English Channel FAQ

Here is a list of common questions I am receiving and I'll just add them here:

How far is it?  
It is 21 miles from the the beach in Dover, UK (Sheakespeare Beach), to Cap Griz Nes, France.  These are the closest pieces of land between the two.  However, due to the strong tide, which changes every 6 hours, the swim resembles an arch, or even an 'S'.  

How do you get permission to do the swim?  
In order for the swim to be recognized, it needs to be registered with either the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), or Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CS&PF).  These are the two organizations that oversee channel swimming operations.  Both federations require a reasonable fee for validating that the swim is done safely, and follows the established rules. Included with the fee is an official observer that joins the crew on the boat to observe and take detailed notes, which is eventually provided to the swimmer for their own documentation.
Anyone who doesn't go through a federation, is "bootlegging" a channel swim, and is not recognized.  One such chap did just that in 1954.  He tied a small inflatable raft to a string and towed it in his swim attempt, and he ended up floating up on the beach in the Netherlands and is listed as one the fatalities of English Channel swimming.  There are several confirmed deaths of swimmers attempting to swim.  One that occurred just a couple weeks before my swim! 
Part of registering the swim with these organizations, the swimmer is required to hire a professional pilot familiar with channel crossings.  There are currently 16 of them in operation.  While each pilot has his own pricing, mine (Paul Foreman) charged me 2400 GBP which is nearly $4,000 USD. Money very well spent for the navigational expertise these guys have.

What are the rules?
The're very simple:  Start on the beach in England completely out of the water on dry land.  When instructed to begin, enter the water, and don't touch the boat, or anybody during the swim.  You are allowed to take "feeds" that are handed to you, but you cannot physically touch anything during the swim which would provide support or relief.  Just keep swimming!  Then when you arrive in France, completely exit the water until you're on dry ground.  Unless you swim to a cliff that is completely vertical, then you just need to touch the wall.   

For my swim, I arrived just west of the very tip of the Cap, and landed where there were extremely large rock (about the size of small cars), so I carefully climbed over them until I came to the last one that was completely out of the water.  I looked on the other side and saw that it was dry.  So I stopped there on top of this big boulder and raised up my hands.  They had a high powered spotlight on me and then blew the horn.  Very exciting! 

Do you wear a wetsuit?
Wearing a wetsuit is NOT allowed, just one single suit that does not assist in retaining heat, buoyancy or endurance.  I wore just a normal speedo.  I also wore a silicon cap, which is legal to wear.  Normally on training swims I didn't wear a cap, but wearing a cap also helps with heat retention as most heat is lost through the head.  

How about grease?  

Yes, I wore "channel grease" - a mixture of vaseline, and lanolin.  I applied this to my shoulders, armpits, neck and thighs.  This is to simply provide lubrication for areas that may rub up against other parts of my body.  Channel grease does NOTHING to assist in heat retention.  It's a myth, and a rumor.  It's simply a lubrication.  If the swimmer believes it helps, good on them, but it isn't proven to provide any physical protection from the cold.  The best method to combat the cold is simply training in cold water and becoming acclimatized to it.

How cold is it?
It depends on the time of year you swim.  English Channel season starts late June and goes up through September and even early October.  The water is coldest in June and progressively warms up through September, with September being the warmest.  However the tradeoff is that the weather is more touchy in September.  The day that has the most successful crossings according to dover.uk.com is:  28th August.  Some other awesome stats are here:  http://www.dover.uk.com/channelswimming/stats.php 
For my swim (on August 9th, 2012) it started out at 66°F (18.8°C), and dropped to 64°F (17.7°C) at it's lowest point in the middle of the channel. At no point during my swim did I feel cold.  I was completely comfortable with the temperature.  

Are there sharks?
No.  It's too far north, and out of their normal range.  I've heard the argument that "it's too cold for them".  But that can't be completely true, because they thrive in southern California, and the water there is only slightly warmer than the English Channel (depending on the time of year).  The statement that it's too cold for them may be true for non-channel crossing months.   But in the summer, they certainly could survive.  So I'm going with the "It's too far north for their liking" statement.

What do you eat?
I mostly drank my special perpetuem mixture: One scoop of Orange/Vanilla Perpetuem, about 10 ounces of White Grape/ Pear juice, about 8 ounces of Pineapple juice, and about 16 ounces of water.  The juice is to add calories, but most importantly add flavor.  It was tasty!   
The other liquids I consumed were Hot Chocolate, and flattened (defizzed) Coca-Cola.  I drank at every feed, and 75% of the time it was my perpetuem.  At roughly 50% of my feeds I ate something solid which was either a banana, or a swiss roll.  I trained with Cereal bars, but during my EC swim, discovered, they took too long to chew and swallow, so I spit out my first one and yelled out "no more cereal bars".   
I also had one Buzz Bite (a caffeinated chocolate chew), and 100 MG of Ibuprofen about half way into the swim.    
I had a "feeding" once every 35-40 minutes, and simply rolled on to my back, opened the container and drank/ate, and continued on within a minute or less.

