Friday, 2 August 2013

Account of my North Channel crossing on 30 July 2013

I successfully crossed  the North Channel on Tuesday 30 July 2013! 

The time was 10h and 34 minutes, and this is currently attracting a lot of (media) attention as the fastest ever crossing done by a man (with two women, Michele Macy and Alison Streeter being still faster). But speed is for me only one of the components determining the beauty and merit of an NC crossing, and not even the most important or interesting one - more on that further below. I am of course incredibly pleased with my crossing, but at the same time humbled by the experience, which was the most grueling I have ever had.

I arrived in Belfast on Sunday 28 July with my coach Marcel van der Togt, who also coached me during my English Channel crossing in 2011. Windguru.com forecasted not very good conditions (wind up to Bft 4, gusts of Bft 5) for Tuesday and Wednesday, with even less favourable conditions for the rest of the week. The tidal window would close next weekend. Captain Quinton Nelson expected more cloud cover  on Wednesday, which would make the jellyfish come to the surface. Rather than wait for a perfect day we decided to settle for 'good enough', hence Tuesday.  (Seeing the weather on Wednesday it turns out that Quinton was absolutely spot on.)

I am quickly losing my precise memories of the swim. (This is an experience I also had with my English Channel swim, where others (Marcel, Asha) remember the swim more accurately than I. Also, in the hours after the swim I was adamant that this was the first and the last time I had done such a cold swim, but the very next day I already found myself daydreaming with Marcel about ideas for future swim projects.)  ILDSA observer Andrew Coyle gracefully shared his swim report with me and I have copy-pasted it at the end of this post. I complement it here with some of my own observations.

The swim
The day after the swim Quinton gave me a map with the swim plotted on it. I posted a picture of it on my Facebook page. The trajectory is a gently curved line, showing the influence of the tides. We landed very close to the intended landing point, Portpatrick. This is a credit to Quinton Nelson's planning and navigational skills.

Start was appr. 6 am on Tuesday morning, and conditions looked beautiful: a flat sea, and an open sky with some clouds. On the boat were my coach Marcel van der Togt, captain Quinton Nelson and his two crew members, Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust representative and deputy director of communication Alan Machin (who kept in touch with a communications team shooting off Twitter and Facebook messages and arranging various media covereage after the swim), and ILDSA observer Andrew Coyle. 

The weather changed after a few hours. Wind force increased and the swell and chop got much worse. Feeding became more difficult, and slower. as I got more exhausted. Good footage of this was posted by ILDSA observer Andrew Coyle on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PayQovT5KI4. In the last two hours of the swim there was rain and thunder.

I had been warned that there would be a strong current off the shore of Scotland that would require an extra effort to overcome, and this turned out to be accurate. I remember the last couple of miles to be slow, and my frustration to be mounting as the coast did not seem to be getting any closer and I was desperately cold and tired. Andrew Coyle uploaded images of the final seven minutes of my swim to Youtube, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MtSua_nUFE

Marcel informed me later that my stroke rate was 70 strokes per minute at the start, which stabilized at 66/minute after an hour or so and did not go below 60 for the remainder of the swim. I am happy with that, as it shows that I was sufficiently prepared for the distance - not something to be taken for granted for a comparatively lazy swimmer like myself.

Feeding went very well also, even if a bit slow at the end because of fatigue on my side. I didn't get hungry throughout the swim even in this cold, so carboloading the days before (including a double pasta dinner, pff...) and 1,5 concentration Maxim with bananas and good old Dutch stroopwafels must have worked.

There is not much more by way of objective fact that I can say about the swim. Andrew Coyles report copied below gives a more accurate description of it. I just highlight below some aspects as I have experienced them.

