The English Channel
“In 1972 I had my first attempt to swim the channel and tried another two times that year and failed.
Really don’t know what happened but in 2002 decided to train and take on the monster again.
Trained for a year and set off with Crowther and Dickerson to swim in 2003.
This led to another failure.
At this stage, Fran and I were addicted to living in a constant orgy of fear and hours and days of swimming training. On top of the training, we did the Otter trail, Fish River Cannon, Whale trail, and across Table mountain on many occasions to cross-train. … more.
This story has a wonderful ending because yesterday (07/08/2004), I completed the swim in 13 hours 37 minutes with a really wonderful team.”
Donald Hope Robertson: Accompanied Hugh on his first attempt across the channel 32 years ago and again in 2003 and 2004.
Fran Tucker: Another long-suffering wife that will be in charge of feeding and swimming every alternate hour
Chris Osmand: My pilot for the second year and a man who will not give up.
Trevor Tucker: To keep the swim good fun and the sense of humour going in the tough times
Nick and Cindy: Who wants to repay me for the monstrous walk I took them on Table Mountain and make sure that this is a successful swim.
Conditions on the day.
You are on continual standby and are sometimes only given a couple of hours’ notice before swimming. The weather may be fine when starting out but invariable changes (if not a few times) during the swim. What may have been expected to be a calm sea may turn into gale-force winds and rough sea after only a few hours into the Channel.
The problem with seasickness is that you either do not feel like taking in any liquids or foodstuff or alternatively if you do, you tend to vomit everything up, thus losing all the energy source and nutrients. If you do not replace these nutrients then, not only do you endanger your well-being, but also will not have enough energy to pull through the tough period.
Of the more than 6200 known attempts only about 474 people have successfully swum the Channel: a success rate of only about 7%
Otto Tanning: For being a good friend with solid advice and always ready to train in any weather or water conditions.
Garry Freeling: For teaching us how to stretch before and after every training session. Great training, positive attitude, and individual attention. Every swimmer looks forward to their house of pain because the training was fun and with plenty of laughs. Also advised on correct eating and vitamins. Really a complete coach.
Margo King: Everybody in the training sessions works very hard for her. Always enthusiastic and new routines made her hour trains easy and for pushing everybody just that little bit further each length.
Kevin Fialkov: My number one trainer for long-distance swimmers. Good at improving stroke technique, breathing, and kicking. Understands how to train long-distance swimmers, as he is one himself.
Sarah Matthews: Good swimming friend who is always ready to train come sun or rain.
Simon Childs: Has the ability to train harder than anybody else and this makes him the ideal training partner.
Ed Nesse: Helped me with fatigue and explained it in a kind way that as you get older, your body needs more rest and a lot more card.
Chris Osmand: To give me another change is really big-hearted of you and of course your team. Hope you will come to South Africa for a good holiday.
Carina Bruwer: Thanks for always being willing to train.
A momentous day forever etched into my memory as one of the most glorious, earth-shattering experiences of which I was privileged to be a part.
On Friday evening, after waiting for Dion to arrive at our caravan and making sure that everything was packed and ready to go, we all said our ‘Goodnights’ and headed off for sleep – Haha.
Sleep was impossible and by the time the alarm went off at 02h45 I was up in a flash making tea & toast.
None of us had an appetite to speak of – the excitement, anticipation, and some apprehension took care of that!
At 03h15 we set off for the boat (Trevor & Donald were already there). The morning was quite warm & still – a huge contrast from last year!
The atmosphere was magic with lots of jokes and laughter. Hugh appeared to be pretty relaxed and apart from the boat having a small fuel/gas problem, which was quickly fixed, everything was perfect.
By 04h00 we were chugging out of Dover harbour to Shakespeare beach. It looked like we had got ourselves a good day and that this time the swim was definitely on!
Shakespeare beach was fast approaching so Hugh got changed. We pinned on his glow sticks and then the grease-up began.
It seemed such a short time ago that I was doing this except that this time there was no falling about.
It was time for Hugh to set off.
As he climbed down the ladder to disappear into the dark sea I felt this huge surge of emotion – I knew he was going to do it!
We all shouted our various encouragements – I don’t think he heard too many of them.
