Police Swimming Team Manager, Claire Thorn heard that the Inter Services; Army, Navy & RAF were having a race across the English Channel and thought; the police need to be a part of that.
In order to swim across the channel you need to book the services of a pilot who provides the boat and negotiates the complicated tides. Pilots are often booked 2 years in advance, however the police team were fortunate to secure the services of experienced pilot, Stuart Gleeson.
The challenge involved swimming in cold water, in both daylight and darkness, in extremely tough tides, and having to deal with jelly fish stings through what is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. They swam under the strict rules of the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), which meant that wetsuits were not permitted – just standard swimming costume/trunks (budgie smugglers). Each completing an hour each before repeating until the challenge was over.
Teams arrived in Dover for the start of their channel window on Saturday 8th September 2018, after meeting with Stuart it was clear that the weather was not in our favour and high winds were going to prevent a crossing in the next couple of days. The pilots for the other teams discussed the possibility of a race up and down the coast over the distance of the channel, 21 miles. The police team were not interested in this and it was either a crossing of the channel or nothing. The days waiting were not wasted as the teams met up for training swims in Botany Bay, Deal and Dover.
These days preparation were very welcome as the police team were not as fortunate as the other teams who were afforded leave to complete a training camp in the weeks prior to the challenge.
- Marc Newman (Dorset) – 50 years Former double world Cup long distance swimming champion 25km (1986, 1988) 6 times English Channel solo swimmer, including world record for swimming Dungeness to France.
- Richard Evans (Ret Met) – 52 years Good all rounder. GB Tri Masters Worlds since 1996 .. old, tired, doesn’t like cold water!
- Shawn Morgan (Surrey) – 52 years Former distance swimmer and Police Open Water Champion, can now be found at the occasional open water swimming completion with a pub at the finish!
- Sarah White (Surrey) – 40 years 2014 Ironman, Henley 14k and numerous 10k event. Police National Open Water Champion.
- Nigel Gaskin (West Midlands) – 41 years Holder of World, European & British Masters swimming records, now turned triathlete. World 70.3 Ironman championships qualifier and gained podium places for GBR at ETU Aquathlons. Completed Rottnest Channel Swim Australia and dodged the sharks!
- Claire Thorn (West Midlands) – 47 years Double Channel Relay 2016; numerous masters’ age group national titles in the pool & open water.
The team were selected for their experience and proven track record on both the open water and pool police championships. The average age of the police team was 47 years which far exceeded the other teams.
After a 5 day wait the teams finally got the call and the race would start at 0200 hours on Thursday 13th September, spirits were high with both excitement and nerves. At 0155 hours the teams set off from Samphire Hoe in the dead of night, it was pitch black! Marc Newman lead the way for the police, wearing a flashing blue light attached to his goggle strap and a glow stick to his trunks so the pilot could see him. Marc had to jump from the boat and swim to shore, clear the water before being given the starting signal.
The race was fairly close for the first hour but the police team were edging ahead. Next in for the police was Shawn Morgan, he had to jump off the back of the boat swimming past Marc in order to swim the whole length of the channel. No touching of the exiting swimmer or the boat was allowed. Any infringement would result in the team being disqualified.
Conditions in the channel were not ideal; although the high winds from earlier in the week had subsided the water was still very lumpy. Swimming in the pitch black is disorientating, you need to swim close to the boat but not too close, you cannot see anything around you except the boat’s light, you keep swimming hard for your 60 minutes. Claire Thorn was next in for the police, then Richard Evans followed by Nigel Gaskin.
Nigel entered the water in the dark and swum into sunrise; although it wasn’t sunny. The forecast said it was going to be sunny in Dover, but we weren’t in Dover we were half was between Dover and France.
Sarah White completed the first cycle of swims it was daylight but very overcast when she entered the water; having to dodge the huge tankers crossing the shipping lane.
When Sarah finished her hour the team repeated the swim order and Marc was back in for the second time. By this time the other team’s boat were far into the distance behind us and we had a substantial lead, but the race was not yet won. Each pilot took a slightly different track across to maximise the tides it was still not clear who the overall winners would be. The army took the most direct route but this proved a bad move as ultimately this missed The Cap and had to swim back on themselves. The Cap is the ideal landing spot for being the shortest distance from England, however there are no nice sandy beaches just jaggered rocks.
Shawn completed his second hour and then Claire went in approximately 3 miles from France, the waters had calmed and as she became closer the waters warmed. A much more relaxed and enjoyable swim, looking up the shores of France were very close but not close enough and Richard took to the water to finish the race.
Richard landed right bang on The Cap clambering out onto the rocks for the clock to stop in a time of 9 hours 25 minutes. Not only did the police win the race, they recorded the fastest crossing of the year, a fabulous result!
The other teams also recorded excellent times with the Navy winning the Inter Services Race:
Navy – 10 hours 07
RAF – 10 hours 32
Army – 10 hours 41
After celebrating and photo taking the team made their way back to England this time taking only 3 hours. After signing the channel relay book at The Fleurs public house they had some much needed sleep before all the teams met for a celebration meal. The police team are in line for the Channel Swimming Association fastest relay crossing Trophy.
Discussions have started for the next challenge with the inter services, Loch Lomond, Round Jersey being in the running.