Day 1 (22nd June 2015)
Day 1 and we are back to the channel madness again! Just the Dover 4 for the moment (Hillbilly James, Enda, The Bullet and Denise). Hotel is grand. Had a big fry for breakfast. The Manager said with a smirk we would need it.
Spent most of the morning stalking Quentin, the boat pilot. Eventually got into the harbour to see him and the boat. It’s an ex-RNLI boat from the 50’s and when I say it’s cosy, I mean, it’s very cosy!
We were definitely spoiled last year. The contrast couldn’t be any greater. There is just enough room for us to sit. We will need to be pretty select in the gear we bring too because there just isn’t space.
It’s windy today. Stiff breeze coming from the North with no chance of getting out. Wind is to change direction tomorrow and be more favourable but there is a solo swimmer from Lurgan who will be given preferential treatment. So, at the moment, we are hopeful for Wednesday. Weather is moving away from us after that.
We were unsure of what to do with ourselves for the rest of the day as Tony gave us no itinerary. Denise wanted the Titanic but we thought that might be tempting faith after seeing the boat. Instead we headed down the coast and took Nelson’s advice to do some training locally.
We found a lovely beach where Denise and Peter stripped off the shoes and socks while James and Enda did shore watch. Safety first! In the pub called “Salty Dog” now relaxing after a hard day, having a few pints and perfecting our strategy for this epic swim yet to come.
All the best from the Dover 4 in waiting for the plus two!
Keep praying !!!
Day 2 and not a lot to report. Headed off on a day trip to Carrick-a-Rede to walk across the rope bridge. On Kate’s request we took the scenic route. The coast line here is just breath taking.Plus 2 and our groupies (Kate and Paula) arrived last night. They followed the Dover 4 as we discussed tactic for the swim.
To be honest the mood was rather somber in the car with not much conversation about anything. Your best wishes are being read out loud and are a great source of amusement especially Heike and Saskia. What a beautiful day. The sea was flat calm and not a ripple. We were really in envy of the solo swimmer today. Not sure if he made it.
Quentin called at 5 with the good news that we are off at 5 in the morning. The certainty of a time has come as a relief and while I know everyone is dealing with their own nerves we are looking forward to getting on with the challenge. Sitting down now to the last supper. A little bit of vino and good food.
Our mantra for tomorrow – pain is temporary but glory is forever! Oh by the way Fred got stung by a nettle today and she hasn’t stopped whining since. Look forward to telling the story tomorrow evening. All the best from Peter Enda Denise James Sandra and James not to mention Kate and Paula (they have the credit cards and say they will have a great day).
Day 3 (day of crossing)
After 43.2 km in 13 hours and 9 minutes the Wexford Masters Open Sea Swimming Club relay team completed what is considered the most difficult and challenging long distance swim in the world from Donaghadee in Co. Down to Portpatrick in Scotland.
We boarded the ex-RNLI boat just after 5.00am in flat calm conditions and travelled down the coast for about 15 minutes to a suitable place where we could start our swim.
James O’Connor (Fort Mountain) was our anchor man. He jumped off the boat into the icy water, swam to shore, signalled to the boat and started swimming at 5.25 am.
Some dolphins were spotted in the distance and after Quentin assuring us there were no jelly fish he was quickly proved wrong!
Enda Sinnott was next up. He picked up a strong current in his favour which allowed him cover an unbelievable distance of over 5km in his first hour. All was looking good until I (Peter) got in.
Completely unaware of the forces you are swimming through I got caught in a rip current which dragged us towards Belfast Lough and pulled us a long way of course. Our pilot was very frustrated at this stage and suggested that we were doomed to failure even at this early stage.
James O’Connor (Greenacres) followed by Sandra Goldsmith with Denise Underwood completing the first 6 hours put in what can only be described as an outstanding effort to get us back on track – and they did.
Teamwork was probably the savour to our success. We were quite shocked by how cold we all got about 10 minutes after we completed our swim.
Despite a water temperature of 13 to 14 degrees (according to the boat’s thermometer) it certainly felt more like 10 degrees.
We developed a routine for each swimmer as they got out of the water. Two of the team sat the swimmer down, dried them off and literally dressed the swimmer as quickly as possible, wrapped them up well with plenty of layers and 2 hot water bottles stuffed down their jumper topped off with a hot cup of drinking chocolate.
Even with this attention it took about 30 minutes to stop shivering uncontrollably and a further hour to completely recover.
At the 6-hour mark, we were about 2 to 3 km from the half way mark. Weather conditions were perfect. A pod of pilot whales were spotted along with a seal the size of a donkey.
The sea is crystal clear in the North Channel which means we could see each successive swimmers encounter with the eerie monsters from the deep. We all suffered multiple jellyfish stings despite using a guaranteed repellent.
Quentin was still negative about our chances of success as we entered the water for our second hour. Everyone lifted their stroke rate by 10 percent and pushed hard.
Quentin’s tactic of leaving the swimmer far behind the boat in the hope of making you chase the boat was tough to swallow especially as you began to tire in the second half hour of the swim.
He really squeezed every last ounce of effort out of each of us. I think our mantra, ‘pain is temporary, failure is forever’ helped to keep each of us focused on the prize as we struggled with the cold and fatigue.
It was so much more than a swim though. Dealing with the dynamic of a relay team of six ordinary swimmers with varying degrees of ability must be extremely difficult for any pilot to manage.
There is no doubt in my mind and everyone else’s that Quentin’s knowledge of the North Channel and the manner in which he plotted our course and managed our swim was perhaps the biggest single factor to our success. There can be no doubt that he is a legend. We are all extremely grateful to him, his crew and boat. Thanks Quentin!
The coast was in our grasp after Denise’s second hour. James (Fortmountain) had the toughest job of all, a third hour of hard swimming! While everyone was absolutely outstanding in what they had achieved during the day, James’s contribution was simply epic.
He had over 3 km to cover in the most difficult currents we had experienced which were moving laterally to the coast and our target. During that swim he got us within a couple of hundred metres of the shore even though we had been pushed over a kilometre down the coast. Enda jumped in to finish the job in fine style while battling blooms on lions mane jellyfish and every other jellyfish known to man. Job done!
Another challenge completed. Teamwork, focus and hard graft got us there on top of the fantastic support from all our friends and family at home and especially those that travelled to welcome us home. The training and coaching from the most generous of women, our coach Heike, to the help from the boatmen in Kilmore Quay who brought us out for deep water training.
Good luck to Team Wexford and Maeve in their quest for channel glory. The whole club is behind every stroke you take.