You will no doubt have spent a considerable amount of time preparing for your cross-Channel swim. You have checked and double-checked all your equipment, and now at last you are ready. The big day has finally arrived!
Arriving at the Dover car park you make your way along the pontoon which runs by the side of the Dover Marine offices and wait for your pilot to moor alongside the pontoon. As the boat approaches you will notice that she has to make a 180° turn which is quite tricky at the best of times, but with a dinghy in tow it is quite a difficult manoeuvre. This should build your confidence in your skipper’s sailing ability.
Boarding the boat you will be introduced to the crew member(s) and the Observer. Once you have stowed your equipment, the Observer will log all relevant details from the swimmer and his/her party.
We would point out at this time that the Observer is only there to observe. The cross-Channel swim rules as laid down by the CSA are clear, at no point does he have a say in anything else. Every other decision regarding the swim will be made by the boat's Pilot.
Then your pilot will leave the pontoon and head to the western entrance of Dover Harbour. The skipper will ask for permission from the Harbour Master to leave port. Having left the western entrance behind, the boat will turn to starboard and head towards Samphire Hoe. This usually takes about half-an-hour or so. During this period you, the swimmer, will start preparing for your swim. Just south of Samphire Hoe (about 200m) at a place called Abbots Cliff the pilot will manoeuvre his boat as close to the beach as he possibly can. At this time you will most probably be in the company of up to 12 boats, all with swimmers on board. You will go over the side and swim to shore. If it's at night the boats spotlight will show you the way. Having swum to shore and crawled up onto the beach above the waterline, you are now ready to start your cross-Channel swim, waving to the boat where the Observer will be able to acknowledge the start of your attempt of the English Channel.
Ideally, it is best to position yourself some 3m to 4m from either the port or starboard side of the boat. Remember you are following the boat, as the skipper will set an appropriate course for France. Now that we're underway the skipper will radio Dover coastguard informing them that the swim is in progress and how many people we have on board.
On the first hour after the commencement of the swim the Observer will take his first GPS reading which is supplied to him by the pilot. He will also check water temperature, air temperature, wind speed, tide and the swimmer’s stroke (strokes per minute). He will take these readings every hour for the duration of the swim.
As feeding times will not necessarily coincide with the observer’s hourly report he will also note the time of the feed, what is being fed, and how much the swimmer consumes. This too is done for the duration of the swim
The next radio conversation with Dover coastguard will be as we enter the South West shipping lane. This is where the skipper becomes even more vigilant as there will be some very large ships in the South West lane. Whilst we are flying ‘cones’ indicating to other ships that we are restricted in our movement sometimes, being only a small boat, these are not seen by the larger vessels although they should always be picking us up on their radar. The skipper radios any ship that he feels may not have seen us and asks them to go astern of us. Having crossed the South West lane the skipper notifies the Dover coastguard that we have done so.
We now cross the centre partition of the Channel and on entering the North East Channel we inform the French coastguard accordingly. Proceeding to the outer edge of the North East Channel the skipper will again notify the French coastguard to say we are now leaving the North East Channel. Now we are on the homeward straight and should be able to see the lighthouse at Cap Gris Nez. We should by now be moving south-east as the tide on the French side is always stronger than on the English side. This usually means it takes us past the lighthouse but, as the tide will change again, it should bring us up onto a beach just south of the Cap Gris Nez. The boat will stand-off probably 400m from the shore and a crew member will accompany you in the dinghy to the shore. You must exit the water and clamber up the beach to above the water line so that the Observer can confirm the completion of a successful cross-Channel swim.
We're always looking out for Observers. If you're interested, we would love to hear from you. Contact us