Swimming the North Channel
by Marcia Cleveland
On Saturday July 21, 2018, I swam the North Channel, from Ireland to Scotland, finishing in 15 hours 3 minutes. It was the toughest swim I’ve ever done. I am deeply humbled and grateful to have accomplished this swim. As I continue reflect back, I am overcome by a sense of relief and, at times, a cringing sense how close I came to not making it. The North Channel has confounded countless more capable swimmers than myself, yet I was successful on my first attempt.
By choosing to swim the North Channel, I was looking for a challenge and I got it, and then some.
I was not disappointed by any of these factors. Each and every one of them had a chance to send me packing but somehow, in some teeny tiny way, I was able to get to the other side. It was not pretty and apparently, it never is. This is the first time in my life that I have been tested to this extent. I used up absolutely everything in my tank and still had a long, long way to go. How often does one get to be tested so thoroughly and feel so completely depleted at the finish, yet still be successful?
Let me be clear: I was never in danger of dying. However, I was in deep distress due to the cold and my nutrition plan. My husband and crew member, Mark Green, had no interest in causing my demise (Who would make the dentist appointments or fill out all the family forms?) but instead allowed me the opportunity to push myself to a place way beyond where I had ever been before. My boat captain, Quinton Nelson, did the same. He told me afterwards that in his 30-years of piloting swims, he has never seen someone so close to the brink of failure who finished successfully. Lee Harkleroad, my other crew member, was instrumental with this support and agreed beforehand to defer to Mark on all key decision.
This swim simply kicked me hard when I was already down on my knees; the pervasive cold compounded over 15 hours mixed with nutrition that lacked an effective delivery system – which is completely my fault - resulted in hypothermia. Towards the end, I was so focused on finishing, my primal instincts screamed “Get to the beach.” All other sensory input was quite literally drowned out.
I’m not a superhero or some amazing physical specimen. But I knew that if I had the energy to stop and complain or beg for an explanation of why we weren’t getting closer to the land during the swim, it would be wasted time, time that could be spent getting to land. We weren’t getting any closer because I wasn’t swimming faster at a time when the tide was pushing me in a north-south direction down the coast, when what I was trying to do was swim through it in a eastern direction.
I simply kept taking one more stroke. YES YOU CAN is a chant I said over and over during those final hours when I was swimming at about 1 mile an hour. Marcy & Liz’s matter-of-fact voices, “Just keep swimming,” also rang in my dulled conscience. Fortunately, I intersected with the land before the tide swept me down the coast, which would have made finishing impossible on this particular swim. Why did I finish? I just kept going until I got there, and I got really lucky.
I am amazed and grateful by the interest and love expressed by so many of you in support of this swim. THANK YOU!
On the succeeding pages, I have transcribed my experience in more detail. The log that Lee kept is at the end and includes my perceptions as to what was happening at the various times he was recording notes during the swim. It is my hope that these accounts will help future aspirants realize the magnitude involved to swim the North Channel successfully. Simply put, this is a really really hard swim.
The distance of the North Channel is approximately 21 miles across from Donaghadee, Northern Ireland (“donna-ga-DEE”) to Portpatrick, Scotland.
In order for this swim to be verified by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, (www.northchannel.info), I followed Channel Swimming Rules, which allow for
one regular bathing suit (any Speedo off the rack will do), 1 silicone bathing cap, goggles, ear plugs, and grease (a mixture of Lanolin, Zinc Oxide, Sunscreen, and Vaseline.)
These rules have stayed consistent since 1875 when Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel. Having the same equipment throughout history keeps the challenge intact and pure.
I contacted Quinton Nelson in November 2017 to secure him as a boat pilot. (There are 3 pilots listed on the NorthChannel.info site.) He offered me an 8-day swim window, July 21 to July 28, to make my attempt, based on the weather and tides during that period. I accepted.
Quinton would pilot the escort boat 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) alongside me as I swam and he plotted the course during the swim using modern technology. I was the only swimmer he was responsible for at that time; this is a “Solo” swim.
Channel Rules dictate that a swim must proceed under the sole effort of the swimmer so, although I could have things handed to me (and hand them back), no one could touch me to help. My crew would toss me bottles attached to ropes, filled with things like hot liquids and food, every 30-minutes or so. When your fingers/hands/brain are not working that well, this obviously becomes problematic.
To qualify for this swim, one has to submit a swimming application, the association fee, a medical release, and proof of a 6-hour swim in 55f/13c water to the ILDSA. After their review, you are either accepted to swim or you are not.
In the nine months leading up to the swim, I swam 30,000 to 40,000 yards (27,500 to 36,500 meters) a week which is 17 to 23 miles (27-37 Km.) I did several multiple-hour swims in water ranging from 48f to 55f (8 to 13c), including two more 6-hour swims in 52-55f (11-13c) degree water. I did several short swims in water measuring 42 to 47f (5.5 to 8c). Based on my training, I thought I would be able to finish the North Channel between 11 and 14 hours.
Finally, on July 17th, it was time to set off to Northern Ireland.
From Chicago, Illinois, United States, we flew to London on a Tuesday morning flight, arriving at Heathrow in the evening. We stayed overnight at Heathrow and took a Wednesday morning flight to Belfast City Airport, which 20 miles (32 km) east of the Belfast International Airport. We rented a car at the airport. From the airport, we went directly to meet Quinton Nelson at his boat yard in the Donaghadee Marina. He said Saturday July 21stwas looking good as my swim day. From there, we went to look at the starting spot, the rocks running along The Commons, and only a 10-minute boat trip south from the main harbor. The rocks are very sharp and Quinton sagely advised us to exhibit caution if we were to climb on them. For my swim start, the high tide would cover them.
From this spot, it was only logical to stop into Pier 36, an iconic restaurant and hotel along the Parade of the Donaghadee Harbor, for a beverage. If the North Channel swimmers were a Club, Pier 36 is the Club House. We went there often during our stay. The proprietors, father and son, Denis and Lewis Waterworth, are welcoming and put everyone immediately at ease. They are also a wealth of knowledge on activities in the areas, especially pertaining to open water swimming.
We proceeded on to the town of Bangor which lies fifteen minutes west of Donaghadee. The house we rented there (through Airbnb.com) offered us the amenities of a private home, especially the washer/dryer, and allowed our crew to stay together. The house was situated just off the main square so we walked most everywhere while in Bangor. There are several excellent restaurants, catering to all sorts of tastes and budgets. We certainly didn’t go hungry.
After some lunch, unpacking, and a short nap, it was time for a swim. Ballyholme Beach had been suggested as a great training spot, just a short car ride away from our rental. The Ballyholme Yacht Club anchors one end of the beach. Swimmers can swim along a ¾ mile (1 km) stretch to the opposite end. I did a short dip and discovered the water to be 67f/20c! When I swam there again on Thursday for a longer training swim, this time in 61f/20c, I hit a lion’s mane jellyfish squarely with my left arm. It wrapped itself around me and gave me a good dose of what to expect on Saturday. Apparently, due to the tidal circulation, Ballyholme is swarming with jellies so swimmers need to beware.
