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

02 Oct 2011Marcy MacDonald

Marcy MacDonald

Bookend Swims was the theme of the year for Marcy.  She was the first and last swimmer of 2011.

I’m on a quest to swim across the English Channel 15 times, and I’m trying to do it in different ways to accomplish those numbers.

Many people ask me, “why, do you continue going back to England to swim the channel?“, and I do now believe I was made to swim in those cooler waters of the world.

In 2011, I had a goal of completing 2 crossings, but I really didn’t want to do a double, and I don’t know if this older body has another multiple crossing in it, BUT I knew I could do 2 solos, so why not be the 1st and Last crossing for a season.

The June swim would be easy (in the sense of ‘getting in the water 1st’); not too many swimmers want to swim in this month. I booked for June, knowing the water would be the coldest for the season. So, on June 26th, 2011 I met up with Mike Oram on the ‘Gallivant‘. He looked a bit worried because my weight was down, some 15 pounds, I was fit but I had seemed to have lost my baby fat that had kept me quite comfortable in past swims.

I was pretty confident, never over-confident; anything can happen out there, even for seasoned channel swimmers. My pre-swim time in Dover Harbor was sufficient and the week prior had been over-cast and extra cold, it wasn’t pleasant being in the water but it was beneficial to my psyche.

Our weather forecast for June 26th was fantastic, once the fog lifted. Mike hoped to put me in the water for 7am from Shakespeare Beach but the fog prevented us to start until 8am. Water conditions were GREAT, flat water but it was very cold, extra cold with that blanket of overcast preventing the sun to beat down on my chilled back. I don’t think the water temperatures topped 58F/14.5C.

I had traveled by myself this time to Dover, hoping I would find a friend who wanted to take a day trip across the channel and feed me. I was fortunate to meet up with channel swimmer and friend, David Chisholm, on the beach who was happy to come along with me. David was fantastic, very organized and prepared my feeds perfectly.

Kevin Murphy, the King of Channel, was our CS&PF observer, and Derek Carter and James Willie handled ’Gallivant’ perfectly for me when Mike wasn’t at the helm.

Kevin stated that it was a boring swim because I didn’t complain and kept swimming, but after all my past experiences, I knew I didn’t have anything to complain about, and the more you stop to talk, the longer I was going to be out there. That’s not to say, I was happy… I wasn’t. I was COLD, I couldn’t keep my fingers close together and became very quiet during my feedings, alerting Mike I wasn’t comfortable out there.

I didn’t see anything exciting out, the light fog prevented any sight of vessels traveling in the shipping lanes, so it was a boring day out there. David continued bringing the Maxim mix every 30 minutes, until Mike noticed I wasn’t taking in the nourishment, my belly was so blotted and I tried to force it down, knowing I needed the calories.

As we closed in on the French shores, Mike told David just to let me swim in, missing my final feed, but knowing I would finish.

10 hours, 34 minutes for #11, I was very happy told myself I would never swim that early in the season again... on to working toward  the other bookend.

#12 happened so fast, it was unbelievable.

I wanted to be the final crossing and to swim in October; I had swam in all the swim-able months for crossings (with the exception of Kevin Murphy’s May and November swims, I don’t even want to think about those temperatures). After a full summer of training, I felt fantastic and looked forward to a few days in Dover Harbor to accommodate to the cooler water. The temperatures of the water in Connecticut had risen to a balmy 73 degrees (23C). I knew the channel would still be on the warmer side, compared to my earlier June swim, but it still would be much cooler than I had been swimming in at home.

Janet Galya, my partner and crew chief, traveled with me this time. We met up with Scott Lautman, channel swimmer and friend from Seattle, Washington. Scott really needed to get back to visit Dover and this was a perfect opportunity. Janet and Scott are friends and I knew it would be another fantastic team out on the water, as long as the weather cooperated.

We all arrived in Dover on Saturday, October 1st. Scott was arriving later in the afternoon, so I decided to say ’hello’ to the channel with quick swim after settling down at the Victoria Guest House.

Janet and I walked down to the harbor, looking for Freda and Barry’s swimmers, it was the final weekend for training and we were hoping to catch-up with some of them. It was a ’hot’ day for Dover, the beach was full with sun-bathers but no channel swimmers, I had the water to myself.

After a very short 30 minute swim-dip, I got out and found Janet chatting with Freda. It was a good time and we made arrangements to meet up later for dinner.

Janet & I went back to the Victoria and arrived just in time to have tea with Scott, Bill and Audrey before a quick nap. We decided to surprise Freda with ’Fish and Chips’, an early dinner and get back for an early sleep.

We had dinner up at Kevin and Jane Murphy’s flat, over-looking Dover Harbor, the lights of the Ferry port came on very early at this time of year, and I knew there would be a strong chance I would swimming into the darkness. We talked about the swim for later in the week, and arranged meeting the next day for a swim in the harbor, Freda’s final day for the season.

