Everyone (that was awake) was excited. We were pretty sure the 3rd swim would be our final swim and I think as a result, subconsciously, we had all decided to give it absolutely everything we had.
Dean was up and went in smiling, had an amazing swim and came out looking like the Cheshire cat and chuckling to himself because the swim hat felt amazing and been so much fun. Whilst Dean had been in the water Lee.H was getting a little over excited and was just buzzing to get back in the water. He started getting ready to take over from Dean early so was just casually walking backwards and forwards eating sweets in his gorgeous leopard print speedos.
At which point I noticed that along with some awesome tattoos he also had some rather strange ones; the word “beer” tattooed on his ankle being one example and the one that really confused me was why he had a mushroom tattooed on his arm. We got proper explanations from him for them but the only thing about it I will say here is that he had the mushroom done because he’s (and I quote) “a fun-gui”. It was finally time for Lee.H to get in for his swim and to be honest I think Lee.C and I were glad he was going to burn off some of the E-numbers swimming – no offence Lee.H!!
Dean had clearly had an incredible swim, he was so pleased with it and expected that the only bit of swimming he would have left would be a short swim to shore after the person that landed! Lee Haines seemed to be swimming just as well and strong too, we were making such good progress and it was fantastic to slowly be able to see more of the French coastline. From the speed he was going and the progress we had made over the last couple of hours we figured that Lee C would be landing at the end of his swim. We all thought it would be a great way to finish, all of us having swum 3 times.
Soon enough it was time for me to get ready to swim again. I was absolutely desperate for a wee but reluctant to go down inside the boat to use the toilet as I didn’t really want to be sick again. Instead, I got ready to swim a bit early and Dean helped me down onto the platform about 5 minutes early. I sat on the platform looking back across the channel, finally unable to see the white cliffs of dover! It was glorious sunshine; the water was clear and blue and I felt like I was sitting by the sea on holiday. Waves splashing over my knees and thighs as the boat moved up and down, I could hear and at one point see the splashes from Lee swimming next to the boat. It was a totally surreal experience, but I would love to have it again!
I finally got the go ahead to get in for my final swim and I gave it everything I had. I swam past Lee H, put my head down and swam hard for the full hour, weirdly, I felt like I was swimming in a Lazy River – it was great fun! The current was pushing me forwards, I felt like it was willing me to go faster and swim harder. It was just incredible, the sickness, the stress, everything was totally worth it in that moment. It was at one point when I looked up to sight (from habit) and got a glimpse of France that it suddenly hit me. I was finally going to be able to say I have swum the channel! After the hour I was shocked to see just how far I had swum (3.6km). The furthest I think I have EVER swum in an hour! I got out, tired, sore but I am pretty sure I was also smiling like a Cheshire cat! I felt elated, excited and although shattered and sore I was on top of the world because I knew that the only swimming I had left to do was when we landed in France!
Miles was back in the water swimming and continued to make good progress but did look like he was getting a little tired towards the end. We were all so excited and were so close but so far! Miles managed to get us close enough that Lee.C would land for us and we were really pleased with how it had played out. Dean setting off and Lee finishing us off after 3 swims each. Once Lee was in the water, he looked like he was enjoying it and we cheered him on and encouraged him. When it got to him having been in the water for 20minutes we began questioning if he was going to make it all the way to France in his last swim. He was getting tired; his stroke rate had slowed and he just looked exhausted. He started asking us how long he had left and every time he asked, we just kept telling him he had 15 minutes left, even when he didn’t – I imagine it felt like a very long 15 minutes to him because 30 minutes later he was still in the water.
Just over half-way through Lee C’s swim Dean realised he was going to have to get back in for the final bit and land in France, personally I quite liked that the same person started and finished and that it was Dean landing simply because of the encouragement and help he had given me. Although, Dean didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. It ended up being that Lee got stuck and just wasn’t moving anywhere and when his hour was up he was just 800m away from shore, it must have felt gut wrenching.
Before Dean got in for the last push he gave me a waterproof camera and told me I needed to take it to shore when we landed in France. He set off and some-how summoned the energy to look like he was sprinting. Tanya, the observer came up and told us all to get ready if we all wanted to go to shore after Dean had landed. I tried giving the camera to one of the guys but was informed “I had more room to put it in my swimming costume than they did to put it in their budgy smugglers”. In the end I tied it to my swimming costume and shoved it down my cleavage (sorry Di).