The cold
When I got into the water to swim to the starting point, the water was 13-14 degrees Celsius, and it would remain 14 degrees Celsius, with even a patch of 15 degrees in the middle. This is admittedly warm for the North Channel at this time of year (although NC can reach 16 degrees in September but then the place is infested with jellies), and when comparing this to recent successful NC crossings in much colder water it feels almost like 'cheating'. But cheating or not, for me the water turned out to be at the very limits of what I could stand for such a long time. My preparation in Malawi has never allowed me to train in water colder than 15 degrees, and that only sparsely. Only at the start of the Cork Distance Week (Ned Denison's 'holiday camp')  in the beginning of July did I experience water temperatures as low as 9-10 degrees, but never for more than 2 hours at a time and then the heatwave struck and the sea warmed up quickly there too. Before and during the crossing I drew comfort from the fact that I had managed to train 11 hours over two days in 2011 in Dover harbour in 12 degrees Celsius water, almost straight from the plane from sweltering Bangladesh. So my cold water preparation had not been ideal.

I felt only comfortable with the temperature of the water for the first half hour. After that, i.e. for the remaining 10 hours of my swim, my hands, forearms and feet got agonisingly cold, and I wasn't able to properly close my fingers, swimming with the 'claw' so familar to fellow cold water swimmers. The cold was an almost continuous presence and it was sapping my physical and mental strength. It prevented me from getting into a flow, and kept me painfully aware of each and every stroke. On the other hand I noticed that as usual I did not shiver until six or seven hours into the swim. But by the time I got out I was positively hypothermic, and getting warm again after the swim involved 30 minutes of violent shivering in an aluminium hypothermic blanket (courtesy of our concerning friend Tonny in Lith) and a 45-minute hot shower in the Harbour House Hotel in Portpatrick who graciously allowed me the use of their facilities - a gesture of kindness I will not forget.

Jellyfish and other wildlife
My team told me that for some time there was a seal playing around me, as well as dolphins later on. This makes for salient imagery in some media reports, the seal supposedly even 'lifting my spirits', but frankly I didn't care much at that moment. Looking back upon it however it is indeed a potent mental image, capturing one of the reasons why I like open water swimming so much.
In fact I didn't see or feel any other wildlife but jellyfish, the infamous Lion's Mane. These were truly scary, as big as garbage bin cover lids and with fine white tentacles of over 2 meters. I saw from up close countless numbers of these monsters, most of them at appr. 1-2 meters below the surface especially in the first 4 hours as they avoid direct sunlight. But when the weather became cloudy, more of them came closer to the surface. Marcel's warning whistles helped me avoid many, but I did swim into a couple of them, and their stings were very painful. Even if the cold water then numbed the pain to some extent, it came back with a vengeance after I left the water and did not go away until the next morning, keeping me from sleeping the night after the swim.

Teamwork
I should mention here the importance of the team behind the swimmer, and this is not just an obligatory gesture of courtesy to the crew.
I can state with certitude that I would not have finished this swim if it wasn't for Marcel van der Togt's coaching, both before and especially during the swim. The North Channel is 30% physical and 70% mental, one NC swimmer once famously said, and I can only agree with that. Marcel provided me with exactly the right kind and right amount of information on my progress, was the master cheerleader on board hopping frantically up and down the deck with his stentorian voice even in the driving rain, managed to make me accelerate when I needed to, adapted my feeds as he saw fit, kept me from swimming into jellyfish (well, most of them), and raised my spirits with silly jokes: he had me in stitches by drawing a pair of woollen socks on the whiteboard after I had complained about cold feet.... You can't beat 30 years of coaching experience at the highest level.
The other crucial factor was Quinton Nelson, my pilot. He was extremely conscientious in plotting a route tailor-made for my presumed speed, and it worked out beautifully. He also helped me decide on the best day to do the crossing, and also there his advice proved crucial. Decades of boating experience in the North Channel at work. In the months before the swim Quinton was utterly reliable and ever helpful and accessible by email and telephone. Quinton's two crew members Jordan and ... did their jobs efficiently and quietly in support of the whole operation.
I am also grateful to the people of the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust, especially Alan Machin, who liased with a communication's team in the UK giving regular updates on the swim and arranging for various media coverage after the swim. I hope the swim will help raise a nice amount for the further restoration of the Chauncy Maples hospital ship on Lake Malawi. (Please keep the donations coming on http://www.justgiving.com/milkovangool!)
Thanks also to ILDSA observer Andrew Coyle who meticulously observed and recorded my swim,  spending a difficult day on the boat without any sleep the night before as he was called in at short notice. I am very appreciative of the video footage and report that he shared with me.

