Report by Stuart Gleeson.
I met Sea Frogs relay team at 715pm on Saturday 20th August 2011. After boarding the boat and getting all their kit in sensible places I took Sea Leopard out of Dover Harbour whilst my crewman Stewart Richardson give the usual talk on safety proceedures and CSA Observer Steve Franks reminded the team of the rules and filled out the paperwork. High winds were forecast for the following day, so starting on the ebb tide to avoid them seemed sensible.
We reached the beach at five to eight, Claire Hunter starting off. A good few people on the beach to greet her. Steve blew his whistle at 758pm and confirmed the time with me as the swim began. No wind, sea flat with warm sea measured at 16.2oC.
Kate Stone was in next, followed by Kate Forey. Early stop to adjust goggles - always a concern when swimmers play with goggles as it sometimes gives an indication that they are struggling - but not in the first few minutes! Kate F carried on without any further stops.
Alan Wood took over from Kate F, swimming away from the boat quite often. The team blew whistles to attact his attention, but apparently he had ear plugs in. Jonathon Ebsworth swimming at number 5 tended to get too close. If a swimmer stays between 3 and 5 metres from the boat and looks at the bow, when I adjust position they can too. If I'm having to stop or reposition to compensate for a swimmer going in the wrong direction then we are losing ground and it adds time onto the end of the swim.
Just before 1am Maria Staveley took over swimming a mixture of front crawl and breast stroke.
On entering the SW shipping lane, my attention is focused upon keeping the swimmer close and the dangers of approaching ships. We are travelling at less than 2 knots, whilst the big ships are coming at us at anything up to 25knots. Stewart and I keep an eye on things. Dover Coastguard information broadcasts regularly warn shipping of our presence in the Channel and our limited ability to manouevre, and we listen out for things like tugs with long tows, especially the length. At night this is particularly important, as it would be catastrophic to get in between the two. This is exactly what is happening ahead of us with the tow lit with searchlights. Some ships have the bare minimum of lights showing.
Moonlight Venture, a tanker some 214m in length closely followed by CMA CGM Thalassa which is 347m long are two of the ships that took some careful piloting and communication with their skippers. Thalassa going 23 knots with limited room to manouovre due to her draught. The AIS gives us (and the coastguard) information on position and the details of the ship, those interested in finding out what ships were in the Channel on the day of their swim can visit http://www.shipais.com/currentmap.php?map=dover and use the history button to alter the time and day to suit.
Swimmers have to make progress against the tide for a swim to be successful, this is not an easy thing to tell them when they feel they are working hard. On this swim the wind picked up and consequently the waves got a bit higher. Sometimes all they need is some encouragement and Stewart has proved to be good at this over the season.
The swimmers rotate every hour, for me there is plenty to do with ferries and shipping to watch and the course to keep. North East lane is under French Juristiction, so Gris Nez Traffic warns ships of our presence and occasionally calls up individuals to alert them of our position. Some of the swimmers get seasick, especially when the wind gets up.
Around 1120am the team had a discussion about stopping the swim. With some suffering from seasickness and a few others not wanting to swim again they decide not to carry on. Alan is in the water, they call him to the side and he agrees and climbs back onboard at 1132am, Steve Franks notes the time as 15hours 34minutes. We are about 6 nautical miles off Cap Gris Nez, but assuming the team could continue making good progress it would be more like 10 to go.
Well done Sea Frogs for a good effort. Hope to see you again in the future.
Sea Frogs relay team have their own webpage which can be viewed https://riaseafrogs.wordpress.com/sea-frogs-relay-team-2/ and also made their own report of the swim which can be viewed here: https://riaseafrogs.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/saturday-20-august-2011/