Don's Riddington's swim to France July 14 & 15, 2013
by Grant Siedle (Coach)
Don began his swim on Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 11.39pm 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.