On 'records'
Of course I am pleased with the fact that I did my swim in good time, even the fastest time ever swum so far by a male on this crossing. I am not quite sure what to think of the fact that some media outlets highlight this as the key element of the crossing. This it is not in my view, as conditions are often so incomparable between swims, much more so it seems than in most other crossings and races. The best parallel is probably with mountaineering.
Even if I don't want to downplay my own achievement, of which I am very proud, there have been much more impressive stories in the history of this crossing dating back all the way to 1923. What to think about the swimmer  who recently swam the NC at the mature age of 49 in a little over 12 hours in an unimaginable 9 degrees Celsius. Or the woman who mustered the courage to try again and again and was finally successful  the fourth time. Several swimmers of the past displayed such incredible mental and physical grit against the odds that they finished the swim but had to be taken to hospital for treatment of hypothermia and jelly stings. Some of them stayed in the frigid water for more than 18 hours. Another came out after almost 15 hours in 10-11 degrees without even a shiver. Two swimmers achieved the incredible feat of three successful crossings each. Also the dozens of swimmers who didn't make it across can tell tales of incredible endurance and dogged determination besides delirious pain and exhaustion, but without the satisfaction of making it all the way across.
These are all feats that defy belief, and I don't think I would be able to achieve any of them, at least not now; this crossing in relatively favourable conditions (partly calm seas, relatively warm water and relatively few stings) was at the very limits of my abilities. There will be ever faster crossings of the North Channel. However, for me this Channel is different from other swims in that it is not about time and speed, but about the stories of preparation, determination and perseverance we create while crossing it.


Addendum:Text of the report by observer Mr. Andrew Coyle on behalf of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association:

"As Quinton Nelson and I walked to the boat at 0515, a tiny black rental car was being driven towards us on the harbour wall. It was filled by its driver, a tall, bulky, fresh looking man with fair hair, known as Milko van Gool. Quinton the pilot asked Milko how he was feeling and the reply was very positive. The hire car was parked, Milko had his photo taken with his passport open, the boat was untied, and without any further ceremony we departed.

The conditions were very soft for the start, almost calm, with a clear sky, no precipitation and a full tide. Milko had a thick layer of grease applied around his limbs for comfort during the swim, this was done by his very dedicated trainer, Marcel, who supported him with strong voice and even stronger whistle throughout the entire swim, and did not leave the deck once. When the boat, named Guy and Clare Hunter arrived as close to the rocks at Donaghadee as was safe, Milko jumped into the water and swam over to them. Quinton then approved that he was ready to depart by sounding the boat’s horn, and it took a further wave of encouragement from the skipper before Milko began his 18 nautical mile crossing to Portpatrick. Milko’s stroke was very strong, with a positive roll and steady six beat kick which lasted right to the finish.

A couple of hours from Donaghadee we began to sight Lion’s Mane jellyfish, at which point Marcel would issue a deafening whistle, which he could produce almost instantly, lifting his fingers to his mouth, he would then visually instruct Milko what direction to swim in to avoid them. One jellyfish, which Marcel hadn’t seen, caused Milko to take a bad cramp as he kicked violently to avoid it. This happened two hours forty minutes into the swim, and Milko groaned in pain when it occurred. Nonetheless, 2 minutes later he had recovered fully apparently, and was back kicking as strong as before. Apart from jellyfish, the only wildlife visible in the water were a number of very sturdy looking seals who seemed intrigued by the Dutchman, swimming along quite close to him for a period when we were about seven miles off shore, these fellows lifted Milko’s spirits unlike the nuisance jellyfish.

Milko was accompanied by two others apart from the boat crew and I, these were his trainer Marcel, and a photographer and chronicler named Alan, who worked for the charity which the swim was in aid of. This charity was set up in order to restore Africa’s oldest boat named Chauncy Maples so it may be used as a mobile clinic for the benefit of people living around lake Malawi, and when we arrived in Portpatrick we were met by others belonging to the charity who welcomed Milko to shore.

