Channel Swim Training
Swimmers frequently ask us about training hints!
We believe, rightly or wrongly, that we do not feel it is our place to tell you how you should train. By the time you have made up your mind to swim the channel you will already be a fairly competent swimmer and will probably have your own personal trainer or coach. In which case we feel it could be considered inappropriate for us to suggest complimentary or even worse, conflicting methods of training. Your own training program will already be based on your previous experience, coaching ideas, conversations with other swimmers and the facilities available to you. In the event that you do not have a coach, or mentor, we are certainly willing to offer you some training hints. But we do feel that the most important factor is that you should be fully aware of the complexities of the English Channel, so that you can begin to understand why it is such a challenge, why it is one of the ultimate challenges.
A Channel swim differs from other swims of a similar distance by its complexity and the local environment. You, or your team will be swimming in cold water, 13°C to 17°C (hypothermia accounts for a large percentage of the unsuccessful attempts) for between 10 to 20 hours and before you or your team contemplate swimming the Channel, you should consider the following factors:
Below we list a few of the frequently asked questions, which we hope you will find constructive and helpful;
Could you please guide me, how much training do I have to do and where do I get started?
We are frequently asked this question and if there were an easy answer, we would be happy to give it. The fact remains that every swimmer is different, in mental attitude, swimming ability, ability to withstand the cold, in their proximity to training facilities and in their proximity to cold water facilities. In fact Channel swimmers come from every corner of the globe and each one has different requirements.
But to be successful there is no escaping the hard work, the commitment and the dedication. Ability is one half of the success; total determination and the right mental attitude is the other half.
Where can I train?
The Dover Harbour Board allows Channel Swimmers to train in the Harbour, but you must stay in the designated area along the shoreline. Please do not stray out into the middle of the harbour and do not attempt to swim to the outer wall. You can also swim in the sea, either to the east or the west of Folkestone Harbour. Indoor pool facilities are also available in Folkestone and at Dover Sports Centre.
The major factors that you need to take account of during your training are:
If you are an average swimmer, able to do 2 miles/hour (3Km/hour), you should prepare yourself for a 12-16 hour ordeal. If you are exceptionally fast (4.5-5Km/hour), your swim will only take 8-10 hours.
The Channel is not like a pool, unless you are exceptionally lucky, it will be continuously choppy and it will be salty. If you swallow too much salt water you will undoubtedly be sick and this is something you should endeavour to avoid if at all possible. How badly you are sick, will in part depend on your feeding schedule during the swim. Therefore you need to have a feeding regime which suits you, not your friend.
The Cold Water:
To be able to withstand cold water with a temperature of 58-61°F should be a crucial part of your training process: There are things you can do, to help yourself acclimatise to cold water. You can regularly take cold showers instead of hot, you can take cold baths, you should swim in the sea at every opportunity, especially during the winter/spring period, even if only for a few minutes. It is not important to stay in the water for long periods but it is very advantageous to gradually build up your ability to withstand low temperatures for 20-40 minutes if possible. A minute in May is worth an hour in August. You can also sleep with a minimum of bed clothing and with the bedroom windows open and generally try to toughen yourself up.
If possible do try to train in temperatures around 58-60°F (15.5°C). There is no need to train in water that is too cold (below 55°F/12°C) but equally do not try to convince yourself that if you are swimming in 70°F/21°C or even 85°F that it is almost the same as swimming in 60°F. The difference between swimming in 59°F and 63°F for a few hours is huge.
Air temperature and the chill factor are aspects of open water swimming which invariably are completely overlooked. Air temperature varies depending on the weather and the hours of daylight and obviously it drops during the night. The longest days are around the 21st of June. At this time swimmers can expect as much as 18 or more hours of daylight, from about 0330 to 2200 hours. The daylight then decreases steadily after the longest day to about 13 hours of daylight, 0600 to 1900 hours, by the end of September. These figures of course, assume blue skies and high pressure systems and are by no means guaranteed. On the contrary, these are maximum expectations and the reality is often cloud, fog, mist and rain.
