Sunday 14 September 2008

A long night in The English Channel - England to France, September 11-12, 2008, 13 Hours 03 Minutes

Above: Left to right - Chris Enyon (Channel swimming aspirant, September 2008), Megan Forbes (Channel Swimmer 2007), Michelle Toptalo (Channel Swimmer 2008), Me and Sam Jones who swam the channel yesterday after me with her son assembling for my two-way channel swim attempt. Thursday September 11, 2008 about 7.30pm.

Pilot: Neil Streeter
Pilot Vessel: SUVA
Support Crew: My wife, Beccy Hopfensperger (feeder and all round 100% support), Mark Ransom (fellow West Suffolk Swimming Club member and 2008 Channel Swimmer) and Chris Enyon (Sudbury & District Swimming Club).

We arrived in Dover Marina at about 7.30pm on Thursday September 11, 2008 which was a little earlier than anticipated due to there being traffic problems in Dover as the Channel Tunnel was on fire. At least the sea would be a little warmer I laughed as we all gathered on the pontoon and chatted. Megan, Sam and Michelle had come down to see me off which was fantastic and I would like to say here a big thank you to all of you for doing this. It really was much appreciated.

Lance Oram on Sea Satin was moored next to us to take out his swimmer, Greg Woods, and Vasanti Neimz from Heidelberg, Germany was also there to start her channel swim on board "Queen of The Channel", Alison Streeter MBE's support boat ROCO. We had a photo taken which she e-mailed to me (see below). I was totally relaxed, and felt ready after all of my training and mental preparation to tackle this immense task which had only ever been completed by 18 swimmers before.

Above: With Vasanti Niemz before our channel swim attempt on the pontoon in Dover Marina.

When we arrived there was panic stations when it turned out we had no observers for the swim, which is what also happened to me last year! I couldn't believe it. CS&PF Committee Member Tanya Harding sped off in her car, then eventually returned with 2 observers much to my relief, and off we went.

Neil told us that we were going to start from Shakespeare Beach, which is only about a 10 minute trip on the boat. I gave my name to the observer (apologies I didn't get either of their names) and my support crew's names. She told me that she had just rushed straight from work to get here.

Above: Giving all of our details to the CS&PF Observer prior to starting the swim.

Above: With my wife Beccy prior to the swim.

Above: Beccy starts to put Vaseline on the back of my neck, under my armpits, on the sides of my face (where your beard grows) and in the groin area where it rubs when you kick.

Last year I started from Samphire Hoe. Michelle, Sam and Megan were walking down to Shakespeare Beach to see me off when I landed, but it wasn't to be. When we got on board SUVA, I started to get undressed and Vaselined up immediately as it was such a short trip. However, when we got there, Neil said that the tide was far stronger than he had thought, and we would have to start from Samphire Hoe. I was greased up, hat on, ear plugs in, and we continued on our way to Samphire Hoe.

Above: Pilot Neil Streeter steers us towards Samphire Hoe where my two-way channel swim attempt would start. Just before I left, he said to me "Don't forget, this is a France to England swim." This meant that the England to France first leg was just a warm up for the main swim which was to be the second leg - France to England.

Above: Just about to dive in, swim to shore and start my two-way channel swim attempt. It was about 8.25pm and pitch black.

Above: Beccy and Mark Ransom on board SUVA at the start of my swim.

When I dived in, I was totally relaxed, focused and ready for the swim. However, as soon as I got in the water, I felt as though I had just dived into a washing machine on spin cycle. For any swimmers who have swum in Dover Harbour over by the Eastern Dock on a Saturday and Sunday morning, this is what it was like. However I tried, I just couldn't get into a rhythm of any kind. I wasn't swimming, I was just fighting with the sea. It was absolutely awful. Within 20 minutes, I knew a two-way was out of the question and I didn't even think a one-was was possible. I wanted to get out. It was all over. This was crap. Absolutely crap. This was not what I had pictured over and over again in my mind. This was just a F#%K*$G swimming nightmare!

