I think I have reached the point where I can separate myself from the swim enough to write about it. I’m not sure if there’s an optimum wait period as the pain and mental mush fade so quickly, but when its too fresh I am rendered virtually incoherent.
I have been queried and challenged over this swim- and it was a stressful venture from the outset so i feel i need to show my hand for those who wish to follow. I had lined up 6 of the 7 pilots for my bid to attempt Oceans 7 in a year… but the cook strait remained elusive. I began an email conversation in 2012 trying to get a slot, but it proved more challenging than the swim- which is really saying something. It got to last august and I still couldn’t find a way to get a date with the association, but everything else was all systems go. I was financially and physically committed…… what to do?
I am not a rule breaker by nature, just not defined by them either. I had tried everything I could see to go through the existing channels and all that was left to me was to create a new path. I had pioneered a swim across from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly, working with an enthusiastic, adventurous rookie pilot- and the kiwis are adventurous, right? I was sure I could find a way… I wanted this swim to be recognised, so I asked the association if I found a pilot would they provide an official observer to ratify the swim under the association, but the answer was still no. So I turned to WOWSA, who would be the overriding verifying body for the project and asked what proof I would need to ensure I met the scrupulous process. Photos, videos of start and finish and during, observers notes and letter of ratification by the skipper and another would suffice. I wanted this to be water tight.
So the search was on. The team and I sat down in Ireland, whilst the winds kept that first channel from getting going and hit the search engines for charter boats, fishing charters, day tour operators on either side of the channel….. within 3hrs we contacted over a dozen. Sometimes the name gave a fancy- the black pearl fishing had us humming pirates of the Caribbean- and sometimes the photo of the captain would give us the good vibe.
24hrs later we had 5 responses. 2 no, 3 maybe. By the end of that day, it was between only 2. One had a longer track record, but could not give any flexibility as he was a full time fishing charter operator. The other loved the idea, was keen to help but was open about needing to take advice regarding the minutiae of currents. He had escorted kayakers across and loved adventure. It was that simple. Less than 4 days, we had our man.
Working with a rookie pilot was a massive gamble. I don’t think for one second that our first attempt would have been different with experience. The tides just didn’t do what the charts said and we were chancing our arm anyway going on a spring tide. My choice. Certainly not my first choice, but having sat through nearly 2 weeks of incessant wind, i took the first calm day and went for it. You can read about that attempt here.
Normally for a channel swim, you place your faith in the experience of the pilot. You rarely meet before you board the boat on the day of the swim. Rarely a phone call or direct word. For this, it was a joint effort. I have swum enough and used enough coastal forecaster sites to say what kind of conditions I could swim in, the pilot brought local knowledge. You need a natural water man or woman for this. I could describe how the water affects my body and how different conditions would impact. He could try and spot favourable conditions and try and navigate through those. It was enjoyable working with a pilot, very different from the pleasure of handing your life over entirely.
I have to admit it was more stressful for the crew- they were so aware of the pressure riding on getting this one, and not being able to switch off their burgeoning navigation skills. Especially the second run- doubts filled us all, pilot included. Tension was high, as were hopes.
And now we are left with the burden of proof- hoping to get the association to accept and ratify- i did not go into this for public praise, but to be included on the official history of the channel feels right. Anyone who has ever made it across any channel – but particularly one that is widely deemed the second hardest channel on the oceans 7 list- knows just how much it takes: luck, determination, persistence, strength of mind and body. Finding depths to dig in the whim of the whirling currents, the rapidly changing temperature of the water, the fickle nature of the weather.
We have photo and video of both start and finish, and feeding protocol; we have observer notes that include hourly stroke count, air and water temp; GPS tracker; signed affidavit from skipper, my crew and most importantly, a completely independent observer: a documentary cameraman who was there on both attempts for the film crew who are tracking my year who took over 5hrs of footage of the successful swim. Putting it all on social media in real time also helps to deliver transparency, something i feel very strongly about. You can watch the video that we recorded below.
At the moment, we are being denied ratification- something that i am hoping to rectify. I welcome scrutiny and am happy with our path across the cook strait, both physically and logistically. We have opened up a can of worms, unintentionally, but a can of worms that i hope result in better access to the cook strait for more swimmers whilst keeping safety and the spirit of channel swimming at the forefront.
It is such a challenging stretch of water that I was the 102nd person ever to make it across. And now our rookie pilot has a success story. Maybe more will have the chance to test themselves and pit their wits where angels fear to tread.