As common sense will tell you, body heat is lost from the parts of the swimmer exposed to the water and additional loss comes from those parts which are exposed to both the air and the water, primarily the head and shoulders. The air temperature is usually higher during daylight hours; therefore the longer the day, the greater the period of higher air temperature and the smaller the potential loss of body heat from across the shoulders and back. But this simple statement is further complicated by the strength of the wind, which leads to the wind chill factor. Hopefully on the day you make your attempt, the wind will be slight and the sun warm, hence the saying, you can feel the warmth on your back. But you should be prepared for little sun and more than your fair share of wind. In which case, if you have not acclimatised to the temperature and to swimming in windy conditions, you will feel start to feel cold. After a few hours, you will start to shiver, especially when you stop to feed and you will need to be aware of the effects of hypothermia.
Locate your nearest open water swimming club and try to take part in as many events as you possibly can. Mental determination will play almost as big a part in a successful channel swim as your swimming ability.
We would also suggest that you refer to the Channel Swimming Association Handbook, pages 45-48, which will give you some more useful tips.
Our general advice for UK based swimmers is to suggest that they enter British Long Distance Swimming Association swims to see if they like them and can stand the cold. Then, if you do, to start training seriously. One of our coaches suggests long swims in the pool in the winter. Julie Bradshaw usually does one a month varying from 2-4 hours, though she builds it up through the year. Then from January onwards, she uses her outdoor pool more! She recommends that swimmers should start going open water around April/May...a little at a time, then build. Sea swimming is vital...go Dover Harbour...it depends of course where you are located. Also, she recommends that you try the length of Lake Windermere first, then try a 2-Way the next year, but not too near your Channel swim. What matters is that you gradually build up your ability, your mental determination to finish and your confidence until you get you the point where you know you can withstand the cold, you know you can do the distance and you know you can do it.
Is it true that I have to swim an S or Z shaped course?
It is perfectly true that, depending on the tidal conditions, your final chart may have the shape of an S. Swimmers frequently ask for a chart of their swim. The chart you require is Admiralty Chart 1892 and is available from Sharp and Enright, 133 Snargate Street, Dover, Kent CT17 9DA, Tel/Fax: 44 (0) 1304 206295, the price approximately £20. The charts are available either flat packed with creases or uncreased, in tubes.
The shortest distance across the Channel is from Shakespeare Beach, Dover, to Cap Gris Nez (the headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne). Most of the England/France swims start from Shakespeare Beach or Samphire Hoe between one hour before high water and one hour after high water, although your pilot will decide on the start time and the place, depending on the tide, the weather conditions, and your claimed ability. France/England swims are no longer permitted. When the French authorities permitted these they usually started from Cap Gris Nez. The traditional start time was about 3 to 4 hours before high water.
Why can’t I swim straight across?
Your task is to stay with your escort boat and to do precisely that, but your final course will depend on your speed, the faster you swim, the straighter your course is likely to be, and the tidal conditions. What do we mean by tidal conditions?
From the web site we learn that the tide is the vertical rise and fall of the sea level surface caused primarily by the change in gravitational attraction of the moon, and to a lesser extent the sun.
As the earth spins on its axis the centrifugal force results in slightly deeper water near the equator as opposed to shallower water at the poles. In fact it causes a flow from the poles to the equator.
The earth is also in orbit around the sun (one revolution in one year) creating not only another centrifugal force but also a gravitational interaction. These two yield a bulge on the night site (centrifugal) and a bulge on the day site (gravitational) both of them moving as the world turns. Therefore, a certain place on this world will experience two high and two low tides each day. With these forces alone, we would not have spring tides and neap tides.
What are neap tides and why are they important?
Spring tides have higher high tides and lower low tides Spring tides are especially strong tides (they do not have anything to do with the season Spring). They occur when the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon are in a line. The gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun both contribute to the tides. Spring tides occur during the full moon and the new moon. During this period you can expect the tides in the Dover Strait to have a mean spring speed of 3.4 knots/hour.
