An Army Officer is attempting to swim the Channel to France just months after returning from Afghanistan.
Royal Engineer Captain Jonathan Linares will be the first Gibraltarian to make the swim, which he hopes to achieve in 13 hours. He set off from Shakespeare Beach at 2 am today and, weather permitting, will reach Cap Gris Nez in faster than the average time of 14.5 hours to swim the 18.2 nautical miles (approximately 21 land miles).
"Swimming the Channel is one of the biggest swimming challenges you can do, so this is a huge personal challenge to me, but it's also an opportunity to raise money for ABF the Soldiers charity and the Afghan Appeal Fund," said Jonathan, who hopes to raise £3,000 for the charities.
"I first started thinking about doing this while I was in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 14, and it grew from there where I found out I was to be posted to Bassingbourn and could plan ahead to get in the training."
Building up endurance
At least 60 percent of attempts to swim the Channel fail, so training is key to Jonathan, who swims for up to seven hours every Saturday and Sunday across the 3-mile Hythe Bay in Dover.
"I started training in the pool in Royston for three hours each time to build up my endurance, and then I started swimming in the sea in Dover to build up my cold water endurance.
"The coldest swim was just 9 °C in April, and that was cold. I could only do half an hour, which I had to build up by ten minutes each time. But for the last month I have been swimming six to seven hours a day for two days in a row over the weekend.
"Back in April people used to watch me as they walked to the ferry and ask me what I was doing. When I said I was training to swim to France, they would point at the ferry and say 'Why?'."
However, there are no second thoughts for the engineer, who this time last year was working as a troop commander with the 1 RIFLES battle group providing close support engineering, although he will face significant challenges during the swim.
"I'm told the hardest bit is about eight hours in, which is the equivalent of when runners hit the wall. I think physiologically boredom is going to be a big one, and dealing with the cold. I'm comfortable with swimming in 15 °C for six hours but hypothermia is still a concern - as are jellyfish, and just keeping up my strength."
Briefest of breaks
Jonathan will have to pause every half hour after the first two hours to take on food and liquid to be able to fuel his body for the swim. Popular snacks include half a banana, Milky Ways and jelly babies on the hour, with half a cup of warm Ribena mixed with carbohydrate powder every half hour. Keeping these breaks to just 30 seconds is important to make sure he doesn't add too much time to the overall swim.
"If I was to stop for five minutes to eat every time that would add an hour to the swim, which keeps in the water for that much longer, and also risks the tides changing and being swept off on a longer route, so I need to be quick. But I’m confident, and it’s a good way to put my home of Gibraltar on the map," he says.