RETURN TO HOME PAGE
Every swimmer will develop his or her own training programme. This will be based on previous experience, coaching ideas, conversations with other swimmers and/or facilities available. There are, however, some aspects that will apply to everyone. To swim the Channel, you must consider the following factors:
Water temperature. This is between 59°F and 64.5°F (15°C to 18°C). The temperature is around 59°F to 60°F at the end of June beginning of July, then rises slowly to 64/65°F by the end of August beginning of September, then it usually drops by a couple of degrees before the beginning of October. There are however exceptional years like 1995 when the water temperature reaches 67°F (19°C). Try to train in temperatures around 60°F (15.5°C). There is no need to train in water that is too cold (below 55°F/12°C ) and do not convince yourself that if you are swimming in 70°F/21°C then it is almost the same.
Bi-lateral breathing. Train yourself to breathe bi-laterally. This will mean that you can swim on either side of the escort boat using the shelter of the hull if the wind gets up or avoiding the exhaust fumes if the wind is in the wrong direction.
Air temperature and chill factor. This varies considerably depending on the weather and the hours of daylight. The longest day is about the 21st of June, giving daylight from about 0330 to 2200 hours. This decreases to 0600 to 1900 hours by the end of September. Body heat is lost from the parts of the swimmer exposed to the air (head and shoulders, etc.). The air temperature is higher during daylight hours, therefore the longer the day, the greater the period of higher air temperature, and the smaller the loss of body heat.
Hypothermia. The normal body temperature is 98.4°F (37°C). Hypothermia develops when the body temperature falls below about 95°F (35°C). Moderate hypothermia can usually be reversed, and a complete recovery made if it is recognised and treated quickly. However, if the body temperature falls below 75°F (24°C), recovery is unlikely. The symptoms and signs of the onset of hypothermia are difficult to recognise to the inexperienced eye. They are basically bouts of shivering, disorientation, irrational behaviour, blueness of the lips, inability to concentrate or co-ordinate speech, and inability to respond to simple requests or questions. If hypothermia arises your team must do as they are instructed - your life may depend on it!
Feeding. This needs a great deal of thought on behalf of the swimmer and his/her team. Keep the feeding time to a minimum. (For example 3 minute feeds every hour for the first 2 hours then 3 min feeds every 1/2 hour will add over an hour to a 12 hour swim). Arrange the feeding pattern well in advance. The most common pattern is hourly feeds for the first 2 hours then 1/2 hourly feeds for the remainder of the swim. Your feed time should be less than 1 minute a stop. Try the different types of feed to see which suits you. These days most swimmers use a high carob feed like Maxim. You must however get used to these feeds well in advance as they have a high input and it can take some time for your body to adapt. Make sure you get the quantities right as to much at a time can upset your system. Almost every swimmer will go through a bad patch around the 5th, 6th, or 7th hour when the body starts to convert it's own fat to energy. Understand this problem and try to train through it. It's important for you to know this is going to happen.
Swim technique. Ask your coach, or someone with a professional eye, to analyse your stroke to ensure it is technically correct for swimming in the sea. The importance of outdoor training cannot be emphasised enough. The body reacts and performs differently in cold water. Do as many of your long swims as possible in open water. Pool swimmers and national champions have found the transition to open water takes a lot of time and effort. You must start early to acclimatise to long periods in cold water. To obtain the maximum benefit from pool work, do not swim for long periods without a break. Far from building up your stamina, it will make you sluggish. Lots of interval work is far better. Try to get that extra centimetre out of every arm-pull. The more efficient your stroke, the better your chances of success.
Speed. Keep a regular check on your speed. Your pilot will want to know your swim rate and this must be a realistic timing, taken at the end of your training period. It is important for your pilot, you and your team to have a good idea of the time you will take to complete your crossing. Time yourself over a distance (1,000 yards or 1,000 metres) then you can calculate your approximate crossing time. The shortest distance is 19 nautical miles from England to France.
I nautical mile is approximately 2000yards or 1852 metres.
19 nm x 2000 yd's is 38,000 yards to swim the Channel by the shortest route. 19 nm x 1852 mtrs is 35200 metres swimming by the shortest route
You can work out your approximate crossing time by simple mathematics once you have your average swim distance for an hour.
For example at 3,000 yards an hour you will take (38000 yards divided by 3000 yards) which is 12.7 hours. To this you need to add your feed time (12.7 hours x 4/5 min's feed per hour) giving a total of about 13.5 to 14 hours for the crossing.
The same applies if you are working in metres -- 35,200 metres at 3,000 metres an hour = 11.7 hours plus your feed time. If you take 4/5 min's to feed every hour then you will need to add approximately another 50 minuets for feeding making a total time of about 12.5 hours. This shows how important it is to feed as quickly as possible.
Once you have an idea of your crossing time, you can start to prepare yourself mentally. Always remember that the Channel is a mental as well as a physical swim. Possibly even more mental than physical.
