As part of the Bloody Difficult agenda, designed by Swimtrek to bring home to participants just how bloody difficult swimming the Channel is, you get seminars from the guides, all of whom are excellent swimmers. Most of them have swum the Channel themselves, and thus know exactly how bloody difficult it is. Chief among these for my money is Cliff Golding, who is not only a lovely lovely man but is also distinguished by having tried and failed several times to swim the Channel before finally succeeding. On his penultimate attempt he had Freda Streeter, the General of Dover, on his boat. Freda is legendary, the greatest long distance swim coach ever, and according to the Chair of SLSC Giles Meyer, a Channel soloist, if you want to swim the Channel, just do what Freda says and you’ll get across.
In Cliff’s case, what Freda said was “Stay in there”. Quite a number of swimmers have their Channel swims pulled by the pilot, either because the weather has worsened and there is no chance of the swimmer getting across or because the swimmer is physically distressed and in danger and needs to be pulled out of the water. No shame in either of those. What Swimtrek, a large number of the seminars, and most of the guides, concentrate on is the alternative scenario, when the weather is OK and the swimmer is fine, but the swimmer wants to get out. This is not the no brainer that it seems, as we shall see, and in Cliff’s case it was the way most of his previous attempts had ended.
In Cliff’s case, he had been swimming for many hours, maybe eight or ten, and was at about the same stage as he had been when he got out before. At this point he broke and said he wanted to come out. Now, understand that in Channel swimming, you are not allowed to take a break unless you’re in a relay, when you only swim for one or two hours at a time. In a solo, however, you stay in until you get to France, you’re pulled out by the pilot, or you get out yourself. You mustn’t touch the boat, not so much as a hand on the ladder, or the swim is ended. A large part of the job of the swimmer’s support team is to support the swimmer when they want to get out but are capable of continuing, by persuading them to stay in the water.
In Cliff’s case, Freda supported him by sending the rest of the team to the other end of the boat, standing on the stern, and swearing at him. Don’t you dare get out of the water, she said. Stay in there and keep swimming. If you get out you’ll be sorry.
Cliff had never disobeyed Freda before. He went down to Dover Harbour, she said do six hours, he did six hours. She said do seven hours, he did seven hours. On this particular day, Freda said, stay in. He got out.
Longest title so far, I believe. Go me!