Tim Long

Ben Has Completed His Channel Swim!

Ben is now a English Channel swimmer, completing his swim on the 1st September in a time of 14hrs 52mins! He will be doing a full blog post at a later date with his perspective of the swim after he’s recovered, but I thought in the mean time I would share the experience from the support boat. Timings may be slightly off, but hopefully it will get the experience across.

We started off getting the call the night before, still slightly unprepared, running around sorting out everything for the swim. This meant all of us, including Ben, didn’t get as much sleep as we should have (Ben thinks he only got 3 to 4 hours)!

It was an early start, with Ben and myself heading over to Dover at 5, meeting up with Matt Neilson and getting onto the boat around 6. We were on the Sea Leopard with Stuart Gleeson and Garry Clark, with Phil Artingstall helping out with the feeds.

We headed out of the harbour and around to the neighbouring beach, where Ben stripped down to his speedos and jumped out. This in itself was quite an achievement, I can’t imagine on that chilly morning wanting to jump into the freezing water! He then swam over to the shore, where he got onto land and held up both hands to signal he was ready. The boat horn sounded dead on 7, and Ben ran into the sea and dived in with a really strong start. The swim had begun!

Ben after he jumped out of the boat, ready to go!

Ben after he jumped out of the boat, ready to go!

Ben’s pace for the first few hours was amazingly consistent at 54, impressing Phil who was performing the stroke counts (“The man is a machine!”). He made good time getting away from Dover, with Ben doing sly glances back every now and then to look back at the disappearing coastline.

At around 10, we made it into the shipping lanes, with Stuart and Garry guiding us through the constant stream of massive ships. Despite swimming for around 5 hours at this point, Ben still looked extremely comfortable. At one point, I was talking to Matt on the back of the boat, and watching Ben swim from over Matt’s shoulder, when I saw Ben making faces and giving me a thumbs up mid-stoke! The cheek! He even stuck out his tongue as us when I pointed it out to Matt!

Around 12:30, we were dead over the channel tunnel, and around 1/1:30 we were half way across. Ben was making great time, and still powering through stroke after stroke. Unfortunately the conditions soon changed, with the wind getting up from the west, bringing some big waves and swell with it. Ben was being thrashed about on the right side of the boat, so at the next feed we moved him to the left side, so the boat would give a little protection from the waves.

Despite this, Ben still powered on, dropping his stroke rate slightly but still with fantastic technique, battling through the huge waves. However, around 4ish, the waves were getting so big and he was loosing so much energy battling the swell that when he came in for his feed, he said he was worried he have to call it off. Luckily this never happened though, with the help of Phil and the team on the boat (who were fantastic) adjusting his feed to give him lots of energy, allowing him to recover, and get back swimming and powering on. From what I was told, this was also around the time a lot with channel swimmers really start to struggle, where everything is just ready to give up, but Ben managed to smash through the wall and get back into the routine, still with brilliant technique, pulling away at the water. You could see the training was paying off!

Around 5, we got out of the shipping lane and into French waters. Dover had mostly disappeared into the mist by this point and France was getting evermore visible, although the light was quickly fading. With the wind and the waves pushing us along the coast, the team plotted the best way to get Ben to the shore, via some shallow water which would help reduce the swell. Ben’s pace was dropping towards the end of his feeds at this point, but with more encouragement and shouting by Phil and Matt, he would always manage to bring it back. I have no idea where he was managing to get the energy from at this point, being hours after he was worried he may have to stop, but he still looked strong, reaching out into the sea and pulling back with fantastic technique.

Around 8/9ish, we finally made it into a bay. The waves died down and the swim got slightly easier. However, the bay also brought a huge amount of jellyfish the size of large plates! These would be floating past and into Ben, who swam through them (and over them!) without any issue, not letting them bother him at all.

We carried on through the bay, trying to find the beach in the dark. By this time, the sun had gone down and it was pitch black, to the point where if Ben strayed away from the light the boat was casting, we couldn’t make him out. All we had to see him was the green light attached to the back of his head, which would be bobbing up and down in the blackness of the sea. This must have been so hard for Ben by this point, having swam for around 14 hours in some furious conditions, just powering away into the blackness, not knowing how much distance was left, hoping the beach would come into view soon.

The wind was also causing a problem, pushing us along the coast and away from our landing point. We explained the situation to Ben, and told him he had to swim faster to get us to the shore. Using whatever energy he had left, Ben picked up the rate for this final hour, bringing his stroke rate back up to 48 per min! He drove it home, while the team on the boat had the flash lights pointed ahead, desperately trying to find the beach. We kept telling Ben how close we thought he was, but we just couldn’t see the beach ahead of us.

Eventually, Stuart shouted that it was getting far too shallow, and we had “run out of water”! Garry grabbed the dingy and jumped in, going ahead to find the beach, and lead Ben in. It turned out the beach was only about 30m away, and Ben was encouraged to follow the dingy with shouts of “follow the light”! From our position, he disappeared into the darkness, with only Garry’s flashlight and the spotlight from the boat illuminating him. Finally, we saw him stand up, and climb onto the shore. He cleared the water, turned, and stuck both arms into the air in celebration. The horn on the boat sounded to signal the end of the swim. He had made it to France, and completed his channel swim!

There was a huge amount of screaming and shouting from the whole team. However Ben’s celebration was short, as he was brought back to the boat quickly as the water was disappearing from under the boat. He climbed onto the dingy, made the trip back, and got back onto the boat. Phil had got everything prepared, wrapping him in towels, drying him off, and getting him dressed. He then climbed into a sleeping bag we had brought with us, and lay down on the back of the boat, with Neilson and myself either side to stop him sliding around. Wasting no time, Garry tied the dingy back to the end of the boat, and we set off across the channel back home to Dover.

I won’t lie, the journey back home was my (probably not Ben’s) worst part of the trip. At full speed, the spray was all over the back of the boat. We were right behind the cabin, protected from the bulk of it, but still we were pretty soaked for the few hours it took us to get back. I was very happy when that trip was over.

We got back to Dover, where we were surprised to find Andy and Patrick waiting for us (Andy unfortunately couldn’t make it onto the boat, and had headed home the day before, but said he couldn’t miss him coming home!) as well as Sam Jones, who had been a huge help preparing Ben’s feeds. Ben had a chat, and popped some sparkling wine while we moved everything off the boat. We then headed back home, and Ben went straight to bed for a well deserved rest.

This swim was the most epic accomplishment I have ever seen anyone achieve. Not only did he had the 22 miles to cross, to have to keep swimming through the open water for 15 hours, not touching anything solid for so long, but also to continue going for another 6 or so hours after thinking you may have to give up. To swim through those huge waves that crash into you and submerge you when you’re trying to take a breath. To get through the jellyfish and just push yourself harder and harder in the pitch black with no idea if you’re close to the shore or not. This was the challenge of a lifetime, and one hell of a difficult swim, but somehow Ben made it across. Very proud to know this guy right now!

If you haven’t done so yet, please do donate at justgiving.com/teambrophy towards the reason that led Ben to put himself through over 2 years of training and fundraising, and then those gruelling but epic 15 hours in the sea. Donating takes no time at all, and he really does deserve every penny he receives. I for one will be will be getting everyone I know to donate, it was a truly incredible performance.

Congratulations Ben Brophy, English Channel Swimmer. You did us all proud.

 

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One Response to Ben Has Completed His Channel Swim!

  1. Pingback: My Channel Swim Experience | Things and Stuff

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