I carried on swimming, if you can call it that until the first feed. We decided not to use a pole this year, just my Herbalife shake mixer on the end of a bit of rope. It actually worked really well. Much better than the pole method.

Above: The first feed in the pitch black night sky somewhere in the English Channel.

This was so different to last years swim. So, so different. Last year I could see Beccy so clearly, and the P&O ferries and the tankers. This year, I could just see the outline of her body in the spotlight coming down from SUVA, and everywhere else was just as black as black can be. No stars, no moon, nothing just black, and I was being tossed all over the place by this shitty, shitty water. I had mentally lost the plot and just wanted to get out.

Somewhere from deep within, despite all of the negativity inside me, I kept going. Don't ask me how, but I just kept going. At one stage I shouted to Beccy "That's it, I'm getting out". "No you're not she replied, just keep going." So I did. Then I got tangled up in a huge pile of seaweed. It was all wrapped round my neck. I removed it and just kept going. Then a Jelly fish stung my left forearm and bicep. "I've been stung by a Jelly fish" I shouted to Beccy. She just looked at me. I carried on swimming for a minute wondering why she didn't say anything. "I said I've been stung by a Jelly fish on my arm". "What do you want me to do about it?" she replied. She had a point. Nothing I suppose. I was hoping she would say that I could get out, but that wasn't the case!

Eventually at around about 4 hours or so, my arms were just battered to bits by the rough sea, and I shouted out "Can someone come in with me, I'm really struggling in here". Before I knew it, Chris Enyon was in beside me, and it was nice to be able to actually see something other than blackness. At first he had forgotten to put any lights on so Beccy threw him a light for his swim hat. Then the sea calmed down a bit and it was just rough as opposed to that horrible choppy water which had beaten me up for the first four hours.

I think Chris was only in for half an hour as he got in when I fed, and got out at the next feed. After the first 3 x 1 hour feeds, we fed every 1/2 hour exactly as per Freda Streeter's feeding plan. It worked really well. At last I got into a bit of a swimming rhythm, and felt a bit better, but the first 4 hours had mentally taken everything away from me, and I never really recovered from this. I could see Mark Ransom hanging over the end of the boat, and he was obviously feeling ill. SUVA was rocking side to side violently, and on a couple of occassions I jumped as I thought it was going to roll over on top of me. Thankfully, it remained upright!

Out the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw lights. At last I felt as though there was something in this god damn sea other than me. I shouted "Photo" to Beccy and the result was the photo above. I think it was a Dover to Calais ferry. It was about all I saw for the next few hours. I just kept swimming, thinking of all of the reasons not to get out. All the weekends in Dover, all the money this had cost, Beccy had lost the opportunity to start a new job next week because of this swim, the sponsorship money for the charities., etc., etc. So I thought of the saying I kept telling everyone on the beach - "Just put one arm in front of the other and don't stop until you get to France". It mad me laugh, and I kept swimming from feed to feed.

At about 7 hours, it was still pitch black, and I had really had enough. I was cold. After all that cold water training, I was cold. I stopped and shouted up "I'm F#%K*$G freezing in here!". Like someone was going to throw a blanket to me or something! The cabin door opened, out popped Neil Streeter's head and the reply came "Then F#%K*$G swim faster then!". This was followed by the door closing and the boat speeding up and away from me so I had to catch it up. He's got a point I thought to myself, and then proceeded to swim faster.

A little later I stopped and moaned again, saying I had had enough and wanted to get out. The door opened again "What's wrong with you? This is a 'Text Book' swim. Try kicking your F#%K*$G legs!". Again he had a point, and the "text book" swim bit was interpreted by me as we were nearly there. I don't know why, but that's what I though he meant. So my head went down, and I sprinted for the best part of 2 solid hours. Flat out, I couldn't have gone any faster. Beccy told me afterwards that I was swimming at 2 miles per hour and about 67-69 strokes per minute constantly. I never went below this.