Neap tides have lower high tides and higher low tides. Neap tides are especially weak tides. They occur when the gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun are perpendicular to one another (with respect to the Earth). Neap tides occur during quarter moons. During this period you can expect the tides in the Dover Strait to have a mean neap speed of 1.9 knots.
Your task is to swim across this tide and if you choose to swim on the bottom of the neap tide, hopefully the strength will be minimal, perhaps only 1.2 knots (2.1km/hour). If you swim on the top of the spring tide, the tide will be at its strongest and you should be prepared to be taken up and down the coast line at up to 4knots/hour (7.5km/hour).
How cold is the water?
Water temperature: Generally this will be between 55°F and 64.5°F (13°C to 18°C), but it is totally dependent on the weather preceding your swim. The temperature at the end of June and the beginning of July can be expected to be in the region of 57° to 60°F, but if June is cold it might well be down to 54°F. Then the temperature slowly rises to 64°F and possibly higher, by the end of August. Thereafter it usually starts to drop by a couple of degrees before the beginning of October depending on whether we have had an Indian summer during September, or whether the autumnal gales have come early. There are always exceptional years such as 1995 when the water temperature reached 67°F (19°C) and 2006 when the mid-October temperature was still 63°F (17°C).
What is Hypothermia?
There are numerous articles on hypothermia on the Internet and these can be readily accessed. For information on prevention, treatment and recognition see www.hypothermia.org and other sites.
Most heat is lost through the head and body heat is lost much more quickly in the water than in air. Children, not used to such temperatures, can die of hypothermia in as little as two hours in water as warm as 61°F (16°C), typical of surface sea temperatures in temperate countries such as Great Britain.
Hypothermia develops when the body temperature falls below about 95°F (35°C). The normal body temperature is 98.4°F (37°C). This moderate hypothermia can usually be reversed and a complete recovery made, if it is recognised and treated quickly. Severe accidental hypothermia (body temperature below 30°C (86°F) is associated with marked depression of cerebral blood flow and oxygen requirement, reduced cardiac output, and decreased arterial pressure. Victims can appear to be clinically dead because of marked depression of brain and cardiovascular function, but full resuscitation with intact neurological recovery is possible, although unusual. The victim's peripheral pulses and respiratory efforts may be difficult to detect, but lifesaving procedures should not be withheld based on clinical presentation.
The symptoms and signs of the onset of hypothermia are often difficult to recognise, but they are basically bouts of shivering, disorientation, irrational behaviour, blueness of the lips, inability to concentrate or co-ordinate speech, inability to follow the boat and inability to respond to simple requests or questions. If hypothermia is suspected your team must do as the pilot instructs – hypothermia is serious and can be life threatening.
Stages of Hypothermia as described in Wikipedia
Stage 1 - Body temperature drops 1.8 - 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1-2 Celsius) - mild Shivering occurs. Blood vessels in outer extremities contract, lessening heat loss to the outside air. Breathing becomes quick and shallow. Goose bumps form, to raise body hair on end in an attempt to create an insulating layer of air around the body.
Stage 2 - Body temperature drops 3.6 - 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2-4 degrees Celsius) - Shivering becomes more violent. Surface blood vessels contract further as the body focuses its remaining resources on keeping the vital organs warm. Victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.
Stage 3 - Body temperature drops below approximately 32.2 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) (normal is 98.6 Fahrenheit, 37 Celsius). Cellular metabolic processes shut down. Major organs fail. Clinical death occurs.
Note - Because of decreased cellular activity in stage 3 hypothermia, the body will actually take longer to undergo brain death.
I am a fast swimmer, how long will it take?
You may be a fast swimmer, but for how long can you keep it up and how often do you plan to stop for refueling? There is no doubt that a fast swimmer has many advantages over a slower swimmer. Your pilot will ask you for your swim rate and this should be a realistic timing. There is nothing to be gained from fooling either your pilot or yourself. It is helpful to your pilot, to you and your team if you have an idea of the time you will take to complete your crossing. For a start it will help you to stay within your own comfort zone and gauge your progress.