On Friday, I swam in Donaghadee Harbor for a short training swim, this time without incident. It was at this time that I offered the “Unity Water” and sea glass to the North Channel Goods. I brought them from my training beach at home and would take some of both home with me after my swim for a reciprocal “Unity” ceremony in Illinois. On the Tuesday after my swim, we would meet up with the Chunky Dunkers, a lively group claiming to be everyone from Fast to Floaters. They swim off the sailing slip in Donaghadee Harbor nearly every high tide, They are a delightful, welcoming group and well worth meeting. If I had been in Northern Ireland for longer than a few days, a combination of swims with the Chunky Dunkers blended with longer ones at various area beaches would have been a good training mix. (I also gifted the Dunkers with a few caps and a t-shirt. These items were rapidly auctioned off on-line, with the proceeds going to a charitable cause.)
Soon, Friday night came, and with it, the time to make all the final preparations. Bags were packed and placed by the door, morning provisions were set up, and lights were out early. The big day was nearly upon us!
If you know me, you know I thrive on preparation, which is why it is so very very difficult to realize and to hear what really happened on my North Channel swim instead of the magnificent I envisioned. Accelerating into the finish! Having the strength of ten at all times! Triumphal pose and all that jazz! Laughing, singing, joyful embraces! In actuality, it wasn’t pretty or the way I had expected it to go. I had to reach deeper than ever before, not in some macho, hulking effort but continuing to move forward even though I didn’t realize how close to the brink of not finishing I was.
This is why I am going to first discuss the simple mistakes I made before and during my swim that would compound in the final third of my swim, the meat of the swim in which you’ll finish, or you won’t. However, to those who witnessed it, one thing sure is clear: I do have grit. I just kept going.
Mistake #1: Not pre-hydrating enough. Drinking a gallon of sensible, coal-stoking fluids for 4 days in advance made my Tahoe swim a breeze last summer. For the North Channel, I pre-hydrated for one day only.
Mistake #2: Not putting a little bit of water in my cap before I started. Doing so cements my hair to my cap and keeps everything in place. As a result of not doing this, my cap developed an air pocket, resulting in it eventually riding up over my ears, creating a Dumbo-like effect which I fixated on fixing. Because my fingers and hands were not working too well when this issue became a problem, I spent a good 5 minutes trying to do something most think of as simple: pull my silicone cap down over my ears. These inactive 5 minutes spent bobbing in a swift tide as I fiddled with my cap probably added at least 30 minutes to my overall swim time.
Mistake #3: My Feeding plan. It eventually worked out to be as effective as liquified sawdust and cheese doodles… Garbage in… Garbage out...
Before you get all ready to pounce on me with advice, please know that the products and plan I have been using for several years have gracefully gotten me across some pretty steep finish lines in fine style. However, the whole thing didn’t work for me on Saturday July 21, 2018, and I take full responsibility. Also, the food delivery system wasn’t adequate for my needs during my North Channel swim. Again, this one is fully on me.
My North Channel Feeding Plan was:
At approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes, I would have:
8 ounces (8 US Ounces = 236 Milliliters) Endurox + 1 Hammer Gel (1.2 ounces/33 grams) (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Then next at about 35-40 minutes later: 8 ounces Endurox + 1 Hammer Gel (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Then next at about 35-40 minutes later: 8 ounces (8 US Ounces = 236 Milliliters) GNC Pro-Performance 100% Whey Protein + 1 Hammer Gel (Vanilla or Raspberry flavored)
Repeat the whole thing on about 35-minute cycles. Occasionally, my crew substituted Chicken Broth for one of the drinks, and Espresso Hammer Gel for the boost in caffeine.
Before the swim, I took one Aleve, and then got another one at around 6 hours, at my request.
The feeding bottles I started using in the past year (Rubbermaid 20 ounces/600 ml Flip top Chug Bottles) are attached to ropes and thrown to me. They have drink spout openings the size of US nickels/3/4”/20mm. I was in such a hurry to chug my feed down thatI just couldn’t/wouldn’t consume enough from these feeding bottles. I didn’t take the time to properly consume all the liquid in the bottle and was only getting about 3-4 ounces/~100 milliliters per feeding, nowhere near enough. This lack of consumption compounded over time and probably caused my near-collapse at the end. At some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
I had nothing in the tank. Going forward, I will either have to live with slower feeds and take the time to properly consume my food, or go with open cups from a feeding basket, the way I used to do it, until last summer, when I “reappeared” on the scene. The open cups I formerly used - delivered to me via a feeding basket - allowed me to quickly chug 10 oz in a matter of seconds.
One of the things we did do right was to measure the highest warm temperature that I could chug, 120f/49c. All my feeds came at about that temperature so again, thank you Mark and Lee.
There are times for the last several hours I simply don’t remember because I was hypothermic, but still conscious. The cumulative effect of cold water and not ingesting enough nutrition had a huge impact at the end. The video Mark took of me at the end looks like another person (i.e. not me) is swimming, a poor one who can barely get her arms out of the water. This is very hard for me to watch because I thought I was just “tiring.” Lee got in the water to swim me in to the finish and said I didn’t notice that he was there for several minutes.
Over the next few days, both Mark and my observer, Cara Martin, were telling me what the last four (or so) hours of my swim were like. The only thing I really remember is the monotonous grind of stroking on and on, looking up at the coast occasionally. Since my stroke rate remained a fairly constant +/- 60 throughout the 15 hours it took, I thought I was ok. I was not. The strength of my pull started to deteriorate by half way and, unbeknownst to me, I limped to the finish. What was also happening is that hypothermia was setting in and, as Marcy commented to me right afterwards, it is brutal to watch someone in this situation.
I have been around others who were at this level of moderate hypothermia, but when I was experiencing it myself, I thought I was just fine. That’s probably the difference between the real thing and faking it.
To end this particular swim, you must either touch the cliff face or stand up in waist-deep water. A bit unusual but due to the severity of the Scottish coastline, we now understand. So if I had touched the rock that was jutting out on a little peninsula about 1000 yards from the “beach,” I probably would’ve save myself a bunch of swimming & time. I never saw it even though Lee was pointing it out but since I wasn’t registering that Lee was there yet, let’s just say that it was a “missed opportunity.” Then if I was hearing what Lee was telling me, “Stand up now!” when we were very close to the beach, I would’ve been done. But not Marcia. If there’s a beach, I’m going claw myself onto that beach to where there’s no water in front of me, quite ungracefully and on all fours if necessary, as was the case in this swim. I managed to slice a nice chunk of skin off one of my fingers in my quest to finish “properly.” I was operating on sheer instinct because I was so out of it. But and I finished!
By the grace of God, there was a kayaker on the beach where I finished. Like all my other swims, I’d figure that I’d swim back to the boat but had no idea that this was not possible due to the tidal waters at that time, and my deteriorated condition. Lee asked this “Angel Kayaker” to paddle me back to the boat. I have a very hazy memory of getting into the kayak and it was only later that they told me it was not under my own power; Lee and the kayaker had lifted me in.
