English Channel 2: Arrival in Dover and Initiation to the Harbor
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on September 15th, 2009

Steve Shtab and I left JFK the evening of Sept 8, arriving at London Heathrow around 6 am on Sept 9. (Dave and Willie came a day earlier.) We took the Underground to Victoria Station, then caught the train to Dover, arriving around 10:45 am. I’d managed only about 15 min sleep on the flight over and another 15 min on the train from London. Steve texted Dave and Willie from the train, announcing our arrival time. They’d made plans to meet Lance Oram, a NYC fireman and CIBBOWS swimmer at 10:30 to swim in the harbor, but waited for us at the B&B, so we could join their morning swim. We dropped our bags and went straight to the harbor. On my occasional trips overseas, I’ve found no better jetlag remedy than to go swimming as soon as possible after arrival. The exertion of a pool swim energizes you. A bracing dip in the 63-degree waters of Dover Harbor should prove even more invigorating.

We walked 10 minutes from the B&B to the harbor, passing through Dover’s pedestrian-friendly central square along the way. Lance was waiting for us harborside. As the only person to complete the 15-mile Gertrude Ederle swim from lower Manhattan to Sandy Hook NJ, last October, swimming for 5 hrs, 40 min in 54-degree water, Lance was well-prepared to take on the Channel. When we met, I discovered Lance also swam at St. John’s University in NY, though he was there in the early 90s, 20 years after me. While I swam distance events, Lance was a sprint breaststroker. My events lasted nearly 20 minutes, his less than 1 minute, so he’s traveled the longer road to marathon swimming. (Thirty years ago Steve Shtab swam 58 seconds for 100 Breast, but was also a distance freestyler at the time.)

I’d seen pictures of Dover Harbor, but it’s far more imposing in person. The harbor is U-shaped, with the rocky, curving shoreline forming the bottom of the U, Admiralty Pier (from which Matthew Webb began his historic 22-hour first crossing in 1875) on the right and the piers from which ferries leave for France on the left, as you look out to sea.  Partially crossing the top are a couple of breakwaters surmounted by lighthouses. The distance between piers ranges from 1250 meters if you swim near shore to 1300 meters farther out.

Our first swim was a single loop, swimming first to the ferry piers (henceforth FP), then over to Admiralty Pier (henceforth AP) and back to our starting point, or some 2600 meters. In recent weeks, the temperature in Lake Minnewaska at home had been in the mid-70s making the 10-degree (F) temperature drop a slight shock at first, but I felt comfortable within 200 meters. It was blowing from the north – as it has on every day since — so we swam into 2-foot swells as we swam that way, with the water calming as we reached the lee of the FP.  That took 15 minutes.

I had difficult staying with Dave, Willie, Steve and Lance, but they waited for me at the pier and we began swimming south together. I stayed a bit closer for a while, but the closer we got to AP, the rougher the water became, and I struggled more and more to find a rhythm or stroke that would let me feel as if I was cutting through the chop, rather than being bounced about. The last 150 meters were very rough, as the wind and swells hit the FP and bounced back, making the water in front of it confused and sloppy. It took me about 20 minutes to reach the FP, with the others getting there in 18 to 19 minutes.

The last leg, from FP back to our entry point, took 10 minutes for a total of 45 minutes of swimming. This was the roughest stretch. I felt myself fighting a losing battle with the chop and could see the others pulling away with impressive speed and strength. Even so, as we got back to the beach, I was exhilarated at having had my first Channel experience. The brisk wind chilled us as we changed on the beach. We walked to Market Square for lunch at Dickens café and I ordered a pot of hot tea to help fight the shivers.

At 5:30 that evening, we returned for a second harbor tour. I’d been thinking about how ineffectual I’d felt in the morning – usually I swim fairly well in rough water, but had done no ocean swimming all summer and seemed to have lost my feel for it. In particular I retained a picture of Dave cutting through the waves ahead of me, while I felt like a cork being tossed about. I decided to use that visualization during the afternoon swim, creating a stroking sense to match that picture before reaching the rough south end of the harbor and maintaining it once I did. I also decided to be conscious of body language from the time I arrived at the harbor. While I’d been a bit tentative about getting in for the first time, now I would prepare for the swim, walk to the water’s edge and immediately dive in and begin swimming without a moment’s hesitation – radiating purpose and confidence throughout.

It worked. Between my visualization of smooth stroking and resolute demeanor – but probably most of all that as weak as my morning swim had felt, it allowed me to adjust my Neuro-Motor Program (NMP) for rough water — I felt like a different person. I fell slightly behind Dave, Willie and Steve (Lance, tapering for his anticipated appointment with the Channel, swims only once a day.) initially, but was able to catch them and match their pace all the way to FP, then back across to AP. As we entered the rougher part, I deepened my focus on the visualization of smoothly cutting through the chop. Between that and holding an unbroken rhythm I swam far more strongly through the roughest parts, approaching, and especially leaving, the AP. I was doubly exhilarated when we finished that swim.

The day’s 5000 meters of swimming in chilly and choppy water helped me make it to bedtime without a nap, but I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly until 6 the next morning. I woke feeling somewhat groggy, despite the 9 hours of sleep, because on my “circadian clock” it was 1am NY time.

One Response to “English Channel 2: Arrival in Dover and Initiation to the Harbor”

  1. Fluorture says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, keep on writing such exciting posts!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.