All eyes were glued onto the pink glow in the water. It took but a few minutes for him to reach the beach and walk clear of the sea. He didn’t hang around for long and at 04h18 his 5th channel attempt was officially underway.
The first feed was upon us before we knew it – a bottle of fast fuel. He only fed for about 20 seconds and was off again. All his feeds were like this and later on, he cut his feed times to about 15 seconds.
He was on his mission and nothing was going to get in his way.
Dion and I were eagerly waiting for the first 2 hours to elapse so that we could join him. Before we knew it Trevor was telling us to get ready. It was a little colder at this point – just before the sun actually is visible but the excitement made us immune.
I was so happy that I could finally start my side of our dream.
The first half-hour went very quickly and at the feed, we were able to say a couple of words. Hugh told us he was feeling seasick but this did not deter him and so we all put our heads down again for another 1/2 hour.
At the next feed, Dion and I got out – quite a mission.
I did not know it then but Hugh told us later that it was hard for him to watch us get back onto the boat where it was nice and warm. Actually, we were pretty cold when we got out and I hadn’t fully warmed up when it was time for our second round.
I made sure that I didn’t flinch when I got back in the water and after about 5 minutes the water felt fine. Stroking next to Hugh and being able to look into his eyes was wonderful. His pace was quite fast so I didn’t get cold while swimming – it only hit me when I got out.
I hoped that this was the case for him as well.
At our 3rd session, the sun was nice and warm and it stayed this way right to the end. During our 2nd session, the sea got a little choppy but this had gone by the 3rd.
The conditions kept on improving and Hugh just kept on moving.
He was the most uncomplaining, undemanding swimmer. The boat crew said he was one of their best swimmers in this regard. I was also pretty impressed as I have seen him\’lose it on other swims!
He made the feeding extremely easy as he didn’t want anything but fast fuel – sea sickness. I was concerned that he was taking in so little but his performance was constant – unbelievable!
It was really disappointing to hear that he had missed the tide as it looked like he was going to do it in about 12 hours.
It didn’t phase him and when he realised this fact he just accepted that he would swim for a little longer. This meant that we could also swim with him some more.
France was getting so close and excitement was growing on board.
Dion and I were gearing ourselves up for the swim onto French soil – not to be. Our observer would not allow us in the water for the last 2 hours. When Hugh had done his 11th hour and stopped to feed he asked us why we were not joining him. It made us feel good that our swims with him were so looked forward to and so bad that we were not able to join him, so we made a plan!
The pilot said that he probably had about 2-3 hours to go and they saw no reason why we could not go in – so we did.
The observer was NOT impressed and kept on saying that this was most irregular – but not illegal!
We were so happy to be able to keep Hugh company for one last time.
As I put my head down to swim I could see the ocean floor!!
I wanted to shout out that he was nearly there – as if he couldn’t see it himself!
This hour went by much too fast for us and before we knew it we were being signaled to get out.
Hugh now knew he was getting close.
I didn’t have much time on board before it was time for the rubber duck to be put into the water. The pilot allowed the boat to be taken off much later than usual at Hugh’s request but he thought that he still had about 1 1/2 hrs to go.
Tony was a bit frantic to get the duck released from the main boat as Hugh was fast approaching the shore.
Chris allowed me to go with Tony (not usually allowed they say).
I still get tears when I picture those last minutes to shore. I was overcome with emotion and elation. I was also taking a video and stayed in the boat just beyond the breakers until Hugh actually walked out of the water.
Then all hell broke loose.
We were all screaming.
I dived overboard to swim to Hugh – I had some little bags with me to bring back some french sand.
I couldn’t get to him fast enough. We were both in tears and just hugged each other while realising that his dream was now a reality.
I was so proud of him!
He looked fantastic for having just swum 13 1/2 hours while seasick.
We waded back to the boat – Hugh climbed on by himself – and returned to our boat, Seafarer.
I wrapped him up warmly and was amazed at how quickly he was recovering.
He first had to do something about the seasickness but thereafter we just reveled in the moment of success!
To try to describe how I felt is impossible. I could possibly equate it to the feeling I had after giving birth to my children.
To say that we are on cloud nine would be an understatement.
Well done Hughbie – I am so proud of you.
You have shown me what you are made of.
I will treasure this amazing feat of endurance and courage forever!!
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