I have no memory of getting back onto the escort boat, maybe because the four people who were lifting and hauling me were quite gentle and carefully didn’t bang me around. Apparently, three of them were lifting me from above and the Angel Kayaker was pushing from below. Mark told me later that they first took me to the front of the boat to wipe off the grease and cover me up. I was walking and talking but not making any sense, saying things such as, “I’m fine. I’m not hypothermic.” I don’t remember any of this. The plan was for me to go into the front cabin for the return trip to Ireland but with a 6-foot ladder (2 meters), no one wanted to risk getting me down there. Finally, it was decided that I would go into the aft cabin near the wheelhouse because there were only a few stairs to descend.
I was then wrapped in a stack of blankets fit for a reverse reenactment of the Princess and the Pea. Cara began massaging my feet and limbs to get my circulation going. It was only when they started to get me out of my wet suit and into dry clothes that my memory again activates. I remember that it was quite light when I landed but now it was dark out, so there was probably a good hour of blank tape on my cerebral recorder. Once in my dry clothes: there were regular blankets then a thermal blanket then a rain coat and a hat, I was starting to make sense and appreciate all that was being done for me. When we came back into Donaghadee Harbor, I was able to walk off the boat by myself. That was a good sign. I was going to be ok.
For anyone to put one of these swims together takes a Herculean effort. Arranging one’s family, life, work, and everything else gets complicated. For Mark and me to leave our son, Sam, a person with moderate autism, for a day, no less two weeks, takes planning similar to the invasion of Normandy and requires a small village of caring, knowledgeable folks. I started preparing a month in advance. Although these details kept me motivated to be successful, neither Mark nor I would put me into serious jeopardy: safely returning to our family after any swim is always my Numero Uno Goal.
A few days after my swim, Mark and I took the ferry over to Scotland and found the landing spot. We were truly blessed to find my Angel Kayaker, Keith Carman, a man vacationing from Dollar, Scotland with his two young children, Kerr (almost 10) and Grace (4). They were relieved and delighted, in that order, to find out I was ok and we enjoyed some afternoon tea together. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! To get to Morroch Bay, we hiked over from the wonderful Michelin-starred Knockinaam Lodge knockinaamlodge.com,located overlooking the next bay south, on the other side of one Scotland’s many lovely cliffs. People at Knockinaam had also been watching my slow progress towards Morroch Bay on Saturday and enjoyed learning of the outcome. Our whole time in Scotland was magical.
The North Channel Swim is now behind me. It was the hardest thing I have ever done to date. It took everything I had, physically and mentally, and I am amazed at my success. It was by far not my best swim because of many mistakes I made before and during the swim. As far as my nutrition plan goes, extending the feed interval during the first three hours may have created a deficit that I couldn’t overcome through subsequent feedings. But more importantly, I didn’t input enough nourishment at each feed to cover my current output, and I need to work on that.
If I want to do other swims, I must take measures to correct these mistakes so that my own safety and health is not pushed so closely to the brink. I am not proud of the stress I put on my crew or captain. “Thank you for letting me continue” falls far, far short of the sentiment and appreciation I feel. It is not often in life that we get the chance to be so completely tested on so many levels and still manage to achieve a goal. My North Channel Swim represents this opportunity to me.
Why didn’t I ever give up? I just kept going because they didn’t tell me to stop or give me a reason. Mark was with me and he knew how far I could go. Despite my distress, I was not complaining or emotionally ruffled. These traits take time to develop. Although I have progressed in this area, I still have a long way to go.
If the English Channel is “The Everest” of Open Water Swimming, the North Channel must be a north-face assent of K2 in the winter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K2 A true test of qualification for this swim is a few 10 to 12 hour swims in 53-54f/11-12c, preferably in salt water inhabited by Jellyfish. It is perfectly understandable if this doesn’t sound like something you’d like to pursue. I’m just saying….
People always want to know what Body Parts Hurt during and after a Swim. Fortunately, for me this time, no body parts hurt during the swim. I was basically icing my body for the entirety of this swim so all systems were a-go when I was in the water. It was afterwards that body parts seemed to be coming forward in carefully choregraphed ways so that each and every part could adequately hurt, but thankfully, just not all at once.
Saturday Night, after the swim:
I didn’t sleep at all. (This is pretty typical.) My throat hurt from the salt water and as a result, I had difficulty swallowing. My skin itched from the jellyfish tentacles that brushed by me. I was parched but because swallowing was difficult, I had a hard time replacing my fluids. Later on, I experienced some mild diarrhea. In about 15-minute cycles, I would lay down in bed then shoot back up because I was so parched. I would sip from the bedside water bottle then need to blow my nose. Then I would lay down again, spreading my wettish hair above my head over a towel on my pillow. This action would cause my arms to get cold so I’d bring them under the covers to warm them up. A few minutes later, I would shoot back up because I was so parched, and so it continued. Eventually I would add in trips to the bathroom (a good sign). After not knowing what time it was, around 3am I retrieved my phone and realized I had just pulled an all-nighter. Oh what the heck! What’s one all-nighter when you’re already exhausted? Mark slept in another room, for obvious reasons.
I am swollen all over. My throat is still really sore, my voice is raspy and hoarse; all the result of soaking one’s mouth/bod in salt water for 15 hours. My reaction time is sluggish. My skin continues to itch so I cover the itchy parts with Balmex, which helps. My left knee and my left shoulder are both achy. I tend to my middle finger on my right hand that I skinned badly crawling up on to the Scottish shore. I will live.
My body remains Puffy, from fatigue and brining in salt water for 15 hours. My skin starts to feel better, but my tongue, hands and wrists start to swell. I can’t get my wedding ring on nor slide my watch over my wrist. Both my shoulders are achy.
My skin issues are gone but my left knee remains achy. My voice remains hoarse and soft and my throat is quite sore; Throat lozenges help immensely. I continue to have trouble swallowing and can only take tiny sips and nibbles of food. My tongue is swollen. I’m finding scrapes on both legs and knees, and on my right arm from my beach crawl. My wrists and forearms are now officially sore and my reaction time is continues to be sluggish. I am still very tired. My right eye is blood shot from where my goggles were leaking, and it hurt a bit. There are scabs along the line of my eye glasses, where my goggles dug into my face.
Voice, Throat, Wrists, Forearms, Reaction Time, and Right Eye: All status quo.
My right hip flexor is getting achy. My tongue has started to molt, like a snake’s skin, and is coming off in sheets of skin. Eating anything burns my newly-exposed taste buds.
Tuesday All Day
My tongue continues to molt. Canker sores are now emerging in my mouth.
Wednesday All Day
My voice is coming back and my throat, with help from three days’ worth of sucking on throat lozenges, is feeling better; it will take a week to fully recover. My taste buds are sensitive. Everything up is healing up well. I am tired and will be for the next two weeks but I certainly will live!
Two Weeks after The Swim
My finger tips and first knuckles begin to blister and peel uniformly across all 10 digits. Weird.
Lee wrote a most excellent log of the swim that I will introduce at this point. I have added my thoughts, as noted. It is hard for me to read parts of it, to find out how far down the hole I went. I had to earn this swim and I surely have a great respect for the North Channel! Most importantly, I safely made it. That is always my primary goal of any event.
