At the start of May I went to Great Yarmouth on holiday with my parents in the hope of getting multiple sea swims in over the week. Sadly, it didn’t work out the way I wanted as I found it very difficult to get to the sea due to the distance of the water from where I could leave my wheelchair. The following weekend, I was supposed to be going to Dover and meeting some of my crew but there were train strikes meaning I couldn’t get there – another disappointing and frustrating blow to my sea swim training. Thankfully, with a little jiggle with dates and hotels I managed to get a full weekend in Dover with my sister there to support me and what a weekend it was!
Dover Day 1 – Travelling & Night Swim
Thanks to my relay channel swim last year I have been to Dover multiple times in the last year so I know the journey reasonably well. However, this time I was going to have to do something I had never done before; travel independently and swim on the same day! My anxiety about it was high but losing out on all the early booked sea swim training meant I would have to get as much time in the sea as possible over the weekend.
I decided to rest on Friday morning and not travel till midday; I couldn’t check into my hotel till 3pm anyway so it made no sense to get there any earlier. The journey surprised me and apart from a wheel almost coming off my suitcase on the way to the train station I didn’t have any issues at all. The ramps and assistance were all ready and waiting for me, there were no train delays and it was a quiet, fairly peaceful train journey.
Thankfully, although I still arrived a little early the hotel checked me in with no issues. I went to my room, packed my swim kit for the night swim and went to bed for 2 hours! I knew my sister wouldn’t arrive until I was swimming so I needed to get as much rest as possible before the night swim since id have limited help. I grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant and all there was to do was wait.
At 9pm I got all my stuff together and headed to the beach. I have always loved swimming at night but it’s been many many years since I swam at night in the sea and the Dover Swimmers Beach is a unique place. With Ferries turning round, some of it open to the elements of the English Channel and it suddenly felt a little daunting. However, I was also incredibly excited and it didn’t disappoint!
I signed in and got an individual safety briefing as I couldn’t attend the main one on the beach with everyone else and then 2 volunteers kindly helped me round to the slipway where I was getting in. I sorted myself out and changed and after attaching 2 green lights (one to my hat and one to my costume) I headed into the water. Im not the best at getting into cold water, once I am in then I am fine but its getting in I dislike, however, the difference between lake and sea swimming is that in the lake you can go in at your own pace; in the sea, the waves dictate how quickly you get wet. The temperature was 12.9°C with a North Westly wind and lets just say there were some words that I won’t write here.
I will freely admit I then thought about how cool 30 swimmers with 2 green lights each, the head torches from kayakers and the mystical light up buoys looked in the sea, had a little smile to myself and couldn’t wait for some pictures!
It took me quite a while to find a rhythm once I started swimming, it can always be tricky in the sea but through my years of experience I know that no matter the water there is a rhythm to find. There is no point in fighting the sea and waves, unlike the currents in rivers where you can tuck into the edge of the river to get away from the worst of it, in the sea; there is no escape. This is obviously made harder if you can’t actually see because it’s pitch dark. I kept telling myself to relax and try to enjoy it and after the 1st half a lap I had settled into my regular stroke a little more.
The difficult bit was sighting the buoys because unless you were on top of a wave you couldn’t see them, it all came down to timing. I decided to do a 2nd lap as they were only 750m so went to shore, shouted my number and headed off again. I am pretty sure I was grinning the whole time I was swimming. Knowing that I had 2 big days of swimming ahead of me I decided to get out after the 2nd lap so I wasn’t too tired.
Once out I think everyone expected me to be cold, most people were, but as normal, I was quite happy and able to dress myself with no problems. I put my DryRobe on for the journey back to the hotel as the sea breeze was pretty chilly and said my goodnights to everyone.
Once back at the hotel I had a quick shower to get rid of the salt and discovered that my costume had seriously rubbed on my neck, if you have ever had a wetsuit rash, you’ll know that it stings like a b**ch when you put water on it. It was my own fault as that night I had used my older swimming costume that was going see through one last time before I was going to throw it in the bin, as you can imagine; it stayed in the bin in Dover and didn’t make the return trip!
Thankfully, I was concerned that I may get some chaffing so I had taken some Germolene with me to put on it incase. My sister covered my neck and down my sides where the costume had rubbed and I just had to hope that it would have at least calmed down pain wise by the morning.
I got my stuff ready for the morning, collapsed in bed and fell sound asleep ready for day 2; for which my plan was 2x5km swims!