The English Channel is the swimmers' equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Both have a rich history. Many attempts fall short, a small percentage reach their mark, but all who take the step are winners, since they are motivated to accomplish the extraordinary, requiring enormous commitment and sacrifices in pursuit of their challenge.
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
Some great quotes by Sir Edmund Hillary- a self described ‘average bloke’
"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.