Crew’s Log from Saturday July 21st:
North Channel Swim July 21, 2018
Donaghadee, Northern Ireland to Marroch Bay, Portpatrick, Scotland.
15 Hours, 3 minutes
Quinton Nelson - Boat Captain & Pilot, Ross – 1stMate, John – 2ndMate
Cara Martin – Official Observer for ILDSA.
Marcia’s Crew: Mark Green, husband, & Lee Harkleroad, friend.
Lee: Lee is up first at about 3:00AM to get the hot water boiling for our coffee and tea. Marcia is up at 3:10AM and comes downstairs at about 3:20AM. Marcia has her tea with almond milk, a banana, 2 hard-boiled eggs. Marcia takes her oatmeal and a small bottle of Gatorade (2 scoops) and she will eat the oatmeal and sip the Gatorade while we drive to the harbor. Lee relishes his instant coffee while Mark reluctantly accepts that instant coffee will just have to do for this morning. Although we were originally told to be at the Harbor at 4:00AM, a later email updated our departure time to 4:30AM. We concluded that we would just stick to the original plan of trying to arrive at the harbor by 4:00AM.
Marcia: It had been a fitful night of sleep and I was finally awake at 2:49AM, nervous about the swim but ready to get started. I stayed in bed until I heard Lee’s alarm go off. After using the bathroom, I was able to stretch for a few minutes before we left. I find it helps me to remain calm if I don’t think too much about what lies before me for the day. In my mind, I was going to do “a long training swim, with some feeding breaks.” It was a quiet 15-minute ride to Donaghadee Harbor in pre-dawn light; I nibbled on some of the oatmeal but just didn’t feel like eating much of it, after the other food. All was proceeding to plan for the start of a marathon swim: The drive to the boat, usually in the dark; loading up the boat, also usually in the dark; then pushing off from the dock; greasing up; and the jump.
Lee: At 3:45AM Mark and Lee load all of Marcia’s gear into the back of our rental SUV. All the gear was packed the night before and waiting by the front door. We leave the apartment at approximately 3:50AM and arrive in Donaghadee harbor at approximately 4:00AM. The harbor is dimly lit but you can tell that the tide is up as expected. It’s an overcast morning and a bit on the cool side and can best be described as a gray day. No one milling around the Harbor this time of morning. We pull the car up as close as we can to the gate chain and begin the wait for the crew to arrive. Shortly after our arrival we are met by the first mate Ross who indicates that the boat is already here. Marcia tries to go use the bathroom at Pier 36 but alas the door is locked so Marcia returns to the car to wait and stay warm. (She eventually uses the head on the boat.) Mark and Lee start the process of carrying the gear to the boat. Once all the gear is aboard Marcia comes on down to the boat and Mark returns to park the car.
Marcia: A few notes before we get too far into this. For starters, my crew was amazing: Mark Green, my husband, and Lee Harkleroad, a great friend, attended to my every need and one of them always had “eyes on” me. Their vigilance was a testament to the fact that I was never hit head-on by any one of the hundreds of jellyfish we encountered. These jellies weren’t the cutesy ones you see at the aquarium: many had bells the size of trash can lids and bodies shaped like stuffed teddy bears dragging Rapunzel-length tentacles; I did brush by several of these appendages but no envelopments. This was a huge help.
Lee: We are also met at the boat by a 40ish man named John who will also be on the boat to assist us in the swim as the 2ndmate. John indicates that this is his channel swim and you can tell he is excited. John proceeds to introduce himself to Marcia as JooHan which begged the question of how you spell it and John indicated it was spelled JOHN which seemed to be somewhat humorous to Marcia that the accent would be so pronounced. At about this time our North Channel Swim official observer arrives. Her name is Cara Martin. Cara is a petite blond Northern Irish lady who resides in Donaghadee. Cara also indicates that she is a special needs school teacher and so that fact alone was a bonding type moment when Mark indicated that Marcia & his son, Sam, was special need child. Cara indicated that she was a member of the Chunky Dunkers and this was also her first swim observation.
At approximately 4:25AM Captain Quinton Nelson arrives and the boat engines start shortly thereafter. Captain Nelson tells Marcia that she has 10 minutes before she starts the swim. Mark and Lee start applying the grease to the legs first and then to the back neck and arms. No grease goes on feet or hands as Marcia needs them to grip the water. The crew casts off the boat lines and the boat twirls on its axis to move out into the harbor and toward to the opening to the North Channel. There is a bit of wind and the water appears to be a bit choppy. Daylight is starting to appear on the horizon but it’s still dark. The Captain takes the boat a bit east of the harbor to a rock point where Marcia will jump in and swim to land. Faint images of Scotland appear in the distance.
Marcia: This was the fastest Start swim I’ve ever had, 10 minutes from the time we left the Harbor. It felt a bit rushed but this is the way it is in the North Channel. We were doing what we should to get going. I had put my cap on in the car (without water – a big mistake that I would pay for later in the day), I striped down to my suit and sandals, Lee and Mark each put on latex gloves, and each took one side of me to cover me in grease. It was time. I said just before jumping in, “God, be with me today.”
Lee: Marcia positions herself at the gate opening on the starboard side of the boat. At approximately 4:41AM Captain Nelson gives the signal to start and at Marcia jumps into the water and starts to swim to land. A few minutes later she establishes herself on the rocks in waist deep water. At approximately 4:46AM the observes gives the signal that Marcia has established herself on land and that she can begin the swim. Marcia starts the swim on the port side of the boat and quickly positions herself toward the middle of the boat. Mark and Lee take up positions on the same side of the boat so that they can try to warn Marcia of potential jelly collisions.
Marcia:I swam into the shore. At 53f/12c, the water temperature felt fine. I guessed where to put my feet down and stood up in waist-deep water. Even though we had gone over this, the start was confusing to me as I approached the rocks. Usually, Channel rules are to start with no water behind you and finish with no water in front of you. However, North Channel rules allow swimmers to start and finish in waist-deep water, due to the severity of the rocks and the push of the tide. If the boat had had a light or an airhorn to signal my start, it would have made it clearer to me that yes, in fact, I was good to go.
Lee: Captain Nelson had indicated on the day we met him at his boat yard that he wanted Marcia to swim hard for the first three hours and take limited feeds as he thought it was important to be at a particular point in the tide cycle. Doing this perhaps presents a risk of creating a calorie deficit but the Captain was pretty insistent that Marcia hit his 3-hour mark.
Marcia:I was game to do this and swam hard, realizing, “I’m swimming the North Channel. This is what it’s all about. I’m going to be fine. Just gotta keep taking one more stroke.” I had no idea how hard this swim would be, that it would take every bit of me, that all I would do by the end was to keep on taking one more stroke without question or complaint. My goal was to finish and in order to do so, this is what it would take. Over and over and over again. I could not overthink the task at hand.
Lee: It takes a bit of time for Mark and Lee to get a better understanding of the depth of the Jellies we are passing, so that they aren’t continually disrupting the rhythm of Marcia’s swimming. Early on the jellies were difficult to spot but there appeared to be quite a few jellies with the majority being the more dangerous lion’s mane type. A bit later we were told not to worry about the moon jellies as they would not be harmful to Marcia.
