Posted by: Admin
Friday, 13 January, 2006
Wendy Coles, Team Coach and Brian Bewley, Team Manager recount details of the successful 2005 Western Counties ASA Channel Relay swim:
On 26 June 2005 the final team was to have been decided by proof of fitness of swimmers completing the Western Counties 6k Championships.
However, the weather decided not to be kind and the event was postponed. Coach decided, as the channel could become changeable within a very short amount of time, to swim us along the shore just out of the rough, as we had to know that we had been training during the winter months in preparation for our swim.
This proved to be beneficial for us on our swim.
Wednesday 10 August 2005
The team with parents travelled to Dover. We had all booked into the Premier Lodge, which overlooks Dover Harbour – our training pool for the next few days.
4.00pm - The Team - Gary Carpenter (Clevedon SC), Paul Wilson (Dawlish SC), Emma Cockcroft (Bridgwater SC), Helen Legg (Tewkesbury SC), Robin Shute (Dawlish SC) and Robert Cook (Cheltenham WPSC) went for an hour swim – it is a fact that water tastes different from coast to coast, lake to lake and they soon became aware that the Dover water was saltier than Weymouth water and although a pebbled beach there was a lot of sand in the water giving them a beardy effect around the face when they came out of the water.
Team Manager Brian Bewley had been delayed with sorting out visas etc. for some Moldavian swimmers who had shown interest to swim at Weymouth on 21 August so did not meet up with the team until the next day – we did, however, phone him to say we would be going that night - he didn’t believe us – although I think he did think at first we meant it.
We all had our first evening meal at the restaurant attached to the Lodge; Mrs. Jan Carpenter had to wait a long time before her meal arrived. This became something of a joke throughout our stay – every time we ate in this restaurant they either got the meal wrong, they had run out of something or someone was not served at the same time as the others.
Thursday 11 August
10.00am - the swimmers were issued with their fleeces and polo shirts, which they wore for their stay in Dover and have worn since, with much pride.
10.30am - all swimmers entered the water for their first serious training session – the swimmers training session was not what the coach had in mind for them. They were told to swim for one hour minimum the length of the harbour, if however, after one hour they happened to be at the far end, they were to continue to swim until they came out at the point of entry.
Coach walked along the seafront following their progress and watching the way they swam – decisions had, eventually, to be made as to what order the swimmers would swim when the time came for the Team to cross “La Manche”.
The swimmers swam well to the Eastern arm of the harbour where they then proceeded to try out one arm swimming, ballet legs, surface dives and egg beating leg kick – had the decision been made that we should synchronise swim across – I do not think so!!
Frustration was beginning to show on the Coach’s face – was this the team that was to swim across the channel? With their hour nearly up the team proceeded to swim to a yacht moored in the harbour before coming back to the starting point where the Coach was waiting – the parents sitting on the beach read a lot into her body language – however, the swimmers who were now coming out were met with a very polite request “Would you please go back into the water and swim for a further half hour without breaking your stroke”. On completion of this swim, while the swimmers were getting changed, one of the parents asked that one of the swimmers wanted to know why they had to go in for a further half hour. As soon as the Coach knew all the swimmers were dressed and warm she got them together and told them “ We are in Dover with a job to do – the job – to swim the English Channel and to raise money for children less fortunate than yourselves”. Remember, the English Channel has beaten many persons including relay teams and if they were to succeed and succeed well, it would be expected of them to swim continuously – no breaking strokes!!
It was known that they could stay in British waters for an hour – they had all done it many, many times otherwise they would not be here – so from now on having had their play, training would be Training with the next session commencing at 4.00pm that afternoon.
Hey! What a session that turned out to be - one hour of continuous swimming in style – a team now focused on what lay ahead!!!
We now had a reasonably satisfied Coach – a happy Team Manager and a group of parents who had given up holiday and a lot more besides, to help fulfil these swimmers dreams – dreams they had waiting to happen for over a year.
Friday 12 August
Two good training sessions were completed – we continued to team build.
That night Dr Hilary Swindall arrived, - she was going on the boat with the team – better to be safe than sorry.
