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The diary of an attempt to swim the English Channel!

Mike Laird 21st July 2012

Mike Laird arrives at Dover Marina, the Channel swim attempt is finally under way! Well, I am so sorry to say we did not make it across the Channel. To be honest very few make it across on their first attempt.

We started before 2a.m. in the pitch black wearing strobes on the back of our heads and with light sticks pinned to our swim trunks. It was all going quite well for a while and then the breast strokers (which I have to confess includes me) found it too difficult to overcome the currents brought about by the unusually strong spring tides. If you have ever been constantly smacked in the face by wave after wave and not been able to make the necessary progress then you will know what I mean! We were going forward but we were going sideways too.

Once we had started to drift it was impossible even for the free-stylers to get us back on course even though one of them has completed by the Channel (solo) and the Irish Sea. The rest of us as you know have done loads of cold water and sea training these last 10 or so months and I have often swam over to the Isle of Wight. The Channel though, as we found out, is so terribly different from the Solent where we did most of our training. The swell and wave motion ensured that you felt as sick when swimming as you did on the boat. We learnt a lot from this experience. The sea temperature when we all did our first entry was about 16C but as we got to deeper water this dropped to 13.2C for the second entries. When I was in the boat watching the others swim you could see them turn from red to purple and then almost to blue. One of the chaps took about 45 minutes to stop shivering even once we towled him dry, helped him into his clothes and got some soup inside him.

We ultimately found ourselves going the wrong way down the shipping lane (and unable to do anything about it) which is in direct contravention of various maritime rules and the skipper had no choice but to pull the plug on our swim after 6 1/2 hours. We had covered more than 13 miles which was quite pleasing but ultimately we still failed which is so very disappointing. On the plus side we had immense fun, saw a great sunrise, encountered no jellyfish or human poo and got to see some dolphins as we chugged back to Dover Marina. Will I attempt it again - never say never!

They say all these things make you better or stronger - here's hoping. My next challenge is the 580 km race from the north of Canada to the Magnetic North Pole in March 2013 so I had better get on with some rather different training for that! In the mean time if anyone out there wants to know anyting about how to undertake a Channel attempt, hire a skipper and so on please do get in touch using the Contact Page of my website.

Mike


Mike Laird 13th July 2012

Well our 'swim window' was from the 10th to the 18th of July and there are two solos or groups to go out ahead of us during this time. None have yet managed to get out, due to very adverse weather in the Channel, and this means that the earlist that we could possibly go is Monday 16th. There is a distinct possibility that we would not get out at all by the 18th. What happens then no one knows. Personally it would be a disaster after all the training, coaching sessions, equipment, boat hire and related expense.

By then I shall be based in Scotland, one of our other team members, Steve Clark, is based in Torquay so we can't mess around our jobs for any longer as they have been so accomodating already.

Anyway, on the plus side I drove a round trip over 120 miles last night to go for a late sea swim with Stephen Twigge at Whitstable in Kent. It was raining but the sea was quite flat so the conditions are obviously different between the north and south coasts of the county. There was a strong current and we swam parallel to the coast in one direction and then back the other. Not one jellyfish in sight which was pleasing and as this is the bottom end of the North Sea we might have expected it to be colder than the 14/15C that it was. The Channel will be at least this warm, possibly a degree or so better. Please all pray for some calm weather so we can just get on and do it.


Mike Laird 30th June 2012

I have just got back from a sea swim in Bridport which was fabulous. Been doing plenty of sessions in Tooting Bec Lido with temperatures ranging from 14C upwards. No need for a wetsuit in those temperatures (unless you're a big girls blouse!).

Looking forward now to getting the Channel swim done with Steve, Stephen and Bill. It all started as a crazy notion about a year ago and has taken over all my spare time, especially at weekends, so I am looking forward to the moment when, hopefully, we land on the French beach and open up the champagne!


Mike Laird 26th May 2012

Just got back home after a training session up at Tooting Bec lido with Bill. It was magnificent!