Marcia:Within a few minutes, lion’s mane jellyfish appeared. Many were the size of trash can lids, with tentacles trailing 20 feet (7 meters.) I figured they would only be with us along the coastlines and within a few miles, we’d be free. However, they accompanied us nearly all day. It is a true testament to the devotion, commitment, and attentiveness of my crew that I never hit a jellyfish head on all day even though we navigated through a mine field of them. (I encountered a lot of loose tentacles but that was not an issue.) Lee and Mark immediately realized the situation and thought fast on their feet to guide me through the jellies using universal hand signals: “Come towards me,” “Push away, “Go around” and lots of pointing. It was very stressful for all of us but worth it. I am greatly indebted to them. Having a crew able to think on their feet and immediately react to unexpected situations is critical towards the success of a swim. One of them always had their eyes on me for the entire 15 hours and 3 minutes. This is completely a team effort.
With the Jellies, even though they were a continual source of anxiety and stress, I needed to figure out how they would not cause me to produce negative energy. One thought going into this swim was that they were my friends and fans cheering me on, and I should mentally wave back in gratitude. After the first hour or so, I realized this wasn’t working because the jellies were everywhere, well beyond the capacity of even the most dedicated and loyal friends and fans. I started to say, “Peace Be With You” every time I saw a Jelly. It was not always easy and especially after close calls, sometimes came out in a halted stutter, “ah…. peace…..be…….ah with you” but it did allow me a minute sense of calm.
Lee: Mark and Lee had previously agreed that Mark would handle the preparation of Marcia’s liquid feedings since he had done so on previous swims. Lee would handle the Swim log, keep an eye out for jellies, keep an eye on Marcia, prepare the white board with motivational comments that Marcia had prepared on index cards, write the names of family, friends and supporters that Marcia had scripted out and prepare any solid feedings that will be required.
At approximately 4:51 AM Marcia’s stroke count was 74 stokes per minute. Because of the slight breeze, the water had 2-3 feet of chop, so it was a bit more effort to navigate the chop. There were also patches of brownish kelp that Marcia had to navigate through.
At approximately 5:06 Marcia rolled over on her back. It scared those of us on the boat, but Marcia yelled that she was OK, just adjusting her goggles.
Marcia:My goggles were fogging badly, making it hard to see the boat. I wished I had rinsed them out with some water before I started, to help with defogging.
Lee: At 5:11AM the stroke count was 70.
At 5:31AM Marcia’s stroke count was still 70. Sheasked how long she had been swimming and we wrote 45 minutes on the white board.
At 6:00AM Marcia’s stroke count was 70.
6:00AM 1 Hr 14 Min or 65 minutes into the swim Marcia took her first feed of Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer Gel. Bottles attached to a rope were thrown to her from the boat. Marcia appears to take about half of the 20 oz. bottle and the entire packet of gel. Marcia also did a Listerine wash of her mouth.
After this initial feed, Mark and John combined to do the rest of the feeds with Mark extending the basket and John pulling up the bottles by rope. Lee kept watch for jellies. At this time Captain Nelson moved Marcia over to the leeward (right) side of the boat to cut down of the amount of chop and wind Marcia was experiencing. Given the speed that Marcia was making the Captain thought we were on pace to hit the 3-hour mark and so we decided to move the feed schedule to 45 minutes.
Marcia:I was in such a hurry to get my feed down that I made mistakes in this area on many levels. Mainly the bottles I was using (Rubbermaid 20 ounces/600 ml Fliptop Chug Bottles) had openings that were the size of a US Nickel (3/4”, 20mm). Because I wanted to chug so fast to get my feed down, I didn’t take the time to properly consume all the liquid in the bottle. This would become a major problem as the swim progressed because I wasn’t properly nourished. At some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
Going forward, I will either have to live with slower feeds and take the time to properly consume my food, or go with open cups from a feeding basket, the way I used to do it, until last summer, when I “reappeared” on the scene. One of the things we did do right was to measure the highest warm temperature that I could chug, 120f/49c. All my feeds came at about that temperature so again, thank you Mark and Lee.
Lee: At 6:20 AM, 1 Hr 35 Min Marcia’s stoke count was 70. Wahoo Bolt indicated 2.8 miles covered in the first 1:34 minutes. This would suggest a speed of a little bit less than 2 mph. Marcia was planning to maintain a 2 mph pace.
At 6:45AM, 2 Hr we did another feed comprised of Endurox and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia appears to again take in about half of the 20 oz. bottle and consumed the entire gel. Marcia sounds good and says she feels good and very aware of her time. We decide that we will now move to 35-minute feed intervals.
At 6:50AM Marcia requested that if John was going to smoke to please go to the other side of the boat. He did his smoking on the other side of the boat for the rest of the swim.
Marcia:I know he didn’t mean to be aggravating but, on the water, my olfactory senses work overtime and some smells can make me nauseous, especially cigarette smoke.
Lee: At 7:00AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66.
A Wahoo Bolt indicated 4.6 miles covered in the first 2:34 minutes. This would suggest a speed of approximately 2 mph
At 7:20AM we do another feed comprised of a protein drink and a Vanilla Hammer gel
At 7:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66.
At 7:45AM, 3 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 68.
At 7:50AM we do another feed comprised of Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel
Wahoo Bolt indicated 5.3 miles covered in the first 3 Hr 02 minutes. This would suggest a speed slightly in excess of 2 mph
At 8:08AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute. There is a bit of sunlight on the horizon, so it doesn’t appear to be such a gray day.
At 8:20AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel
At 9:00AM, 4 Hr 15 Min we do another feed comprised of a Protein drink and an Espresso Hammer gel. We conclude that we will stick with a 35-minute feeding schedule. The sun has come out now and has had a warming effect.
Marcia:I saw a few bolts of sunlight, knowing a higher power was watching over me. There were only a few such signs throughout the day.
Lee: At 9:05AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
At 9:35AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel.
Marcia:All through this time of the swim, it was very straightforward and mechanical: Swim as fast as possible, avoid the jellyfish when instructed to do so, keep an eye on the boat, stop for feeds. I was in an even mood and felt we were making progress. The water temperature and conditions were fine to me.
Although this is going to sound gross to those of you not familiar with open water swimming, peeing is an important aspect of one’s physical condition and the crew and observer need to know when this event occurs. Simply put, you just go through your suit. (I can do it without stopping, a talent that took years to master.) A big clue that I wasn’t ingesting enough is that my first pee came at 5 hours into the swim. I only remembering peeing one other time during this swim. Not a good sign.
Lee: Wahoo Bolt indicated 7.7 miles covered in the first 4 Hr 12 minutes. This would suggest a speed of 1.8 mph
Wahoo Bolt indicated 10.0 miles covered in the first 5Hr 10 minutes. This would suggest a speed of a wee bit under 2 mph
At 10:10AM, 5 Hr 25 Min we do another feed comprised of a Chicken Broth, a Vanilla Hammer gel and a quarter of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich and a fig bar. Marcia consumed about half of the broth all of the gel and most of the PB&J and the Fig Newton. I think she finds the PB&J difficult to get down, but she really seems to like the fig bar.
