Swimming in the English Channel (First Attempt)

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it.

Despite waking every morning for months with the dream of powering through to Cap de Griz Nez in arguably the world’s toughest swim, this dream will have to wait. I feel extremely lucky to have met Ned Denison (Channel Swim 2005)  and Donal Buckley (Channel Swim 2010) whom have kindly pointed out the many mistakes that I made and have been a goldmine of knowledge on open-water swimming, I only wish I had of met them one year ago.  Both swim in Sandycove, Co. Cork and have aided more swimmers to successfully cross the channel than anywhere in the world outside of Dover itself and the Serpentine Swimming Club in London.

I didn’t get off to a good start with the weather delaying the swim, Hurricane Irene turned up on the English coast with even Dover Castle closing due to high winds. I was due to swim in the first week of September 2011, but finally got out on the 26th September 2011. It was the wrong day for a channel swim attempt of which even worse I had picked up a cold and cough. Ned said “Pilots want to sail and swimmers want to swim, despite unfavourable conditions.” My first mistake was not cancelling the swim and waiting for another year as I wasn’t prepared to battle through the tough conditions that awaited me. Even worse, I wasn’t aware. A channel swim on the day would have taken 20+hours.


I boarded the boat ‘Pathfinder’ piloted by Eric Hartley in Dover Harbour at 7am. After loading onto the boat, we sailed out to the starting point of which I swam to the beach, waved to start and the clock began. I started strong with a stroke rate of 62. Time passed extremely quickly as my crew called me over for the first feed. I spent most of my time looking at the boat on each breath allowing me navigate.

Not too long into the swim, I started to feel sick that could have been from not feeling well before the swim, from the waves shaking me like a bronco horse causing sea sickness or possibly from swallowing too much of the lovely channel water on my feeds that didn’t seem to work too well. My stroke rate dipped to 50, (a dangerously low level). I emptied my stomach in the sea and took two Ibruprofen, but was already way off course. After five hours swimming, I had covered 25km making it into the shipping lane, but was dragged too far north towards Holland. The white cliffs of Dover faded behind me and large ferries and tankers appeared in front. An estimate was made at 20+hrs as we were off course and realistically not going to make it to France. I swam for another hour increasing my pace as I did not want to get out, but the pilot repeated his words on the next feed that I stood no chance in reaching France in these conditions. Extremely disappointed, I boarded the boat.

Two other swimmers attempted yesterday, the first giving up two hours before me also dragged north and the other from Zimbabwe ‘Bryan Tate’who despite being dragged north, completed the swim after 19hrs23mins, a colossal swim of more that 60km. I have plenty to do before I make another attempt with alot of open water-experience to gain.