Time yourself over a series of races. It is approximately 19nm (nautical miles) from England to France, but you will swim more.
1nm is equivalent to 1853 metres or 2025 yards.
So assuming that you will only swim 20nm, the distance you will cover is 37,000 metres.
If you can maintain 3000m (3km) /hour including your time for feeding, then in theory you will have a 12-13 hour swim ahead of you.
If you are after a record swim, you will need to swim at just over 5000m/hour inclusive of feeding stops.
It is worth mentioning that the fastest swimmers spend approximately 10-15 seconds feeding in total/hour.
If you are a slower swimmer, then unfortunately, the tides work against you and the slower you swim the further you will travel to complete your swim.
Once you have an idea of your swim speed you can begin to estimate your crossing time and you can start to prepare yourself mentally as well as physically. As we have already said the Channel is as much a mental swim, as a physical swim.
How important is feeding time?
If you can swim at 3000m/hour, your estimated swim time will be about 13 hours.
If you stop each hour for 2½ minutes, then you will in theory add a further 30 minutes swimming time. But alas the weather, the strength of the tides and your position relative to the coast, are all factors that will work against you and the estimated 30 minutes will in fact be considerably longer, possibly as much as 2 or 3 hours.
How important is swim technique and do I need to be able to do bilateral breathing?
Of course, if you have good swim technique or you are in a club where good technique is taught, and you are still young enough, you should take advantage of it. But for most swimmers, by the time they are ready to make the Channel challenge their techniques and bad habits will almost certainly have become ingrained and this is not the time to start thinking about changing your stroke. Additionally, sea swimming is different from pool swimming and you will already have adapted your stroke to very different conditions than those found in the pool. Additionally, there are very few coaches who have much experience of sea swimming. Starts are unimportant, turns are unimportant, there is no stopping and changing direction every 25 metres and the ability to sprint 100m is of little benefit. What is important, is to be able to take long powerful strokes and to hold your rhythm for many hours without showing any sign of weakening. One of the first pointers to fatigue is your stroke rate. And when it gets rough, you need to be able to go with the conditions and to take advantage of them and not to fight them. The importance of outdoor training and acclimatisation to the conditions cannot be emphasised enough. The body reacts and performs differently in cold water compared with indoor pools, where the water temperature is very often 28C and more. Do as many of your long swims as possible in open water. Pool swimmers and even national champions have found the transition to open water much more difficult than they expected. Utilise the time in the indoor pool to keep yourself sharp but remember that there is no alternative to building up your stamina and confidence in open water.
Will I have to wear grease?
Whether you decide to use grease is entirely up to you. Any type of protective grease is permitted, swimmers have used everything from car grease, to silicon grease to beef dripping but a mixture of 50/50 Lanolin and Vaseline, obtainable from the Varne Ridge Caravan Park is the mix most often used. But here again, experiment for yourself. We know that the mixtures used in Australia are less suitable for our conditions. Basically, the more lanolin in your mix, the thicker it will be and the harder to put on and the longer it will stay on. The more Vaseline in your mix, the easier it will be to put on and the quicker it will probably come off. You must always remember, and it is not easy, but once you are coated with grease, you must keep it away from your hands. You must also keep it away from your face and goggles. Once you have got one of your team to coat you in grease, it is too late to want to scratch you back!!
If you do decide to use grease you should provide yourself with a set of old clothes to cover the grease on your body when you come out of the water, as it is not easy to remove.
Do not leave any litter; i.e. empty grease tins etc., on Shakespeare beach or at any of the other starting sites.
Some pilots do not like swimmers using grease, so add this to your checklist to ask about.
Does grease offer any advantage?
Traditionally swimmers have used grease since Capt. Webb. That does not mean that you have to use it but it does offer 3 benefits:
When you first enter the water at the start of the swim it definitely insulates you from the initial shock of the cold water, this is most pronounced at the beginning and end of the season.
