The Swim – I made it – 16 hours 22 minutes


It’s our heads that tell us we can’t achieve and as as we grow older this becomes a reality if we don’t continue to challenge our bodies.

71 years  and 305 days a World Record !

Over £4000 raised for Cancer Research UK

Walking onto French sand at Sangatte 21/08/18

I think I could write a book just about the swim, but I will try to keep it brief.

Agreed with my pilot, window weather looked good Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Confirmed anytime 1600-1900 Tuesday evening to beat the bad spell coming in late Wednesday.

Forecast changed, he re-arranged things an now meet at Dover Marina 0600 Tuesday morning.  On our way to Dover Monday night, message, “Can we make it 0430?”   That’s good, with a bit of luck I’ll be in France in the daylight.  So only five hours sleep.

My crew, Kate Mason, Graeme my son and Julia Aston – brilliant they kept me going
Lanolin & Vaseline to stop salt water sores – no it doesn’t keep you warm

Arrived at the marina and it looked good, but as we motored out it looked a bit ‘lumpy’ to me.  But this was the weather window and I’d hate to put it off till September.

I’ve had very mixed feelings about this swim.  It was a childhood dream when I was 60 and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and I always said I’d do it again. But, in reality I never would had I not  been diagnosed with breast cancer.   “Life after cancer,” I said to myself and  immediately I set myself the challenge with Cancer Research UK as my charity.  A second purpose also evolved which was the reason the oldest man, at 73, swam it.  That is to inspire people that our bodies can amaze us as we age providing we keep active.

I jumped into the water and swam to Samphire Hoe to start my swim.   “I’ll be alright once I’m in the water and swimming,” I said to myself.

I started swimming and that ‘lumpy’ sea was horrible.  I’ve swim in seas like it many times on fighting the ‘drift’ in Weymouth Bay, but not for a whole swim, and, “Please  not my Channel swim.”   I assumed it would ease off, but if anything it worsened right to the other side. Standing on the beach waiting for the signal to start  my heart was thumping like it never has before.

My mental state was in a turmoil, “Relax, stroke the water, just get to feed one in an hour.”  I was having to talk myself for the first two hours – they were horrendous.

Feeds were 250ml tasteless carbohydrates with warm water and cordial, in a small plastic milk bottle tied to a bit of cord. Not allowed to touch the boat.

After my second feed, “I’m coping, I feel cold, but am not cold, and I can’t let all those people supporting and cheering me on down.”  So mentally I began to be  in a much better place. But I wasn’t enjoying it one bit.

My right arm kept catching the water.  I breath every other stroke on my left side, frequently it had to be every forth or even sixth and when I did breath salt water would spray into my mouth.   Not too much of a problem on the swim, except the one that shot straight to the back of my throat.  But after a swim, you can have salt sores for days, if not weeks.

Oh and the jelly fish, I was stung during the first hour and the last. But they are just like a nettle sting, not like the Lion’s Main I had encountered in Scotland.  The jellies were dotted around all the way across and at one point there was an enormous swarm of hundreds in every direction.  Normally I would have enjoyed the distraction as the are beautiful to watch – but in the mood I was in, “Let’s get it over and done with.”

I counted the time by the feeds which were hourly for the first three then every forty five minutes.  Towards the end they went down to every thirty minutes, not because I needed more carbs, but you swim from feed to feed and mentally it was reassuring to have them closer together. I had promised myself not to look for France until twelve hours into the swim.   But I saw France at ten and a half hours, so I calculated it must be about 1530,  and was overjoyed, but little did I realise that the wind was effecting the already weak ebb flow. Normally swimming bang in the middle of a neap  tide should be good, less movement of water, but I needed the ebb tide to get me towards the best landing point, Cap Gris Nez.

As time went on I realised that I wasn’t going to make it in daylight as I headed up towards Calais, away from Cap Gris Nez, and  was resigned to accept my clear goggles with a flashing green light attached.  But seeing the land did give me the impedance  to do it for myself.  I didn’t care how much my arms ached, I was going to make it, even if I had to resort to breast stroke, which, thankfully I didn’t otherwise I’d still be swimming! Your muscle are given instructions from your head, they are not fatigued, you think they are so they stop working.  I had some serious talking to myself to do.  “How badly did I want it?”  I would regret it for the rest of my life if I bailed out now so close to my goal and just keep imagining myself walking onto a French beach. “Get those arms turning over,” I said to myself.

As the sun set behind me I didn’t even turn my head to glance at it.


The rest is history, and a World Record, but hopefully it will inspire others to go out and challenge themselves – perhaps not a Channel Swim.  But in particular  us women, of mine and subsequent generations, who were discouraged or not even allowed to do many things together with society in general that often implied not the sort of thing women should or could do.


We had hoped to finish the swim in daylight and head home that evening.  Once back on board I suggested back to the Premier Inn, a meal and a bed for the night.  We got back to Dover at 2am and set our alarms for a 6:30 get away that morning, both Julia and Graeme had to be back at work.

I actually slept, unusual for me after an endurance event, I had down loaded a box set to watch all night.  However, sleep proved a problem for the next week, either not getting to sleep, waking every hour or so, and/or often not getting back to sleep for a couple of hours.  Glad of my box set!

Once home on Wednesday I spent most of that and the next day horizontal, resting.

A short cycle ride Friday morning for coffee with my cycling chums.  No problem until I tried to do arm signals.  My arms still did not want to lift up.

Saturday and Sunday quiet days, Monday walking round the Great Dorset Steam Fair.  Tuesday out on my bike.  My new TT one, so trying our aero position.  Not too comfortable, my arms still aching.  Otherwise felt good going out,  about 30k, but tired and steady on the way back.  Absolutely whacked once I got back and an hour and a half afternoon snooze.  Quiet day Wednesday with Yoga in the evening.  Much easier than I expected, but no ‘planks’, felt much better after it.

Thursday, feel ‘human’ again!  Probably not fully recovered but feel back to normal.

Weight went up to 10stone 10 after the swim,  pounds falling off after, lost half a stone in a week.