Guy Cohen became an English Channel swimmer on September 2nd with a 15 hour 44 minute crossing. Cohen is a part of a growing number of Israeli swimmers who have joined the pantheon of Channel swimmers.
He explains his successful crossing and his perspective from the sea:
“Could it really be that I have finally successfully swam the English Channel despite the unanticipated challenges?
I reach forward, once again, like the 51,000 strokes I have already taken, but this time I feel the sand in the palm of my hand. Really? Am I really at long last touching French soil?
I take another stroke, and again I feel sand. I stop, turn and slowly sit down in the shallow water and I look at the sky directly above me. So hard to comprehend in my completely exhausted and pained condition. Then with great effort, I put one foot on the ground, and then the other, too, and rise slowly and heavily.
I struggled to keep balance and to move forward. I pant and pant, my pulse is racing, my entire body trembling both due to the cold and the excitement that despite all I have just endured I have completed it successfully. I take a step and another step, barely managing to stay upright. I do not have a drop of energy available in my body. It took everything that I had left within me, and beyond to get this far.
I stare at the approaching beach as I carefully walk toward it and never take my eyes off it. A few more steps and I have completed the challenge. Tired, exhausted, broken, a wreck. Nevertheless, I’m here. I have reached the French coast and extricated myself from the water as required.
My arms slowly rise up. At first to my mid-section, and finally up, high, as high as I can reach above my head. Despite everything I beat the Channel, I beat the elements, I’m here, no one can ever take it away from me. I’m a now a Channel Swimmer.
But how did I get here? And why the hell am I such a wreck? How the painstaking planning for this incredible life journey went so far awry, when only a step was between success and failure.
Rule Number 1 in the Channel: Never expect the expected to happen.
The Channel will always surprise you. There are so many variables that influence, such as winds, temperature, clouds, currents, ebb and flow, waves. Any slight change in one or more of the variables creates a new and different situation. The forecasts are only predictions; reality does not always take them into account. You come with a swim plan, and soon find out, sometimes in mid-course, that everything you thought and planned has to be cancelled or rescheduled.
I set off in the darkness knowing that in the first few hours of the swim the sea would be just slightly wavy with easy winds, but after sunrise it would calm down. Later during the swim, it was expected that some winds would create a low wave height of about 0.3 meters. In short – definitely encouraging and possible for me to complete. But in reality, from the very start, the winds were much stronger, the sea was cluttered with choppy waves striking my face. All this in five hours of a night swim that began at 1:30 am, in freezing cold water. When the sun finally arose, I was not sure whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, the sunlight makes it easier and the sun helps to overcome bone chilling cold. On the other hand, the night hours were much more difficult than expected by anyone and it had exacted a heavy price. I felt exhausted and oh so tired and knew I’m not even halfway through the Channel swim – as it turns out, the physical challenge of my life.
I do not share with the boat crew my feelings while swimming and decide to bury my head in the water and continue to swim forward, ignoring distance and time, somehow also ignoring the feeling of being so cold. I was able to push aside the anxious thoughts and just kept swimming. I have no idea how I did that.
Rule Number 2 in the Channel: If you make one hand stroke, followed by another, and do not stop until you reach land, success is guaranteed.
Suddenly the direction of the current changes and I start to make my way south and east towards Cap Gris-Nez, on the French coast. That had always been the goal. If the currents and winds remain that way, at the current rate, I am expected to hit the cape and end the crossing without significant additional time. But unfortunately as time passes, I feel the wind rising and rising. The waves hit and crash on the Rowena, the fishing boat that accompanies me with my faithful dedicated crew on deck.
Sometimes the waves are so high, they lift the boat up until the entire stern is visible to me as I swim. A terrifying sight. The waves push me to the right and left, at times giving me not enough time to breathe before the waves repeatedly hit my face time after time. I have difficulty keeping correct direction swimming aside the boat and often finding myself drifting away from it. All this time, the only thing I remember is to keep moving ahead one arm after the other stroking at a steady pace. Hand after hand after hand hitting and cutting through the waves like a human metronome.
This struggle is overwhelming me, for hours I struggle with the waves until the team informs me that the coast of France is close. But the strong unanticipated eastern winds pushes me away from the cape which unfortunately means I will not be able to reach it. The distance to the shoreline must now be further – thus lengthening the swim after 14 hours of swimming those waters.
The direction of the current changes yet again, and I know that now I have to find the last bit of strength within me so that I can overcome it and enter a safe sandy bay to the north of the cape, to the Bay of Wissant. I am on the verge of total exhaustion. I am wondering whether it is wise or even possible to continue. What do I do if a decision to stop and for me to get out of the water onto the boat should be made, and who will make that call. I am feeling lost in the midst of this lonely battle against the strength of the sea, the winds, the changing tides, but again I remind myself that the one power I have is – keep one steady hand stroke after the other. To stop swimming is to lose the battle I have engaged in for some 14 – 15 straight hours. I must proceed.
Rule No. 3 in the Channel: Do not forget Rule No. 1 and Rule No. 2
The winds actually continue to grow even stronger, and the waves higher. In retrospect, the crew of the boat report waves of 1.5 meters, with Force 5 wind gusts, above 20 knots. Peter Reed, the experienced boat pilot, says these are now no longer conditions for any swimmer in the Channel. The team conducts discussions and consultations on the boat while I continue to swim and fight on. The skippers consider pulling me out of the water. My swim team calmly explain to the boat captain that they are dealing with a tough stubborn swimmer, a hard head that does not give up. Everyone keeps their eyes on both me as I continue fighting with the sea, and on the boat’s devices which measure the distance from the shore which I am now swimming parallel to until we get to a sandy beach of Wissant. Every meter is counted that passes fighting to get to our destination.
“we are getting pounded”
“the wind is stronger, it’s murder”
“we were struck by a wave in our face on the boat”
“serious laundry machine here”
“strong winds and waves”
“The energies of all and from himself are needed now, Super effort”
“He is wearing us out, it is a battle of the titans”
I am not aware of the commotion going on the boat and continue my inner struggle, but suddenly I hear loud whistles from the boat deck: we have at long last reached the bay. The water is still turbulent, but the shallow waters of the bay are protected from the currents. I must now just swim 600 additional meters to the beach and take somehow those steps ashore and extricate myself from the sea.
This distance I swim slowly but surely as I am unable to exert myself. I have not a drop of energy within me. But there is no one, not even the strength all Mother Nature has thrown at me, to stop me now at long last from touching that evasive sand. Those 15 hours and 44 minutes of non-stop effort, seems somewhat beyond human capacity.
Finally, I am a Channel Swimmer.
A title that will stay with me, and I suspect a small piece of history, forever.”
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