We all had a restful slumber, and Sunday’s breakfast was delicious at the Guest House: 2 fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast with plenty of coffee.

At around 9am, Bill received a phone call and it was Mike Oram on the other side, he was on the channel escorting a kayaker in ’perfect conditions’. I was surprised to hear his voice this early, the tide hadn’t changed to the neap yet, but he offered me the swim with his son, Lance Oram, for later in the afternoon.


I went back into the dining room to discuss the proposal with Janet and Scott, could we get everything ready in 3 hours?

Conditions were fantastic… so we took the challenge.

Time to get ready, I went upstairs to get my 'stuff together’ while Janet and Scott went the store for their food supplies and water for my feeds. This had never happened to us before, less than 24 hours in the country and we were going for the crossing.

I was trying to inform my friends through emails and Facebook posts between packing the bags. Good thing Liz Fry had left some extra Maxim from her double crossing. The water bottles and thermos’ were cleaned and we packed the car for the trip down to the harbor. Bill Hamblin was generous to bring us down, one less taxi trip.

We met Lance Oram and his crew on 'Sea Satin’ at 12:30pm. I could not believe we were heading out, but it was prefect. Being a 'spring tide’ Lance decided to send me off on Abbott’s Cove, a longer boat ride but we needed the extra time to get ready.

The cove beach had swimmers hanging out, enjoying the beautiful sunny day.

At 2pm, I started the swim in these beautiful conditions.  There seemed to be so much fun going on the boat, the spirit spilled out into the water onto me. I enjoyed watching them, knowing how long the trip across the channel could be.

I had spoke to Mike about my feeding problem, getting too blotted, and we decided to push the feeds to 1 hour apart, and this technique really did help.

I was visited by Mike and James after their escort event, it was strange to be sandwiched between two boats, but in either direction I had someone to look at.

I ran into some very painful Jellyfish this time. I had never been stung in the channel before, but these jellies were so intense, close to the Man-of-war stings I got in Hawaiian water.

This also was the 1st time I had a companion swimmer join me. I warned Scott before he jumped in about the jellies but as soon as he entered he was stung. We swam together during the final hour of sunshine for the day. The sunset in the western skies was spectacular, a memory that will always stay with me.

With the darkness setting in, the jellies settled back down into deeper waters and my skin was thankful. I took a big hit from some jelly on my right upper arm, feeling like a large inch wide cable zapped me; I still have signs on my skin from that sting today.

Night is always difficult to swim in, lights blind you, distances are distorted, but at times there is serenity with the dark, just concentrating on your stroke and focusing on the task at hand.

The air temperature dropped quickly when the shade of darkness dropped. The ‘Sea Satin’ lit up, and the disco was playing. Scott came into the water one more time, it was difficult to focus on the companionship.

Feeding every hour went much better, my belly wasn’t so blotted and I was able to take in the entire feed.

The night distorted the lights in the distance on the French shores, there is no view of the cliffs to make any reference, and now, the trust factor in your crew comes into play 100 fold. Lance and crew were leading me to the shore, even though we could not see it.

With 400 meters to shore, Scott joined me the swim into the beach, I knew we were close but how close? It must have been low tide because the ’Sea Satin’ had to stay out, not to get beached. The spot light on the boat was shone on us to light the way but it still was difficult to see the shore.

All of the sudden I could put my feet down and walk on the sand, we landed on an easy sandy beach, just north of the Cape. I was very glad we didn’t have to maneuver over any rocks. Scott took some photos of my landing and I was very happy #12 was over, I was so cold.

11 hours 51 minutes.

It was so hard to get into the water to swim back to the boat, but my warm clothes were my treat if I got there.

The preparation paid off, with the exception of some mild exhaustion, I had no injuries.

It was funny to see me swim in the harbor, I had NO strength in the body that had just moved over 21 miles, less than 48 hours ago.

I couldn’t believe my pre-race meals were ‘Fish & Chips’ and an English Breakfast (thank goodness minus the fried bread), and I wasn’t sick at all.

I always follow my motto: Dream (I have lots of those), Prepare (is essential), Succeed (with good preparation, there is a better chance to success).

On to 2012, #13 is booked for July and I’m still enjoying the preparation and dream of crossing those cold waters. Good thing our minds forget pain over time.


Dream, Prepare, Succeed.

Marcella A. MacDonald DPM


Sandettie Lightship Observations

7pm, 1st August 2018

Water: 64.8 °F (18.2 °C)

Air: 64.4 °F (18 °C)

Wind Speed: 12.0 kn (22.2 km/h)

Wind Direction: WSW (240°)

Channel Weather 

The CS&PF Annual Dinner will be on 2nd March 2019. Initial bookings details published with more to follow…

2 weeks ago