At 10:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
Marcia:During this time, I was thinking about my family and my friends, everyone who had helped me get to this point. Lee was putting a lot of names and mantras on the white board for me to see. One of my favorites is, “Success is a Result, Not a Goal.”
I thought about all the people who were helping us out with Sam for the two weeks we would be away. To those folks, we are gratefully indebted, and we whole-heartedly thank you.
I thought about my children and Mark a lot during this time. I usually breathe every 3 strokes, so my pattern is Stroke-Stroke-Stroke-Breathe-Stroke-Stroke-Stroke-Breathe. Often, I’ll chant, “Mark, Julia, Sam,” (breathe) to this cadence. At some time, this morphed into, “I love you” (breathe) “Mark Thomas Green” (breathe). Mark was doing so much to make my dream of swimming the North Channel a reality. He knew how hard to push me and has seen me endure some major pain. I am grateful that he continued to believe in my ability to finish this swim.
Lee: At 10:45AM, 6 Hr we do another feed comprised of a Protein, a Vanilla Hammer gel and a quarter of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich. Marcia consumed about half of the protein all of the gel and none of the PB&J. I think she finds the PB&J difficult to get down.
Marcia:I thought the PB&J took too much time to chew.
Lee: At 10:55AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute
At 11:02AM Marcia’s stroke count was 66 per minute. I did the stroke count again because for the first time it appeared that she was slowing down.
At 11:20AM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel.
At 11:25AM Marcia’s stroke count was 64 per minute. Lots of Jelly Fish right now. Really having to watch closely.
At 11:30AM Marcia’s stroke count was 68 per minute.
At 11:35AM, 6 Hr 50 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 64 per minute but at 11:45AM she is back up to 68. I’ve started to take the Stroke Count more frequently as she appears to be slowing but the stroke rate does not suggest what my eyes are seeing. I think that she is not getting as much pull from the stroke as she was earlier in the swim and suggest that some fatigue is setting in.
At 11:55AM we do another feed comprised of Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel. Marcia also requested an Aleve for the next feed.
Marcia:My body felt fine, but I was taking this more as a preemptive measure.
Lee: At 12:09PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:21PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:30PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel.
At 12:40PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 12:50PM, 8 Hr 5 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:05PM we do another feed comprised of a chicken broth and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the broth and all of the gel.
After this feeding the Captain asks that we tell Marcia to really hustle for the next hour as he was trying to hit a particular current that would be favorable. We give Marcia the white board sign signal of “Vroom” and ask her to pick up the pace. Her stroke rate came up but I’m not convinced that her speed increased.
Marcia:I was trying to pick it up, but I felt when I pressed down on the gas, I was on empty. This would become very frustrating for me.
Quinton Nelson is an excellent boat captain. He knows every inch of water in the North Channel and has been piloting swimmers for over 30 years. His straight-forward, professional demeanor allows the crew to have full jurisdiction over the swimmer while he remains keenly aware of what is happening with the swimmer. Because he must have seen something in me that conveyed determination even though I was often at a very low point, he had faith in his decision to allow me to continue towards Scotland and the finish. For this insight and judgement, I extend my deepest respect and appreciation. He told me four days after my swim, when we went to visit, “I won’t forget your swim any time soon.”
Lee: The sun is out now and feels warmer. The water is not choppy but there are 3-4’ (1+meter) rollers. (This means waves that are calmly moving over the surface of the water.) Sometimes Mark and I have to hold tight to keep from being tossed off the boat when the boat turns almost to a 45-degree angle. Based on the weather forecast, Quinton thought the sun would be out much earlier and the water would be calm. The Weather Gods had other plans for the day, making this a more challenging swim.
At 1:10PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:25PM Marcia’s stroke count was 62 per minute
At 1:40PM, 8 Hr 55 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and a Vanilla Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about half of the Endurox and all of the gel. Marcia getting a bit testy. Shouting at John to get out of the doorway so that she has line of sight to the Captain. Marcia also didn’t like that fact that her swim cap had slipped up over her ears. Marcia spent at least 5 extra minutes working with the cap which could potential mean that the cold is causing some loss of dexterity in her hands. She ultimately had to come near to the boat and grab a towel from the extended basket to clear grease off her hands to get the cap situated. I sensed some level of frustration that would be another signal of fatigue. She is also almost 9 hours into the swim so this would make sense. Mark and Lee were quite tense at this moment, being very sympathetic but completely unable to touch Marcia. This 5-minute stop likely added 30 minutes to the overall swim time due to the tidal push.
Marcia:I was really really frustrated with my cap situation, and it was my own damn fault. My cap had ridden up because I hadn’t added water to it initially when I put it on, which cements it to my head. Over time, an air pocket developed and caused the cap to ride up, over my ears. In the interest of protecting my ears and my hearing, I wanted to pull the cap back down but my pincer grip had become so compromised by the water temperature that it was only through great exertion and energy that this seemingly simple task was accomplished. Again, at some point, I hope I am able to forgive myself for this amateur mistake.
Lee: The sun is out and the water seems calm. There are not a lot of jellies but the 3-4 foot (1+ meter) rollers pushing south making the strokes a bit more difficult.
At 2:15PM, 9 Hr 30 Mins we do another feed comprised of an Endurox and an Espresso Hammer gel. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox all of the gel. Marcia’s face is quite swollen and her speech is starting to slur. There is a bit of dullness to her eyes. Mark and I confer and we both agree that she isn’t getting enough calories and is getting a bit lethargic so we decided to try and get some solids into her system. We also decided to shorten the feed schedule to 20 minutes this time.
At 2:20PM her stroke rate has dropped to 60 strokes per minute. Its also beginning to become apparent that her stroke is starting to degrade. Strokes are shorter, fingers apart and more of a s curve on the pull and elbow falling. I’m trying to get Marcia’s attention to stretch the stroke but eyes don’t seem to register with what I’m suggesting, and stroke stays the same.
At 2:35PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a Vanilla Hammer gel 2 fig bars and 2 quarters of a PB&J sandwich. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the chicken broth, all of the gel, was all over the figs and pushed the PB&J away and into the water.
At 2:45PM, 10 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute.
Marcia:When Mark and Lee realized they had to start getting more into me at more frequent intervals, they went off plan moving to 30-minute feed intervals and introducing solids: ¼ sections of Peanut butter & Jelly Sandwiches, an old effective staple for me. They also offered ¼ pieces of Banana, Hobnobs, and Fig Newtons. But my mouth was having a hard time chewing and my brain told me not to waste time doing so. Single Fig Newtons worked well but eating one every 30 minutes for 8 hours ain’t gonna get you across.
We had a great bowl that worked well with the solids, so I did one thing right, out of several thousand wrongs, that day. I purchased this Sistema Noodle Bowl (31.78 oz/940 ml), with a clamp down lid (sistemaplastics.com) at The Container Store for about $US10. A rope was tied to the handle for delivery to me, and fishing line was attached to the lid clamps, so the lid wouldn’t float off. The whole thing worked well: though the clamps were a struggle in the last third with my ever-colder hands and fingers not working so well.
