The day started inauspiciously when we boarded our vessel and it wouldn’t start. The spare battery was also flat. Thoughts of an all day swim suddenly turned to a day night game. Boat pilots are tight, so in no time we had a couple of batteries and we were off.
The start wasn’t as ceremonial as I’d imagined, just a wave from the captain and I was in the water taking my first strokes. It felt surreal but this wasn’t the time for emotion, there’d be enough of that later.
The first hour of any long swim is the worst, so I had a plan for that and relived my days hiking the Kokoda trail, remembering every detail I could and trying to remember the order of the villages along the Owen Stanley Ranges.
By the third hour I was swimming strongly but my brain was ratty. Ben Hutt had given me a tip the night before and I used his simple mantra, ‘I can do this’ that neatly fitted the rhythm of my stroke and another 45 minutes passed.
There’s a fine line between want an endurance swimmer needs to know and wants to know. I fell for the trap at the 7 th hour asking how long I’d been swimming when I thought for sure I had 9 under my belt. Disappointing but the crew said not. I began to sense that I was on for a pretty good time and put my head down and ground out the next couple of hours. A message from Paul, my sports psychologist was shown to me on the board at about that time ‘swim without thinking – save that for the last’. His message was right and right on time.
My pain was not the normal aches and pains but discomfort from not being able to urinate. Bad day to get stage fright but there you go. It wouldn’t be a channel swim without something unexpected. I embraced the pain and a new mantra – this too will pass (pun obviously intended- no need to lose your sense of humor over these things). I told myself when I got to France the first thing I would do would be take a nice long piss on their soil.
At 8 hours in I knew I was going well when the captain come out of his wheelhouse and gave me a smile. We had talked about making the perfect curve on to the tip of the Cape. Our deal was I had to hold my pace the whole way and he would guide us in on the tides without have to do the nasty ‘S’ bend at the end that happens if you miss the turning tide. We both performed out respective bargains and that’s how it played out.
I have little in the tank with 4 km to go and my team made a call, correctly, to give me a 4,3,2,1 countdown into shore. It worked a treat. First I imagined a swim from Manly to Freshwater (4 km’ish), then Manly/Queenscliffe (3), then Manly/Shelly where it all began for me.
I reached French soil, took my piss, apologized to the family with small children who had to witness that and returned to the mother ship, Rowena.
My time 11 hours 22 minutes, more than an hour better than the time I had only allowed myself to dream of.
I will properly thanks my crew and supporters in due course but for now as we embark on a day of quiet relaxation and celebration they know that yesterday was all I expected and so much more due to them.