When I swam towards the back of the boat for the seventh time, I could see Kathrine standing silhouetted on the stern, beckoning me in. I swam to the ladder and reached up for the cup. There seemed to be some confusion during a moment or two when I wasn’t sure what was happening, and then Fiona blew her whistle, distracting me. “You’re done.” “What?” “You’re finished.” “Really?” “Yes, really. Just swim to that buoy over there and back and you’re done.” “Really?” “Yes! Off you go.”
Swimming to the buoy and back was very sweet. I’d done it! And now I could get out, and get warm, and stop bl*”dy swimming. Whatever it was I’d done, it had worked; I had swum two hours and I hadn’t given the demons a look-in. The momentary confusion at the boat had also given me an insight into some of the things that Channel swimmers write about the confusion they feel, particularly at the end of swims, Cliff Golding’s confusion of a French beach with a ferryport being a case in point. I had been concentrating so fiercely on swimming that I hadn’t even thought about getting out, so when I swam to the boat and wasn’t offered a cup of Maxim, I had no idea what was going on.
When I got back to the boat, as I was swimming round to the ladder, Kevin leaned over and asked me if I’d like to go for the three hours. I think I hesitated for about half a second before replying “Thank you, Kevin, but on this occasion I think I’ll decline.” Since then I’ve wondered whether I was right to do that. Should I have gone on? There was no doubt that I could have done it, physically at least, and whilst having a two hour swim under my belt was excellent, a three hour swim would have been better. But would it? Would I have accepted the challenge and then, on one of the three long weary laps round the bay again, have decided “No, I’m fed up with this, I’m getting out.”
The challenge to do two hours was mine, I had chosen it myself and prepared myself for it. The three hours would have been a different matter, something I chose to do more or less because the guides suggested it to me, and I would have had to adjust my mind very quickly from happy anticipation of getting out straight away to acceptance of another hour in the water. I’m honestly not sure I would have been able to do that, and getting out in ignominy twenty minutes later would certainly have taken the shine off my achievement. On balance, I think I was right to say no.