It was our first decent length cold-water swim this year. I jumped in with the normal degree of trepidation and was pleasantly surprised by the water temperature. I have the sneaking suspicion though that the sea will not be quite as kind to us.

The temperature was easy to deal with, the swim itself was also very easy. Obviously all of the pool training sessions with my instructor, Kenny, have paid off. We will be going up again very soon and will be doing 5km sessions which should resemble the sort of distances that we will be doing in the Channel in about 6 weeks time.

I am off for some sea swimming abroad at the ened of this week and hopefully I'll sign up for the Brixham to Torquay swim in early July which is about 6-7 kms.


Mike Laird 10th April 2012

Mike prepares to swim across the River Spey Three months to go!

The Solent in mid March, as Bill says below, was not an easy swim by any stretch of the imagination. It was the first long swim I have done since re-starting the training in earnest, and also the first long swim I have ever done in a wet suit. Whilst it keeps you reasonably warm it is extremely tiring to swim in. One might also think that the added buoyancy helps but the opposite is in fact true. It affected my position in the water so much that my legs were sometimes on top of the water and it put immense strain on my lower back. Never mind – it was a successful swim and we shall be doing it again soon.

Over Easter I was up in the north east of Scotland so I decided to tackle a few rivers. For a variety of reasons I only managed two of the three I had hoped to swim over. First on the list was the River Dee in Aberdeen. I wanted to swim this at ‘Foot of Dee’ where it reaches the sea but I found that the Harbour Master’s building is right on the quayside and they can see everything (swimming is not allowed). It is also a very busy port. So I went a bit upstream and entered the water slightly downstream from Bridge of Dee.

The edges of the river are a bit boggy and have deep patches of reeds in places. I found a spot though and got in. The current was pretty fast but it was quite a nice swim over. I think the most challenging part of the swim was getting out on the opposite bank. Then I had to swim back because I certainly wasn’t going to walk up and over the bridge. That would have caused a lot of stares from morning commuters!

Swimming the Spey was a different matter all together. I had to explain all my signals to Rachel before I set off as I had no support boat with me. I fully anticipated being swept out to sea but that would not matter. I could see it was fast and I guessed it would be cold but I really never thought it would be as fierce as it turned out to be.

Mike wades into the freezing waters of the Spey. It'll be that way, then!

I walked in to the scary, dark peaty water. It was about 5C and even with a wetsuit and swimming socks on it was agonisingly cold. People were lining the shingle shore watching me to see what would happen. I managed to get across in under 15 minutes but it had been a real struggle and the cold water was draining my strength. I had tried fighting the current but it was pointless. Anyone doing this without a wetsuit or who was not used to strong currents and how to deal with them would be in real trouble.

Before coming back I walked upstream a good bit as I knew the current would pull me again. I was very close to the actual sea and I could taste how the water was increasing in salinity. As I got closer to the sea there were some small shingle islands and I took a breather from the current in their shadows and then put in a strong spurt of swimming to get across the stretches with current. I made it back OK but it was far more tiring than I had ever thought. Great fun!


Bill Hyatt-Steel 18th March 2012

Following last week’s disaster I did at least make it into the Solent this weekend! Wearing a wet suit for the first time, which I had borrowed from Mike, was a little restrictive to say the least. We took our usual route from Lymington to Hurst Castle in the support boat and then set off on our swim across to Fort Victoria on the Isle of Wight.

The water was freezing and I have to say it was so cold it hurt. We were in around 10am and I immediately knew that I would not complete the crossing with the combination of wet suit and sheer cold which slowed my swimming to a crawl. I was slowing Mike a lot but I kept going as long as could. In the end I barely made it a quarter of the way across before getting back into the support boat, quite disgusted with self for giving up, but feeling considerably safer. At that point I consoled myself with the thought that Mike could not go much further! But with encouragement from Mel and I he did in fact make it all the way across. Mel, by the way, is my wife and the pilot for our support boat, and without her being there I think I might have given up sooner but I didn’t want her to see me fail. But she has been very understanding and she hasn’t even commented on me blaming an ill fitting wet suit!

