there is a swimmer (there were only 2 attempts made on the day, the other swimmer having turned back after 2 hours because the conditions!) and the support boat that each swimmer must have with them has the ability to contact specific ships to make sure that they have seen us and ask for the ships to alter their course if necessary. The support boat is crucial for safety but also as they set the overall course constantly adjusting for tide, time taken and the progress of the swimmer. The swimmer must stay with the boat, not the other way around.
Once I got to halfway, I became more confident and with the French coast getting closer my confidence increased – what I din”t know was that half way in distance is not halfway in time. The tides play a big part and the swimmer can be pushed up and down the Channel in a large “S” shape. The ideal place to land is Cap Griz-Nez which is the shortest point across the Channel. The tides took me further West than Cap Griz-Nez and then brought me back towards it but because high tide was also coming away from the coast, the last hour or so was a hard swim against a strengthening current.
I managed to reach the French coast in 16 hours 25 minutes but the pilot told me afterwards that had I taken another 5 -10 minutes the current would have been too strong for me to swim against and I would then have been pushed away from France, adding another 3 – 4 hours to the swim. I am pretty sure I would not have been able to do that. The last 2 hours were swum in darkness and although a little disorientated towards the end I finally touched dry land – I could’t see it, I felt it! From there it was a quick change into dry clothes and back to Dover in little over two hours!