The Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming is a long-distance swimming challenge consisting of three historic open water swims: English Channel (21 miles), Catalina Channel (20 miles) and a circumnavigation of Manhattan island (28.5 miles). Only 240 swimmers have completed all three swims. Marathon swimmer Courtney Paulk intends to be the first person to complete a double Triple Crown – two-way swims of each of the Triple Crown swims. She already has two-way Catalina and double round-Manhattan swims under her belt. Now she is playing the waiting game at Dover, hopeful for a swim window that will allow her to complete a two-way English Channel crossing – swimming from Dover to France and back.
Courtney, a lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, has been in the UK since the beginning of August, spending two weeks in quarantine. Covid has meant that for many people, plans have had to have been put on hold – it is hard to train for a marathon swim when you aren’t allowed to leave the house. “When our pools shut down about mid March I was in a little bit of a panic,” says Courtney. Luckily she was able to travel to a public beach and train in the ocean. But then they closed the public beaches.
Thankfully Courtney was able to connect with some swimmers who trained off a private beach. And she believes the closure of pools actually had a positive effect on her training. “It forced me into the open water. Training all through April and May in 15 degrees was great,” she says. “I got more open water training in this year than I have ever done. I feel really good and really strong.”
This will be Courtney’s third attempt at completing the double Triple Crown. The idea came for the challenge while sitting on the beach in California after completing her Triple Crown and she realised no one had done all three doubles. But the English Channel two-way has proven to be no easy task. Both previous attempts were scuppered by bad weather.
“I did my first solo in 2012 and then two years ago I came for a two-way. Similar to now it was really windy but I had a shorter window. We decided to go and thought the wind would lay down. But it never did. It was Force 6 in the second part of the swim and when I landed in France my boat captain said ‘If it starts to blow Force 7 I am pulling you. That could be 5 minutes from now or it could be 5 hours.’” Courtney was pulled after landing at France. “I could have made the turn but the conditions just weren’t good,” she says. “I think that day ten boats went out and three made it to France.”
Last year bad weather was also a factor for her second attempt at the two-way. “Finally we got what looked like a window and again the boat captain thought the wind would lay down. But it didn’t, and then mid-Channel there was a massive rainstorm. The air temperature dropped about 5 degrees.” Courtney couldn’t warm up after the rainstorm, despite being given hot tea by her crew. “I thought ‘maybe I can make the turn’ but I was shaking by the time I got there. I thought ‘I am not going to make it back’.” Again, Courtney called the swim after landing at France. “I found out later that I had an iron deficiency so that made me at least feel a little better that there was a reason I was cold,” says Courtney.
And now she is on the Dovercoaster again, playing the waiting game for the weather to calm down. “As of last night it looked like we weren’t going to have a window until the end of next week, but this morning it looks like it might be next Tuesday or Wednesday.”
If Courtney is successful in her swim the double Triple Crown will become the latest in a string of firsts for female marathon swimmers. “I don’t really know why women are so good at marathon swimming,” says Courtney. “It does seem like we can just go longer.”
Good luck Courtney from all at Outdoor Swimmer!
You can follow Courtney’s swim live as it happens on her tracker at http://cspf.co.uk/tracking. She will be on Gallivant or West Winds and her pilot is Mike Oram.
For more stories of adventure and challenges overcome despite the current situation, see the September issue of Outdoor Swimmer magazine.