I'm sitting back on dry land after an amazing 24 hours. My fingers are so swollen I've had to return to two finger typing but I've made it! I have become the first person to successfully cross the english channel in the bath. I've just read that back and bearing in mind the unbelievable agony I've put myself through just to write that - I really have to get out more!
The crossing started well. I left Folkstone (the French government still wouldn't allow me to leave from France. Why? I'm still not sure.) at 4am, just before the sun came up, and rowed out of the harbour in fairly calm water. The sun came up as I hit the busiest shipping lane on the planet. The conditions got worse as the tankers threw up a lot of wash and the water became quite choppy (but nowhere near as bad as last year's attempt). After a few hours of this and dodging tankers I left the first half of the shipping lane and paused in the central reservation (a submerged sand bank a few metres underwater in the middle of the channel known as the Varne). After a banana and a bit of fluid I rowed through some of the most beautifully flat water I have ever seen - including the river at Richmond or the training lake I used near Windsor. It was quite wierd being surrounded by 25 miles of choppy water as far as the eye could see on all sides but being able to row in perfectly peacful conditions. However, on leaving the Varne and going back into the other side of the shipping lane the conditions worsened again and I had to dig in and find a way of coping with the increasingly choppy waters.
The tide kicked in and got hold of the bath in a very serious way and for at least 40 mins I did nothing but row for all I was worth but stay entirely still. This really did sap my moral as I could see a beacon and no matter how hard I pulled I got no further away from it. Finally the tide relented and let me make some headway. In a third of a tonne copper bath you're entirely at the mercy of the sea and you really can only take strokes when she lets you.
Then at exactly 10.56 the flag that I have to fly at the stern (stern - listen to me - next I'll think I'm an admiral!) unfurled to a cheer from the support boat. My heart hit the floor as I realised this meant there was now a strong wind blowing directly at the roll top back of the the bath making rowing even harder.
The tide then came back with avengence taking me away from France. This is exactly what happened on the last attempt and in my head there was a voice pridicting with glee that I would fail again.
The last 5 miles into France were terrible. The wind, tide, and now the sea state (basically a measure of the choppiness) had all decided I wasn't going to make it. My mind battled hard as my body kept trying to pass out - I think I may have blacked out at one stage but it's impossible for me to tell. All I knew is that I must keep rowing. I'm sorry if any of this sounds like I'm trying to be remotely heroic - that's just not the case; it was, without a shadow of a doubt, a terribly ungraceful, ungainly rowing performace over the last five miles. I just tried to hang on in there and make it to France. My hands were blistered and body was giving in, but my brain just found something else inside and drove me on as I clawed towards France a quarter of a painful mile by a quarter of a painful mile.
Finally after nine hours and six minutes I heard behind me a round of applause. The French people on the beach (well collection of stones) had turned up and I greeted them in my appalling French and thanked them for coming (but stopped short of asking them the way to the station or what Marcel had had for breakfast) before being pulled up into the support boat and towed back to Folkstone.
All I can think to say now is thank you to all those who helped make this crossing possible. I'm told it's the longest ever successful timed channel crossing (but obviously everyone else does theirs in boats that wiegh the same as 2 bags of sugar and not third of a tonne copper baths) and also to say how much of legend the support crew were. Thanks also to all those people who phoned, emailed, and texted their messages of support.
I'll write more when my hands have recovered.
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Thank you for reading this