Thursday, 13 October 2011

Planning (post by Paul Greenhalgh)


Paul here again.

As Wayne’s manager, I thought it expedient to actually get down to the nitty-gritty of planning The Swim, instead of just talking about it and basking in the glow of good intentions. Google advised that the best approach was to identify and action the critical issues.  In summary, these are (and I welcome any additional suggestions): his fitness, the cold, the tides/currents and the jellyfish.

Fitness: Wayne must swim. And swim. And swim. In cold water.

The cold - Wayne 'throw-me-a-herring' Soutter has a very high tolerance for cold water. I suspect that this stems from his formative years, something to do with impressing the local girls by staying in the Pietersburg (SA) swimming pool all day, but he strenuously denies that...  He’s proved beyond any reasonable doubt during the Channel swim that he can really bite the bullet and endure the cold. However, I remain really concerned about this. Far more so than he is.

Why? Because when you're in cold water, we're talking anything between 10 and 13 degrees centigrade, a single degree colder makes a HUGE difference to your comfort, and more importantly, to the speed with which the water rips vital heat away from your internal organs. Being cold on the outside is uncomfortable but it's possible to tough it out. A degree or two drop in your core temperature, however, is medically concerning. It signifies the onset of hypothermia and with even the best will in the world, will end this swim.

So what can we do to reduce this? Wayne's doing a lot of research into greases and suchlike. But the scientific jury’s still out on that one – with a 50/50 split between ‘definitely’ and ‘absolutely not’. In my opinion the very best grease might at best make a small difference. I believe the greatest defence against cold is reducing the time he's actually exposed to the cold water. In contrast to the English Channel where Wayne was able to wait out a full tide change (holy cow, I still can't believe that!), in the North Channel I'm convinced that if we're not out of the water in the shortest time possible, we're unlikely to make it.

So, in building a training plan, we've incorporated not just strategies designed to build endurance, but also those to build speed.

The tides: In the Northern Channel, the tides are significantly complex. On the rising tide, the water is flooding in from two directions. These two influxes meet in the North Channel, with large bodies of water flooding in, passing each other and creating the most confused patterns of currents imaginable. Imagine a bath filling up from a tap at either end. Drop a small paper boat right in the middle (name the boat Wayne if you will) and watch what happens. But wait, there’s more - Wayne will be swimming at the choke point, and so there’ll be a natural acceleration of passing water. The proverbial perfect storm of water conditions.

Our strategy to cross this maelstrom is to fastidiously plan and model a journey that takes him away from the Scottish coast in the calmest conditions, that factors in a massive north-south drift mid-channel which he'll experience at the height of the tide change, and then which drops him, inch-perfect, on a part of the northern Irish coast where it's possible to land, again when the tide's least severe.

So we’ve started to model this. But our efforts are somewhat complicated by the facts that, because our departure date will be very dependent upon weather and sea conditions, we cannot know the specific tide times / volumes / speeds until the very day of departure. This obviously means we're going to need someone significantly brighter than any of us to model a route/time plan at short notice, and then during the swim as we inevitably stray off that plan, to repeatedly re-model it to try to give us a winning strategy. Anyone, anyone…?

The Jellyfish:  These wobbly, translucent marine things are potentially a massive problem. Previous Scotland/Ireland swim attempts have all been further south and a significant number of swimmers have had to be helped from the water after succumbing to the effects of multiple jelly stings.

Now Wayne's quite a scientific chap.... no, that's not quite right - he's deeply scientific to the point that he's absolutely comfortable using his own body as an experimental equipment in the drive for greater empirical understanding. Right now he's strategizing his way into a commercial aquarium where he can test various grease preparations by dipping his greased-up paw into jellyfish tanks.

You may be forgiven for thinking that I'm joking about this. If you know Wayne, you'll know that he feels this is a perfectly reasonable and, in fact, obvious course of action.  

Perhaps this gives the first real glimpse of why Wayne feels that swimming the North Channel is a perfectly natural thing to do, while the rest of us are more than happy just to read about it....


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Wayne likes pork pies and Guinness. He likes routine and predictability. He loves his family. He's 40+, short(ish), balding and battling with waistline expansion. He's been known to occasionally play a good round of golf, likes to tinker with 'stuff' and has rescued a group of friends from the African wild by fixing a Land Rover with a jellybaby.

He's never been a great fan of physical exertion. In short (apart from the jellybaby incident), Wayne is an ordinary person. And he's about to do something really amazingly, astoundingly and astonishingly extra-ordinary. He's going to swim the the treacherous, never-been-swum-before channel between Kintyre (Scotland) and Ballycastle (Ireland). For charity. This is his story.