Dr. Phil Shute had also travelled for the weekend – couldn’t keep away after his trip last year with the Channel Relay Team 2004. He was very supportive to all Team members.
Saturday 13 August
Only one training session today. Every weekend in the summer months, Dover becomes a haven for successful, and would be channel swimmers and the team met up with Kevin Murphy and Alison Streeter (both are very famous solo Channel Swimmers) – cameras were “a clicking”. By the Saturday evening the weather had turned to heavy rain and strong winds – were we ever to get off. That night we ate Chinese - “table for 16 please”.
Sunday 14 August
Another good training session but the weather still not right - however the BBC weather men were telling us there was a High coming in so we had everything crossed waiting for that phone call from our Pilot, Mike Oram. As we sat eating in the restaurant that evening suddenly the coach’s mobile rang – everyone jumped – the phone was answered – unfortunately the noise in the restaurant was somewhat high and so our coach went and found a quieter spot to talk with Mike – talk about keeping people in suspense – when she returned she told us we were to meet our boat at 5.25am in the Marina with a 6.30am start, weather permitting, off Shakespeare beach.
Monday 15 August
5.30am – photos taken and with everyone loaded up on board we waved “bye” to our ardent supporters who were going to get into their cars and drive to park their cars at Aycliffe. The swimmers, I am sure, at this point were wondering what lay ahead, the Doctor hoping she would not have to use any of the equipment in her very well prepared medical bag as for the Coach, well, she knew that the odds were against her not getting sea-sick – the channel being the only place she was ever sea-sick in – she really must get her stomach sorted or is it her head!!
At Aycliffe the supporters made their way down the many, many steps to the beach – going down is OK but we did not envy them climbing back up – have you ever seen the height of the white cliffs of Dover? From the beach they could wave us off wondering when they would hear from us again. Our Team Manager had agreed to be the communications manager for this trip with Dawn Shute (now experienced in being left on the shore as daughter Cherry was in the Channel Relay Team in 2004) so with everyone’s batteries charged we were off.
6.27am – Gary Carpenter having got himself ready whilst on our way to Shakespeare Beach (known to the channel swimming fraternity as “Shakey Beach”) had gone into the water and was now standing on the beach ready to go – already started was an Australian solo swimmer accompanied by Seafarer – Reg Brittle also had a swimmer who had left just before the Australian. We were on Gallivant and following us was an American soloist on Sea Satin, our boat in 2004.
Gallivant’s horn sounded loud and clear and we were off – not to return until 12 hours later – but at the time we did not know how long it would take and whether the weather would be kind to let us continue.
Continue we did and Gary swam stroke after stroke away from the shore at a good steady pace and with determination. We could still see our supporters but they were getting further and further away.
The swimmers settled down, Paul, going next into the water, stretched out to take a catnap. Dr Hilary found a place to perch and Coach sat on a life raft container but had her little cushion to rest her “butt” whilst viewing the swimmers.
Before we knew it – it was time to get Paul ready for the take over. With Paul greased up the ladder went over the side for Gary to climb up on board. Paul ready on the side with a hint of nervousness was told, “OK, jump in behind Gary and start swimming, the boat will bring Gary on board and catch you up”. Off Paul went and Gary climbed aboard – he felt good and we were all pleased with the progress that had been made.
Paul swam well – Mike Oram, the pilot, must have been impressed as he came up from below saying we were doing really well – Paul’s pace was good – were we after a record – records had never been anything we had ever considered with Team 2004 going the year before and swimming a creditable 9hours 30mins. But this boosted the team and everyone was on a high.
Emma was now ready and waiting having seen Gary and Paul swim well she was determined to show what the girls could do.
While Emma was swimming strongly Helen was looking out from the back of the boat to dear “old blighty” and was excited to see a pod of dolphins (will they become sharks in years to come!!!) as the swim becomes a distant memory.
