Open Water

On Tuesday 16th August 2011 we saw two Round Jersey swims from Thomas Kofler an Italian gentleman and from a motley relay crew labouring under the title of the Bosworth Mob. Both were excellent examples of determination and preparedness to take on the elements, especially the lively half hour which Grosnez Point can be guaranteed to throw at us, fairly lively I would have said of the swell and wind as they oppose tide. Previous to Grosnez and subsequently the remainder of the circumnavigation were relatively benign as swims and weather goes and both sets of support crew bought their charges home within a few minutes of each other following a very sporting and well executed days swimming.

Having given the various weather sites due respect and a good trawl the weather looked very similar for the following day. There is always a site which gives a fearful view of what’s out there along with one which Mickey Mouse is the sub editor and so there’s a good bit of should I go with the optimists or believe the pessimists. I normally dispense with top and bottom and attempt to make sense of the rest. Some days it works, some days...

Christine Addison, a swimming teacher from Redhill in Surrey had already made the journey across the previous week to do battle with the Jersey to France course which the weather gods had suggested otherwise at the last moment. She therefore made a return journey a week later to take on a Round Jersey outing. Her pedigree of an English Channel solo supported by a couple of Channel relays gave an indication of her ability and she said those few words which will ever haunt me – "I’m not a fast swimmer, but very happy when it gets rough!"

A very sociable start time of 0701 decided by commercial traffic leaving port had put us back 15 minutes from our chosen start, but we disappeared around the reclamation site and headed east across a flat sea towards, Green Island, La Rocq Jetty and onwards to St Catherine’s unaffected by a light variable wind. We certainly weren’t breaking any speed restrictions and were enjoying a day out with Christine’s husband Alistair, Alice Harvey as club observer together with Mick Le Guilcher and I as pilots and navigators for the adventure. A steady curve around the north east corner of the Island set us up for a decent run above the deep gulley’s the best part of a mile off the coast which make up the north coast and can speed a swimmers time by up to three or four times their normal pace, if we can find them. We sailed past the TV mast above the St John’s Bay which marks a decent half way point in distance but very infrequently in time. I noticed the first signs of a building swell as we passed Sorel, thinking it was a little early. Annette one of our Club members had phoned to say there were white horses at Grosnez, but no worse than the previous day and that St Ouen’s Bay was nice and flat. Winds were still variable although building to a Force 3. As yet no white caps and so progress continued relatively unaffected.

As we entered Greve de Lecq a change was seen ahead and white water was clearly seen with a building northerly wind. We warned Christine that it was going to get rough for a short while. The understatement of the year! Grosnez Point was horrendous with huge swells and crashing about. On board ‘Sea Swimmer’ Mick fought with the helm to control the boat and keep her on an even keel without going beam on to the running waves. Christine swam on at times close to us at other times we were watching as she rose and fell between crests, but some strange reason with a smile! It seemed to take forever to round the Point and we were much closer in than we normally plan, driven in by the north wind, now going north west then north east as we struggled to move away from the strong wash off the base of the cliffs and move out in readiness to clear L’Etacq reef which extends some way out at the entrance to St Ouen’s Bay. Alice was holding on to anything which wasn’t being thrown around, thankfully she saved several thermos flasks of tea and coffee for which she deserves a sainthood. Alistair was looking worried on behalf of his wife and scribbling notes which I mistook for a last will and testament. Mick was clinging on for dear life to the wheel and doing a remarkable job in pointing us in the right direction. Me; I’m a roughy toughy and was wondering where I’d put my clean underwear, so important at these times don’t you think?

Christine had the effrontery to complain that we weren’t keeping close to her! How longs a piece of string? Hoping for shelter from the 5-600 foot cliffs we were slightly disappointed as the wind swung behind us, filling the cabin and hurling us forward whilst Christine’s request for companionship was lost in the wind and spray. But still she came catching us up then falling behind as a gust sent us down the course. Each drink stop I fully expected the towel to come in over the ropes, yet she smiled sweetly, made light banter on conditions and was off within twenty seconds, never giving me a chance to show my paid up members card of the cowards and land-lubbers let’s keep our toes dry club. St Ouen’s Bay usually takes a good two – two and a half hour to transit. I had to rewind my watch twice on the way down the five or six miles. Corbiere rose majestically from the storm tossed sea as we spotted our normal route through the rocks below the lighthouse. Today wasn’t normal and Mick once again on duty at the helm expended all his strength in weaving a course through. Christine ploughed a far from acceptable straight furrow but somehow after what seemed an eternity popped up on the other side, still bloody smiling! Her eyesight thankfully is not 100% and she’d seen little of the unfolding excitement, the preservation of the innocent? And all this with no tidal assistance, low water had gone some time ago and the tide had run its course and was now as slack as …. well it was slack OK?

The following wind and waves had taken their toll on the good ship ‘Sea Swimmer’ and apart from goods and chattels thrown about all over the cabin the engine well where sits our trusty Mercury 60HP outboard had suffered death by drowning and the bilge pump had seized allowing the bilge and aft deck, normally used for promenades and cosy strolls to fill with Jersey’s crystal clear waters. Mick Alistair and I took turns to fill buckets and buckets of water while Alice emptied them overboard. You should see the muscles on the girl! Alistair eventually solved the problem by chucking both water and bucket overboard in one continuous hurl!

We rounded Corbiere and would you Adam and Eve it so did the wind! It remained at a good F4+ and continued to hinder us, the protection given by the cliffs was soon lost as we entered the run across the opening of St Brelade’s Bay. The tide was certainly running with us as we sped up to five knots. Noirmont Tower came and went as we entered the final critical stage of dissecting three different tidal runs which can either push you out to sea and begin a second tour de Jersey. Pull you into the Bay and end up stranded on the beach, a mile or so from the finish, or as we plan take you across the Bay to a meeting with a barnacle encrusted wall, signalling Finis! The time?; hardly matters after all that but for the record it was a very creditable 12 hours and 16 minutes - pretty useful on a good day, but today; quite incredible.

As a 'veteran' of some 70 -80 Round Jersey swims I’ve witnessed, fast and furious swims, slow and salubrious swims. Swims that maybe should never have succeeded and some that have entertained and amused but I don’t recall one as courageous, determined and so well earned as Christine’s. Many many swimmers have those abilities but few are asked to show them for such an elongated period of time. I had thought a couple of times about calling it off, however Christine was still smiling. The wind was generally behind us once we’d fought through the maelstrom of Grosnez, plus now it’s over I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Congratulations to Christine, but I’m sure she’d extend that to husband Alistair, and her back up crew of Alice and Mick, with I hope a reasonable input from yours truly.

Sally Minty-Gravett
Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club President

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