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

14 Aug 2013Charity for Kids Relay

Charity for Kids Relay

A team of six swimmers swam to France and back in 25 hours and 8 minutes

My story how I swum the Channel.......

I was getting dressed for work one morning in February 2011, when I bent down to tie my laces, I realised I was holding my breath??? I stopped playing football when my eldest daughter was born 8 previous, in that time I had managed to put on a lot of weight from excessive wine every night, eating to much chocolate & skipping various meals, at the age of 32 standing at 5ft 7ins I weighed 15stone 6lbs.

I had joined gyms previously but quickly got fed up after a couple months & stopped going, I had always put it down to being to busy with work, also having 3 children to look after whilst my wife works in the evenings.

This time I was determined make a change, the option I had was simply, carrying on the route I was going & end up with problems later in life or change the path I was going down.

In March I decided I would enter the Hastings Half Marathon, to keep me motivated I wanted to raise funds for a Charity but which one?? As my wife & I have 3 healthy Girls I decided I would raise funds for poorly children, I also did not want to pay wages & I wanted to keep the funds local!! After looking around & not finding a Charity which stood out I decided to find a family to help & the rest is history.

After getting the bug of various challenges I wanted to take on a challenge that not many people had done before & also make a statement about my commitment to the Charity, so....after looking on YouTube I came across a clip of a Gent by the name of Ed Williams after watching his story of his Solo Channel Swim I was hooked!! I turned to my wife & said that I was going to swim the English Channel!!!!

The next day (November 2011) I contacted Ed to ask him some questions about his experience, the only issue I had was I could not swim!!!! After contacting a local swimming coach Sean informed me that he had recently completed a 1-way relay crossing, as I informed him I could not swim he said it would be better for me to attempt a relay swim instead of a solo, once I registered my team with the CSPF with (Our date being 14th August 2013) Sean offered to teach me FREE of charge.

I was swimming 5 days a week including 3 times a week with Sean, after looking at the challenge of swimming the channel in a 1-way relay with 6 swimmers I realised I was only going to swim possibly 2 times, also I only wanted to swim the channel once & wanted to make sure I had as many swims as possible, so with this in mind I decided we would go from a 1-way swim & changed it to a 2-way Channel Swim.

The training was going well, but I always felt like the weakest link out of the team as 4 of the 6 swimmers was experienced, only myself & Chris Mepham (Charity Trustee) were new to swimming, I remember the 1st cold water experience we had was the Sea in March, we were in there for about 10 minutes when we got out I could not feel my hands or feet, that afternoon I went home & ordered a pair of swimming shoes which made a massive difference!

As the months went on the Sea slowly getting warmer we got out of our wetsuit & started acclimatising to the temperature.

Then at the start of 2013 the reality was upon us that we only had 7 months to get ourselves ready for the challenge, as the months passed we had news that our female swimmer could not take part as she and her partner was expecting there 1st baby, we toyed around with leaving the swim with 5 but we felt we should have another swimmer, who better than Sean Collins, Sean agreed instantly and the rest is history!!

The weekend before our date I was on the phone to Mike Oram asking if we were going??? I was calling Mike twice a day & eventually we got the go ahead for Tuesday 13th August 2013.

Our 1st swimmer Garry Cairns (Fireman & Life Guard) was in the water & started our challenge off at 11:15pm, our 2nd swimmer was Matt (Swim Coach), followed by Sean, then Myself, Roger Cragg (Retired Fire fighter & 67 years young), then Chris. My 1st swim was at 3:15am, I remember feeling fairly relaxed until I had the 5 minute warning, the next thing I knew the claxon had gone & I was in the water, as I came up for air my 1st breath included a mouthful of Sea Water, my heart was pounding so fast, when I looked up I could see the Sea Satin was around 50ft away, where I was trying to control my breathing I had lost my whereabouts, I swum back to the boat & hugged it for the remainder of my swim, my 1st session felt as though it only lasted 5 minutes.

Five minutes before sunrise was a little strange, Garry & Matt was suffering pretty badly from Sea Sickness and the boat was very quite, seeing the Sun rise was unbelievable!! My 2nd swim came around fairly quickly, I hadn't had any sleep from the day before & eating high calorie food was not great, to be honest some of the food tasted like soggy cardboard, half way through my 2nd swim in front of me was a Car Carrier which was huge!!! After 13 hours & 25 minutes we had reached France, after Matt climbed out the water the claxon sounded & we had cheers from the tourists at Cap Gris Nez.

As soon as the claxon had ended Matt was back in the water to start our swim back, by my 3rd swim the wind had picked up & the water was starting to get choppy, the banter continued to fly around the boat with Lance Oram & his team joining in, following Rogers 3rd Swim he had encountered some cramp which he dealt with. On my 4th swim the Sea felt pretty rough at on point it seemed I was eye to eye with the pilot. As the darkness set in the swimmers were only visible by there flickering light stick. Chris had just finished his last & 4th swim, he climbed on to the Sea Satin & sat on the back, with his head in his hands you could see he had given everything!

Garry stepped up for his 5th & final swim by this point Garry was still churning out 82 strokes per minute, it felt as though the last 1.8 miles seemed to take an eternity, Garry got to within 400 meters of the Beech when the Claxon went off, Matt Allchorn jumped in to finish off the challenge which we started the previous day, within 15 minutes of Matt being in the water the claxon had gone & we had completed a 2-way relay Channel Swim. The total time it took us was 25 hours & 8 minutes.

The following day, Myself, Sean & Chris then began the second part of our Journey which saw us cycle 35 miles from Dover to Rye, the 3rd leg saw us joined by family & friends to finish off our unique challenge by completing a half marathon back in to our home town of Hastings.

The 22 months saw the Charity raise £12,000 for the unique Triathlon! After the swim we returned to the sea on 2 occasions where the team met up for a BBQ, I had made my decision that I would retire from swimming, or I did until November 2013 when Sean had asked me if I would join him & his friend in an attempt to swim the English Channel in a 3 team 1-way relay, if the relay goes well I think I will take up the challenge of a Solo swim.

My biggest fear of swimming the channel was coming face to face with Jelly Fish, I hope that my luck continues on our next swim, after the swim my mouth had ulcers under my tongue, I can only presume this was due to the salt water.

If there is anyone thinking about swimming the Channel my advice is do it, 22 months before our challenge I could not swim, with hard work & dedication anything is possible!!!

I would like to thank Ed Williams for recording his Channel Swim, the Charity for Kids Swim Team & Sean Collins for his time & patience training me to swim the English Channel.

Kind regards,

Paul Harris (Founder/Chairman)
Charity of the Year 2013 (Hastings Achievers Awards)
Charity Number: 1148516
Twitter: @charityforkids1
07794 435835


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