Swimming beside a boat

Keeping station with the support boat.

Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are and how many long swims you have done, as soon as you set off from Shakespeare beach it can all seem very different. One thing that you may not have been able to practice is swimming alongside a support boat. This can take some getting used to as you have to work out how close you can comfortably swim to the boat and also you have to use it for your direction rather than aiming for a landmark or following your own direction. If you are doing bilateral breathing then it is fine when you breathe on the side facing the boat but it can feel awkward when you breathe on the other side. When we train we are probably accustomed to orienting ourselves from something ahead of us rather than to the side of us. So for a few strokes until you sight the boat again if feels like you may be too close to the boat and there may be a fear of ploughing into it.

It is also likely that you are bit anxious as to whether you are in the position that the crew of the boat want you to be in and you are unlikely to have found the time to discuss this much with the pilot in advance. More often than not it is a last minute discussion just as you are about to start the swim, quite possibly in the dark and with the boat bobbing up and down awkwardly just off the beach.

At the start of the swim when you look up at the boat often you hear muffled conversations from the crew and your helpers and you see them pointing at things and shining lights. They are probably just encouraging you but it can all add to the sense of confusion.

The best solution to this would have been to practice out in the open water with a boat of some kind to get used to the feeling, but if this has not been possible then it is just a question of not getting too flustered and allowing yourself to settle into a rhythm. Keeping station with the boat will eventually sort itself out and you will not be so bothered by diesel fumes and swimming alongside something so large with an engine running.

 Stopping for food and drinks.

This is something else that it would be great to practice in advance as it is very different from just swimming into a beach and taking a leisurely drink from a thermos. The hardest part is getting the drink from your helpers and then actually managing to drink it without it being nicely diluted with sea water whilst you tread water. On my first swim I was just handed the drinks down from the cockpit of the boat, which just about worked as the conditions were relatively calm. After that on subsequent swims the pilot devised a method using a fishing rod with a long length of line attached. A closed bottle would be attached, thrown down to me and then easily hauled back in once I had finished with it.

The key thing to remember is never to swim back the way! If you think it is hard to keep station with the boat, remember that it is even harder for the boat to keep station with a swimmer who is just moving along at a few miles per hour. The boat cannot build up any momentum going at this speed and struggles to be able to stop at just the moment you need to take a drink. So what may often happen is that, just as you are about to receive your bottle on the end of the fishing line, the boat tries to slow down and ends up a bit behind you. If you swim backwards every time this happens you will gradually lose precious ground and have a lot further to swim at the end. I always told the pilot that I would never swim backwards on the feeds and would just wait for them to catch me up even if it was another five or ten minutes. I never found any problem with this and they were in complete agreement. So don’t feel bad if you just plough relentlessly onwards even if it looks like the boat has tried to stop for you. It’s probably not the place for politeness!


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