22/07/2014 in 17hrs 28mins
First successful crossing of Scilly Island Channel (Cornwall – St Mary’s)
The 26 mile stretch of water from mainland Britain to the low lying Isles of Scilly due west of Land’s End is a sea kayaker’s rite of passage.
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The sea was deceptively calm. It only took about 15mins before the boat was swept off course due to immense side currents that, with it’s bigger draft and all important stabilising drag bags, was unable to navigate alongside me. After a very stop-start 45mins, my support got into the kayak and took a mental bearing and we forged ahead while the boat crew attempted to sort their rig. It was frustrating and more than a little nerve wracking. But 3hrs in, we were away from the worst of the coastal currents and the boat was back alongside. We chuntered along happily for the rest of the day, even surprising the skipper by topping 2mph! I heard dolphins clicking off to my right which made for a lovely interlude.
As the sun began to drop, we had a turn in the weather; a gentle breeze from behind, a rare north easterly. Perfect for swimming west. Except for the diesel fumes from the boat. I was surrounded by carbon rich fumes and ingested so much that after the he first hour I was nauseous. At the end of the second hour, now dark, I felt chilled to the bone, and very suddenly was almost unable to keep my eyes open. I then began to lose the surface of the water with my hand. Once again, I was joined by the kayak so I could swim away from the boat, but I was so nauseous I was having stomach cramps and dry retching for almost an hour before I could start to regurgitate the toxic cocktail. It was a pretty close call, but in the end, I managed to clear it out and start to piece strokes together again. I was also beset by jelly fish all through the night, too numerous to avoid. Every inch of my body stung, I ended up switching off to the discomfort.
As dawn rose, the fog descended, robbing me of a morale boosting sight, but knowing I was less than 2 miles away, I stormed forwards and at 5.20am, 17hrs and 28mins after starting, I clambered onto Great Britain rock on St Mary’s. Elated, surprisingly recovered from the diesel ingestion and jellyfish and stunned at having actually made it all the way across!
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BBC News: ME woman Beth French swims 26 miles to Scilly. (view article)
ITV News: Woman is first person to swim from Cornwall to Scillies. (view article)
Metro: Former wheelchair user becomes first person to swim from Cornwall to Scilly isles. (view article)
Huffington Post: Despite Swarms Of Jellyfish, Former ME Sufferer Beth French Becomes First Person To Swim From Cornwall To The Isle of Scilly. (view article)
Daily Mail: Woman Completes Swimming Challenge. (view article)
Western Morning News: Former ME sufferer Beth is first person to swim from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. (view article)
Plymouth Herald: Mother who suffered from ME set to swim dangerous stretch off Cornwall coast. (view article)
This is the West Country: Milverton swimmer Beth French gearing up for greatest challenge yet. (view article)
The Cornishman: Beth aims to be first to complete epic swim. (view article)
03/12/2012 in 24hrs 10mins
First British woman to complete channel
Matt Buckman with kayak support from Steve Haumschild
The Molokai channel, from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii is known locally as Kaiwi, or channel of bones. It’s a 26 mile stretch of water that frequently hosts pacific swells that give Oahu its famous surf.
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Setting off at 9.30pm in the pitch dark, with only a head torch on my kayak support’s head to find a landing spot was more than nerve racking. Black lava rock in sharp shelves make up the coast of much of Molokai so all I could see was the white intermittent wash of waves as they broke on the rocks. Knowing that sharks are largely nocturnal hunters played loudly on my mind as I tried desperately not to get cut as I timed my way onto land.
I love swimming in the pacific, the movement of the water is so strong and defined that the ocean is a real entity to find your way through. I had no idea setting out just how much of a entity I was to encounter! The night passed smoothly with the phosphorescence spiralling off my fingertips like a private fireworks display. With dawn I felt a niggle in my left elbow, so I adjusted my stroke, happy to paddle on.
12hrs into my swim, that niggle became a scream that pinged up to my shoulder and I suddenly couldn’t move my arm. I couldn’t extend it, nor could I move it behind me or out of the water. I tried switching to breaststroke but yelped every time I tried to pull water with my left arm. I was 7 miles from Oahu, I’d been held by a current hitting me off my right shoulder for over 3hrs without moving forwards. A long conversation with my support later, I gave up trying to swim as I knew it and made it my mission to simply get to the other side, no matter what. I one-arm doggy paddled for a further 12hrs to get to to the other side.
I painfully watched as the sun set, still a couple of miles off shore. I knew that coastline was brutal with only one small area of sand. We aimed for that, but the lateral rip across the bay meant that I could tantalisingly see the truck and landing party, but in looking up to sight, I was swept back out and further along, away form the sanctuary of a soft landing. The last 100m took almost an hour to swim and punching through that current was sublime when it finally happened. Picking my way over rocks, timing it in with the waves once again in the pitch black, I had no idea I was capable of swimming for 24hrs even though I just had.
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Hawaiian extreme sports TV: Beth swims Kaiwi. (view article)
Open Water Swimming: Beth French Swimming Through The Vog. (view article)
Open Water Swimming: Beth French Swims Through The Night And Vog To Oahu. (view article)
27/07/2012 in 15hrs 16mins
Successful solo crossing
Considered the Mount Everest of open water swimming, its level of difficulty and prestige mark this channel as the gauntlet thrown down to all long distance open water swimmers. 22 miles from Shakespeare Beach, just outside Dover, to somewhere along the French coast near Cap-Gris-Nez can easily become 30 miles given the strong currents, fickle but vicious tidal range and one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
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All went smoothly until a couple of miles from France. There’s a band of current that is the battle ground of the swim. It’s where your channel swim truly begins. I was perfectly placed to land at the cap at around 11.30hrs of swimming when I hit the current, and then the tide turned over an hour before it was due. Fickle localised tides are common and add another dimension to this challenge. Having started sprinting to punch through the current I had to haul it all back in, not knowing whether it would be 3hrs or even 8 before I would land. Watching the cap get whisked out of reach I was turned away to Wissant bay. Doggedly stroking, arm over arm, with the tide and current carrying me along the coast, but holding me offshore, I battled through the current to make a Wissant landing, staggering up onto the town beach to a lovely welcoming committee of onlookers, 15hrs and 16minutes after setting off.
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