Pilots report by Stuart Gleeson
|The team before the swim.|
The team arrived at Dover Marina shortly before CSA Observer Keith Oiler just before 0900. I introduce everyone to everyone else - my crewman today is Garry Clarke. The team of swimmers cossists of five swimmers - Graham, Simon, Dominic, Chris & Liam. Supporting is Dee, Alice & Phil.
|The Funk Seal Brothers (with Dee & Alice)|
Around 0915 I give the safety briefing to the team & hand over to Keith for the CSA rules of the swim whilst Garry & I make preparations to leave the public pontoon. Graham is to be the first swimmer, he does some warming up as we head to Samphire Ho. 0944 - Graham swims to shore. Keith & I agree on the time & the swim commences officially at 0945 as Graham reenters the water starting the team on their Channel relay adventure. Graham chooses to swim on the Starboard side, either side can be accomodated for on this boat.
At 1020 I notify Dover Coastguard with the mandatory information regarding the nature of our journey & the number of people on board. A Channel swimmer (or team) name are registered with the Coastguard as part of the pre season administration. This means that the Coastguard (on both sides of the Channel) are aware of our intention to undertake a swim & that we are under restricted manuevreability. Information broadcasts at regular intervals informs shipping passing through the Dover Strait of our presence. AIS (Automatic Identification of Ships) Radar also is used by the coastguards, shipping & us to safely navigate in a manner that would otherwise be in contravention of the regulations regarding crossing the shipping lanes.
The first hour passes without incident, inshore waters are occupied by other escort vessels, some ahead, a few behind.
At 1045 the first change over is made - Simon enters the water behind Graham. Graham is assisted up the ladder & the swim continues.
Shortly after, as is usual on all trips the observer takes various information for the official report whihch consists of latitude & longtitude positions (my screen provides the details), whether the tide is flooding, ebbing or slackwater, the sea temperature, air temperature & sea state. Stroke rate of the swimmer is also noted by the observer, sometimes I might enquire on whether it has changed but generally this is obvious.
Throughout Simon's hour the procession of Ferries continues between Dover & Calais. A small yacht & rib also are in our vicinity. Jellyfish (which have been quite common this season) are sighted for the first time. At 1145 Dominic takes over from Simon.
|Dee Seabrook & Alice Hubbard|
By 1230 the flood is taking us up the Channel.
Chris takes over from Dominic at 1245. Just before 1300 a small French yacht passes close astern. Other escort boats are travelling at about the same speed as us - Viking Princess are 3/4 mile ahead whilst Sea Farer 2, Optimist, Anastasia & Gallivant are 2 miles to port. Dee calls Chris closer to the baot at 1318. Following the boat is a basic but essential skill in Channel swimming. Keeping sight of the nose of the boat at least every other stroke means that when I make a slight alteration the swimmer should move accordingly. Slight adjustments have to be made regularly especially on crossing the shipping lanes. 1328 - Liam is getting ready to swim. 1333. Ferry Rodin passes close on port side on the way to Calais, followed a few minutes later by Dieppe Seaways.
1342 - Car transporter Paradise Ace passes ahead. Liam enters the water at 1345, Chris returns on board.
At 1350 I notify Dover Coastguard that we have entered the SW Lane. This is a formality in some ways as we are clearly visible on radar, but it also reminds them of our journey & is a back up in case of any sort of malfunction. At 1352 a small yacht passes close on the Starboard side. A small tanker passes about half a mile in front.
1445 - Graham starts his second swim.
1527 - Container ship Niledutch Cape Town bound for LeHavre passes half a mile astern.
|Graham Knott (2nd swim)|
At 1645 Dominic enters the water, Simon exits. At 1718 I notify Dover Coastguard that we are leaving the SW lane & entering the separation zone. Shortly after (1721) I notify Gris Nez Traffic (the French Coastguard) that we are leaving the separation zone & entering the North East lane.
At 1727 a container ship of the VFB line, Xin Beijing (336 metres long) passes about 3/4 mile across bow. Not so large, but still significant a few minutes later is a Hapag Lloyd container ship passes a mile & a half ahead.
1745 Chris in, Dominic finished. An uneventful hour, everyone has settled into the general routine & is looking after each other well. An hour later - 1845 - Liam takes over from Chris. At 1855 I see a dophin on the port side. Everyone else is fixated on the opposite side & there is some joking that I must be seeing things. A good job I suppose that one of us is keeping a good watch on this trip!
At 1918 a small tanker passes 1/2 a mile in front. The traffic is not too heavy today. Lightsticks & strobes are now being attached to various swimmers goggles ready for the night shift.
Graham takes over from Liam at 1945. Two small to medium sized tankers pass ahead during the change over at varying distances. During the next hour darkness begins to fall, the Moon being full reflecting the strength of today's tide & the distance tracked by the team. During these hours of a trip in the North East Lane at night Garry & I are monitoring the position of other vessels, listening to the radio for information (much in the way a parent listens out for a child crying in the night) & keeping our course steady with due regard to the state of the tide & prevailing conditions. Teams & solo swimmers can tire without really knowing when the sun goes down. At 2020 I talk to Simon & Dee about the importance of making ground in the next two hours so that we have a chance of making shore in good time. When the tide floods into the Channel whilst a team (or solo swimmer) are still in the deep water of the NE lane, it can push the swimmers back out away from the coast making success much less likely. The tide builds in strength in the second & third hours after the change & slackens off only towards the end of the fifth or sixth hour before changing again. This is why Channel swimming is hard & one of the reasons why many do not make it across.
2045 - Simon takes over from Graham. The team are especially encouraging now, knowing the importance in making distance in this next two hours. Simon makes a good effort & hands over to Dominic at 2145. At 2150 I notify Gris Nez Traffic that we are entering French Inshore waters & leaving the NE shipping lane.
The boats we have travelled with today are still with us - Viking Princess is still about a mile ahead. Sea Farer 2 is about half a mile astern. Optimist, Gallivant & Anastasia are ahead to port also.
2230. Garry Clarke explains the mechanics of our heading & current position ot Chris & reiterates the importance of making progress now that the tide is flooding up the Channel.
Chris sets off for his hour at 2245, swimming strongly. We pass the Abbeville buoy on our starboard side. Landing looks likely to be NE of Cap Blanc. At 2325 I note the sea is flat calm. Moon light is strong with cliffs in sight. A small yacht passes astern at 2335.
2345. Liam takes over from Chris. At 2358 Reg Brickell, pilot of Viking Princess contacts Gris Nez Traffic & informs them that their swimmer has landed & that they are now on a return leg of a 2 way swim. At 0010 I set Garry the task of preparing the tender ready to accompany the swimmer who lands. That will be Graham, who takes over from Liam at 0045. Very impressive night swim from Liam who is congratulated by everyone for a good effort.
At 0055 we cast Garry off into the darkness to follow Graham. Depth sensors keep me aware of how much water is under the keel & I keep Sea Leopard about 100m off shore. The search light provides the view that everyone wants to see at 0059 - Graham standing on the sand of Sangatte.
Garry brings Graham back to the boat & once onboard we make preparations to return to Dover whilst the team congratulate each other. They have managed to beat their friends who swam yesterday so there is more celebrating. Keith confirms the finish time to me - the observer is the person who records the official time, but we syncronise timing at the start of the swim & confirm at the end in case of any problem with timepieces.
At 0120 I contact Gris Nez Traffic to inform them that our swimmer is safely back on board & that we are returning to Dover. I then contact Dover Coastguard with much the same information. Dover Coastguard kindly congratulates the swimmers & wishes us a safe journey home.
The trip back was unremarkable & the team left the boat at 0404.