I did it! The North Channel! It’s arguably the hardest of the Ocean’s Seven (and now my fourth one).
This was the most grueling swim I’ve ever done.
I jumped in the water to start at Donaghadee around 5am or so, to darkness and flat waters. I got off to a great start. To keep momentum, we changed up my feeding schedule: instead of feeds every 30min, we started with the first hour straight through, followed by a few feeds 45min apart, and then eventually back down to 30min. My start was so good that I passed and maintained a lead on a separate relay boat.
Somewhere around the halfway or three quarters mark, the tide started turning and conditions got worse. I had 1-meter swells that made swimming a bit more challenging. To make a long story shorter, I kept plowing through, and eventually made it to the shore after 14hr24min. Apparently the boat crew nicknamed me “Yamaha” because I just kept going like an engine.
One thing I did differently on this swim, was that I made a point to use my feet and kick more. I’d have 5-minute bursts (or a little less) where I would kick really hard and pick up my speed a bit. My crew on the boat noticed this and cheered for me to keep it going, they’d even prompt it by signalling and hitting the side of the boat. One of the skippers told me that my average speed was about 2 knots (3.7 kph / 2.3 mph) but when I kicked, burst to 2.5 knots (4.63 kph / 2.87 mph) which I am hoping is actually true.
Speaking of crew, Mandy made it and was a huge help, balancing feeds, photos, videos and more. I used Infinity for the boat and their supplied crew were amazing, enthusiastic and had a lot of energy that was very motivating. The observer from the ILDSA (Irish Long Distance Swimming Assocation) was high-energy and encouraging as well – I couldn’t have asked for a better team on the boat.
The North Channel is known for two major hazards:
Lion’s mane jellyfish. There’s realistically not much you can do to control the amount or placement of the jellyfish, whose stings can be brutal. The that’s directly under your control minimize damage: swimming around them and using lotion. I purchased and wore Safe Sea which is supposed to decrease pain from stings. Otherwise, I got very lucky, this was just not a big year for jellyfish. I think I may have lightly brushed some tendrils when it was dark starting out (since I had a small sting-like feeling across my left arm), but nothing major. The water was pretty clear throughout, so once the sun rose I could see the jellyfish floating in the water and avoid the ones I needed do. Most were too low in the water to affect me, and the crew had shifts as dedicated jelly watchers who would look ahead and call to me to direct me around some of the ones I couldn’t see.
The cold. During the early parts of the season, water temperatures are around 52ºFs. I picked a swim slot late in the season, expecting water around 59ºF. Since San Francisco has been warmer, I was slightly worried that I would not be acclimated enough, wnich is one of the reasons that I did the Bainbridge Island traning swim in Seattle a few weeks ago. The water temperature ended up not being a problem. Swiming with the Chunky Dunkers was great to acclimate to water around 59ºF in the days leading up to the swim. Whatever I did, it must have been enough because the water temperature apparently dropped down to 54-55ºF, which is usually uncomfortable for me, but wasn’t an issue on the swim, maybe the “big swim day” adrenaline kept me going, or I was otherwise distracted. I wasn’t shivering when I got out.
I’m really grateful I was able to do this swim successfully, with such an amazing crew.