Swimming from Jersey to France has long been an ambition of mine as it is recognised as a tough and testing swim. This year I have set myself the target of swimming the Channel from Jersey to France and then from Dover to France inside five weeks so I needed a good swim from Jersey to get me going. This was my third attempt at swimming one of the two iconic Jersey swims. Last year my Jersey to France swim was blown out and earlier this year my round Jersey swim also fell foul of the unseasonable weather. So third time lucky!
My long awaited attempt started at 07:12 on Wednesday 17 July under clear blue skies and a flat calm sea.
If only it had stayed that way!
I set out from La Coupe under the watchful eyes of “Charlie” Gravett, Mick Le Guilcher and Alice Harvey from the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club. With the favourable tide and flat conditions I powered into French waters in four hours. So far so good. Pleasingly a JLDSC two-way relay from the day before had seen very few jellyfish so I didn’t have to expend too much nervous energy worrying about getting hit by these monsters of the deep. In fact, I only saw three on the whole swim and all were quite a way below me.
The first four hours of the swim saw me average 59 strokes a minute so I felt really strong right from the start. This year I have altered my feeding as I have made a point of taking in far more liquid. As well as having the usual energy drinks, this year I included watered down gel in drink bottles so that I could get gel and liquid at the same time. This worked really well for me. For my two-way Windermere swim last year I ate Jaffa Cakes and I didn’t feel they helped me enough, in fact I have never touched one since! On this swim I had peanut butter on brown bread cut up into manageable bite size sandwiches. These proved to be far more palatable and I ate these at most feeds after the four hour point.
Moving into French waters saw the nature of the swim change dramatically as the fast flowing tide from the French coastline was running against the wind that was rapidly increasing in strength. Instead of a mirror-like surface, the sea got very lumpy making it impossible for Charlie and Mick to keep the boat on station with me. Instead, they moved 50 metres ahead to give me a target to swim to. This worked well although I did have to look continuously for the ensigns flying from the mast as the big waves prevented me from seeing the boat a lot of the time. This led to confusion near the French coast as I dutifully swam towards a flag on a Lobster pot thinking I was heading for the boat!
Feeding now became a very testing operation as it was difficult for me to get near the boat in the rough seas. Alice was a star and somehow managed to hand drink and food to me on every occasion. She also took the opportunity to jump in and accompanied me for 30 minutes in the washing machine waters. As the French coast got to within reach I suffered all Channel swimmers’ worst nightmare moment as I realised that I wasn’t actually moving far at all and although I was keeping up a steady 56 strokes per minute I wasn’t making much progress against the tide as I was swimming on a more northerly heading rather than an easterly heading into the beach. The wind and tide were combining to push me up the coast.
Charlie and Mick worked very hard to get me a more favourable route into the beach and I powered on, landing on the beautiful, sandy French shore 9 hours and 18 minutes after I had left Jersey. I was thrilled with my time as I expected to swim for 10 hours. It was now so windy that I only had time for a photo after Alice had joined me on the beach and pick up a shell before heading back out to the boat before it got blown aground. I was in France for just four minutes. We all then had the joy of a very lumpy, bumpy crossing back to Jersey. I had become the 21st person, the first New Zealander and the oldest (56) swimmer to complete this stretch of water.
This is a fantastic, challenging swim as the wind and tides make you work very hard to get to France. Charlie, Mick, Alice and everyone from the JLDSC are incredibly welcoming and professional and it was easy for me to put my complete trust in their expertise in getting me across. Once again, Lizzie has been an angel as she puts up with a lot from an increasingly demanding old swimmer.