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.