All fans dream of having the best tickets in the house. This desire applies to many sports events, motor racing, team sports, and perhaps ascending Everest and crossing the English Channel. To be able to watch the drama of a live event unfold is special. But to witness the effort at the closest distance is theatre in the extreme. Without actually taking part, you can either be an official, a ticket holder or pray that the Sherpa won’t mind if you sit on his shoulders as he climbs the peak. Thankfully a better strategy exists for English Channel swimming fans and that is to become an official Observer.
Famous Observers who have taken the boat to France includes both Alison Streeter, “Queen of the English Channel” and Kevin Murphy “King of the English Channel”. Freda Streeter, the famous “Channel General” has also filled the Observer role. Channel swimmers she observed include the Australian Susie Maroney, and in 1994 she observed a fresh-faced 17 year-old by the name of Nick Adams. As well as completing seven crossings, Nick who is the current CS&PF president has also been an Observer. Indeed, the loop of Observers who are now Channel swimmers is extensive and growing.
An Observer is not just a spectator. The dictionary defines an Observer as a person who follows an event closely and comments on the event afterwards. But an Observer for a crossing of the English Channel is the bottleneck through which all swimmers must be approved if they want to have their swim officially ratified.
A clear objective of the CS&PF is to “assist, observe and authenticate those taking part in the sports of swimming in their attempts to cross the English Channel” (see CS&PF Rules page). The Observer is the person appointed by the CS&PF to collect the data from the swim upon which the CS&PF can ratify the swim; for a swim to be officially recognised at least two members of the CS&PF committee must read, check and ratify the Observer's submitted papers.
The Observer certainly gets a close-up feeling of the pain which the swimmer suffers. He/she will be the one person recording everything that happens inlcuding swimmers position, feeds, stroke rate, sea and weather conditions and anything else that influences the swim.
Observers are not a new phenomenon. Matthew Webb had two Observers when he made the first successful crossing of the Channel on 25 August 1875. Webb’s two ‘referees’ were the journalist Henry Wilkinson writing for The Field and the Daily Newsand Webb’s friend Arthur Payne, a Cambridge graduate and swimmer who was writing for the London Standard.
Gertrude Ederle, who on 6 August 1926 became the first woman to swim the English Channel also had an Observer. John Hayward who wrote for the London Daily Sketch was on board ‘The Alsace’ as the official British witness. Over the years, there have been referees, witnesses and now Observers, but they all fill the same role that of verifying the truth of the swim.
Observing Matthew Webb's swim
Captain Webb had two Observers following his historic Channel swim on 12th August 1875
The Observer needs to know the route which the swimmer takes and this involves strong communication with the boat pilot. The Observer will mark times to exotically named locations such as the “Separation Zone” and “ZC2” and finally France.
An Observer will be expected to keep track of stroke rates at regular intervals, ensure the swimmer does not touch the boat and also approve the swimsuit and cap used by the swimmer. Every application for recognition of a successful swim must be accompanied by the Pilot's chart positions and by the Observer's Report, recording incidents, time, tides, method of feeding, etc. The CS&PF Committee may call for additional evidence if they require it. The appointed Observer shall be in sole charge of the timing of the swim, and shall be responsible for observing compliance with the rules, subject to ratification by the Committee. Observers will also be awarded Honorary Membership of the CS&PF with voting powers for the years in which they act as Observers
The reward for being an Observer, is not just to be able to say “I was there” but also be part of a special day in someone's life. Ask any channel swimmer and they will always be able to tell you who their observer was.
If you want to swim or learn more about what it takes to cross the English Channel, get involved. Become that Observer.
The CS&PF are looking for enthusiastic local people to observe and officiate on their English Channel Swims. You must have a valid passport, be over 18 and available to show up in Dover at short notice during the summer swim season between July & October. Expenses are covered and our Pilot Boat crews will look after you. Training is provided.
We would like to hear from you. For more information please contact Mike Ball, the CS&PF Observer Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- 01 Sep 2016
Rest in Peace Nick Thomas 28 August 1971 – 28 August 2016 Read more
- 10 Jul 2015
The first all female relay team from Turkey swim the Channel Read more
Sandettie Lightship Observations
12am, 27th September 2016
Water: 64.8 °F (18.2 °C)
Air: 59.9 °F (15.5 °C)
Wind Speed: 15.9 kn (29.4 km/h)
Wind Direction: SSE (150°)
Data from Sandettie buoy on 26th September, 12PM: sea temperature 18.1 C, wind speed 12.1 kn, wind direction SSE.13 hours ago