To maintain his energy levels, the swimmer was fed regularly from the boat, this was done by passing a sports bottle containing a measured amount of warm liquid to him on a string. The feedings were done every twenty minutes for the entire duration of the swim, when Milko would receive a varying amount of liquid each time, and food was given once an hour in the form of a half banana or biscuit. This formula seemed to work well for Milko as his stroke rate remained very steady for almost the entire swim, except for the last hour when he was in a state of exhaustion.

While for the first five hours of the transit wind was not an issue, blowing between zero and five knots, in the later stages it became a retarding factor. Around noon the wind began to increase steadily and at 1400hrs it was blowing a southerly twenty knots. This created a number of sub-issues: first, the waves impeded the steadiness of Milko’s stroke at a point where he was tiring; second  the boats pitching made it difficult for him to feed and the waves sometimes covered his head while he was drinking; third, the choppy water made it impossible to sight jellyfish because of reflection. On top of all this, as we approached Scotland the wind was blowing from the South, as it had been all day, but simultaneously the currents of the rising tide were moving southwards, thus we had a wind against tide situation which creates very rough water, made the boat pitch considerably and produced less than comfortable conditions for swimming.

Nearing the Scottish coast, skipper Nelson was concerned that the rising tide, which floods southwards around Portpatrick, would pull Milko along with it and cause him to have to swim a further distance because of a turn in the shoreline. With a natural tendency to veer right when he is swimming, this was to augment the problem for Milko, as right, heading from Bangor to Scotland, means South. Thankfully, heeding a great number of gestures, whistles and hollers from Marcel, Milko was able to maintain a good course along with the boat.

 As we closed in on the shore, it became more and more apparent that the onshore breeze was creating a hostile landing place for Milko, with waves crashing against the cliff face and frothing quite dramatically. Exhausted and cold, Milko gradually pulled closer to the rocks, and despite the current, actually managed to maintain a course north of Portpatrick village for touchdown. In the final yards before touching land, Milko actually disappeared in white froth before his two hands became clearly visible against the black rocks.

Start time (boats horn) 05:56:53 , 30/07/13

End time (boats horn) 16:30:56 , 30/07/13

Both verified by video"

Monday, 17 June 2013

Lung problems over I hope - crunch time now!

For two weeks I have been forced to swim very little (week totals 8 kms and 12 kms respectively) again mainly due to lung problems - persistent coughing, fatigue, no real fever. Treatment with Beclometasone, a steroid, is working but only slowly.
I finally started feeling better today, but the pool is closed, so I did 10 kms on my new rowing machine instead.

From tomorrow onwards it is crunch time. Even though the lowered training volume has resulted in a clear increase in speed, I feel slightly behind in my training. I want to do my biggest training week yet, to get the distance right and to increase my exposure to chilly water - the pool is now 17 degrees Celsius here.

Being home alone as the family has left for NL already, I watched all day with admiration on my computer screen how Fergal Somerville from Dublin, Ireland, zapped over the North Channel in 9 degrees Celsius water in 12 hours and 21 minutes. Incredible grit, such a huge distance in such cold water.

I will admit to a little self-doubt.My coldest training ever was in 12 degrees, and that was 2 years ago.  I will definitely need my cold water week in Cork to acclimatise. Looking forward to that, and I hope that my body will cooperate.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Advertising the swim and the cause

Commission en direct, my employer's newsletter, has advertised my swim and the cause. I like the lay-out!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

48 kms

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming has a nice, almost poetic piece on the experience of open water swimming:
The Daily News of Open Water Swimming: The Open Water, An Otherworldly Experience:
I am not a mystically inclined person, but swimming in a large open water body (sea or river) I have had occasions where I felt deeply connected to the rest of the world through the water, especially when swimming under water.

This morning was much less poetic, as I did a pool swim of 23 kms, my longest swim in a pool ever, starting at 4.15 am (Asha taking me to the pool at 3.30!). My program was 2500 free + 500 back + 500 free + 500 back + 1000 fs) x 4 + 2500 fs + 500 back.