We saw Dean land and all of us cheered and were told to hurry up and get to shore, Lee C helped me get down the steps and onto the platform and I was so excited and happy that I some-how managed to dive in off the back of the platform and even more impressively, the camera stayed down my cleavage when I did it!
We swam to shore and I didn’t realise quite how close we were, or how shallow the water would be. It suddenly got so shallow that I almost swam into a rock (makes a change from me swimming into trees…).
We all managed to get shore and tried to get up on the rocks for a photo, I couldn’t get to the main rock everyone was on but hankfully I managed to find a smaller and flatter rock round the back of the big one so that I could still be seen! We all cheered and were ecstatic with our achievement!
For me it was quite emotional, and I had a few happy tears as a result. I had literally waited half my life to complete the one challenge I felt I had failed and that had always stuck with me. After being so sick when I was 15 and being unable to swim I have always remembered being told that the Channel Relay Swim wouldn’t be finished until I had done it. Well, it may have taken 14 years but now I have!
We each had a photo taken and took a few group photos and a photo of the boat from the shore and were then called to get back on the boat. We swam back to the boat and had a group photo to celebrate, I honestly thought I was going to cry.
As soon as I was back on the boat the first person I messaged was, of course my sister.
I can’t explain the emotions or pride that I felt in that moment, but I finally felt like my unfinished business of doing a channel relay was complete. My head was racing and felt like I was floating (I know that technically I was as I was on a boat, but you get the idea). Everyone was happy, excited, proud and just absolutely buzzing from what we had accomplished.
Dean then suddenly said “I hope this doesn’t offend you but I’ve gotta say, you’ve got bollocks girl”, I was a bit taken aback and confused so he continued with “to get on this boat after being so sick last time, knowing that you might be that sea sick again but giving it another go and being determined to swim anyway; you have my upmost respect”. How I didn’t break down into happy tears right then I have no clue. As mentioned before, Dean was there when we did the relay last time and I discovered he spent the whole time when he wasn’t swimming on the phone to either Di or my mum! He was always someone I looked up to when I was a teenager so for him to say that meant the world to me.
Not long after we had celebrated completing the swim we were told there was a solo swimmer nearby and we should cheer them on. Still all excited we all ran to the left side of the boat where the swimmer was…if you’ve ever been on a boat or have an ounce of common sense you can guess what the boat did….after half of us had moved back to the other side of the boat we all cheered and clapped the swimmer on. It wasn’t till later we realised the swimmer was actually Sally Minty-Gravett who was in the process of becoming the first person to swim the channel over six consecutive decades, you can read more about her incredible feat here!
After cheering Sally on we all got dressed and began to settle down a bit, I believe Miles went to sleep…again. I suddenly decided I was starving and scoffed a pot of peanuts and a few ginger nuts and the other 3 were just coming down from all the excitement. It was a 2 and a half hour trip back to Dover so we sat and tried to get comfortable (my bum had gone past numb by this point). We were lucky enough to see a beautiful sunset behind the White cliffs of Dover and I sat cuddling Ruths teddy and believe I had a bit of a nap on the way back to Dover. Despite having not been sick for several hours I was still very glad to get off the boat and onto solid ground, after the excitement and buzz of having people meet us off the boat and congratulating us all that I could think about was wanting my bed!
My journey with doing an English Channel relay hasn’t been straight forwards, there has been a lot of vomit, tears, anxiety, and bloody hard work after my accident to get me back to a place where I felt strong enough to take on the challenge, but after 14 years I can now, finally, say I am a Channel Swimmer and have completed an English Channel Relay Swim!
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that has supported me and made this possible. Especially to The Hastings Voluntary Lifeguard Club who first introduced me to open water swimming as a kid and then introduced me to taking on big challenges and who gave me the chance to celebrate their 50th anniversary by taking part in another channel swim relay with old and new club members. So far we have raised £2475 but we would love to reach £3000, if you want to help us reach this target you can donate here: https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/campaign/50th-anniversary-cross-channel-swim