The whole trip this time has brought home just how much training will be necessary to get across the Channel, to maintain a certain speed all the way and much fighting of current otherwise we will end up miles from the intended landing area. Not so much a problem on the Isle of Wight to end up on the wrong beach or to add maybe a mile to the total length of the swim but taking the long route across the Channel could add many miles to our challenge and make for a lot of unnecessary hard work swimming to get back on course.

I’m off to a nice warm swimming pool tomorrow to do some more training and practice my front crawl!


Mike Laird Mike prepares for another Solent swim 14th March 2012

Sometimes in life it can seem as though everything is going wrong. I flew out to Paphos, Cyprus at the end of February to get some sea swimming in. The day after I arrived the sea rose to a force 4/5 and by the day after that it rose to a force 6 and stayed there until I came home.

I even drove all the way up to the north coast at Polis and tried going into the sea but it was far too rough. When coming out of the sea I was picked up by a wave and slammed head first onto the beach. Pebbles were a hard surface to impact but had it been a rocky beach I could have been in serious problems.

On the plus side I now have a small team prepared to attempt the Channel with me in July........


Bill Hyatt-Steel Bill dons his wetsuit before jumping into the Solent 11th March 2012

This being my first entry it would be nice to say that the sea swim planned for Saturday 10th March had gone “swimmingly”. However, due to my lack of organisation and, to some extent, jet lag from my recent honeymoon, it meant that when Mike rang me to organise the trip last Saturday I had forgotten that my brother, mother, father and wife had arranged a birthday meal for me at midday on the 10th.

I phoned Mike to let him know. I must admit at this point Mike had every right to be very angry as in all the time I have know him he has always been incredibly organised and has ever broken an appointment with me. So, all credit to Mike, he didn’t raise any objections, he merely reminded me that he had suggested I get a dairy nearly a decade and half ago! Shortly after I first met him. We rearranged to go for a swim on the 17th which I have written on my calendar.

I’ll get the boat out prior to the 17th to just to check it over. I’m looking forward to meeting the other swimmer and trying out swimming in a wet suit! And, of course, reading the swim dairy!


Mike Laird 24 February 2012

Well I have finally found a new coach and started swimming again. I had forgotten all that I had learned and lost any stamina that I had. It was so hard and I was really down-beat about it all. It seems like a huge undertaking now that I have effectively lost out on three months training time. Only four whole months to go and I feel like I am starting from scratch. I cannot swim two lengths of front crawl!

I contacted Andy King who pilots Louise Jane (the support boat that I have chartered) explained recent events and asked if I could defer my swim to 2013. I even provided a copy of Mum's death certificate. He said he couldn't change it. Great!

So now I am faced with forfeiting the whole £2,500 fee or attempting the swim with a greater chance of failure rather than success. Then another thought occurred to me. To change from a solo swim to a team event. Can I find a few friends able and willing to swim a few miles each? Better to be part of a successful team than a failed solo.

My wet suit finally turned up yesterday. I got it on but was totally unable to do the zip up on my own. Off to Cyprus at the weekend though to get some R&R and plenty sea swimming so I shall trial it properly then.

I got my first compliment from my coach today (24 Feb).It was only a small compliment but it was a compliment none the less. Still a long way to go. I have now upped my coaching sessions to 4 per week. Oddly I have also been told by my coach to put weight on. Not too happy about that! I am already over 15 stone.


Mike Laird 26th January 2012

This has been a devastating month. My darling Mum died and then with the funeral and all the other wretched tasks that have to be taken care of there has not been one window for sea swimming this month either.

Plus the bloody wetsuit has not yet arrived after 6 weeks!


Mike Laird 14th December 2011

Well this month started badly and has got progressively worse. My swimming coach, Roger, had a disagreement with the swimming pool manager. The outcome is that my coach resigned but my membership is with the pool so I will have to stay swimming here and find another coach. Then the family discovered that Mum, who went into hospital last month for something routine, has been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Time is not long.

I have spent every weekend since mid November commuting from Surrey to Edinburgh to be with her which has meant zero sea swimming.