Total swim time app. 7 hours. All really fine and fast up to 15 kms, still ok up to 20 kms, then really slowing down, feeling the fatigue of the days before, not having properly carboloaded and muscles and tendons hurting. Mixing it up with backstroke probably makes it a little harder, but it has the advantage of making the workout more varied.

I am now at the point where I can swim 2/3 of the target distance, which is earlier than expected. Next week will be an easy week of 20-25 kms with shorter interval trainings for recovery and a max. 15-km long swim (total 20-25 kms), the week after somewhat longer (30+ kms), and the week after that should be my biggest ever training week (60+?), two weeks before the Cork distance week.

I had wanted to get to 25 kms (to achieve a week total of 50 kms), but the straw that broke the camel's back was when diesel fumes of a nearby generator started wafting over the water and made me feel sick. At 48kms still an excellent week (Tuesday 6 kms, Wed 10, Thur 4, Fri 5).

Monday, 27 May 2013

Medical

I passed my medical for ILDSA today.
Resting heart rate a lowish 57 bpm, and I actually didn't feel very well today.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

27 kms

Tuesday 3 kms
Wednesday 5 kms
Thursday 4 kms
Saturday 15 kms, including 6 x 500 backstroke, challenging for biceps. All without much difficulty, except sunburn.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

41 kms, with a 21 kms long swim

Back to an excellent week.

Monday 10.000m (guilty conscience over Saturday...)
Tuesday 5.000 (some intervals)
Wednesday 5.000 (some intervals)The sprint were a welcome change, should have done it earlier. It's so easy to get stuck in just long slow swims.

Thursday& Friday off on a field trip, recovering from the intensive interval sessions.

Saturday (today): 21.000 m (6+5+4+3+2+1 kms), a little over 6 hours, 840 laps. Boring, but also reassuring. I manage to increase the mileage without major physical discomfort or injuries so far.  Still slowing down quite a lot after a few hours, from 15.30m/km to 17.30 mins/km after 6 hours. What will an extra 14 kms feel like, in water that will be 8 degrees Celsius colder...

Saturday, 11 May 2013

25 instead of 46 kms

Monday 7km
Tuesday 5 kms
Wednesday 4,5 kms
Thursday 9kms

So far so good, on my way to an 46 km week. The intensification clearly has an effect, and my cruising speed in 1500's and 2500's is getting noticeably faster, also in repeats. .

No training on Friday - reception for work the night before. Did 9 holes of golf though.

Then:
Saturday: drove up to the pool at 5 am for a 6hr/21 km training, and ... turned around to go home and have a lazy weekend. I don't train when I don't feel like it - training experience has thought me to listen carefully to body, mind and soul.

So, 25,5 kms it is for this week, not great, but no problem either. Swimming on 4 consecutive days went fine, no trouble with shoulders, neck and back.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday, 28 April 2013

23 kms

A more modest 23 kms this week:
  • Monday 3kms
  • Tuesday 4 kms
  • Wednesday 10 kms (in the pool at 5.00 am, plus a full day at work - pfff...)
  • Saturday 6 kms.
A pity that the pool of the African Bible College is closed on Sundays. On the other hand it is better for family life.

My shoulders and neck, which gave me considerable grief in the last few months before the EC in 2011, are holding up remarkably well - I haven't had to resort to ibuprofen yet. But let's see how the next weeks will be.

Next week another 40-50 kms week I hope, if work permits, increasing the long swim on Saturday to appr. 20 kms, and five 5-6 kms swims on the weekdays. Quite a challenge!

My aim in May-June is to alternate weeks with moderate and big training volumes to get in a couple of 25-kms Saturday swims in June (1000 laps, app. 7½ hours - very close to the maximum of solo pool swimming boredom that I can bear). My hope is that this will prepare me sufficiently for the hardships of the Cork Distance Week (90-130 km in 9 days, only swimming, eating and sleeping). My key aim for the nine days in Ireland will be the final temperature acclimatisation, going from the 21°C water that I am currently training in to the 10-13°C range that is needed for the North Channel.

