The Republic of Dovakia is a parallel universe that sits alongside the town of Dover. The former is the world of international open water swimmers, the latter a tough working class town. There’s very few that cross over.

The swimming world can’t do without Dover but Dover seems almost indifferent to the swimmers world. There’s a monument to the first crosser, Capt. Matthew Webb but not so much as a cold shower for the swimmers who travel the world to the Mecca of open water swimming. The real money’s made in shipping, not that much seems to go to the townsfolk.

The King and Queen of the Channel preside over the Republic of Dovakia. The current Queen of the Channel is Alison Streeter MBE (43 crossings including one 3 way crossing). The King of the Channel, a title twice held by Australian, Des Renford, is Kevin Murphy (34 solos crossings).

The people of the Republic of Dovakia split into two factions some years ago about things long forgot, the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) and the Channel Swimmers and Pilots Federation (CS & PF). You declare your allegiance to one or the other on entry to the republic which matters to the ruling class but among swimmers your membership is of no concern: we’re here for the challenge not the politics.

The Queen Mother, Freda Stretter holds court at swimmers beach, to the eastern end of Dover Harbour. Inducted into The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 2005, Freda (pictured above) appears each Saturday and Sunday morning for the five-month season. Her throne is a cream camp chair with a sideboard for notes and coffee, and she has the occasional cigarette while overseeing her Dover Beach Crew dispense Maxim (a carbohydrate feed) to her charges on the hour, red caps for soloists and green caps for relay swimmers. Those in the know bring her gifts of Sard Wonder Soap (yep! apparently it’s the best and you can’t get it in the UK).

Between the walls of Dover Harbour the channel swimmer aspirants plough up and down. The white markers on each side wall define the territorial boundaries of Dovakia : venture outside and the coast guard will arrest you, worst still Freda will berate you on the airwaves. This is where you pay your final dues to the Channel Gods before being unleashed at relatively short notice onto the world stage of open water swimming.

The Republic of Dovakia is a magical place where hearts are broken and dreams.