Don's Account

My Account of the 34km crossing from Dover, England to Wissant Beach, France.


Getting lathered with Lanoline and Vasoline

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 !!

The loneliest part of the swim, The Dark.

"Feeding" every 30 minutes.


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.

One of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever experienced. 

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.

GPS map showing the change of currents in the channel.

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.

Coach Grant Siedle

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).

Landing on Wissant Beach

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,