In the event that you swim into or though jelly fish tentacles it offers a small amount of protection from the sting.
On a long swim you will probably find that you suffer from chaffing under the arm pits, between the legs, around the neck or from the rubbing of the straps on your costume. If you only stroke at 50 strokes per minute, you will make 45,000 strokes during your swim.
The use of grease will help with all these problems.
My pilot says I don’t need grease?
What your pilot is really saying is that he does not like swimmers using grease because it is difficult to clean off his boat and he does not want to get the boat greasy.
How do I feed?
It is too late to think about how to feed and what to eat on the day of the swim. These are factors that need to be practiced during your long training sessions and during other competitive races. Briefly your food, depending on what it is, can be handed to you using a long pole or in a net, or in a bottle attached to a long piece of string or simply handed to you from the boat.
How important is it to train in the sea?
Pool training or even sheltered open waters cannot prepare a swimmer for what he may encounter at sea. Even on a good day the Channel is unpredictable and one must be prepared for this. Dover Harbour is an excellent venue for training, being a good facility for long arduous swims, in cold Channel temperatures. It offers an opportunity to practice feeding and is easily supervised, but it is still a sheltered environment. Hence, some experience in the open sea is advisable if possible and will be of great benefit. Try and train with friends and obviously a personal coach can be a great boon. But whatever you do, it is essential that you make safety your primary concern and that when you are training outdoors someone is with you at all times and that others know when to expect you back. There is nothing to be gained by worrying people or causing unnecessary alarm.
Swimmers should get accustomed to swimming alongside an escort boat with waves and tide and winds and currents. Practice bi-lateral breathing as this gives a swimmer the choice of swimming on either side of a vessel and to use the hull for shelter against wind and tide. It may also help you to avoid fumes from the boat if the wind is in the wrong direction. Outdoor training cannot be over emphasised as the body reacts and performs differently in the cold water. The transition to cold open water takes time and effort. An early start in the year when temperatures are in the region of 50°F/10°C is advisable. In England this is usually early May and swims of 10 to 15 minutes duration is a good base to work on. Gradually extend the swims in time by adding 5 to 10 minutes per swim and a second swim per day may prove to be beneficial. When two-hour swims have been achieved, then all training needs to be performed outdoors.
Around three weeks prior to your actual swim date, an eight to ten hour swim should have been accomplished. At this stage some swimmers choose to perform a split swim over a two-day period, i.e. a 7 to 8 hour swim followed the next day with a 5 to 6 hour swim. During the final two weeks of training it should only be necessary to do one or two hours a day. It's best to have a complete rest from swimming for two or three days prior to the actual attempt.
A Channel Swim differs from all other swims of the same distance because of the sheer complexity and the local environment. This is why it is considered the ultimate challenge amongst long distance swimmers. A swimmer needs to be mentally and physically attuned on the day as nothing else matters but to arrive safely on the other side. Start with intention of success, but safely, not at any cost.
Swim training should be supplemented with carefully programmed and observed weight training, circuit training, running, cycling, all preceded by lengthy flexibility work. Never get into the water without doing a minimum amount of stretching. Training for most of us is a balancing act between achieving sufficient physical development to realise our goal, maintaining a full time job and paying some attention to the family! Over training will dampen your initial enthusiasm, affect your well being, promote sleep disturbance, irritability and restlessness and make you more susceptible to recurrent minor injuries. Should you be injured of course, the first line of treatment is rest, followed by a gentle return to your previous standards.
What about the weather?
As the swimmer you are not expected to understand the weather but you do need to be aware that this part of the English Channel has a microclimate all of its own, it is complicated and unpredictable. The one factor over which we have no control and which is the single most important ingredient for a successful swim is the weather. Because the Dover Strait is such a narrow stretch of water between two landmasses, the weather conditions are very localised.
