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Channel Swim

We are extremely grateful to James ‘Jimbo’ Brock for taking the time to prepare the story of his epic solo Channel swim adventure. Whilst he was not successful this time, everyone in Tuff Fitty is extremely proud of Jimbo and what he achieved alongside his fantastic fundraising. His strength, determination and tenacity to even get to the point where he waved his arms and waded into the sea in the dead of night would have stopped the majority of people in their tracks. Jimbo’s courage highlights what a truly remarkable man he is. Please read on for a frank and compelling read:-

As most of you know, I’ve spent the last year or so training to have a solo swim across the English Channel. Sadly, the attempt was aborted due to the cold, jelly fish stings, rough seas, strong current and me losing my head and allowing thoughts of getting into the boat get the better of me.

Three days leading up to the off, I wasn’t nervous, neither was I apprehensive, I just wanted to get on with it. However, from nowhere I would get a rush of butterflies to my tummy.

This rush of direct adrenaline kept coming through the nights and subsequently keeping me awake. The seagulls and other wildlife in Goring By Sea made certain I wasn’t getting back to sleep. By the time I reached Dover I was already sleep deprived and running on adrenaline.

Pulling into Dover sat in the back of my car with Jonny Bee, my wife Lindsey driving and my mum riding shotgun. We parked up and met with the lovely Ali whom I had met in Durley. Ali is an experienced ultra marathon swimmer with bags of experiences and the bedside manner of Florence nightingale. She had kindly offered to be our head of crew and to help my mum make up my feeds.

I had been sent a ‘pin’ via google maps on where to meet our pilot, so we made our way over to the locked harbour gates. After a short while our vessel ‘Sea Satin’ was ready for us to board. Unfortunately, our official observer from CS&PF did not arrive, this unsettled both my crew and me. Only a few weeks earlier a poor soul had lost his life at sea and the importance of an observer was highlighted. The captain of our boat (Lance Oram) told us not to worry as his teenage daughter was able to fill the position.  Lance gave us an 8- minute notice that we would soon be at Shakespeare Beach where I would need to jump into the black sea and swim to shore to start the swim.

The crew started to ready the bags and my swim kit was organised. I put in my ear plugs, stretched on my swim cap and adjusted my goggles with an adventure light fixed to the staps, Ali connected a green adventure light to my trunks and Lindsey started to put on my suncream despite the rain now falling and the wind picking up. It was now 1am and the sea was rolling in a way that told me in no uncertain terms who was boss.

I jumped into the sea and was immediately disoriented. Firstly, it was pitch black, I’m hard of hearing at the best of times but my ears were further restricted with the ear plugs, swim hat, noise of the ocean and the gentle purr of the diesel engine.   With my senses distorted I started swimming to shore, after a shortwhile I was standing on the beach with my arms raised high above my head signalling to the crew that I was ready to start my swim to France. Nothing. Nothing happened. I hadn’t realised that the observer wanted to wait until the second hand hit a full minute so that it would be easier to record my time at the end of the swim. The wait felt like a lifetime.

As I set off into the darkness, I encountered my first sting. These jellyfish hang around in the seaweed so every time I went through seaweed, I would get stung. Within the first hour I had taken 8 stings. I had my first feed, and it was quite clear from the tension on the line holding on to my bottle just how aggressive the current was. I was starting to get cold.

Ultimately, after four hours the cold, stings and tiredness had taken its toll, I knew I wasn’t going to be able warm up and the entire experience was quite frankly traumatic. I decided that it just wasn’t my time to get across the channel. My attempt was over.

Things that I would do differently:

  1. Stay in Dover the week of my tide. Driving up two hours before I had to be there was unnecessarily stressful. I wish I had taken my time to look at the beach in the daylight from where I was starting from & generally settled into Dover.
  1. I should have done some of my training in Dover and got used to the stings. For the record the stings are NOT that painful. They are an irritant, however, the expectation of a sting every time you feel some seaweed is exhausting. I think had I experienced this in my training then I would have been more mentally prepared for each sting. 
  1. I had planned a night swim on my training week in Durley, however, the weather didn’t allow it. So, my first experience of swimming in the dark was on the day. It is very different to a night swim in a pool! I would strongly recommend to any channel swimmer to get in the sea in the dead of the night. It’s a very strange feeling and one that can’t be explained only experienced.
  1. Feeding from a boat, When the waves are rocking, and the boat is rolling its very hard getting the feed to you. You need to practice rolling on your back and just hope the tension the line is under doesn’t snap or you pull a crew member into the water!
  1. Mix up your training, I love swimming, especially in the sea. However, swimming between 80,000 & 100,000km every month on your own gets lonely and a bit boring (especially in a 20m pool) On reflection, I should have dropped to a long swim at the weekend (6-10 hours) and two shorter swims in the week working on technique, I should have done strength, stretching and maybe the odd run or ride. I don’t think it necessary to be constantly banging out length after length as long as you are getting that decent endurance set in at the weekend you should be fine.

Things that I’m grateful for:

  1. My wife for supporting everything I do, for never complaining that I’m not home, for making sure I had clean kit for not asking how much I had spent on the project!
  2. For my mum who is so supportive and loves being at events and seeing her son out there doing something positive.
  3. Jon Babbage for being always my wing man.
  4. Gary Locker for getting me in the sea nice and early.
  5. Durley Sea Swims – The guys there are so lovely and without whom id never had got as far as I did. Special thanks to Ali, Sarah, Marcus & all the volunteers.
  6. To have been joined by both a seal and a dolphin during my training swims.
  7. Tuff Fitty triathlon Club for teaching me to swim. A special thanks to a past coach Steve ‘lardy’ Jones who never gave up on teaching me to swim.
  8. That I live to fight another day
  9. For all the messages of support
  10. To everyone who donated to YoungMinds – Despite not making to France we still raised £7183!

Some people have asked me ‘what next’?

Well, I guess I have unfinished business and its not in me to give up on my dreams, so I need to save some pennies, get a new plan together and then have another crack at it.

Whilst I do feel embarrassed not to have made it, I won’t allow it to be the end of the journey, just part of it…


Editors note; in respect of donations, Jimbo’s fundraising initiative is here if anyone wishes to add to the fund.