English Channel swimmer annual report photography for Kidney Research UK
English Channel swimmer Andrew Butler assures me that the water off Dover beach in Kent is warm, but I’m not convinced. I’ve been on the beach since 8am to do a recce for the annual report photography for Kidney Research UK and chatting to some of the other swimmers, plenty have been out since first light.
Andrew’s swim is a bit more involved than the other swimmers as he’s launching off and heading to France. His English Channel swimming challenge is a month later than planned because the coronavirus lockdown impacted his training schedule. Andrew managed to adapt his regime by innovatively using a tether and a pop-up pool.
It’s a clear, baking hot morning on a coverless beach and through the haze you can see France. The Channel is approximately 21 miles (straight), but the harsh reality is that it’s more like swimming in an “S” shape owing to tidal impact and being sensitive to the shipping lanes. The fastest was Australian Trent Grimsey in six hours and 55 minutes in 2012. The slowest was Jackie Cobell who was swept off course and ended up swimming some 65 miles. Andrew hope to complete the swim under 18 hours.
As he packs his kit chat about how prepared he is and I’m admit surprise that he’s not using a wet suit. Since 2017 he has adjusted instead to a costume with cap and goggles, as required by the English Channel swimming rules. Without the protection of a wet suit he’s suffered injuries, for example to his shoulders, but has regular massage to help.
An important part of his prep, in order to avoid hyperthermia, is dealing with cold water. His cold water acclimatising has included swimming in extreme temperatures as cold as 3c, and successfully completing an official ice mile. Andrew is one of only around 352 people in the world to have successfully completed an official ice mile. Although he’s always gravitated to water (he was a lifeguard) he is not from a club or a competition swimmer. But why the English Channel?
Andrew’s granddaughter Rosie was just 10 weeks old when she had both kidneys removed to save her life. Now 3, she is on dialysis until she is the correct size and weight to be able to have a transplant from her father, Andrew’s son Luke. He believes Rosie’s courage far eclipses his own and it’s her she thinks of when his muscles ache or when the nerves get to him.
In better times I would have shaken his hand but I wish him he best as he continues to train. The one thing I can’t shake his description of jelly fish “kisses”, a soft way of describing the swarms of jellyfish that the support boats have to keep an eye out for. Give me a wet suit any day.