When Nick Cherry asked Rob if he’d be up for sailing from Guernsey to Lymington on a wee sailing boat it seemed like a good opportunity to get out on the Channel. The weather was meant to be quite rough and he thought it would be good experience for us to get used to it. After confirming that he could bring a friend (ie me), Rob and I drove down to Southampton on Saturday afternoon, flew to Guernsey and took a taxi to the port.
We met Nick by “Red Shift”, a beautiful 36 ft racing boat. Nick works for Fourth Cape, who are one of our esteemed sponsors of the Arch2Arctic expedition. Fourth Cape are using their extensive marine knowledge to provide equipment for the rowing aspect and will also be providing onshore support whilst we’re rowing with regards to weather.
Nick had raced the boat from Cowes, Isle of Wight to St Peter’s Port, Guernsey on Friday night through Saturday morning, coming second in his class. He’d had barely any sleep and was happy to have us novices to do some of the navigating so he could get some kip.
As we pulled out of the harbour it appeared that the rough weather report wasn’t exactly accurate. The sun was setting, the sky was blue, and the sea was gently rolling under us. This looked more like a pleasure cruise than ‘gaining experience’. And it really was quite pleasant. The photos definitely don’t do it justice but as the sun set in the West, a full moon rose from the sea in the East. The sun setting made the moon a fiery red, which was really quite cool.
Nick showed us how to use the AIS chartplotter which showed our direction, other ships around us, currents and obviously a map of land and sea. He explained what the different digital displays meant (depth, speed, current speed etc..), and how to use the autopilot. There wasn’t much wind so we were just engining along for the first few hours.
It got dark quite quickly but the rising moon ensured that it was never that dark. It also got cold quickly too. The night passed fairly uneventfully. We had to adjust our course once to slip between France and Alderney. We took shifts sleeping. Both of us found it easy to sleep, the motion creating a soporific effect that takes you into a deep slumber. This is definitely a good thing that both us can sleep although after all the rowing we will be doing it shouldn’t be a problem.
Day broke around 5am and we got the spinnaker sail up and turned off the engine. There were about 15 knots of wind which pushed us along nicely. Now in the middle of the Channel, it was really interesting to look at the waves and imagine swimming in them. Neither Rob or I have done a huge amount of swimming in the middle of the sea. It’s hard to get the opportunity! We practice in open water, normally by the coast or in a harbour. Dover harbour gets very choppy, which dealing with is a skill that you must get used to. But you don’t really get rolling waves or surf which is obviously what you get more often in the middle of the Channel.
It is definitely preferable to have rolling surf than choppy waves. You might get choppy waves if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the current and that can be hard work. The advice given is not to fight the waves but to work with them. This is obviously much easier with rolling waves than choppy waves which come from all directions. So as we sailed through the Channel we paid close attention to the constant movement, imagining how we would swim in there. We agreed that if a Channel swim was scheduled for that day then the pilot would have agreed to take them out.
Having said that there were moments of rough, large waves, nothing like what we have swum in so far. We decided that we will need to get our pilots to take us for a test run. 3 or 4 hours swimming in the Channel, getting used to it.
A few other things we learnt:
What different buoys signify – Rob was quite hot on this already having done his Navigation course.
Listening to real comms on the VHF radio – useful seeing as we’ve both recently completed our VHF radio course.
Some knots – we’re doing this for the Scouts so we really should know some! Bowline, Two Half Hitches, Reef – Tick.
2 hour shifts – we’d been thinking for the row that we would do 4 hour shifts – one rowing, one sleeping but actually 4 hours is really long to row on your own and 2 hours is actually plenty of time to get a good rest for recovery before getting back out and rowing.
A number 2 onboard – I feel this one needs elaboration. One ‘experience’ Rob wanted to tick off was doing the business in a bucket. There are couple of important things to note when taking this task on. Put some water in the bucket before starting. Not too much or you’re in splashback territory! Don’t sit on the bucket but squat above it holding onto something stable. This is so that if you go over a big wave you might squash the bucket which, if breaks, could lead to all sorts of nasty complications. And that was all there was to it. Anyway Rob was very pleased with himself until that was when Nick shat all over his parade by performing the ‘hanging off the back of the boat’ technique. I just didn’t need to go so no test run for me. Perhaps I won’t need to go for 4 weeks in the Arctic…
We sailed past the needles on the Isle of Wight and onto the English coast. It took us about 14 hours. 14 hours is the time that we’re both aiming to complete our Channel swim. The experience provided perspective for that leg of the challenge. To fathom swimming at a constant speed from when we got on the boat to when we got off is no doubt daunting and terrifying. But at the same time I can’t help but think about the achievement. If we carry on training we can do it.
Today was the first day of our weather window to swim the Channel had we not postponed until next year. The conditions were pretty good. 15.5 degrees, 12 knots of wind. One of the other swimmers from Swimtrek, Paul Powell, completed a relay Channel crossing today. Massive congratulations to him and his team. It sounded like the last two hours it got a bit lumpy but they pushed on through. Our new weather window begins on the 16th June 2018. Hopefully we will have similar weather.