Cook Strait Swim, New Zealand

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tips for planning a North Channel swim

If you are thinking of swimming the North Channel known as one of the most difficult channels in the world, planning months ahead of time is essential.   Currently, there are two very experienced boat pilots to escort swimmers from Ireland to Scotland.  My boat pilot was Quinton Nelson. His boat is moored in a quaint little harbor in Donaghadee, Ireland. I found Quinton to be a very honest and highly experienced pilot. His email address is quinton@nelsonsboats.co.uk   Due to increase in popularity of swimming the North Channel, book early. There may be a two year wait list.  If you have a problem with getting sick from diesel fumes from your escort boat (I get very sick from the smell of diesel), I would recommend hiring a local experienced kayaker. Quinton arranged for a kayaker to accompany me at a very reasonable price. The kayaker will keep you away from the diesel fumes from the escort boat.  If you need a place to stay in Donaghadee I would recommend staying at Pier 36, a bed and breakfast, located at the harbor. www.pier36.co.uk The price for my two week stay was very reasonable and the food was fantastic. It is a family-run business. They made our stay a very enjoyable one. Pier 36 overlooks the harbor. There is a swim zone within walking distance and Quinton's boat is located within a two minute walk of Pier 36.    
If you decide to stay in the town of Bangor (approximately a 30 minute drive north of Donaghadee)and near Belfast, you will enjoy this very busy seaside resort.  There are many restaurants and bed and breakfast to choose from.   Boat pilot Brian Meharg of Bangor Boat is another experience boat pilot. His email address is bangorboatman@aol.com .   Again, book early to secure a slot due to the high demand.
  A year before your booked swim, you will need to register with the Irish Long Distance Swim Association. They will book an observer for your swim. I found the ILDSA to be very friendly and helpful.
  And, now for my tips on swimming the North Channel.  Cold acclimation is crucial. Some swimmers will arrive a few weeks early and become acclimated to the cold water of the North Channel. Water temperature in July and August is usually in the mid 50's Fahrenheit ( 12 to 15 degrees Celsius)  I am fortunate to live in Maine (USA) and our water temperature is very similar.  Next, be prepared for jellyfish stings.  I was very concerned about the Lion's Mane jellyfish stings. I did my research and I found many frightening articles about these jellyfish being the size of a small car. However, when I arrived in Donaghadee, my boat pilot said that the sting would be minor discomfort.  And, I was relieved to find out that these jellyfish are usually the size of a dinner plate and their tentacles are between three to five feet in length. I was stung nearly every inch of my body and I found the sting to be minor. On a pain scale of 0 to 10, I rated their sting as a # 1 being minor discomfort. I did not have any toxic reactions. I would like to caution that everyone is different and some swimmers may find the sting to be excruciating and get a reaction to the sting.  The cold water of the North Channel soothed my stings.  I saw thousands of jellyfish.  The following day I felt like I had a bad sunburn from these stings. I purchased "Jellyfish sting relief" to soothe my stings after my swim. I purchased it from Amazon.com   It was very effective. By the second day, I had no effect from the stings.
Most swims are held during the daytime due to the proliferation of jellyfish at night.  Jellyfish on a sunny day will float a few feet under the surface of the water. On an overcast day, jellyfish will be within a few inches of the surface of the water.  And, during the night these jellyfish will be at the surface of the water. The locals call it "jellyfish soup".
  The weather in the North Channel is very unpredictable. Three weather reports are viewed before a swim can take place....North Ireland, Scotland, and mid-channel reports are carefully monitored by the boat pilots.  Safety of swimmer and crew is always the priority.  Please be aware that these reports are only a guideline and weather can change abruptly without warning in the North Channel.
  Currents off the coast of Scotland can be very strong especially with the outgoing tide.  In my case, after swimming for 16 hours and 43 minutes and within a mile of the finish line the current changed and I was starting to be pulled away from Scotland. My swim was stopped. Mother Nature wins every time. However, I plan to attempt the North Channel again in 2015.
  I would recommend for swimmers to attempt other marathon swims like the English Channel or Catalina before attempting to swim the North Channel.  And, once a swimmer has completed a few marathon swim, I would highly recommend a swim attempt of the North Channel. It's an adventure of a lifetime.  Good luck!  If you have any questions, please email me at patgallant.charette@gmail.com  

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