This is the first of a three-part series on Doug’s swim across the English Channel. Check back on Friday and Monday for parts 2 and 3.
We Arrive to a Shock
We arrived in Dover after what amounted to a real-life example of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” the latter of which was particularly comical because it involved actually getting behind the wheel of a right-hand drive car for a harrowing trip down the left side of the road. The transition to the “wrong side” of the road hasn’t been as bad as I thought, but it does take some getting used to; avoid three-point turns whenever possible.
We found the flat that Susan had rented up in Deal, which is a little town some eight miles north of Dover, and settled right in. We had heard all the warnings about not taking a nap the day you arrive in Europe, so we did our level best to stay active and moving. Susan, Ashley and I went for a walk to explore a bit, and the boys stayed back and …napped. Oh, well. That evening, everyone was excited about being in England and having authentic fish and chips, so we found a place that was suitably down-market and dove into the greasy goodness. One of the instructions I had received from our boat pilot, Mike Oram, was that I should check in with him the day I arrived, and every evening after that, all after 7:00 p.m. Mike answered the phone right away, and was in the middle of escorting a two-way swimmer right then. Then he dropped the bomb, “I’m glad you’re here, because we think that there may be a slot tomorrow on Lance’s boat, and you should take it if you can. The weather doesn’t look good for the next few days.”
I was floored, and sputtered something about the fact that I was supposed to be fourth in line for this tide, that I wasn’t expecting to swim until late in the week at least, and a few other things. Mike would have no part of it, “Call Angela (his wife) at the house. She can set you up with Lance.”
I called Angela, and heard pretty much the same message, though she was less confident in the weather for Sunday. “Call Lance at 9:30 tomorrow,” she said “he’ll know then if you can leave at 1:00. The next person I called was Don Macdonald, the good friend with whom I have been training for these last two years. I told him, “I think they must have us confused, because I think this is supposed to be your boat.” Don was straight to the point, “If they are offering you a slot and you can do it, just jump on it.”
And so I did.
We’re Leaving – Right Now
The next morning – mind you, we had been in Dover for about 18 hours at that point – I went swimming in Dover Harbor, which is a rite of passage that every Channel aspirant does. I met the Channel swimmers’ mother hen, Frieda Streeter, who is the local expert in part because her daughter, Allison, is the Queen of the Channel with some 45 crossings; that is not a misprint. Forty-five times. Frieda Streeter is a woman you listen to, and you listen very carefully. I swam a mile or so in the cold water of Dover Harbor.
I called Lance at 9:30, and he was talking me through all of the meteorological terms, “It’ll be a force 5 or 6 to start, then the wind will clock around after a couple of hours to a force 3 out of the northeast. So, it will be a little wavy to start, but then it should go to glass. If you want to go, we have to go as soon as you can get here.”
Susan and I hopped in the car, still driving on the wrong side, and headed to the flat to tell the kids to get ready; today, we go.
The kids were nervous, but we just had to tell them, “Look, it isn’t exactly what we planned, but we came here with one goal, to swim the English Channel. We are all experienced at this, that’s why we practiced it. We have controlled everything we can control. Now, let’s get down there and knock this thing down.”
In a whirlwind, we were at the Harbor, we met Lance and his partner Chris, and were off.
Lance – “How long does it take for you to get ready?”
Me – “Oh, I don’t know, five minutes?”
Lance – “Good. We are five minutes from the beach where we start, so let’s get going.”