Mental attitude. Many a failure has come about by not having the right mental attitude. Willpower is needed to push through the pain barriers that never go away. A split Channel swim two or three weeks before your crossing is an ideal way to mentally and physically test yourself, i.e. do a 7 hour swim one day then a 6 hour swim the next, then you can taper down your training to just an hour or two on the days before you swim.
Read the Channel Swimming & piloting Federation rules and guidelines thoroughly and carefully. If you are going to use grease, allow enough time for it to be mixed. Remember your light-sticks. Keep your support team to a minimum and remember that sea-sickness is a real threat, even to the most experienced. If you are in a relay team, almost everything mentioned above will apply to your swim, except the fact that you will be spending one hour in the water, followed by 5 hours in the boat - the 5 hours on the boat can be a problem if you are sea-sick or you get cold. Take plenty of warm clothing and dry towels. Try to talk to other swimmers and people who have been involved with the Channel and talk to your pilot to get everything clear in your mind. Do not leave anything until the last minute. If you can spare the time, arrange to arrive in Dover early enough to acclimatise yourself. Let the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation Secretary know what you are doing and where you are staying.
MAKE SURE ALL YOUR PAPERWORK IS FINALISED IN GOOD TIME AND BEFORE YOU ARRIVE IN DOVER. IT CANNOT BE DONE AT THE LAST MINUTE.
Grease. Any type of protective grease is permitted, but that normally used is a mixture of LANOLIN and Petroleum Jelly, obtainable from . BOOTS Chemists Limited, Folkestone and Dover. On returning to the pilot boat after the swim, swimmers are specially required to avoid fouling the boat and equipment with grease. You must provide a set of old clothes to cover the grease on your body as it is not easy to remove. Do not leave any litter, i.e. empty grease tins etc., on the beaches. Dover Harbour Board has agreed that Channel Swimmers may train in the Harbour, but you must stay in the designated area along the shoreline. Pools are available at Folkestone and at Dover Sports Centre.
including ---- Tidal Factors ---- Navigation
The shortest distance across the Channel is from Shakespeare Beach, Dover, to Cap Gris Nez (the headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne). This distance is 18.2 nautical miles which is approximately 21 land miles. There are 2,000 yards or 1852 mtrs to a nautical mile. Most of the England/France swims start from Shakespeare Beach or from Abbotts Cliff between one hour before high water and one hour after high water, although the pilots do start at other times and places, depending on the tide, the weather conditions, and the swimmer's ability.
France/England swims (when and if these are permitted by the French authorities) usually start from Cap Gris Nez or its immediate vicinity. Personally I like to start from about 1 mile South of the point towards Boulogne. The traditional start time is about 3 to 4 hours before high water. This can also vary considerably depending on the tide, weather, swimmer and pilot.
With the use of computerised plotting for course calculations and the modern electronics on the pilot boats, start times and places can be evaluated before the swimmer enters the water, and the best choice of route made. The more the pilot knows about the tides, weather and the swimmer's ability the more accurately the swim can be predicted.
As an approximate guide we can say:
The FLOOD TIDE flows from the South West from 1.5 hours before HIGH WATER to 4.5 hours after HIGH WATER DOVER. That's up Channel towards Holland and the North Sea
The EBB TIDE flows from the North East from 4.5 hours after HIGH WATER to 2 hours before HIGH WATER DOVER. That's down Channel towards Folkestone and the Atlantic
As the tidal cycle is a little over 12 hours from one high water to next, the times of high water change every day getting later as the days progress. A good guide is high water Springs are at approximately midday and midnight(GMT), and high water Neaps are approximately 6am and 6pm (GMT). You must add one hour for British Summer Time to these times.
Because of this movement of water from one place to another, the Dover Straits are prone to strong tidal flows, and a large rise and fall in water between high and low tide. To complicate things a little more, the position of the moon relative to the earth and the sun affects the gravitational pull that is moving the water.
When the sun, moon and earth are in line we have maximum tides known as SPRING TIDES. This is every 14 days on the new moon or the full moon.
When the moon is at 90° to the earth, we have minimum tides known as NEAP TIDES. This is every 14 days when the moon is in its first and third quarter.
Thus we have 14 day cycles with the tides going from Springs to Neaps and back to Springs. From tidal atlases and nautical almanacs we find that at Dover: Mean High Water Springs is 6.8 metres. Mean High Water Neaps is 5.3 metres. For Channel swimming definition -
Spring tides are 6.1 metres or more
Neap tides are 6.1 metres or less.
Most swims used to take place on the Neap tides. These are the slacker tides and show as a more direct line on the chart. The lower the tide, the longer the period of slack water when the tide turns, and the slower the tidal flow.
Spring tide swims are becoming a popular and regular occurrence with very little difference in times (some swims are even faster), although they require more planning by the pilot.
The major factor on any swim is the weather and good weather on a Spring tide gives a chance a lot of people do not want to miss as the sea often settles quicker.
Because the tidal flow is parallel to the coast and the swimmer is swimming at 90° to the coast, the tides do not do a lot to either help or hinder the swimmer's progress, although they can appear to do so. The pilot's job is to guide you and put you in the right place at the right time. For this it helps if they know your approximate swim rate over the period of the swim, in advance. There are places during the crossing where you can get a little help from the tide, and there are areas where the tide will hinder your progress. The idea is to get a balance between the two.
