swimming the channel:
england 2 france
Dover - Wissant Beach
Dover - Wissant Beach
12-17 C / 53-63 F
6 hrs. 55 min
(world record: Trent Grimsey, AUS)
Strong and very unpredictable tides
Cpt Mathew Webb
103rd Australian, Oldest Australian & 3rd Oldest ever (at time of swim)
68 km (due to tides)
14C / 57F
19 hours, 45 minutes
(Don was born in 1945)
Sir Edmund Hillary
"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
"People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things."
"You don't have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things -- to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals."
Don’s children refer to him as ‘George’ and following his epic swim Don’s son and crewman Curtis aptly repeated this famous quote by Edmund Hillary to his NZ mate and member of the expedition, George Low
“Well George, we’ve knocked the bastard off”
Swimmers must train for several years to prepare themselves physically and mentally. Acclimation to cold water is one the key aspects. If swimmers are lean, they typically need to put on 10-15% of their current body weight to avoid hypothermia, which is one of the biggest factors in failed attempts.
The Pilots who accompany the swimmers by boat to keep them safe are also a critical part of success as they understand the tides and other important weather factors. Finally, a well organized crew can make or break a swim as they need to feed, watch and keep the morale of a swimmer high for up to over 20 hours.
The tides run either in a North-East or South-West direction, depending on the time of day, pushing the swimmer one way or the other. The stronger the tide and the slower the swimmer, the further off course they are pushed.
If the tides are negotiated well, a swimmer can use them very effectively at the end approaching to the French coast, sweeping down in a South-East direction, (swimming diagonally across the tide) gaining a lot of extra speed. Tides often run between about 3-5 knots (5.5 -9.2km/ hr). Considering most swimmers average about 3km an hour, this is a very fast addition!!
If swimmers have to battle the tides, it is obviously a completely different story. If they sweep past the point they are trying to land on, while going with the tide, they either have to swim at right angles to the tide, or wait for the tide to turn, which can add many hours to the swim.
Tides change every 6 hours and are driven by the pull of the moon. The Spring tides carry swimmers further than the neap tides because there is a greater flow of water.
He made it!! Don swam the channel in 19hrs and 45 minutes and glided into the record books as the oldest Aussie ever to do so. Hear Don Talk about this remarkable feet of endurance, "The Power of 2". The talk is 45 minutes long and has high quality photos and video to enhance the live performance. We can also tailor the talk to suit your needs. The central themes of the talk are:
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My Account of the 34km crossing from Dover, England to Wissant Beach, France.
We only got the call yesterday morning – when I was a common hopeful!! The lads did a brilliant job – Grant in Command; Curt took charge of all catering – for crew, homemade sandwiched – including vegemite and cheese, especially for Lane. Curt also [somehow] arranged to defrost and heat the chicken soup in the hotel kitchen. Lane general duties. By the way, wait till you see his amazing camera work – you’ll think you were here.
I was instructed to sleep – lay down all day, but didn’t sleep. Lunch was delivered by the Best Coach in the world – he has done my shopping and laundry at Laundromat and all this week (Curt went to Cricket) to ensure I rested
10:30 PM: We loaded the boat -I was driven down like a prize fighter in a rental car.
11:30 PM: We pulled out of harbour and virtually went to other side of the Harbour wall – called Shakespeare’s Beach. The action started immediately the boat moved – Grant and Curt started applying a mix on Vasoline and Lanoline – sunscreen had already been applied in hotel.
And before you could spell Nhulunbuy backwards, I was in the water – short swim to the beach, then tried to stand up on the rocky beach – no sandy beaches here – we are so lucky in Oz. one big breath, waved my arms, got the signal and hobbled over the stones again – no fancy racing start.
The water felt a bit chilly, but I have worked with sister-in-law Jo-Anne about swimming though hot chocolate. That helped, also another thought I came up with –Marathon runners grab cups of water and throw over themselves; I figure I’m much luckier, as I have this cool water flowing around me all the time – so I don’t overheat !!