Lee: At 2:55PM Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute. Lee and Mark confer on how much Marcia is eating. They both agree that she needs more fuel and start trying different foods to get her to eat more.
Mark and the Captain conferred, and Mark told Marcia she has to pick it up or she isn’t going to make it. We need to be near the coast by 7:00 PM or the tide will start working against her in a significant way. It pretty clear now that there is a big degree of risk that a finish may not be possible. I can see the bewilderment on Marcia’s face when she asks Mark how much farther to go and she doesn’t understand why the distance to go doesn’t seem to be decreasing. Its clear to me that the cold is starting to take more of a toll on her physical abilities and her thinking is getting to be a bit compromised.
From this point onwards, Mark is focused on two things:
1. Marcia’s Safety.
2. The viability of completing the swim. The swim is brutal at this point, so Mark only wants to continue if there is a chance of Marcia finishing it.
Marcia:Cara told me later that I looked up at Mark with puppy dog eyes, in great confusion, and let out a pleading “Maaaaarrrrrkkkkk?” I knew things were not going well because of my lack of progress but I could hear Liz and Marcy’s voices in my head, “Just keep swimming.” I knew if I stopped to complain or discuss anything, they may pull me. I just kept taking one more stroke, over and over again.
Lee: At 3:05PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2 fig bars and 2 quarters of a PB&J sandwich. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, both fig bars and again pushed the PB&J away and into the water. We are going to stop with the PB&J and will try bananas with the next feeding and cut feeding time to 30 minutes.
At 3:15PM, 10 Hr 30 Min Marcia’s stroke count was 60 per minute.
At 3:35PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, our last fig bars and one quarter of a banana. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the fig bar and pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water. The banana seemed to appeal to her appetite
At 3:45PM, 11 Hr Marcia’s stroke count was 58 per minute
Mark an I confer again that she seems lethargic. Obviously, some of the lethargy is due to cold and need for additional calories. I suggested that we pull out the glucose tablets that I brought along. Marcia and I discussed this before the swim about if and when to use them and I told Mark we are getting to that point that we may have to throw everything that we’ve got at her over the next few hours. We can see the coast pretty clearly, but we don’t seem to be getting any closer.
Marcia:Mark couldn’t give me the full rundown on what the heck was happening with the strong, strong tides along the Scottish coast; it would take too much time and I needed every second to swim East, out of the North-South directions in which the tide flowed. Somehow, I knew this, that this explanation could wait. I thought I was doing a whole lot better than I was, both physically and mentally. In fact, I’d have given myself a “fine” rating at the time.
Lee: At 4:40PM, 11 Hr 55 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, a vanilla Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and a glucose tablet. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana and again pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water. We lost two glucose tablets into the water before we got the third in her mouth. That left us only 7 tablets remaining.
At 5:20PM we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2 Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and two glucose tablets. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana and pushed the Hobnobs away and into the water.
At 6:00PM, 13 Hr 15 Min we do another feed comprised of an Endurox, an Espresso Hammer gel 2Hobnob cookies, one quarter of a banana and two glucose tablets. We also included a Vivarin pill in hope a concentrated shot of caffeine would give her some much needed boost, but Marcia dropped the pill and it floated into her bathing suit. Marcia consumed about one quarter of the Endurox, all of the gel, the banana. Again, no interest in the hobnobs.
Marcia:his was really bad. Lee gave me – or tried to give me – a Vivarin pill, to give me a boost into the finish. Everyone was so hopeful that I’d connect with the Vivarin but I struggled to open the bottle it was in because my hands were cold and lacked normal dexterity. When I finally managed to get it open, it flew out and was gone. I was too out of it to realize the loss. About 50% of the Glucose pills delivered in the same manner had effective landings.
Only later did I surmise this situation as “Tune in 30 minutes from now and see how Marcia blows her feeding this time.” Everyone was so optimistic for me and my ability to unknowingly self-sabotage was brutal.
The only thing I remember going forward until the finish is occasionally looking up to see the coast of Scotland, which was getting microscopically closer a teeny bit at a time. I just kept on taking one more stroke, and alternatively hearing Marcy & Liz say, “Just keep swimming” and “Yes you can.”
Lee: NO MORE LOG ENTRIES FOR LEE FROM HERE ON. JUST FOCUSED ON MARCIA’S CONDITION. THIS WAS WRITTEN SHORTLY AFTER THE SWIM.
I saw continued degradation in Marcia’s condition over the next couple of hours and it was truly painful to watch the contortions in her face and her lifeless eyes. With all the study I did on hypothermia before this swim, I felt like we were getting deep into the really serious symptoms that could lead to unconsciousness. On a couple of occasions Mark asked if I was ready to go in if we have to pull her.
I ceased taking stroke counts now as it seems to be useless information. I tried a couple more times but 58 strokes per minute seemed to be the best Marcia could muster. I stationed myself in the aft part of the boat so I could watch Marcia more closely. Mark stationed himself right outside the Captain’s position so he could continually confer on pace and progress. At this point in time I am truly concerned (maybe scared shitless is better description) about Marcia’s health and the risk that she loses consciousness and whether we can get to her in time. I’m nauseous. I’m also recalling the number of swimmers that I read about being pulled even though they were just short of completion.
Mark was in constant discussion with Captain Quinton as we continued, constantly eyeing the speed of the boat, which ranged from 0.8 to 1.8 mph. As it started settling around 1.0 mph, Mark started conferring on possible landing points and the up-to-the-minute currents. These briefing became continuous for the final 3 miles into the finish. The exact distance and possible finishing spots on the craggy Scottish coast kept changing because of the tidal push and the currents. Mark was deeply concerned about Marcia’s health and safety too, watching her closely. He was deeply panged at her apparently agony but also amazed at her grit. On several occasions John came up from behind me and asked how long we were going to wait before we pulled her out of the water. He said he doesn’t look good and I’m concerned for her life. I told him that I didn’t disagree but that Mark, Marcia and Lee had this discussion and we all concluded that Mark was the final decision maker and whatever he said we all would live or die with.
Once the Captain concluded he could no longer take the boat any closer to the shore Mark indicated that the Captain was concerned about her ability to navigate in without the guidance of the boat. Mark asked if I was willing to go in and escort her to shore. I indicated that I would be more than willing to do so. He asked if I would go speak with the captain. Captain Nelson told me I need to go in now, so I got my swim cap googles and swim suit on. The observer said that I could not touch Marcia nor could I swim in front of her.
I jumped in feet first and the cold of the water was shocking. I couldn’t imagine being in this water for more than a few minutes much less hours like Marcia. I swam back to Marcia and circled around behind her and settled in a few feet off her right side. When we first locked eyes she had no idea, it was me. I said, “Marcia, it’s Lee I’m going to guide you in. Just swim beside me.” It was another minute or so before it registered with her. Her response was, “Lee!” I did sense some level of relief in her face. I repeated instructions to her again and I think she comprehended what we were going to do. I started to guide her around the back of the boat as that was the direction where I saw some beach area. As we were going that way Mark and the crew kept yelling and pointing toward the rocks on the edge of the cliff as it was a shorter distance. Based on my assessment of Marcia’s condition I thought that it was too dangerous to try to get her to stand up on the sharp rocks and raise her hand. Instead I though the beach was the better alternative in as much as she could crab crawl up on land. I told Marcia swim with me and the current will help push us in.
