I had pretty much hung up my goggles and retired from the world of long distance open water swimming.  I wanted to get comfortable and spend more time on sofas sipping tea, when Andrew Ogierman, the resident open water swimming guru here at Aspire, piped up with one of those comments that was carefully structured to appeal to my over inflated ego.

 “Paul, I have found us a pilot for the North Channel and I want to put together a dream team to go and have a crack at it.  I would love you to be in the team.”

Delusional though I am, I knew that he would never have picked me for any dream team that was related to swimming, but I chose to believe he meant it.  I am an average swimmer and what he was really trying to tap into was my fundraising skills (I am quite good at raising sponsorship), and my experience of a brutal education in the 1970s/80s that has left me oblivious to pain in my later life.

“Count me in, Andy, mate” I said, not really knowing what or where the North Channel was, but delighted to be in any team, no matter how stupid the challenge.  That was it. 

The North Channel swim route form Donaghadee, Northern Ireland to Port Patrick, Scotland

Having got myself signed up for a new challenge and with all the necessary paperwork and disclaimers in place I set out to research The North Channel. I would have been better off approaching it blindly with no prior knowledge.  The North Channel is a swim of approximately 21 miles from Northern Ireland to the coast of Scotland, or vice versa, should you not want to celebrate or commiserate with Guinness. It is famed for its inhospitableness.  Strong tides, cold seas and the real shocker, the Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which swarm in the summer months, the only time a viable attempt to swim can be made.

I hate jellyfish.  Who doesn’t?  They are useless jelly things that float about malevolently, designed to freak out swimmers.  I once did a ten hour sea swim off Portland Bill during an infestation of barrel jellyfish.  These are brutish things the size of dustbin lids, and they would visualise from the murky water in front of me, causing me to squeal with fear.  After ten hours of dodging them I felt like one of those bomber pilots who has flown a combat mission too many and is now rocking silently in the corner of the officer’s mess. But Lion’s Mane are a different thing altogether.  Whereas barrel jellyfish are horrible, imposing beasts, they are quite benign unlike Lion’s Mane which have a vicious sting.  This sting gets into the blood stream and will actually make your blood itch.  Truly this is an itch you cannot scratch.  The general advice is to take Valium and sleep until the itch has worn off.

- Lion's Mane Jellyfish

I also asked a friend who has swum the North Channel the previous year what she made of it.  All she said was “I won’t talk to you about it.  We failed.  I can’t say anything that will make you feel good about this.  You shouldn’t talk to me about it.” Hmmm, reassuring….

At this point my stupid gene kicked in and I decided that this sort of challenge fitted with my wish to conquer extreme challenges and so I put in a lot of cold water swimming off the Irish coast and in the seas around Dover.  By the time we got to August 2016 I was ready and the team and I waited for the call to head to Ireland……..which never came.  As the tension mounted and we got to our allotted week to swim, the weather closed in and our slot never materialised as being safe for the attempt.  The adrenaline levels were huge each day waiting for the call to go and we were left, after seven agonising days, feeling deflated and in need of being savaged by jellies. Funny what you can wish for…

So it’s now 2017 and we are scheduled to go again on 19th August. I have to train all over again.  I’m back to Ireland in May for cold water (12 degrees, it’s brutal) and then to the comparative warmth of Dover. By the time the swim is scheduled I will be on my bike cycling to Iran on a three month sabbatical, but the lure of this challenge means I will be parking my bike and returning to face the ultimate channel crossing. 

Sponsor Paul  

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