I got the Call at dinner on Tuesday night. It was Michael Oram my boat pilot. He wanted to know if I wanted to swim at 2pm Wed. The Earliest I was expecting to swim was on Thursday but a slot had opened early. He told me the conditions would be good. After a brief conversation with my crew I decided to go for it! I was there to swim!!!
As the boat pulled out of the Dover Harbor with myself and my crew of Linda, Clare and Neills to take us to Saphire Ho Beach for the start. I looked at the rough choppy water I said “This is good? I was told It was only this rough because we were so close to shore the waves were bouncing off the cliffs! I looked out where France should be and saw nothing but Open Ocean for as far as the eye could see! France was over the Horizon! I would be swimming into the Abyss! This was not San Francisco Bay. After 45 mins. we arrived at the beach. Michael told me it would be rougher at the start then he had anticipated but it would flatten out after a couple hours. He said the first half hour would be the worst!!
As I stripped down to my speedo and lubed up on the boat, I watched a swimmer getting ready from one of the other 4 boats that would have swimmers on the same tide as me. As he came down the Beach and dove into the rough water I remember thinking how small he looked against the big waves coming into shore!
Michael told me it was time to jump in and swim to shore for my start. I jumped into the cold 64 degree water and made my way to shore. When I reached the shore I went to stand up and a big wave hit me from behind and face planted me onto the rocky beach. As I stood up and regrouped I looked out at the unforgiving ocean in front of me and said to myself “Bill! What have you got yourself into!!!!”
I got the signal to go and dove into the water and started my Beyond Epic Swim!! As I started to swim I couldn’t believe how rough it was. It was like I was in a washing machine! I was being bounced all over the place! This was absolutely by far the worst conditions I had ever swam in!!! Michael had told me about a swimmer who had jumped in the rough cold water and had froze up with panic and quit after 15 mins. We had both laughed at the time. Now all I could think was, Just make 15 minutes!! You don’t want to be a laughing stock!!
I have always had a fear of swimming in rough ocean water!!! I always attack my fears!!! I would definately find out what I was made of!!! I was swimming in my nightmare!!!
After an incredibly long 15 mins I had made my first goal. I would not be the worst swimmer Michael has ever had in his 500 trips across the Channel. Now I thought just make 15 more mins and I should be out of the worst of it! I battled for 15 more mins and made my 2nd goal. The water definately got a little less rough but not much. But it was definately easier to get a breath. Neills who was a member of my crew who has swam the Channel told me that first half hour was Rough even by English Channel Standards!
My next goal was to make an hour when my first feeding would be. During this half hour I actually managed a positive thought. ” Maybe I won’t Die!!!” This would be the high point of my swim. The water was still rough just not off the charts rough. When the hour was up I went over near the boat where they threw me a bottle attached to a string with water and GU in it. As I flipped on to my back to take the bottle waves of water kept coming over my head I had never practiced feeding in water this rough. I managed to get the GU down and just a sip or two of water. It was just to rough. I threw down the bottle and swam on.
The next goal would be to make 2 hrs. as that would be when Michael had said it would flatten out. My feeding would now be every 1/2 hour. I battled through another 1/2 hour and went over for my 2nd feeding. I had the same lack of success as my first attempt. I was getting swamped. It was worse then swimming!!! There was no reprieve from the rough ocean. On top of water coming over head, the waves would keep pushing me towards the boat and if you touch the boat you are disqualified. So I would do a panicky kick to get away from the badly rocking boat! Around this time one of the boats that started with us turned around their swimmer had called it quits.
At this point I noticed I was starting to weaken. Both physically and mentally. Negative thoughts kept coming into my head. It took every bit of will power to push them out. I kept reminding myself I had done 3 6hr. swims in SF Bay. There is no way I can be tired already. This feeling would pass! I told myself just make it to 2 hrs. that is when it will flatten out! It was like I was being tortured with no way to get away from the waves constantly battering me.
When I hit the 2 hr. mark. I was noticebly weaker. I was sinking down lower in the water and getting more mouthfuls of water. I looked around at the ocean around me it didn’t look any better to me. I asked Neills if it was going to get flat. He said it had definately calmed down and this now is flat for the English Channel. Now I knew I had big problems it didn’t seem any less rough then what I had been swimming in. It was still slamming me in the face. I had the same problem with this feed as the first two. We figured out later that it didn’t seem any better to me because I was just so weak!
At this point I knew I was in big trouble I was loosing energy fast and I didn’t understand why? I was getting my calories in me, not much water but I wasn’t concerned about that. I thought I was getting enough. I knew at this point I was probabley not going to finish. But I would prey for a miracle and just battle on. I hate Quitting!!!
Battle on I would! I just kept swimming for the next hour and a half getting weaker with every stroke!!! By the time I got to the 31/2 hour mark my kick was all but gone. My legs were unable to kick hard enough to keep themselves afloat I was now swimming at a 45 degree angle in the water. Nothing was driving me on but Pride!!!! At 3 hrs and 45mins Michael called me over to the boat!!! He told me ” Bill I will support you in whatever you do . But at the pace you are going it is going to take you 30 hrs. to make it. Right as he was telling me this with everyone standing on the boat looking at me I started violently throwing up I threw up 6 times. It was serious projectile vomiting. I had thrown up everything in my stomach that I had eaten or dranken all during the swim. Nothing had made it into my system, that is why I was so weak. I had swam 3hrs 45 mins. in one of the meanest stretches of Ocean on Earth on a couple danishes and some eggs I had eaten for breakfast.
After I got done throwing up I decided I wanted to at least make 4hrs. I basically survived another 20 mins barely moving with my energy on empty. At 4hrs and 5mins. I told them there is nothing left. I would need to get out. When they pulled me out I was pale and very weak. Neills told Me later “Clare was putting on her wetsuit at this time ready to help me because he felt if I had gone 5 more minutes my head would have started to go underwater.”
Mikes official report would read swimmer quit do to being violently ill.
I want to thank Linda, Clare and Neills for fighting through there own battles of sea sickness to be there for me. You guys are great!!!
As I write this two days later I am thoughly humbled!!! I now know why they call the English Channel the Mount Everest of Swimming. It was relentless there was no escape from the Channels power. Linda told me I had fear in my eyes the whole time. I had stared my demons right in the eyes for 4 hours!! She has told me it is very unusual for someone who has a fear of the water to attempt the Channel. Veteran open water swimmers can have waves break over there head and feel calm.
The English Channel has given me a blow and knocked me on my ass! But I have already gotten up as I have through other blows I have taken in life and Dusted my butt off and started to move forward. I have grilled poor Linda and Neills to death to try to figure out what went wrong and what I need to work on for my next attempt. I am planning on working on my weaknesses till the fear in my eyes subside!!!! Yes I am down but not out The English Channel has not seen the last of me yet!!! I plan on staring my Demons in the face next time all the way to the French Coast!!!
Thanks for your support,