About 100 yards from shore a big barrel jelly fish of orange hue and about 18 inches in width came up between us. Not sure how it didn’t get one or both of us but thought it was a good sign. I’ll admit I was scared as Marcia’s eyes were lifeless and she wasn’t responding to me verbally but seem to grasp swimming along with me. I wasn’t sure that if she stopped swimming and was in danger of drowning that I could hold on to her given with the amount of grease that was still underneath her arms and back. I was trying to figure out if I could get my hand through a part of her bathing suit that maybe I could hold on that way.
Marcia:Lee told me he had been swimming alongside me for about 10 minutes before I realized his presence; I don’t doubt this. Whatever he was telling me, I wasn’t processing. The only thing I remember was the beach before us, to finish where there is no water in front of me. He says he was telling me, “Stand up!” because we were in waist–deep water; his words didn’t register at all. Finally, I hit the beach and clawed my way up the shore. I was relieved that I had made it. I can only imagine the relief that came to everyone on the boat.
Being on the beach was surreal in the sense that I wasn’t thinking clearly, a very unusual state for me. There was Lee. We high-fived but there was no jumping up and down celebration – it didn’t occur to me to do this. The notion of raising my arms in triumph was also completely lost. Rather, I was relieved that I didn’t have to swim anymore and that I had made it. By this time, I had rolled onto my backside from all fours, and was looking out at the boat, thinking, “Well, I guess I’ll have to swim back.” Then Lee was talking to some guy with a kayak who magically appeared out of nowhere. As we would find out later, Keith Carman, was vacationing in one of the two summer cottages on this beach with his two children and they watched us slowly make our way towards the beach. He saw the boat was registered in Belfast and put two and two together. He told me that his first question to me was, “Are you mad?” to which I didn’t respond because I didn’t either hear or understand the question; I have no recollection of the conversation, but I do remember that there were a few kids running around. I do remember Lee and Keith sliding me onto the kayak to the left and then my memory goes dark until I am on the boat in the lower cabin. Apparently, it took four of them to get me on the boat – three from above and Keith pushing from below. Even though I was in a hypothermic state when I finished, I was still generating heat by swimming. When this heat-producing activity ended, my body temperature probably plummeted at a faster rate, hence my lack of memory.
Just in case you are worrying, I was never close to dying, such as lungs filling with water, having a seizure or heart attack, or unconscious from hypothermia. I was definitely in distress, but I had an extremely astute crew, boat pilot, and observer who cared for me before/during/and after my swim. I was just in a state of complete exertion and exhaustion, having had just enough to get me to the finish.
Lee: As we got closer I could feel a strong push by the current and only then did I feel that we were going to get Marcia up on the beach. As I touched the bottom of the sand I told Marcia to not stand but just crawl up on the beach and sit down. She did just that and we were done. Job well done, you did it. You conquered the North Channel swim. A high 5 and a hug between us then back to the task of me figuring out how to get us back to the boat. It was 7:49PM in Scotland.
At that time a Scottish man appeared from the other side of the rocks to our right and said, “I assume yah started out this morning from Ireland.” I said, “Yes, she did.” He said, “I’ve got a kayak on the other side of thah rocks – if you would you like for me to pull around and take her back to the boat I’d gladly do it.” I said, “Please sir.” It was an open kayak so it was perfect for the task at hand. Marcia tried to stand but she fell over so we just scooted her on her butt over into the kayak. A little push out the water and Marcia was on her way to safety. God bless the Scotsman for being in the right place at the right time.
Marcia:We landed in Morroch Bay (“MA-roo” Bay), just south of Portpatrick. The only thing I remember is that there had been a white house on the far north side of the beach and some pale-colored structure in front of where I landed. I remember crawling up on all fours, rolling over, and seeing the boat about 400 yards off shore, and knew I’d need to swim back to it since that is what I had always done before….
Lee said I tried to stand up and proceeded to fall over. I remember only relief that I was done, not the ecstatic joy I felt on finishing so many other swims.
Out of nowhere appeared a man whom had been tracking us coming in. Using binoculars, he saw that the boat was registered in Belfast and put two and two together. As previously mentioned, this man, Keith Carman, would tell me that his first question to me was, “Are you mad?” to which I had no understanding or response. Lee asked him if he could help us, since Lee was going to have a lot of trouble getting me back to the boat by himself. Keith had an open top kayak and gladly offered his services. They maneuvered the kayak next to me, tipped it down and slid me on top of it. I have only the vaguest notion of this happening. I have no recollection of being ferried back to the boat. Nor do I remember that it took 4 people to get me off the kayak, onto the boat, and down into the lower cabin. Somewhere in there, they used several old towels to wipe off whatever was left of my grease – a fair amount. The next thing I remember is Mark and Cara pulling my suit off and getting me into dry clothes, and blankets being stacked on top of me. I am told that Cara was rubbing my feet and legs for a long time in an attempt to warm me up and that I wanted Mark to sit next to me (on the 2’ wide bench) so we could “cuddle.” That was not going to happen…
Lee: By the time I had swam back to the boat Marcia had been moved up on deck and wrapped in blankets and a thermal wrap. Since John had training in First Aid, he took the lead but there was no shortage of help from Cara, Ross, and Mark. Given that we had a 3-hour boat trip ahead of us back to Ireland, it was important to get Marcia moved into the lower cabin when she could warm up. After Marcia was relocated, more blankets and hugs from Mark were applied.
John came over to me in the other cabin and told me that he was quite concerned and that we should be prepared to take Marcia to the hospital as soon as we dock. I told him we would. About an hour later he told me that good progress had been made getting her core warmed up but a visit to the hospital might still be prudent course. By the time we docked Marcia seemed to be back among the living and that gave us the confidence that the healing process had begun.
Marcia: I do remember mentally coming to when I was in the lower cabin. Mark said Cara had been rubbing my feet and legs for a while, and I started to tune in during this process. None of the challenges of how difficult my swim had been coming up yet; they were all simply concerned that I was ok. The trip back seemed to go quickly – probably because it was a while before I was coherent – but all of a sudden, we were back in Donaghadee Harbor and getting ready to unload. During the last few minutes of the trip, we had even made dinner plans for tomorrow night at Pier 36 with the boat crew and Cara! I walked off the boat under my own power and up the stairs to the road. While the crew brought all our gear off the boat (my offer to help was ignored), I told Mark that I was going to walk the short distance to Pier 36 and let Lewis know I had made it. With help, I quickly found him inside the crowded restaurant and he was jubilant at my success. He wanted to know if I wanted to sign the wall, “No, that privilege will have to wait until tomorrow” but he did offer, and I accepted, a cup of hot chocolate. It tasted great.