Above: Cap Griz-Nes on the left of me, and it was for quite a few hours.

As daybreak broke, it was a cloudy miserable day. Where on earth was the sun. All I wanted was a little bit of sun. But there was none. It was bloody horrible. I could see Cap Gris-Nes to the left of me, and I still kept swimming as fast as I could, but it never got any closer. Then having been on the support boat for Lorraine Vergehse's swim last year, I knew exactly what was happening and where we were heading. We had been swept past the cap, and were heading down in the direction of Boulogne. I knew this was going to be difficult to land.

Above: Swimming, swimming, swimming for about 3 hours, but just not going anywhere!

Eventually, over on the left, I could see Sea Satin, Lance Oram's boat approaching me at speed. This could only mean that his swimmer (Greg Woods) had either not finished or completed his swim. As it turned out, he had completed it. Eventually it pulled alongside me, and I could see Tanya Harding on board. I looked forward, and could see that we were making ground. The land was getting ever closer, and I was being escorted in, Sea Satin on the left and SUVA on the right. For some inexplicable reason, I just burst into tears, I felt so emotional. I really don't know why. It was probably because some 12 hours earlier I didn't even think I was going to make it this far, and yet here I was now going to become a two time channel swimmer.

As I got ever closer to the shore, I knew that I had been sprinting flat out for hours, and there was no way, not today, was I going to make it back again. I had mentally lost it on this swim in the first 4 hours when the water was so bad.

Suddenly, I saw Mark Ransom in the water beside me. "We've got to swim towards a small beach" he said. "If we don't hurry up, we will miss it." I went flat out for the shore. It was so close I could smell the garlic! Then Neil shouted from the boat to say "Follow the boat". So again we went sideways for quite a while. At the time I wasn't sure what was happening and why I just couldn't swim to shore. Afterwards I found out that it was due to the waves, which would have smashed me onto the rocks causing serious injury, we had to head for the very small beach.

Above: Mark Ransom swims to shore with me on Friday September 12, 2008.

As we got to within 10 Metres from the beach, I put my feet down, but couldn't feel the bottom. I was hit from behind by a wave which took me under. I surfaced and swam about another 5 Metres. I could just touch the bottom and started to walk forward. Another wave hit me from behind, and washed me up onto the beach very unceremoniously. However, it was so strong, that it sucked me back into the water again, and so it continued. I spent about 3-4 minutes just trying to get out, until eventually I crawled out on my hands and knees, tried to stand up, wobbled alot, then realised I had become a two times channel swimmer!

Above: Mark Ransom (left) and me (right) after I had completed my second English Channel Swim in 13 Hours 03 Minutes (about 8 minutes of it was trying to get out of the water!!!).

When we got on the beach, the conversation went something like this:-

Me: "I'm not going back. That's it. Finished".
Mark: "You've got to swim back. It's two-way".
Me: "No, that's it. I'm knackered and have mentally lost it."
Mark: "Go on, you've at least got to try."
Me: "No. Absolutely no way. This was a crap swim, and I hated every minute of it. I never want to see The English Channel again".

We got back in the water, and started to swim back towards the boat. Then I saw it start reversing away from me. I kew what Neil was doing, he was trying to start me swimming again. But there was no way. The first four hours of the first leg, scupperred any chance of a two-way attempt in my mind. I stopped swimming and was about to swim back to shore if Neil carried on reversing. He stopped, and I swum to the boat telling him quite firmly that I was a two time channel swimmer, I was quite happy with that at this present moment in time. I grabbed hold of the ladder and got out.

Above: Me, Mark Ranson and Chris Enyon, back onboard SUVA after my second channel swim.