What's the fastest or average crossing time?

The fastest swim is currently 6 hours, 55 minutes, held by Trent Grimsey. The average swim varies obviously as more people do the swim. Check out this page, for current statistics on English Channel crossings, including the average time.

How much did it cost?
Every crossing requires the following from every swimmer: 
CSA or CS&PF application and solo crossing fee: Anywhere from 120 - 160 GBP depending on deadlines and which ratifying organization you choose.   ($200 - $250 USD) 
Pilot - Every pilot has their own private contract between the swimmer, and can range depending on many variables.  For my 2012 crossing, I paid $300 to have my name "penciled in" for the tide of August 2012.  Then I paid $1600 USD more as a deposit in December 2011.  Then paid the remaining $2000 USD when I boarded the boat.  All this needs to be converted to pounds.  Ultimately the contract for me was $2400 GBP total for the pilot.  Which converts roughly to $4000 USD. 
If you're not native to Dover, you have to consider hotel, and travel costs.   
Hotel - I stayed at Varne-Ridge, the best place to stay if your planning a channel swim. I booked two trailer homes for a week, a gold and a silver.  My party consisted of 7 people so we needed two units.  The total for both came to 795 GBP which converts roughly to $1300 USD for one week.  You may want a shorter/longer stay, or only need one trailer.  Refer to Varne-Ridge for all the options.    
Airfare - My father in law sponsored my swim by paying for the airfare for our party to go.  It came to $1540 round trip per person from Salt Lake to London.  But that cost surely has varied by now. 
Car rental - The number of large SUV's in England are not like in the US.  Most car rentals are for small vehicles.  We ended up getting a small SUV which barely supplied our needs for 5 people, So the other half of my party also had to rent a SUV.  To rent the SUV for a week was @$900 USD Converted.  We only kept the car when we were in Dover, once the swim was complete and we began touring England we turned it in and opted for public transportation.  The underground rail system they have there is awesome and much cheaper. 
Food, Souvenirs, Things to see - We stayed in Dover two days BEFORE the tidal window, and booked the stay with Varne-Ridge completely through to the end of the window (window was for 8 days).  We stayed an additional 5 days in England, 2 days in Amesbury (to checkout Stonehenge and other attractions in that area), and 3 days in London.  We budgeted $1000 USD for food for our entire trip for 4 people, we budgeted an additional $2000 for Souvenirs, gifts, admission costs to shows, castles, museums, etc...  
In whole, the total cost came to around $16,000 USD for Cathi, myself, Austin and Jacob to travel over, do the swim, and do a few days of sightseeing afterwards. Totally worth every penny, but extremely expensive for a family with seven kids.  It took a lot of sacrifice and money.  And because of that I wasn't about to just throw myself into this willy-nilly.  I wasn't going over there unless I was certain I was going to make it under the right conditions.

What kind of training did you do to prepare?

Because of the cost that is involved in the previous point, I did not want to risk a failed swim attempt.  Yes there are many factors to a failed crossing, but fatigue, or failure to handle the cold was not going to be one of mine.  I trained in cold water,  I trained for long hours.  All the training I did leading up to the swim is archived in the blog so you can see exact workouts and open water swims I did.  Here's what I did from 1 Jan 2012 through the day before the swim in reverse chronological order. 
I would suggest swimming roughly 20 - 25 miles a week the winter leading up to the swim, then in the spring, convert that long yardage into more yardage in open water and less in the pool, but still focus on sprint sets in the pool.  The ability to swim fast is important because you may be ordered to sprint by your pilot/crew in order to beat a tide that might be against you.
Both the CSA and CS&PF require a qualification swim.  I would highly suggest you go above and beyond their minimum qualifications.  I would suggest a 10 hour swim in water that is 61 or colder.   You should be able to match the difficulty of the channel at home by swimming in something just as cold, and just as far.  Sure, every open water body is different, but you should be able to swim that distance in that temperature even though it may not match the other conditions like tide, or chop.  My qualification swim was in the Great Salt Lake covering the same distance as the English Channel, and took me 10:59.  Here's that story.  My qualification swim was tougher than the actual English Channel swim.  But that was cause I got a perfect day in the EC.  
If you are local to Salt Lake City and want to talk in person about more specifics, I would be glad to meet up with you to discuss.  Yes a channel swim can be done successfully thrown together, and it can also be failed under extreme preparation.  But I'd rather go into it armed with a load of knowledge and take my chances with mother nature, having done everything in my power to be ready.

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