On 15th / 16th July 2019 two intrepid members of Out To Swim, Vicki Carter and Michael Jennings, made solo English Channel crossings. Hunter Charlton, another OTS member, will make his crossing in the next couple of months. OTS has previously had two relay teams making the crossing in 2009.
It was a remarkable piece of luck that both Vicki Carter and Michael Jennings, MJ, ended up swimming on the same tide. They both set off from Samphire Hoe beach at about 10:20pm on Monday evening with two separate support boats.
The water was a toasty 17/18 degrees throughout, the weather fine and the sea calm. There was an almost full moon which gave the whole proceedings a fairy-tale glow. It was the perfect day for a crossing.
For Vicki this was the culmination of an eleven year quest – in 2008 she had a crossing for late September, but when it came to her tide the weather changed and she was unable to even start. Then life intervened with sick parents, but eventually she booked to go again in 2019.
MJ had given up competitive swimming a couple of years ago and needed a new challenge. His great friend Nick Murch encouraged him to enter a Lake Geneva relay and he got the bug. He also acted as support swimmer in the fiercely cold North Channel crossings Nick made in 2016 and 2018.
Vicki, MJ and Hunter all met on Dover beach in May 2019 to start their training for this year’s Channel crossings.
I was on-board Vicki’s boat with an old friend of Vicki’s, Kevin, and a new friend in the form of Hunter. Hunter and Vicki have trained together a lot, and both did a six hour swim in Weymouth harbour, which also doubled as Hunter’s Channel qualifier. Hunter swam twice during the crossing as Vicki’s support swimmer, for company and moral support - the rules are very strict that he is not allowed to pace her or even to go ahead of her at any point.
The crossing seemed easy for about the first ten or eleven hours: time passed quickly between the hourly feeds of carbohydrate drink and jelly babies; dawn dawned most goldenly, and Vicki was happy and having fun. On MJ’s boat he was serenaded and cajoled by two of his lovely mates, Mikey and Fiona - it looked like they had lots of fun. Into hour twelve we were in French waters and heading for the Cap Gris Nez. There was a vicious current pushing us off the Cap, but MJ just managed to get in, clambering onto the rocks to claim a crossing time of 12 hours 38 minutes, an amazing time. Vicki couldn’t quite push through and ended up having to swim a bit longer to land at Wissant beach, a little further along the coast. Hunter joined her for the last stretch and they greeted some French children on the beach with many Bonjours. She finished in 14 hours 40 minutes – or as her boat skipper said to her “well the official time then is 11 years, 14 hours and 40 minutes”.
They join a very elite group of fewer than 2000 people in the world who have made a solo crossing, fewer by far than those who have scaled Everest. Well done Vicki and MJ, you are truly amazing, and massive good luck to Hunter, where Vicki will return the favour as support swimmer, if she can keep up with him!