July 24, 2017
My goal was to reach Donaghadee ten days before the start of my window in order to acclimate to the cold water. All the swimmers I know and who have come to try the crossing strongly recommended it. And for good reason.
Friday was a horrible day. The wind was blowing at 21/22 knots and in the coldest part the water temperature reached 12.8ºC. It is in moments like these that you realize there’s been a reason for all your training, and at the same time how small we are in presence of nature.
In terms of distance, the North Channel is not significantly longer than the English or Catalina Channels. But as my pilot, Quinton Nelson, explained to me, it is nothing like the English Channel. There is undoubtedly one fundamental difference: the water temperature.
Regardless of the fact that for the last year I’ve been swimming for at least 4 days a month in cold water, these swims have cost me. On Friday I had to get out of the water it in a little less than an hour, and Saturday and Sunday I could swim no more than two hours.
Fortunately I already know the process of cooling my body to these conditions. You go from normal to feeling very cold, but there comes a time when the pain no longer increases. It’s not like when your shoulder or back hurts, so every stroke hurts you more. Also, any temperature changes are felt immediately. Today, for example, I was swimming between 13 and 15 degrees Celsius, and the 15 degree part was a positive delight.
Something else I have noticed is that at 13.5-13.7ºC, your hands start to go numb and you can’t close your fingers. That becomes an issue as you put the arm in the water and make your stroke.
As fate would have it, it is just this aspect of the technique into which I have put the most work over the last few months.
Since I came back from Tsugaru with an injured shoulder I decided I had do something about the poor technique that was causing me pain. Little by little I corrected my mechanical imbalances, and from March until now I have placed a lot of emphasis on achieving an efficient stroke with the lower part of my hand and forearm.
Apparently, it worked. It’s good to know that when my fingers lose mobility I at least have a way to partially counteract the issue.
Meditation exercises have been another important part of my preparation. I have been practicing the pearl exercise to help me in times of crisis. Recently its color is red, which helps me generate heat in my body. The good news is that since arriving in Donaghadee I have not needed it.
What I have noticed is, as I said before, that when the pain comes from the cold water, it’s stable and does not increase. So the challenge becomes not letting it distract you from the objective.
The acclimatization process has been very pleasant, on the whole, thanks to the hospitality we have been shown at the hostel where we are staying, Pier 36. It’s is a small place but it does have three great advantages: the entire staff of the establishment are very friendly, they have an excellent kitchen, and I can literally leave the hostel in swimsuit, cross the street and be in the water.
In the village there is a group called Chunky Dunkers who swim every day of the year—regardless of the temperature. Yesterday, Sunday, I went to visit them before entering the water. I was able to talk to them for a while and felt very honored when they asked me to sign their register.
At the end of the training a swimmer approached me at the stairs. I had not seen him in the water, but he introduced himself as Joseph Köberl. He has been here three weeks waiting for a good day to make the crossing. He invited me to swim with him before he went back to Vienna. At the end of the hour we said goodbye.
“I hope the weather stabilizes and you can try your crossing. I’m going back in August but I know it would be very difficult for you to do it. ”
I kept thinking: This is the North Channel, a place where you can spend a lot of time without ever getting the conditions to attempt a crossing.
We will see what happens in the next few days.