A few jellyfish were showing by now but no-one got stung – they obviously didn’t like Western Counties meat. The wind at this stage had picked up and had decided it was not going to subside (never trust BBC Weather forecasts). However, instead of being against us on this occasion it was in our favour. The tides, because of the level of high and low tide (remember springs and neaps in your development classes), were minimal but the wind was blowing in the same direction as the currents. All the swimmers had a slight swell to contend with but when a large tanker passed our way it caused some extra “turbulence” the boat went up and slightly on its side resting on top of the wave – a large amount of water went under the boat and as a result Emma performed a crocodile death roll without really knowing it had happened and as a result of the training in the harbour paying off did not break her stroke but carried on swimming as if she were doing the length of Bridgwater pool.
Next up Helen – change over went well and although Helen had a few sprigs of seaweed and a couple of “jellies” no larger than a dinner plate to contend with when swimming, nothing perturbed her objective to swim well and not to let the team down and do her bit for them to get to France.
The mobile phone had rung at least four times and was now showing a French signal, which signified that we were well into the French part of the crossing. This information, including reports on all the swimmers wellbeing, was passed on by our communications reporter to all the supporters waiting anxiously for success back in Dover.
Robin up next was a bit concerned about how near to the boat he could swim – Alison Streeter (yes, we had the privilege of having her as our assistant pilot, having obtained her pilot’s qualification a couple of years ago) reassured him and said don’t worry if you don’t like swimming close to the boat swim away from it but make certain you go where the boat is going. Robin as we all know, wears glasses – not certain what boat he was looking at but we were headed for France, Robin decided to see if he could find Holland. Robin eventually, with a lot of whistles and shouting from the boat, came to the side of the boat and realised it was the best place to swim. Swimming quite at ease now, Robin made good progress – we were now well clear of the very small amount of debris that floats in the middle of the channel. (We were really lucky on this count).
Robert up next and his rhythmic, and strong, stroke pattern was gradually sending the Coach to sleep. Mobiles kept ringing and Robert kept swimming. We were doing really well and all were happy on board and parents on shore happy they were able to keep up with the progress.
With all the swimmers having swum their hour apiece – we started again – keeping in the same order – otherwise we would have been disqualified. Gary jumped in much more confident this time knowing his hour would, according to the chart, be his last as we knew how far we had to go and could see France now very clearly.
Gary climbed on board after his swim with a big grin on his face – I do believe he was enjoying himself. Paul’s swim was a hard swim but he did not let us down even though he found it a lot tougher than the first swim.
Paul lifted his head and saw the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse (we on the boat had seen it for some time now) however, every time Paul looked up it was no nearer – this can get very demoralising but he soldiered on with a lot of encouragement from the boat and when he got out after his hour swim – he knew that he had swum it.
Emma in next, a calmer sea to swim in this time, and she got us within 6 minutes from shore – we were all getting excited and could see the sandy beach where we were to land. The team spirit on the boat was great and Emma was encouraged with every stroke she took.
But it was not to be Emma’s privilege to land for the team – Helen had to go in for the last 400m – these are the rules and we had to do it to get a recognised time that would go into the history books. With Helen just off the shore the rest of the team were itching to get in and join her – so with their waterproof cameras tied to their wrists or tucked up their costumes in they all jumped – they were instructed to keep back behind Helen until she was clearly on dry land. When the Observer on the boat was happy the siren was sounded to announce the official end to the swim.
Western Counties ASA Channel Relay Team 2005 had landed with a time for the swim of 9 hours 6 minutes.
The Team Manager was in communication with a running commentary for the last two hundred metres to those back in Dover so they could be part of the successful team.
The rest of the team joined Helen on the beach, cameras were snapping, pebbles collected. Time to swim back to the boat, Derek, our observer of the swim, took a photo of the team as they approached the boat to climb aboard and make the journey back to Dover. Estimated time of arrival in Dover 6.30pm
Just as we were near the 3 mile zone a black and white lobster pot popped up with the current (will this become a killer whale in time to come? it doesn’t matter), we had a great day, swam hard to reach our dream to swim from Dover to France and this we did on Monday 15th August 2005 starting at 6.27am and finishing at 3.33pm just 10 days short of Captain Mathew Webb’s first swim 130 years ago.