The regular shipping forecasts do give an indication as to what is going to happen, but are aimed at shipping, they are aimed for the next 24 hours, they tend to be cautious and they are for quite a large area. Quite simply, whilst they are useful guides and should always be noted, they do not really cater for people looking to swim the Channel. But, from the forecast and the charts available, your pilot will be able to get an idea of the wind speed and direction and a general view of the weather to come. The BBC local forecast after the 6pm news is also useful. For more information check the CSA web site for weather.
What every swimmer is hoping for, is no wind or a light wind (force 2 or less). Your pilot will be looking to match these forecasts with sea state, air temperatures, cloud cover and his local knowledge before he gives you an opinion. When the sea is flat, force 2 (7 miles per hour or less), there is probably a weak high pressure system over the area, but equally the Dover area could be between two low pressure systems. This could mean thick fog - another hazard, which has to be considered and regularly occurs in the summer months.
What you can expect to have is force 3 to 4, which is 8-17 miles per hour with a wave height of 3 to 5 ft (1-1.5 metres). But, be warned, it is not unknown for swimmers to experience gusts and winds of 15-25 miles per hour (waves up to 8 ft, 2 metres plus, and white horses). The reason bilateral breathing is important in the Channel is that it enables you to swim on either side of the pilot boat to suit the sea conditions.
The sea conditions also depend on the direction of the wind in relation to the tide. Wind and tide together give a long rolling sea, wind and tide opposite each other gives a short breaking sea and wind across the tide gives a confused sea. The stronger the wind or tide, or both, the more amplified the sea state. Remember that the tide changes direction by 180° approximately every 6 hours. So, during your swim you could have a situation where the wind and tide are together for part of the time and then they are opposite each other, giving a totally different sea state with exactly the same wind conditions.
One of the hardest things for swimmers and pilots alike to understand is the effect of weather conditions elsewhere in the English Channel, on the conditions in the Dover Strait. While Dover is calm and sunny, there could be a gale approaching the South Coast or in the North Sea. These conditions can produce a swell at Dover or higher or lower tides than the tide tables have predicted, or longer slack tides, or shorter slack tides. The weather is always uncertain and local conditions can change in a very short time (30 minutes). Hence, it is important that you have some understanding of the task you face.
Some days are perfect, some days become perfect as they progress, and some perfect days are missed! "Shall we or shan't we” that is the question? Travelling from all parts of the world, it is hard to understand in advance exactly what swimmers and their support team are letting themselves in for. All we can say, is trust your pilot, but be aware that he will not get it right every time. There is without doubt an element of luck involved in getting everything to fall right on the day. On the day you decide not to go other swimmers might be out there succeeding. On the day you do go the weather might change and the sea become rough. That is the Channel. That is the challenge.
Is there much rubbish?
The Channel has quite a lot of hazards such as seaweed and some flotsam and jetsam (rubbish and timbers, etc.). Whilst you may have a completely uneventful day other swimmers may report Jellyfish, some oil, tar, seaweed, plastic bags, pallets, fridges, floating timber and even pink elephants.
Are there many fish?
Our Observers frequently report seeing shoals of fish, seals and dolphins, turtles have also been reported and there is always the remote possibility and we emphasise the word “remote” possibility of sharks, swordfish and whales, all of which are seen from time to time in UK local waters.
Feeding schedules tend to polarise into 2 programs, marathon swimmers adopting approximately one hour between feeds and the sprinters 30, 20 and 15 minutes between feeds. Incredibly, some swimmers have got their feeding down to 2-4 second stops.
In these modern times most swimmers prefer to use the high-energy sports drinks, powder mixes with added water. Some take honey or glucose with tea or coffee and some swimmers take light solids. Try many forms of food and methods of feeding during prolonged training sessions; discover which and what suits you, best. Timing and quantities must be right and the swimmer and crew needs to be conversant with a method suitable to the Pilot and escort boat chosen. Practice these methods, get it correct and do not try anything new on an actual swim. Feed programs vary considerably. A common feed pattern is every hour for four feeds then every 30 minutes for the remainder of the swim. Keep feeding time to a minimum, roughly 1 minute per feed absolute maximum, preferably 20 seconds. Practice this so as not to waste time. On an average swim of 12 to 14 hours, this will add on at least 20 minutes and so shows how important it is to feed quickly, with skill and efficiency. Ask your team to have the feed ready for when you stop. Those looking for fast times will do well to consider the system adopted by Chad Hundeby during his record breaking swim. He fed every 15 minutes, he stopped for 26 feeds, his longest stop was 10 seconds and total time lost in feeding was 2 minutes 53 seconds. Many of the faster swimmers now feed in 2-4 seconds.
