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

30 Jul 2004Anne Cleveland

Anne Cleveland

Anne completed a 2-way English Channel swim on the 30th July 2004

What's it like to turn around and swim back? 

July 30, 2004

"I popped my head up, hoping to see land. To my surprise, I could see the beach in the moonlight. A few strokes later, I was standing on soft sand waving at my crew – under the lighthouse, but 'round the corner in the bay... what wild ride would the tides take me on now?

'Don’t think about swimming to England. Just see how far you can swim. Do it one feed at a time.' Freda’s words rang in my head. I remembered Nora’s advice. My swim starts now and is finished when I crawl out of the water onto a beach in England. Bolstered by that thought, I slid back into the dark, chilly water and started the second leg of my swim from France back to England. Little did I know the hell that awaited me...

Many hours later...

I was shivering and swimming at the same time and did not dare stop moving during the feeds, for fear the shivering would overtake me and I would not be able to swim anymore. 'Kick your legs!' my crew admonished me. 'It’ll keep you warm!' With all the energy I could muster, I kicked and swam. Nevertheless, I felt desperate and forlorn in that cold, dark hell. Many times during that return leg, I found myself on the verge of tears, but could not cry. Channel swimming provides us with a mirror to take a long, hard look within ourselves. As I pushed myself beyond my imagined limitations, I found the core of my being to be the source of my strength. One stroke, then another stroke – put one arm in front of the other. Pull the water. Breathe...

The wind against tide had caused the seas to become like a washing machine again, with an uneven rhythm which made swimming almost impossible. Instead of going from feed to feed, I focused my attention on each stroke. Pull the water as efficiently as you can. When you turn your head to breathe, make sure not to swallow any water. I had begun to do the swim one stroke at a time.

The white cliffs of the English coast were visible to me now. Each time I looked at them, it seemed as though I were swimming past them, parallel to the coast. They never seemed to get any closer. What I did not know then was that the tide was pushing me north, and I was swimming along the coast, easing my way in toward a beach in England to land.

As I came in for a feed, Lance pointed out the Aegean Blue not far away. He told me Laura Lopez-Bonilla had just started her channel swim from St. Margaret’s Cliffs. Although curious about what we were doing that far north of Dover, I was elated at the thought of seeing another swimmer in the water. My stroke picked up as I made my way to Laura. Calling her name, I waved my arms to get her attention. According to channel swimming rules, we could not touch each other. We waved greetings instead, and then I turned and waved vigorously at Mike Oram and the crew on the Aegean Blue. They were waving back and I could hear them cheering me on. Laura and I wished each other well. 'See you back at Dover Beach,' and we were both off in opposite directions. This exchange gave me the boost I needed to keep fighting to the finish.

I swam by St. Margaret’s Cliffs. Massive and white, they glistened in the sunlight. The morning’s gray clouds had disappeared, and the channel had become smooth as glass. I was still very cold, chilled all the way through to the bone and shivering lightly, but when Lance told me I had only two feeds left to go, I knew I would be able to finish.

On the final feed, I expressed my new concern to Lance. 'I’m so hypothermic. I’m worried I won’t be able to get back onto the boat when I’m finished.'

'Let me take care of that. Keep swimming – you’re almost done. Remember – don’t try to stand up when you get to shore. Crawl out of the water.' I put my head down and swam, knowing now that it would only be a short time before I would finally be able to get out of this freezing cold water.

The moment I had not dared to hope for was finally at hand. There was a beach in front of me, just meters away. I swam those final strokes and crawled out of the water onto a pebbly beach. Relief. It was over."

Time and tide have faded my memories of that day, but I'll never forget that beach at Kingsdown. My English Channel swims have been transformational in my life. I am not the same person who stepped off the beach at Abbott's Cliff in July of 2002, was first to sign the wall at the White Horse with Aussie Peter Bardoel and dared to dream that I could swim a two-way. I've written about it and soon you'll be able to read more... stay tuned to my website for details about my book; in the meanwhile, you can see what I'm up to and read my blog there if you like. My long distance open water swimming adventures are still continuing. I'm no longer the swimmer, but am coaching and mentoring swimmers now. I feel so blessed to be a part of such a community of crazy, daring and unsinkable human spirits.

Anne Cleveland


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 

CS&PF 2019 Observer Meetings on 19 May & 2 June. See article for details :

3 weeks ago