It felt so good to be out of that water and back on board SUVA. I thanked everyone and explained that due to the start of the swim, it had mentally broken me, and I really do not know how I got across the channel. It was the worst swim, in fact the worst thing I have ever done in my life. I hated every minute of it. It was nothing like last year's swim. Freda is so right that you can never predict what the channel is going to be like. I had in my mind a mental picture of what the channel was like based on last year's swim. However, this years swim was so different, it is not even easy to put it into words. Last year was swells, and sunshine, this year was cold, dark, and extremely choppy for the first 4 hours, which is what did me in.

After I was dressed, we sailed towards Vasanti who was about 3 miles off Cap Griz-Nes on her channel swim attempt.

Above: Vasanti on her channel swim with her pilot and 'Queen of the Channel" Alison Streeter MBE looking out of the window. Unfortunately she didn't make it, but a brilliant swim anyway Vasanti.


I want to say a huge thank you to the following people:-

Freda Streeter 'The Channel General' - For her undying enthusiasm, advice and commitment every week come rain, wind or sunshine. Without it, there would be many many people who would not have realised their dreams.

Barrie & Irene Wakeham - As with Freda, they are always there week in, week out preparing and distruting the feeds in the harbour. Their help and assistance is much appreciated and invaluable to all who train in Dover Harbour.

Mark Ransom & Chris Enyon - Who dropped everything at the last minute to help onboard SUVA and be part of the support crew. I couldn't have got across without you.

Neil Streeter - and his crew for being an excellent pilot, and giving it to me straight across the channel.

Last but definately not least, my fantastic wife Beccy Hopfensperger, who week in week out, has sat on the beach for 7 hours then six hours, helped with the feeding and been an absolute rock. I most certainly without a doubt, not been a two time channel swimmer without her unwavering support.

I would also like to thank Nick Adams, who we trained with in Dover Harbour and has been a constant help over the phone and by text and e-mail, and who has my utmost respect for still being the last Englishman to complete a 2 way channel swim. He told me yesterday by phone, that I am in fact only the 84th person in history to swim the English Channel more than once. I am very proud of that. Thanks Nick.


The main reason for doing all of these crazy swims, is to try to reach our £50,000 target for our two chosen charities. If after reading the above you feel you would like to sponsor me, then please click on one or both of the links below and donate securely online. Thank you.

CLIC Sargent - Children's Cancer Charity


St Nicholas' Hospice, Bury St Edmunds

To see a short video of the swim <CLICK HERE>.

Next week I will be competing in a British Long Distance Swimming Association 4.5KM race in Lynn Regis. <CLICK HERE FOR REPORT AND PHOTOS FROM RACE>.


Anonymous said...

Wow hoffy, You have to be VERY impressed that you had the shittiest swim of your life...BUT YOU SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL. that is AMAZING!!!!! on your WORST day, you swam to FRANCE! Kudos, pal! Hopefully you'll still be around for the adventures next year when I get in on the dover madness...but let's not talk about that now. Seriously, I am so proud of you. You are an amazing athlete, and congratulations for everything you have done in the sport of open water swimming. Well done!!
xx jgal

Hoffy Swims said...

Julieann - Thanks so much for that. I just burst into tears when I read it. I don't know what's wrong with me, I'm all over the place emotionally at the moment! It's your turn in the channel next. You will do it too. Speak soon. Kind regards.
Hoffy. x

Anonymous said...

I read about you doing this in the Bury Bummer, and I take my hat off to you and bow down at your feet!
Well - bloody - done, mate :)

maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maggie said...

Hoffy your a star !

Congratulations you did amazing Becky must be so proud of you, you had a tough swim and got through it thats more than a lot of people have did. Swimming through the night is always hard but when you get through it and the sun comes out it makes a huge difference must have been awful to get through the night and then no sun.

You should be happy you have completed 2 Channel swims some people aren't capable of completing one.

Well done

Maggie :)

Hoffy Swims said...

Arch – Thank you very much for your comments.

