A team made up of regular and reserve soldiers have successfully swum the English Channel – navigating their course through the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Taking it in turns, the team of six from the Land Warfare Centre (LWC), Warminster took to the water near Folkestone in Kent and crossed the strait of Dover, from England to France,
Each swimmer battled the elements for an hour at a time tackling strong winds, extreme tidal currents, and choppy conditions despite the sunny, Autumnal conditions.
The horn on the boat sounded the start which was also my signal to start swimming. There followed one of the most challenging and scary hours of my life, fighting through the dark and choppy seas." LIEUTENANT COLONEL JON PENHALE
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Penhale, The Rifles, was first in the water, entering before sunrise:
“We set out from Dover about 3:30am, with me as the first swimmer entering the very dark and uninviting seas of the English Channel at 4am.”
Throughout the demanding 20-mile journey they were accompanied by an experienced pilot, who guided them through the potential dangers of huge tankers and other ships in their path.
“The horn on the boat sounded the start which was also my signal to start swimming. There followed one of the most challenging and scary hours of my life, fighting through the dark and choppy seas. However, I wasn’t going to give up and made it through the difficult first hour. It wasn’t pretty but it got us going.”
Starting in March, the team combined their training, enduring temperatures of 8 degrees Celsius in the sea and swimming length after length in the pool, covering up to 4 miles a week to ready them for the challenge of a lifetime.
Trying to judge the swell when taking a breath and not taking in a mouth of sea water every stroke was the hardest challenge." STAFF SERGEANT LIAM McEVOY
Warrant Officer Class 1, Royal Artillery, Rob Tomlinson experienced a few testing moments during his second stint in the sea:
“The swell picked up and was directed straight into my face. In the first 2 minutes back in the water the swell had moved my googles which then filled with water. I tried to swim on, but the sea water irritated my eye, which caused me to stop. This was followed by a jelly fish into the face which was not pleasant.”
The crossing which could take up to 20 hours to complete, is something many have attempted over the years, and many have failed to complete. It is a feat entirely dependent on the weather and a swimmers physical and mental ability.
Staff Sergeant Liam McEvoy, Royal Artillery:
“Trying to judge the swell when taking a breath and not taking in a mouth of sea water every stroke was the hardest challenge.”
The team were not allowed to wear wet suits, so had nothing more than swimming shorts, a hat, and goggles to protect them from the joys of the world’s busiest shipping lane.
Warrant Officer Class 1, Chris Turrill, The Royal Lancers:
“The first time getting into the water and seeing nothing in any direction that you looked was a bit disorientating. Whilst the training prepares you to a degree, on the actual swim, there’s nothing other than a fleeting few seconds with some jelly fish, but then you have a quick chat with yourself then get on with it.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Penhale explains why they did it and that money raised will go to the ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity:
“We were looking for a challenge and this seemed like a good idea at the time.”
WO1 Rob Tomlinson continues:
“We chose the ABF as it is the Soldiers’ Charity and as such fitted with all of us. It was the right charity for us to raise money for. With such an epic challenge we wanted it to mean something. We had the opportunity to help others as a result of our challenge.”
Despite the challenges encountered by all and having to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane, the team completed their challenge in just 14 hours and 32 minutes.
When asked if they would do it again, the reply was a resounding “Yes…….maybe!”
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