Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation "Nothing great is easy", Captain Matthew Webb

28 Jul 2011Stuart Branch

Stuart Branch

Stuart swam the Channel on Thursday 28th July in 13 hours and 54 minutes

Stuart's Story 

Having spent many years focusing on Management and Leadership Development in the profession of Human Resources, I have worked with a number of people and teams supporting the view that ‘we are capable of so much more than what we first believe possible.’ The concepts of goal setting, creating desire, and focusing to overcome obstacles are central to my profession.

For several years I have practiced these concepts in my personal life. I have enjoyed setting these challenges and have been incredibly supported by colleagues, family and friends. I have raised over £40,000 over the last 8 years, either on my own or with my LE-JOG team. However, running a sub - 3hrs 30min marathon, completing the toughest half-ironman or cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats did seem, even to me, slightly more doable than my next goal!

Swimming has always been part of my life. My parents met at Hornchurch Swimming Club and both of them went on to swim for their counties - my father made it to the National Championships.  It’s rumoured I learnt to swim at the same time I learnt to walk, and by the time I was eight I told a class friend that I was going to swim the channel one day. I may or may not have known then how much I meant it, but I do know that flame of hope, desire and belief has burned away inside me for many years.

I am from an era (I’ve just turned 40) when channel swimmers had their successful swims televised on Blue Peter and Newsround as well as the six o’clock evening news. I can recall the images of a man or woman being covered in goose fat before wading into the sea and, several hours later, being celebrated on the shores of France.

So, in 2009, I agreed with my wife, Christine and daughters Megan and Sarah, that this was the next challenge, the next goal. I started my training in May 2010 and booked my place for 2011. 

As I prefer to focus my challenges around charities, I decided to dedicate this challenge to my Nana, who has lived 40+ years with diabetes. Her resilience to successfully manage her condition and cherish her health has inspired me for a long time now, leading me to fundraise on behalf of Diabetes UK.

On Thursday the 28th of July 2011, after 13 hours and 54 minutes I joined a very exclusive club. I became one of less than 1,400 people in the world to swim solo across the world’s busiest shipping lane – less than the number of people who have reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

The start was ‘perfect’ as my wife and daughters joined me on the beach and wished me well. I waded out from Shakespeare’s beach at 07:10 and swam towards my support boat – onboard was my former LE-JOG team-mate Tony McMurray, my cousin Claire Wright and two good swimming pals (both successful English Channel solo swimmers) – Ian Down & Andy Dickson and of course my pilot Neil Streeter. The conditions were not good to begin with. Force four winds meant the sea was rather choppy, but the forecast was more promising later on.

After 3 hours the sun started to shine and I was well into my rhythm, notching up a steady 2mph. I fed on Maxim and either 2 Jelly Babies, quarter of a banana or half a chocolate swiss roll. My food choice was relatively simple, having spent so many hours in Dover harbor, I stuck to what had served me well during my training and the feeding guide provided to me by Freda Streeter - first 4 hours, on the hour and then every 30 minutes.

I had never wanted to ‘just’ swim the English Channel. I didn’t want to just ‘join the club’. I wanted, as they say, ‘to enjoy the journey not just the destination’ and I did. The swim across was wonderful. I loved feeling so small and insignificant in the world – especially when the tankers went past. I loved watching the living world of algae that is the English Channel. I loved battling with Mother Nature being tossed about by the waves and I loved taking on this challenge with some of my closest friends.

As I was swimming and occupying my mind I started dedicating my 30 minute bursts, between feeds, to various people starting with my Diabetic Nana, Dad and everyone living with Diabetes, next to my Mum living with Alzheimer’s, and continued to my brothers – Ian and Darren, sisters Stephanie and Alison and my lovely nieces and nephew, to all my family, to our friends in Silverstone and Australia, to work colleagues in Masco & The Bristan Group, to everyone who had donated and lastly to my wife Christine and to Megan & Sarah.

There was an amazing response throughout the day as Tony’s tweets, texts, emails, Facebook and LinkedIn messages were picked up and people from the US, France, Canada, Australia and all over the UK replied with encouraging comments. My webpage received more than 1,672 hits during the day and our fundraising went up by more than £600.

After passing the separation zone crossing the North-East shipping lane and entering the French waters, and after 12 and a half hours and 7 jellyfish stings I was instructed by Neil, the Pilot, to dig deep and give everything I’d got for a final hour or more – I was told to sprint against the tide in order to reach the intended landing point – Cape Griz Nez. It was hard – the only point in the day when I wasn’t relaxed and enjoying myself (apart from the Jellyfish stings), although I felt completely ‘in the zone’, I could see the Cape all the time, while I was breathing to my left and I knew the consequences of missing the Cape. My crew told me after that my stroke rate went up from 46 to 55 during that last 90 minutes.

I knew they were happy with my response when Ian dived in and joined me for the last few hundred meters. He and I pushed for the rocks and after I stood up and cheered – we hugged, took pictures, collected a pebble (well, small rock) and headed back to the boat.

The journey back to Dover was great too; I ate like a horse munching through crisps, chocolate and cake. I drank coffee as well as Coke, before gathering on the Top of Suva to appreciate the night sky and homecoming lights of Dover.

The following day Megan & Sarah and I enjoyed a quick swim in Dover before heading to Sussex and having lunch with my Nana, Doris.

I can honestly say I have truly been in awe of the response to my challenge – so many good wishes, messages of congratulations and very generous donations, so many people following my progress – I want to thank you all.  For the people who have donated “THANK YOU”. Together (including some complete strangers) we have raised more than £11,000 for Diabetes UK and The Alzheimer’s Society. These two charities are personally close to us as a family. I thank everyone for their support.

My website remains open for the foreseeable future and I intend to use it to blog about my future challenges: Tough Guy UK, Ironman Wales and in July 2012 I will complete a 2-way 3-person English Channel relay.

Stuart Branch

Sandettie Lightship Observations

10am, 26th January 2020

Water: 48.6 °F (9.2 °C)

Air: 45.7 °F (7.6 °C)

Wind Speed: 18.1 kn (33.5 km/h)

Wind Direction: S (180°)

Channel Weather 

Notice of CS&PF AGM for the year ended 31st December 2019 to be held at Dover Town Hall at 2pm on the 7th March 2020

6 days ago