I did manage to order a new wetsuit though which should be with me in early January.


Mike Laird 15th November 2011

I never thought that I would say this but I am missing the sea swimming. So, I am going to go and get a thin wetsuit so I can continue to swim throughout winter. The wetsuits that I currently have for diving are far too thick to swim in and would exhaust me in a mile or so.

I have now had four lessons for front crawl and really seem to have cracked it. Don't get me wrong, no one is going to confuse me with a competent crawler for a while yet but I have stopped swallowing so much water, I have started to breathe to the side on every second stroke and I am somewhere near the surface of the water. Compare that to four weeks ago when I looked like a drowning goat!

Now I just need to keep on with it and get as much practice as possible. I still have another four lessons booked up this side of Christmas so it looks pretty good right now.

In five weeks I shall be in Cyprus so I shall be doing as much sea swimming there as I can fit it. Cannot wait!


Mike Laird Mike Laird swimming across the Solent 16th October 2011

Yesterday I completed another great training swim in The Solent. Time with the chiropractor has obviously paid off and my wee niggle in my neck is all sorted.

For the time of year I could not have wished for better weather. I was in the water just after 11am and the sun was out in full force which was fabulous. The water temperature was reasonable and to begin with there wasn't too much boat traffic. No jelly fish either! It really was a perfect day for a dip which was a surprise for October.

I got across to the Isle of Wight in just under two hours. Had I swam the most direct route it would not have taken anything like as long but I swam about a mile to the east of Yarmouth Harbour. The current was strong in places but I have encountered far worse. By the time I was approaching the beach as small group of people had gathered and started to clap. When I walked out of the water they asked where I had swam from and just for fun I said 'Edinburgh'.

I think there is still time for some more open water training, without a wetsuit, before the weather gets too cold. Bring it on!


Mike Laird 17th September 2011

My neck issue is still unresolved despite 8 visits to the chiropractor and a good deal of pain. I have been told that it will sort itself out eventually though. In the interim I have been maintaining 5km swims several times per week at my local swimming pool. Good for general fitness but not really ideal as preparation for The Channel. The warm water lulls you into a false sense of comfort.

I’m heading back out into The Solent for a longer swim on 15th October again with Bill. Hoping to get to the Isle of Wight and then swim back. This may be the last time this year that we can do a decent length sea swim without a wetsuit.

In an attempt to make my crossing of The Channel a good deal faster I have signed up to learn to do the front crawl. I start in October and lessons run through to December. It seems funny to be learning to swim a stroke that I am hoping will get me across to France just 7 months later!

Currently I am setting up some swims across major British river estuaries which should culminate, for this year at least, with The Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. I have also just committed to do a Christmas Day swim which will definitely be the coldest swim I have ever done. It may only be one length of 50 metres but you have to sign a disclaimer before you dive in, just in case you have a heart attack!


Mike Laird Mike Laird swimming across the Solent 20th August 2011 - Swimming the Solent

Having got into a routine of swimming 5 miles a week in open air pools, I thought it was high time to get some real open water experience. And where better to start than the Solent!

Leaving from Lymington harbour on a cold and overcast Saturday morning, my support boat transported me along the mainland coast to Hurst Castle where I was landed on the beach to start my crossing.

Once I had got over the initial shock of the cold water, it was quite comfortable, and some 15 minutes into the swim the clouds parted and a day of glorious sunshine began. I had initially planned to swim across to Fort Albert on the Isle of Wight, which by all accounts is the shortest crossing at around 1.3 miles. However as we did not get the early start we had hoped for, the current pushed me a fair way off course and after 1 hour and 15 minutes, I arrived at Fort Victoria, just outside Yarmouth harbour on the Isle of Wight.

As a result of the last open water swim, I am now in the hands of a chiropractor to sort out my scalene muscles in my neck. I have been banned from cold water swimming for a month.

I will be using the Solent for open water practice for the next few months, and I daresay as autumn and winter approach, the water will only get colder! But it is great practice for the kind of swim I can expect out in the English Channel.



(C) Mike Laird 2017