Daunting...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

About my training

I am relieved that, after weeks and months of gruelling workload, no less than four bouts of bronchitis since September '12, and lately some back problems, I have finally been able this week to increase my training volume to a level more usually associated with serious marathon swimming.
To give you an idea, from Tuesday to Saturday I swam 41.000 meters as follows:
  • Tuesday 6000 meters (240 laps in a 25-meter pool))
  • Wednesday 10,000 (400)
  • Thursday 5000 (200)
  • Friday 5000 (200)
  • Saturday 15,000 (600; a pyramid: 5000+4000+3000+2000+1000, with 2-minute feeding breaks in between)
Most of my sessions these days consist of combinations of 1500 and 2500 meters, the shorter ones usually with a 8x50m sprint set included somewhere in the middle or the end to retain at least some sprinting ability. I also like to do sets with 100 or 200m IM in it (e.g 5x200 IM, or 10 x 200 m IM/freestyle alternating) for variety while maintaining volume, and to challenge myself with butterfly. Due to a dodgy back I skipped all butterfly this week.
As I get older (47 now), and with my main focus on long distance training, I have been getting slower. My 1500 meters nowadays is rarely faster than 23-24 mins (my PB from a few years ago is 20mins50s, hardly Olympic, but decent in amateur Channel swimming circles), my 2500 meters rarely faster than 38.30-39 mins. That is also a conscious choice. Rather than training to gain half a minute in speed, I prefer to train to keep my current comfortable cruising speed of 2 miles/h or 3,6 kms/hr up for a long as I can into a long swim.

It may sound surprising to many fellow long distance swimmers that throughout the year I usually train a mere 10-15 kms per week (if that), even though I try, not always successfully, to complement it with cross training (biking, slow jogging, weights).  More than 20 kms is a decent training week, >30 kms is very good, so > 40 kms is excellent.... A few months before the actual swim I up the volume. The key constraints are my working hours, but I must admit that without big goals coming up I find it hard to motivate myself for endless hours in the pool counting tiles.

Forty kms doesn't even get close to the training volumes of more professionally minded swimmers, but for this amateur plodder in his late forties it is quite enough! The last time I swam more than 40k in a week must have been in 2011, in the run-up to the English Channel. My biggest training week ever was a one-off  50 kms week, also in 2011, though that was in open water, which made it more bearable. 41.000 meters equals 1640 laps in the pool, which is very boring indeed. However, between now and the North Channel swim end of July I will need to do several more of such, and even more voluminous, weeks. This will be topped off with a tough 9-day (>120km) open water training camp in Cork, Ireland from 5-14 July, two weeks before the actual crossing.

This week also saw me, for the first time in a very long time, if ever, training on 5 consecutive days. Normally I always leave a day between trainings, to avoid injury, exhaustion, and boredom. While I do feel some pain in my shoulder tendons today, it is quite bearable, and I do not feel overly tired either. I take that as a good sign: even if I have been getting older, my body and mind have also adapted to several years of long training session and extreme swims. So apart from increasing the volume, I will cautiously try and increase the frequency of my trainings as well.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Supporting the renovation of the Chauncy Maples hospital ship in Malawi

Big swims are often done to raise money and publicity for a good cause. My English Channel crossing in 2011 aimed to raise money and awareness for the Centre for Injury Prevention and  Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) and their fight against the epidemic of children drowning in that country by providing swimming lessons in villages and slums on a fairly massive scale. 

It took me a little thinking to find a suitable cause to support in Malawi. Not that there is a lack of needs and consequently worthy causes to support in a country as poor as Malawi of course. But I prefer the cause and the swim to be somehow thematically related, and to always have children benefit from it. This worked out wonderfully in 2011. But drowning seems to be much less of a problem in Malawi, in spite of the many people living on the shores of the enormous Lake Malawi.
Widening the thematic relationship with water, I thought of the fight against bilharzia/schistosomiasis, a widespread and potentially very debilitating, even deadly disease among the population of Lake Malawi's shores (I suffered a bad case of infestation with this parasite myself once in 2008). Widening the issue even more, the issue of health care in general for the population living around the lake, often in remote villages far away from health centers, came to mind.

