Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Map of route

Below you can see the channel I intend to swim across.  I decided to swim from Scotland to Northern Ireland - purely because there is a bigger chunk of rock to hit on the Irish side.  Trying to hit Kintyre... if I get the tides even slightly wrong I could totally miss it.

The distance between the tip of Kintyre and Northern Ireland is ~11 miles.

Nutritional needs

Nutrition. The word I use to lend an air of respectability to my eating habits.

Let me put it out there: I like food. A lot. I'm particularly fond of bacon baps, lasagne a decent burger, steak, actually almost all foods that are not green. I strongly suspect that my South African genes carry within them the Khoisan compulsion to gorge when the going's good in anticipation of lean times. Problem is that with a Tesco's just down the road, the lean times  never come. This rather inconvenient fact doesn't get in the way of my enjoyment of eating, and more eating. The result is, rather obviously, my expanding waistline. I'd like to blame it on the ageing process, but in all good conscience I have to recognise that the extent of our grocery bill might have something to do with it.

Which is why, in some kind of macabre way, I quite like all this training. It not only allows me to indulge in my food fetish, but in fact encourages me to positively wallow in the pleasure of guilt- free and continuous dining.

But wait, there's more. Because I need to pad myself against the cold, I HAVE TO, repeat HAVE TO, eat carbs. Yes carbs, that currently much maligned food group that's getting a bit of a bashing on the dietary front in the media. Pork pies, hamburgers, pastries and pudding. 

I am a happy man.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Boat Team

My English Channel experience taught me that the composition of the boat crew on the day is absolutely vital. It also taught me that if any of those on the boat even so much as think of caressing a warm cup of coffee in front of me, I will throw a jellyfish at them!

Paul and Jon will obviously be on the boat. In addition to the cheerleader pompoms, or some manly equivalent, both Jon and Paul will also have a speedo handy so that he can hop in and keep me company should I need it.

[Jon and Paul]

Sean McCarry will be wearing the captain's hat.  This means he calls the shots as to when, where and how. He assures me he didn't go to the same captain etiquette school as Francesco Schettino and won't be bringing mystery blond Moldovian distractions on board.

Joe Breen, navigator.  I couldn't have hoped for someone more experienced than Joe for this role... he was the helmsman of Portaferry inshore lifeboat, an ex auxiliary coastguard, commercial diver, diving instructor and a commercially endorsed coastal skipper. Currently Assistant Regional Commander in the Community Rescue Service... With Joe around, I don't think I will go missing!   It will be his job to keep us on course, no mean feat given the currents in the channel. He'll also be dodging wind farms, tidal turbines and any jellyfish flotillas. And hopefully me.

[Sean McCarry]

Food, or more specifically nutrition. That’s Simon (Coiled Spring) Harwood’s responsibility. Simon’s an all-round nice guy and natty dresser. His penchant for male grooming products  belies his steely determination to cross the finishing line. His formidable knowledge on the topic of training and nutrition comes from a slight OCD tendency and his experience as a GB veteran triathlete – 19th in the world!

So he understands what to throw to the monkey in the water when the arms must keep going round, but the tank is empty. 

He’ll also have his speedo handy + wet suit….you don’t get to be 19th in the world and be a fat boy with insulation.

[Simon Harwood]

Peripheral and very valuable psychological and trusted support will also come from firstly Neal, my brother. We share the same Nordic good looks and love of challenge. And then there’s Graham Wolfson, friend and co-worker. If Graham was a tree, he would be a Leadwood (combretum imberbe for the scientific amongst you).  With his roots in South Africa, he's a solid, upright and valuable member of my backup team. Not much good at swimming though (there's a reason no one makes boats from leadwood).

And finally there’s the aeroplane-jellyfish-spotter-guy. Never met him.  Don't know who he is, but I know I like him already.  Have I mentioned how concerned I am about the jellyfish?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

And so it begins (post by Paul Greenhalgh)

Hi, I'm Paul, - or The Sadist as Wayne has called me more than once.  

Quite where this all started is a bit hard to pin down. Certainly it seems thatWayne’s 2010 English Channel swim ignited a burning coal in his skull – that place where a formerly logical and rational brain used to function. Fanning the flames might have been a bit of madness brought on by the English weather, a smidgen of mid-life crisis and definitely too much testosterone-infused-talk combined with Guinness intake. Because it was in a pub (isn't it always?), on a winter’s night, six months later, where we identified that:

1.       Wayne had a burning desire to do another swim,
2.       He wanted it to be significant, or put another way, he wanted his Andy Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame,
3.       He felt confident to do something similar in length to the English Channel,
4.       A glance at Google Maps on his phone suggested that the gap between the Mull of Kintyre and the north east corner of Northern Ireland seemed to fit the bill, and
5.       It appeared that no-one had yet successfully completed this swim.

So far, so good.

