In July I swam the English Channel (twice!) in a relay team aka BraveHART for the charity Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). Baroness Caroline Cox, who founded HART to reach communities facing oppression and persecution, has spoken passionately at ChristChurch London on several occasions. The motto of HART, “I can’t do everything but I must not do nothing” inspired me to take on this challenge of swimming the Channel to raise funds for HART so they can continue to build on partnerships with these communities in order to bring about relief and long-term change in their circumstances.
The channel swim is thought to be one of THE ultimate long distance challenges for a swimmer and even more so for us; starting out as a bunch of floundering freestylers most of us had to practically re-learn how to swim. Before beginning training 9 months ago I could barely finish a length of freestyle without the sensation of almost drowning. We mustered all of our courage to train in cold-water temperatures, without wetsuits, as soon as they reached a bracing 10 degrees and braved the challenging sea conditions despite the coldest winter and spring in the UK in decades.
The team took it in turns to swim hour-long stints through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, fighting jelly fish and hypothermia, wearing only a swimming costume, hat and a pair of goggles (wetsuits are strictly not allowed!). Our first attempt was cut short with France in sight after swimming the physical distance of the Channel (21 nautical miles) as a combination of factors outside of our control meant that we were denied the satisfaction of touching land. It was frustrating, as we all desperately wanted to carry on swimming. However as the sun began to set the strong tidal current held us in the shipping lane carrying us past the French coast in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean.
Although disappointed, we were determined to conquer the Channel once and for all and were fortunate to have the opportunity to make a second attempt just over a week later. In the early hours of Tuesday 16 July, a very sleep-deprived team set off from Dover in the dark at 3.20am with the aim to set foot in France this time. The sea was very cold, only 13 degrees celsius, and it was a nasty shock after a night without sleep. But our months of cold water acclimatisation and sea swimming paid off. The motivation to dive in each time came from remembering those we are supporting are facing much tougher challenges every day.
Throughout it was a huge team effort, tending to fellow swimmers to halt signs of hypothermia as they emerged on to the boat exhausted. It was a test of endurance as some succumbed to sea-sickness and I and others needed nerves of steel to keep swimming through shoals of jellyfish. Thankfully they were relatively harmless on this occasion. More welcome forms of sea life spotted were the dolphins hunting close by the boat. We were very fortunate with the calm weather and a glassy sea most of the way.
As we were nearing France it was my turn again to swim hard against the tide fighting the currents that would keep us at sea and we steadily made progress towards the headland. There was a nail-biting moment as we were swept along the rocky French coast, just past the cape. Because of the strength of the current there it seemed that we were never going to hit land. It was a huge team effort. This time we landed at Cap Gris Nez in France after swimming a total of 14 hours and 6 minutes. Although exhausted we were ecstatic to have reached France this time!
The team raised more than £7,000 for the charity Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), which will be used to educate children affected by conflict in Sudan and South Sudan, and fight child malnutrition on the isolated Atauro Island, just off the coast of Timor Leste.
This is just the beginning of HART’s Swim for Change campaign. We’ve now completed our attempt to swim the Channel but there are those undertaking their own swim challenges over the next few months in support of the campaign. HART will also be planning another open water challenge in support of their work next year. Please get in touch with HART if you’d like to join in and you can read more about the Swim for Change campaign at swimforchange.com