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Train for the worst and hope for the best – it might happen

Garry Seghers took part in an English Channel relay this summer for Diabetes UK. He shares his experience here.

A year’s worth of training getting used to cold water and night swimming, and then enduring the two-hour qualifying swim in Dover Harbour, testing various seasickness tablets, wristbands and ginger sweets, was well worth the effort. Monday 8 September 2014 was a lovely day for a swim across the English Channel as two Diabetes teams set out from Shakespeare Beach Dover, but we have contrasting stories to tell.
I was part of team ‘Tidetastic,’ comprising Marie (Team Captain), Paul (team cook), Alastair (team minister), Roelof (our South African representative), Caroline (team videographer) and me (team first aider). Our boat was ‘Gallivant’ and we raised £12500 for Diabetes UK.
The other Diabetes UK team was ‘Into the Deep’ with Jason, Stuart, Anjelica, Colin, Helena and Rachel on ‘Sea Satin’.
For me this was a surrealistic experience watching the sunset over England in the west and seeing the moon rise over France in the east while sitting on a small boat cheering our fellow swimmers on. We’d trained hard, listened to all the stories and had prepared for a rough, tough day but in the end, and fortunately, we had a beautifully smooth crossing. Nobody was sea sick and nobody was stung, the sun was shining and the water was a warm 18 degrees Celsius. The worst that happened was when Caroline thought she was going to swim into one of the container ships going by, but Paul reassured her: “the ‘Captain’ has had a word and we are fine” – some of us are more gullible than others.
Obviously, having everything going to plan doesn’t make much of a story, but it’s good to know that things can go well on an English Channel relay. However, for our friends on ‘Sea Satin’ the experience was more traumatic. For example, Colin dived in and immediately face-planted a jellyfish, but courageously carried on swimming. Several of the others were also stung and two were seasick.
Both teams started together from Shakespeare Beach at 6.53am. Marie, our Captain, began the relay, and we started pulling ahead of ‘Into the Deep’. By half way our pilot (James Willi) estimated we were just over a mile ahead.
Then, at four miles from the French coast, a moment of drama… James informed us we were about to be pushed eight miles down the coast by the current unless we sped up. Our final two swimmers then had the hardest legs, both swimming in the dark and fighting the Spring tide. For a while, Alistair could hardly make any progress despite his best efforts and the support of the entire team shouting encouragement. Finally he broke through and landed on the French shore at 9.46pm giving us a total time of 14 hours 53 minutes.
Meanwhile ‘Into the Deep’ had caught the full force of the tide and was swept down the coast. Consequently they didn’t hit land until 18 hours 32 minutes, just showing how much of an impact tides make to a Channel swim.
The next day team ‘Tidetastic’ visited the White Horse Pub in Dover to continue the tradition of writing the team names, completion time and date on the walls; ‘Tidetastic’ is right above the door.
A big thank you is required for the efforts of the Diabetes UK support team, especially Lynsey Hughes (National Events Manager), whose dedication in organising and preparing us for our swim really made a difference, and James (our pilot) and his crew and official observer that really made the team gel and push for the finish.
Garry Seghers was the oldest member of Team ‘Tidetastic’. He lives in Pye Green, Cannock, and trains with Burntwood SC.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.