After a call for ideas by email through the professional network of a friend of a friend, I was contacted by Janie Hampton, a British author. Janie is also the founder of the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust, which aims to renovate Africa's oldest motor powered ship, the Chauncy Maples, back into a clinic to serve Lake Malawi's mostly very poor shore dwellers. Renovation is well underway, with more than half of the funds already secured both through corporate and private sponsors. It is a cause that satisfies my criterion that the cause should be related to water, and there is no doubt that especially children will benefit in a major way from improved health care that will come to them instead of the inverse. Janie informed me that in due course the clinic, once up and running, will contribute also to the eradication of bilharzia in Lake Malawi. Finally, the fact that there is a clear link between the ship and Malawi's colonial history on the one hand (David Livingstone was from Scotland) and the destination of my swim on the other hand, is an additional element that Janie and I hope will pay fundraising dividends. 

It is worth checking out the following videos about the Chauncy Maples project on Youtube, first one from 2010, explaining the history of the ship and the project:


and this one from 2012, with more information on the renovation process:


I refer to the Chauncy Maples website for further information on the project. I am very pleased and proud for my North Channel endeavour to be associated with this great cause. I set up a fundraising page on http://www.justgiving.com/milkovangool, and hope you will visit it.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The North Channel for Summer 2013?

I shared my most recent swimming ambition a week ago or so on an online forum for marathon swimming nutters. It was picked up and reposted by Niek Kloots on the Netherlands Open Water Web. He made me aware that my blog was badly in need of an update!

So today I am announcing here (and on my Facebook page) a new big channel swimming challenge, even bigger than the English Channel in 2011: during the neap tide of end July-beginning of August 2013 I hope to make an attempt at crossing the 35-kms wide North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, more precisely between Donaghadee (County Down) and Portpatrick (Mull of Galloway).
(Detailed information on this swim can be found on the webpage of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA), click here.)

(I can't draw a line, but the crossing's ideal trajectory runs almost exactly through
the short leg of the letter 'h' in 'Channel' in this picture.)
 This is an intimidating swim for me for a number of reasons:
  • in terms of pure difficulty it is several notches up from the English Channel as regards cold, currents, roughness of the waters, and jellyfish. This is probably the reason why so far only 12 individuals have made it across since the first successful crossing by Tom Bower in 1947 (as against appr. 1200 English Channel swimmers since Matthew Webb's first crossing in 1875). The cold is to be feared the most: varying between 10°C and 14°C, the water temperature is well below the English Channel's usual 15-18°C range. I have done a few trainings in the past in 12°C water (see here), and it was very tough indeed.
  • The fact that I currently live in Malawi, where no suitable cold training water can be found, complicates matters, but doesn't make the swim impossible I think; after all I prepared most of my English Channel swim in Bangladesh, which is hotter than Malawi. In early July I will participate in the Cork Distance Week run by Ned Denison, a 9-day bootcamp for open water masochists. Water temperatures in Cork will hopefully approach those of the North Channel.
  • Apart from the harsh conditions in the North Channel my current form and health give me reason for concern. After my English Channel swim in 2011 I haven't done similar swims. While I kept training and while I did cross the ''Bangla Channel" (appr. 16 kms) in March 2012 and Lake Malawi (23 kms) in February 2013, my training volume has, apart from a few peak weeks, been mostly in the 10-15 kms/week range, and many weeks not even that. Very little cross training, in spite of plenty of good intentions. I will need to up the volume and the quality considerably. My health hasn't been helping me much either. Ever since arriving in Malawi in August 2012, I have had no less than four bouts of bronchitis, treated at every occasion with antibiotics, which left me drained. Today I had to abort a 10 km training after 4,5 kms as my lungs were still hurting from the most recent episode.
Having said this, and while I fear the swim, I am very much looking forward to the adventure. I believe that 'outing' my ambition will help me overcome some of the hurdles towards achieving it - first you decide, then you do, as my wise friend Adva put it to me yesterday.

The North Channel has been in my thoughts ever since I crossed the English Channel. Until such time as somebody swims from Cuba to Florida unaided, the North Channel is for many people the nec plus ultra of channel swimming. To prove to be capable of doing it would be priceless.