Interesting facts which were not apparent on that hazy evening, but which have subsequently come to light include:

·         That stretch of water is exceptionally treacherous - it's not just a case of strong currents but  of conflicting strong currents moving against each other, the opposing sheets of water causing tempestuous races and whirlpools,
·         The water temperature's significantly colder than at Dover,
·         When the water's warmest (relatively speaking...), it's also full of jellyfish (which really are a genuine issue, multiple jellyfish stings are biggest reason for failure of the swims that are attempted on the 'traditional' route further south)
·         Occasionally, (and it is just occasionally Wayne), orcas are spotted in this channel of extraordinarily cold, deep and turbulent water.

However, blissfully unaware of any of this, another round of drinks was purchased, backs were slapped, glasses were clinked and a challenge was born.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Can he do it? (post by Paul Greenhalgh)

Hi, Paul here again.

As you are now no doubt aware, The Swim is going to be a massive challenge. There’s more than one reason why no-one’s ever done it. So can Wayne?

I think so. I believe so. Why? Because I’ve seen Wayne in action. And he’s got what it takes. Let me tell you a bit about his 2010 English Channel swim to illustrate what I mean.

Wayne has not, up until recently, shown any interest in physical exertion beyond lifting two burgers to his mouth at once. Physical exertion might not have previously been his forte, but enthusiasm certainly was and it earned him a backup spot my 2009 relay Channel swim. And he put in a damn fine performance.

In fact, so good was the performance that he, much to our surprise, decided to attempt a solo effort.

I watched Wayne go through the enormous pains of preparing himself for this event. I'm talking about the cold water acclimatisation, the mornings when he struggled to leave his house because that meant yet another moment of abject horror as he plunged once again into cold water and suffered that two minutes of screaming primal distress.

I saw the repeated nausea and other unpleasant effects of prolonged exposure to salt water

I saw the social sacrifices he and his family made through weekend after weekend of training.

And I saw the final manifestation of commitment when Wayne pulled his swim date forward by a few weeks. He did this not because he felt by any means ready or because he'd completed his training schedule, but because he simply could not bear the thought of yet another 6+ hour swim in Dover harbour with just the thoughts in his head (which I suspect could be quite scary) and the ever-present cold for company. Wayne believed he could do it, despite training stats not being in his favour.

On the Big Day, Wayne aced the Channel. Not because he set a record time, in fact quite the opposite, because he missed the favourable tide that would have enabled him to land on the French coast. Such an occurrence normally signals the end of Channel attempts. When the tide changed against him, the (highly experienced) boat crew started to pack up for the trip home - they see lots and lots of Channel attempts and they ‘knew for a fact’ that this one was over. But no-one had told Wayne that. He picked up nature's gauntlet, and just bloody well kept swimming, hour after hour, stroke after stroke, for all the time it took for the tide to undertake a complete change. And then as conditions became more favourable, he headed in and reached the beach. 20 hours and 1 minute. Yes, you read right,  20 hours and 1 minute in the water.

So Wayne didn't come away from the Channel proving he was the world's fastest open water swimmer. But he did come away as surely one of the grittiest, determined and bloody-minded souls ever to attempt 'la Manche'. And, it should be noted, he also came away quite a lot slimmer.

On the return journey Jonny, part time philosopher and full-time mate who was on the boat that day, summed it up perfectly. "Before today, I thought that swimming the Channel was incredibly difficult. Now I've seen Wayne do it, I know it's impossible".

That’s why I believe Wayne can do The Swim.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hypothermia in Open Water Swimming

On the channel swimmers group, I came across this scientific study that examined hypothermia in swimmers during the 2006 Rottnest Channel swim.  For those who can't be bothered to read the article the conclusion was that an increase in BMI (weight) reduced the risk of hypothermia. And surprise surprise...  a prolonged duration of swimming increased the risk!  Therefore in summary, carrying a little fat helps but the quicker you do it the better.  

Link to the research paper - Hypothermia in Open Water Swimming

Now... do I go for a swim or a McDonald's?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

I only have one job...it's the others that have the work!

My responsibility on The Day is clear. I must simply SWIM. Just keep my arms going round and round and my legs doing the scissor-movement thingy from the moment I leave the shore at
mid morning to when I stagger ashore and collapse on a rock at hopefully 7 or 8 hours later. No fear, no questions, no allowance for pain. Just SWIM! Wayne the Machine.

To get to that point, however, is not a solo effort. I have a support team, and an amazing one at that. Let me briefly introduce you to them.

First up there’s Paul Greenhalgh. Paul was born weighing in at 13 lbs and has remained a solid soul ever since. Everyone likes Paul – Jeremy Clarkson could learn from him for sure. He also missed his calling in life, which would have been following Bear Grylls into the SAS. Paul’s official role is that of my manager, but the reality he’s so much more than that, having
been my good friend for over 15 years and business partner for the last 10. He's my wingman in this venture, the Goose to my Maverick (although women tell me he’s a lot better looking). He's also ever so slightly sadist. He truly believes it will be good for me to break a hole in the ice on some public pond and go swimming to toughen me up.