Maggie – Thanks so much. If only there had been some sun! It would have made such a difference, but it was not to be. Not on this occasion anyway. I am really ecstatic that I have completed 2 channel swims. It seems to ensure that the first one wasn’t a fluke. Number 3 is already in my mind now I have had a couple of days off!!! LOL!

Well done on your swim, and hopefully we will meet in Dover soon.

Kind regards.

Hoffy (The Humper!).

Ahelee said...

This is the way I see it Hoffy...

You swim or do anything in anyway that you want to do it.
But don't push past the point of loving it.

When we are granted the opportunity to do these amazing things with our lives, we have to take them forward and inspire others with our journey. They are not just for our own glory and pleasure.

If you finish something and want to walk away without ever sharing the joy and challenge, then what is the point?

You already do this. I don't have to tell you about it.
I am fine with your stopping in France.
If you want to try again some other time, terrific.
But I still love and appreciate everything you have brought to us already. Our relationships are set as friends and team mates for life.

Lots of good thoughts and love,

Ahelee said...

This is the way I see it Hoffy...

You swim or do anything in anyway that you want to do it.
But don't push past the point of loving it.

When we are granted the opportunity to do these amazing things with our lives, we have to take them forward and inspire others with our journey. They are not just for our own glory and pleasure.

If you finish something and want to walk away without ever sharing the joy and challenge, then what is the point?

You already do this. I don't have to tell you about it.
I am fine with your stopping in France.
If you want to try again some other time, terrific.
But I still love and appreciate everything you have brought to us already. Our relationships are set as friends and team mates for life.

Lots of good thoughts and love,

Picklesmum said...

Well done Hoffy, it is an amazing thing you did.
Pickle wants to know how you go to the toilet when you swim the channel. Am I right in telling her you just wee in the sea? She'll never set foot in the sea again!

Hoffy Swims said...

Ahelee – your words, as always, are inspirational to me on the channel group. I would love to come to California, USA and spend a week training with you. Just say the word, and we will be there!

Picklesmum – Please tell Pickle that when you are swimming for 13 hours or so, then yes, you must wee in the sea, and worse if necessary! If you don’t, your whole body can shut down, and it could be fatal. The pilots are trained to look for this, and will pull you from the water if necessary. It’s a very unglamorous sport, but it has raised millions for charity over the years. Let’s not forget that!

Kind regards to you both.


Liz T said...

Huge congratulaions from everyone at Aqua Sphere! We are delighted that our Eagle goggles provided some support. A great achievement! Sincere best wishes from the team here. Best - Liz Talbot, PR for Aqua Sphere

Hoffy Swims said...

Thanks Liz. I made sure I had Aquasphere Hat, Goggles and trunks on, and they were brilliant. The goggles didn't steam up once, and I had them on solidly for 13 Hours and 03 Minutes. The hat kept the water out of my ears, and the trunks were very comfy all the way across. Thanks so much for the support!

Her indoors said...

Hi Hoffy not only have I huge respect for you having done the channel swim AGAIN, but the fact that you are in a fit enough state to type soon after. Well done and hope to see you at the Gallery preview if you're about.

Hoffy Swims said...

Karen - good to hear from you and thanks very much for that. I won't be at the opening because I will be in training ready for next Saturday's swim! I recovered almost immediately which is due to all the training my body is now used to. Best wishes. Hoffy.

Anonymous said...

Wow Hoffy a legend. I still think about you swimming around Jersey, and I've checked up a few times ojn your progress. An amazing achievement to cross Le Manche.

I think your blog is terrific by the way.

When we met in Jersey did you say you were into IT?
I'm looking for someone to design me a site and host for me, as well as engineering a SEO and PPC campaign. Is this something you do. If so and you get this post can you email me at

Thanks Thatch.

Oh by the way I've got a blogger blog as well.

Unknown said...

Thatch - thanks for your comments. I will e-mail you off the group later today. Hope all is well.

Kind regards.