About 4 hours in the dark, I was handling the water ok, but couldn’t seem to get a good pull through the water. Feeding every half hour [swim ahead of where the bottle was dangled and grab it as you go by, ‘cos the boat doesn’t actually stop – so by time you’ve necked to bottle, you are being spat out the back of the boat – then have to lift swim rating to get back to Captain’s window] provided opportunity for couple of brief words with Coach. I told him I was struggling. “Just hang in, things will improve when the sun comes up” – remember, we booked this date three years ago and went early because Pilot said July was most reliable weather, with greatest daylight and should be highest air temp – the tradeoff was a couple of degrees cooler in water – well it had been 5C cooler, but came up to about 14.5 by yesterday – just a guess, I didn’t look.
The weather was perfect, which is why we rushed to take the day, rather than wait another. Absolutely no, nil, zilch wind and flat a Wally Lindrum billiard table
Coach was right, once I found my stroke, I glided across. One little hitch with feeding, after my first chicken feed [maybe not due entirely to that], but I started feeling a bit chuck-uppy, so I called for anti chuck wafers, but coach dissolved it in my next feed – not nearly as effective as under the tongue. I called out I wanted one next feed, dry – that’s at I got for feed, but put it under my tongue and was good all day after that – I had no painkillers the entire trip
Nothing much else to report, except I imagine you will soon see the photo of me in the water about [or seemed like] only 200 meters from a tanker that stretched from Brighton to St Kilda!!! The guys
on the boat laughed as I let out a bit of a rollercoaster “Yee Haa” as I rode the bow wave.
All good until we got to Cap Gris Nez at (I learned later – about 16hrs) I was thinking we are almost home. Coach wanted me to lift my rate for next 30 minutes to beat the tide – in reality, I needed to produce a Grant Hackett 1500m in 15 minutes.
We were heading directly into this raging rapid (only missing the white caps) This is when your tracker stopped and I guess, like Ashley, you thought the boat had stopped for the swim in – only problem the bitch, err sorry, beach was 3 km’s away. The boat stopped – in fact kept its engines running half throttle to counter the tide. Every time I tried to swim forward, I was swept sideways and looked up, only to be 20-30 meters away from my lifeline.
The effort in increased stroke pull and hard kicking was draining, to say the least, and was just to get back to boat – with no forward advance. Grant jumped in, which is allowed under the rules, so long as he was not in front of me. Same problem – now both of us swept sideways. I said, “Can’t keep doing this Coach, I’m going to try the other side of the boat”. Lost the Coach in the move. I was apologizing to him after swim – that I kind of overruled his instructions, but before I could finish, he apologized for jumping back on the boat – he was knackered – “Maybe that’s ‘cos you didn’t do the 30+k warmup”, I suggested.
The first mate appeared on my right side, in a kayak. I tried to draft behind him, then the Skipper shoved his head out the window and screamed for me to get between the boat and kayak – problem with that idea, I was still copping the full force of the tide.
Starting to run out of friends, I overrode the Skipper and went for my original plan – kind of behind the boat, but just a little outside, to the right hand side – given the tide was buffeting the front left of boat. The deckhand left on the boat kept watching me (kayak man still on standby – further away from boat). I’d give thumbs up to Decky, who conveyed message to Skipper, he’d gun the engines and move forward about 5 meters. I’d catch up – the reason I went just outside the line of the boat, is had I touched to boat at any time during the swim, I would have been disqualified – not a good option, having got this far. As Kaye was waiting for me to return to dock, one distraught lady came up – seems she hit this same wall and couldn’t swim through it – so after 16+/- hours and just 3 km’s from France she was pulled out – could so easily have happened to me, had I not taken the game into my own hands.
Anyway, we inched our way towards the beach – it was one of those long straight finishes in the Tour de France – you could see the finish line, but if took forever to reach. Then as the tide was now fully out – I can vouch for that – the boat had to stop about 1 km from shore. The good news is that by this time I was in slack water – the problem was by this time I had slack arms !! Kayak man and Lane came ashore. The latter with waterproof camera. I had to yell at him not to get ahead of me (Rules again).