Then there’s Jon Fryer. He’s my rah-rah man. My motivator. My Stephen R Covey or Deepak Chopra (without the woo). He also trains with me. If you see us together in the water, he’s the one with the eight-pack and the posse of drooling admirers following his every stroke. Even when I was so exhausted I couldn’t lift my ears out of the water in the middle of the
English Channel, I just KNEW he was there, leaning over the edge of the boat, willing me on with every cell in his body and ounce of air in his lungs.

In the run up to The Swim, I’m also lucky to have Janice Wright on my side. Janice is a staunch supporter of men in swimwear… err.. I mean my extreme swimming exploits. She’s in charge of communications, and as arguably the world’s best communicator, I couldn’t hope for better.  

And then of course, the support I get from my long suffering and stunning wife, Bernice. My guess is that she had no idea what lay in store that day we met on the intranet 18 years
ago (in the days before internet). She, and my two beautiful children, sacrifice tons of daddy-time as I spend hours away from home training. Thanks Bernie, for sort-of understanding.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Training in the snow

It's been snowing this week...so I thought it would be good training to get some exposure to the cold.

... what garbage.  In fact my wife thought it would be terribly funny taking pictures of me in my swimming kit in the snow.  Then she had the additional brainwave of getting me to lie in it!

Ok... if the Irish channel is this cold.  Forget it.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Colder than cold

I have a friend who says she doesn’t get into water that’s colder than 28°C.  I think she might be wiser than first impressions let on (she occasionally wears leopard print). A vitally important part of my training is acclimatising my body to being in really cold water for long periods. Whoever said hell is hot has no idea of the torment and trauma it takes to submerse oneself for 60 minutes in 120C water.

Willpower. Sheer, stubborn, mind-over-matter willpower has to be mobilised from my unwilling brain to get my body out of the front door on a chilly morning. And then into the water. I have previously trained in, and when the ice thaws will have to return to, Heron Lake.
At 5:30 am.

Having cleared the hurdle of actually getting out of bed (did I mention how much I like a warm toasty bed) and donning a Speedo, the next challenge is to actually get into the water. Breathe-in, breathe-out, breathe-in, breathe-out, and visualize. And then it hits you - pure anaphylactic shock, but without the allergy part.
Excruciatingly. Cold. Pain. Like an icecream headache except that the icecream runs into to all parts of the body, trailed by the pain.
Hyperventilate, hyperventilate, hyperventilate.

All this only lasts about 90 seconds, but it feels like eternity (which I guess is what hell’s about). Those pre-birth breathing sessions I attended with my wife, as a passive observer, have renewed meaning now.

Survival instinct kicks in. And your body, your muscles, in fact every single cell in your being, screams OUT, OUT, OUT! And the only way to deal with this is to muster what’s left of your willpower resources to put your brain into 'body override' mode and swim. Swim like a finned and scaly Usain Bolt. Two minutes into this you begin to feel that your genes might just, just have showed true Darwinian mettle (the adapt or die adage), and that you’ll survive. Maybe thrive even. And therewith starts the day’s training.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

What's ahead?

The headline reads: “A 42 year old South African hopes to become the first person to swim between the Mull of Kintyre and the Ballycastle coastline in the summerMany endurance swimmers have tried unsuccessfully to conquer this treacherous North Channel route – but Wayne Soutter believes he could be the first to complete the challenge”. Yup, that’s me: Wayne-burning-coal-in-the-brain-Soutter.

Leading Marine Scientist and CRS member Joe Breen is clear about the difficulties such a swim presents: “This is one of the most dangerous and volatile stretches of water in the world with many tides converging in the area. Apart from the prospect of searing pain caused by jellyfish stings, Wayne will have to navigate his way through rip currents and eddies which will test his stamina to the extreme – even on a good day.”

Ahh yes, the challenges I face. Let me take a moment to summarise the vital statistics:
· 11 miles of hostile open water
· 120C H2O (that’s code for very cold water)
· The strongest tides in the world, clocking in at 3,5m/sec...yes you read that correctly 3.5 meters per second.
· Huge swells created by the mighty Atlantic objecting to being corseted into the rather narrow North Channel strait
· Up to 7...10...maybe 15 hours of non-stop swimming, in only a Speedo, a swimming cap and goggles.
· The psychological (water) bedfellows of depression and and a burning desire to end the pain of the cold
· Only isotonic drinks and the occasional fish as company.
· And of course, *drumroll* The Jellyfish.

Am I up to it? Hell yeah! Now excuse me while I go eat another two pork pies on the way to the gym.  
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.