Speed feeding can be accomplished in seconds using paper cups. A swimmer should never attempt to throw anything back to the boat, as not only does this waste precious time, but also tired muscles are soon damaged. If using a sports bottle or such, this can be attached to a line and the crew can recover it easily after use.
Many swimmers will go through a bad patch during the swim or even in training when the body may start to convert its own fat into energy. This is usually between 5-8 hours of swimming. Learn to recognise this, accept it and understand it and learn to swim through these very difficult and painful periods.
A review of the Observers report at the end of a swim will often reveal that in excess of an hour has been lost by totalling up the feeding times. But it need not be wasted time, a pause is a good time to receive that vital encouragement and advice and to re-establish communication with those on the escort boat.
For further information on feeding and nutrition we would refer you to the article by Mike Read, entitled “Don’t swallow the sea water” (see CSA web site, Nutrition).
Why are the Coastguards involved in my swim?
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, On average 500-600 merchant ships pass through the Dover Strait each day. Some of these are over 340m (1000ft) in length, have a draft of nearly 25 m and weigh over 300,000 tonnes. Remember that these large ships are restricted in their manoeuvrability. They carry everything from clothing, to electrical goods, to cars, to molasses, to oil, to armaments, to nuclear fuel. They travel at anything between 8-25 knots/hour, it does not sound much until you realise that at 25 knots, a tanker covers a mile in 2 minutes. Super impose on this orderly and in some cases, not so orderly picture, 100 ferries crossing the channel each day at 21 knots. Add the new high speed ferries crossing at 45 knots (over 50mph), and may be 50-70 local yachts and holiday makers, coastal protection vessels, naval vessels, cruise liners up to 100,000 tonnes using Dover, Dover, Folkestone, Ramsgate, Boulogne and Calais fishermen, Charter boats for anglers and 5 channel swimmers who move a 1.5 knots/hour.
Because of the large number of International vessels passing through the Strait it is divided into shipping lanes, akin to a motorway. On the English side, the South West Lane is reserved for vessels travelling down Channel to the Atlantic. On the French side, the North East Lane is reserved for vessels which are travelling up to North Sea ports. Additionally there local inshore zones, so starting from Shakespeare Beach, the swimmer first enters the English inshore traffic zone which is about 5 nautical miles wide, this is followed by the South West Lane which is approximately 4 nautical miles wide. In the middle of the Channel is an area known as the Separation Zone, which is one nautical mile wide. Then as the swimmer enters French waters, there is the North East Lane which is approximately 5 nautical miles wide, followed by the French inshore traffic zone which is at least 3 nautical miles wide, depending on where you are, in relation to the French beaches.
What is the role of the Coastguards?
The English Coastguards are stationed at Langdon Battery Dover, high on the cliffs just east of Dover harbour. The French Coastguards, (CROSS) are stationed at Cap Gris Nez. Both organisations keep radar and VHF watch on the whole of this area, liaising with the vessels using the English Channel. They broadcast navigation bulletins every half hour and log vessels using the lanes to co-ordinate their movements and monitor safety. Our pilots report into the Coastguards as the swim commences, again as they enter each of the shipping lanes and again as the swim finishes. The Coastguards advise shipping of the presence of pilot boats as they cross the shipping lanes and keep a watchful eye on your progress.
Whether you are making a solo attempt or are part of a relay, always remember that you are part of a team. Your family, your own friends and colleagues, your team on board the escort boat, your observer, your pilot and his crew will all have helped to make your dream come true. The Channel is one swim where teamwork is all-important.