Eventually – pure bliss – my hands were dragging on sand – no more rocks Libby landed the day before just south side of Cap Gris Nez (I was north) on the huge, sharp boulders
First kneeling, then standing was a challenge in itself (sooooo appreciative I was on sand), wobble around like a drunken sailor – yelled again at Lane not to touch me, then yelled again at a Frenchman, who happened upon the beach and he replied “Yes, I know” must have seen it all before.
Once above the waterline, I raised my arms in triumph and noticed that the kayaker was waving his paddle to second my motion to the boat – then I raced (err, read shuffled) over and kissed the Frenchman – figuring that’s what they do in Frenchland, right??
Bugger, no rocks to put down me jocks, so I’ll probably just get some out of the backyard at home
Lane and my newest best French friend helped me back in the water and kayak-man towed my back to the boat – but told me to keep kicking – yeh, right, Maaaate – every time he asked, I said I was!
Finally, after reaching Cap Gris Nez in 16 hours and looking like a 17-and-a-bit time, then spending almost 4 hours to close out the last 3 km’s, guess my final time?
Hours/mins 19:45 and year of birth -1945 – should be able to remember that and the epic closing for awhile
Love you all and HUGE thanks for your wonderful support,
Don's Riddington's swim to France July 14 & 15, 2013
by Grant Siedle (Coach)
Don began his swim at 11.39 pm on Saturday 13 July from Shakespeare beach, very close to Dover harbour. It was a calm night and he started at the same time as 2 other solo swimmers. He began 4 hours before the high tide which meant he would sweep to the South to start. After a couple of hours in the water, the tide started to turn and sweep him up towards the North East. During this time, it was dark and cold and Don said he felt quite weak in his stroke so it was a tough few hours. He also felt nauseous and it was not until a second attempt at a nausea pill was successful that he felt better.
Eventually Don swam into the light and began to feel the warmth of the rising sun. The water was still about 14 degrees according to the temperature gauge on the boat. As Don approached the end of the separation zone which is about half way, he was at the 8 hour mark. His warm up swim was done and now the work was about to begin.
Don held his usual stroke rate of about 48 strokes per minute for many hours and took his half hour feeds without any problems. Eventually he was swept South again as the tide changed and he finally arrived in French waters. This is where things got interesting. His pilot had done a magnificent job to get him to a great tactical spot and Don had managed to stay in the water for 5 hours more than his longest training swim. Now the question was, could Don maintain enough speed to get close enough to the shore to use the final tide change to get to Wissant beach. It was going to be close.
After 15 hours of swimming, Don was now in slack water, which gives a swimmer the opportunity for direct movement towards their target without a sideways push from the tide. Once the tide then turns, it's a race to the shore. If swimmers miss their landing they can spend another 5 or more hours getting to their destination.
As he swept back up with the tide, Don started to tire and for a while, the crew thought he might not make it. Feeds were becoming difficult with a little more chop and Don seemed a little anxious and perhaps disoriented. At the worst moment, we thought he may want to get back in the boat as he said "I can't take this much longer". At this stage, unbeknown to us, Don still had another 3 hours in the water. Shortly after this point, we made the decision for me to get in. As soon as Don saw me in the water, he lifted his effort and started to move quicker to the beach. Our spirits lifted enormously and the captain, Eddie Spelling blasted a brass band version of Australia's National Anthem out across the water. I swam with Don for about 40 minutes and then had to get out as he still had more than hour left. English Channel rules stipulate, amongst other things, that a swimmer may not be accompanied for more than 1 hour by an escort swimmer.
The final push was now on for Don to get to the beach and clear of the water. The tides were very confusing to work with and unbelievably, after almost 19 hours of swimming, Don made his own decision to swim behind the boat to make things easier! Whether it was instinct, cunning or just to do his own thing, we weren't sure, but it worked! He now looked relaxed and seemed calm and strong. We knew that at this stage, nothing would stop him.
The final effort was accompanied by a kayaker and Lane Peters, his American friend who filmed the landing with a water proof camera. Don managed to walk steadily to the shore, clear the water and throw his arms triumphantly in the air as a small crowd of French locals clapped him in. He then proceeded to kiss the nearest Frenchman, something he had promised to do leading in to his swim. Don was, at this moment, a successful English Channel swimmer and the oldest Australian ever to cross La Manche.