English Channel swimming is set to resume this week as the Government withdraws coronavirus measures restricting the use of private boats.
Following the latest easing of lockdown measures, pilots will be able to take swimmers across the Channel for the first time this year – albeit with measures in place in line with other businesses to limit the spread of coronavirus.
The previous guidance, which was withdrawn on 3 July, prevented private vessels and crews from working at sea.
From today, private boats can now be used for non-essential travel on waterways, provided the latest government guidance is followed.
The Government has also announced that from 10 July passengers entering England from France will no longer be required to quarantine – meaning that Channel swimmers will not need to self-isolate for two-weeks when they return.
The first wave of swimmers to attempt to cross the Channel this year are expected to embark from as early as Friday. As is the case for all Channel crossings though, this is dependent on weather conditions.
Stuart Gleeson, a Channel pilot of 10 years who has successfully taken roughly 200 swimmers across the Channel, said: “All boats have been under COVID compliance with the CSA and CS&PF, and have undertaken risk assessments.
“We’ve had hand sanitiser machines and hand gels installed in all the vessels. We have also asked that swimmers and crew take their own gloves and masks so that they can take them away with them.”
Under the guidance, boats will be limited to taking six people on crossings, consisting of the pilot and crew, an observer, the swimmer and their team.
“They are only small boats,” said Stuart. “But with social distancing in place and the swimmer’s crew coming into our space as little as possible, as is the same as with small shops, this is all we can really do.”
Despite crossings resuming, travel restrictions mean that many swimmers from abroad will be unable to get to the UK, which will have a further financial impact on pilots. Stuart said that this year pilots are “behind” but “have to take it on the chin and move on”.
Lee Brogan, a personal trainer from Wirral, will be one of the first swimmers to take on the Dover to Calais swim in 2020. He said he was “surprised” to receive the call from his pilot Lee Foreman informing him his swim would take place.
“Up until last week I didn’t really think the swim was going to go ahead,” he said. “When I got the call I was quite anxious about the task ahead, but overnight my anxiety turned into excitement.”
Despite it being likely that his crossing would be cancelled, Lee has continued to train for the swim during lockdown using the marine lake and sea in Wirral.
“I have been trying to train as best as I can for this epic task with it in the back of my mind that it wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “I have the opportunity now to be one of the first people to go out in 2020 and potentially cross the Channel. I am just really excited to get going now.”
Lee’s coach, Stuart Hacker, who is Head Coach at the Swim Cube and an experienced Channel crew member, has emphasised the added mental challenges that the first Channel swimmers of this season will face.
“The thing about this situation is that not only have the first set of swimmers had their training curtailed by pools being closed for so long, they also didn’t know and didn’t expect their swims to go ahead.
“The mental side of Channel swimming is a huge thing. Even if part of you in the back of your mind thinks the swim is not going to happen, then that’s quite a big mental load to take on all of a sudden when a pilot phones you up and tells you that your swim is on next week.
“There’s that old adage of 80% of endurance challenges being a mental battle – and I can certainly agree with that. I think that is compounded significantly by the preparation that has been forced on these guys.”
With fewer people now allowed onboard boats, it is inevitable that many other swimmers will be left disappointed, with bigger relay groups (completed in teams of up to six swimmers) unlikely to be able to take place until social distancing rules are relaxed further.
The CSA have highlighted the need to “keep an eye” on Dover and Folkestone over the coming months, with the possibility that local lockdowns could affect Channel swims.
They ask swimmers and crew to “adhere to social distancing guidelines during their stay” and that they “wear face coverings on public transport and on all CSA vessels”.
The other governing body for English Channel swimming, the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CS&PF), are yet to make an announcement on their website concerning the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
Although we understand that CS&PF boats will also be taking swimmers across the Channel when crossings resume this week.