If you waste two minutes on each feed and you feed every half hour, then on a 12 hour swim you will have lost 48 minutes. This can be the difference between landing with the tide or having to swim for another 1/2/3/4/ hours.
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with approximately 600 vessels moving up and down them every day, plus the ferries crossing between England and France at very regular intervals. Because of this international shipping lanes have been agreed and their areas marked on the charts.
On the English side we have the South West Lane which is for vessels traveling down Channel towards the Atlantic. The South West Lane is about 4 nautical miles wide and starts about 5 nautical miles from the British shore line.
In the middle we have a separation zone which is about 1 nautical mile wide.
On the French side we have the North East Lane for vessels which are traveling up to the North Sea areas. This lane is about 3.5 nautical miles wide.
When crossing from Dover you swim through the English inshore traffic zone into the South West shipping lane. You the pass into the area known as the Separation Zone (is one nautical mile wide). Then there is the North East Lane, followed by the French inshore traffic zone.
The English Coastguard's are stationed at Langdon Battery Dover, to the East of the harbour. The French Coastguard's are stationed at Cap Gris Nez. Both keep radar and VHF watch on the whole of this area liaisoning with the vessels using the Channel. They broadcast navigational bulletins every half hour and log vessel movements when they are using the lanes.
Channel swims differ from other swims of this distance by their complexity and the local environment. This is why it is one of the ultimate challenges. You and your team will be swimming in cold water, 15°C to 18°C (hypothermia is a major consideration and cold water training is important) for between 10 to 20 hours.
The Channel has quite a lot of hazards such as seaweed and flotsam and jetsam (rubbish and timbers, etc.). It usually has a swell and when the wind is in the opposite direction to the tide it can turn quite choppy. The weather is always uncertain and local conditions can change in a very short time (30 minutes). The swim is every bit a mental swim as well as a very physical one, and the swimmer must be both mentally and physically attuned. There is an element of luck involved in getting everything to fall right on the day. The only real way to achieve success is to start with the idea that nothing else matters except arriving on the other side. Start with the intention of finishing, no matter what, then play the day as it comes. Success is sweet, but as is often said on the beach while training - NO PAIN - NO GAIN
The one factor over which we have no control and which is the single most important ingredient for a successful swim is the weather. Because the Dover Straits is such a narrow stretch of water between two land masses, the weather conditions are very localised. International shipping forecasts do give an indication as to what is going to happen, but are aimed at shipping and are for a larger area. They do not cater for people looking to swim the Channel. From the forecast and the charts available the wind speed and direction and a general view of the weather to come can be assessed. The BBC television forecasts during and after the 6pm news gives a good set of charts and visual indication. This forecast is even more accurate after the local news.
Your pilot will be looking to match these forecasts with sea state, temperatures, cloud cover and his local knowledge before he gives you an opinion. What everyone is hoping for is a light wind or no wind at all (force 2 or less). What we can expect to have is force 3/4 which is 7-16 miles per hour with a wave height of 3 to 5 ft (1-1.5 metres). It is not unknown for swimmers to experience gusts and winds of 15-25 miles per hour (waves up to 6 ft, 1.5 metres plus, and white horses). The reason bilateral breathing is so important in the Channel is that it enables you to swim on either side of the pilot boat to suit the sea conditions.
The sea conditions also depend on the direction of the wind in relation to the tide. Wind and tide together give a long rolling sea, wind and tide opposite each other give a short breaking sea, and wind across the tide gives a confused sea. The stronger the wind or tide, or both, the more amplified the sea state. You will have read earlier that the tide changes direction by 180° approximately every 6 hours. This means that during the swim you could have a situation where the wind and tide are together for some of the time, and then they are opposite each other, giving a totally different sea state with exactly the same conditions. When the sea is flat, force 2 (6 miles per hour or less), it could signify a high pressure area known as an anticyclone. This could mean thick fog - another well-known hazard which regularly occurs in the summer months.
One of the hardest things to understand is the effect of the weather conditions which you cannot see and which are miles away. While Dover is calm and sunny, there could be a gale in the Atlantic or the North Sea. These conditions can produce a swell at Dover or higher or lower tides than the tide tables have predicted. We do not wish you to be disillusioned by the above, more a case of enlightened, so that you can understand what is happening around you.
Some days are perfect, some days become perfect as they progress, and some perfect days are missed! "Shall we or shan't we?", that is the question. Traveling from all parts of the world, it is hard to understand in advance exactly what swimmers are letting themselves in for but the past has shown that whoever hesitates has possibly lost their chance. On the day you decide not to go other swimmers might be out there succeeding. On the day you do go the weather might change and the sea become rough. This is the Channel. Success is sweet - you are joining the elite. Remember your team, your observer, your pilot and his crew will have helped to make your dream come true. The Channel is one swim where teamwork is all important. The pilot needs a good swimmer to get his navigation right - the swimmer needs a good pilot to get there in the fastest, safest time.