Force 6 English Channels Swimming

I have just returned from Dover, England where we had 2 successful crossings of the English Channel. On Sunday July 20, 2003, our six-person team swam a 2-way relay (England to France and back to England in one big swim) in a total time of 20 hours, 18 minutes (E to F: 10:26, F to E: 9:52). Our team, “Force 6 America”, included, in this swimming order:
Scott Lautman, 51, Seattle, WA
Vince Herring, 60, Rochester, MI
Marcia Cleveland, 39, Winnetka, IL
Henry Eckstein, 55, New York, NY
Marcy Mac Donald, 39, Manchester, CT
Cristian Vergara, 45, Brooklyn, NY

Each swimmer swam for one hour and then were taken over by the next swimmer in the order. The first 2 swimmers each swam 4 full hours, the rest of us swam 3 full times.

The seas were relatively calm with just some minor swells through the day. We started from Shakespeare Beach at 4:43am and finished at St. Margaret’s Bay (just north of Dover) at 12:09am very early on Monday morning. Henry came within about 25 yards of a super tanker (it was a big bIG BIG BOAT, producing a big bIG BIG WAKE). Marcy made the turn at Cap Griz Nez in France, carrying an underwater camera in her suit for her hour shift that time. Yours truly received the dubious honor of tagging off on the English shore, getting to deal with several phobias all at once: swimming in the dark (and it was really dark, especially swimming away from the boat’s spotlight), clawing through a kelp bed, and standing/crawling over very slippery rocks. Once I touched, I realized that I had to do it all over again in reverse unless I wanted to walk back to the guest house in my wet bathing suit at midnight. I just tried to remain CALM (much easier to type than to deal with) and not wind up in the emergency room getting my feet or other body party stitched back together because in 3 hours, Scott, Marcy, and I were getting back on the boat for Morris’s Solo Swim.

We left most of our stuff on the boat, went back to the guest house for a shower and nap then pushed off the dock at 3:30am.

Morris Finkelstein, 53, from Cos Cob, Connecticut, began swimming again 6 years ago, after a 30+ year “break”. This was his first attempt at the Channel, after having successfully completed Manhattan in 2001 plus several other shorter swims. He is a practicing OB/GYN at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut (and delivered my two children) but still averaged ~60,000 yards/week in the past several months, except when he was on call. Pretty amazing.

He greased up on the boat and hopped into the water, setting off from Shakespeake Beach at 4:20am on Monday July 21st. The seas were calm and all went well for several hours, with regular feds every 30 minutes. He did have some nausea, due to swallowing a little sea water but it wasn’t incapacitating. However, after about 8 hours, the wind and waves went to Force 5 for 4 hours. I am so impressed that Morris hung in there as he was smacked around in the water pretty darn good. We all lived from feeding to feeding and Scott and I gave Morris plenty of signs on the grease board, that is, when we weren’t holding on to the boat for dear life. Marcy couldn’t have been more supportive and cheerful to Morris and he was lucky to have her as his observer. His wife, Debbie, was also an excellent crew member.

He just kept going and going and going. We headed straight for Cap Blanc Nez, the point east of Cap Griz Nez and west of Calais. Doing this enabled Morris to have a chance of making landfall. Had we headed towards CGN, he most likely would have missed the land all together. He was swept west by the low tide but when the tide changed to high, Morris was pushed east and got inside of the wall marking the Calais harbor, thus ensuring his landfall just as long as he stayed in the water. I am always amazed at the creative piloting that occurs on a Channel swim and this was just one more excellent example.

Morris landed in Sangatte, France at 7:41pm, after swimming for 15 hours, 21 minutes, 9 seconds, in front of the village’s main chuch. Several French beach-goers greeted him, excited in any language. Scott accompanied him in, took pictures with the underwater camera, and brought back a few bags of sand from his landing spot. Everyone on the boat was ecstatic, and incredibly relieved. This was a heroic swim we had all been a part of and I was honored to be there.

And to add even more icing to the cake, Marcy became the American Queen of the Channel on July 6th, completing her 6th successful crossing. Way to go, American Queen, from one of your princesses.

Now, I return to the midwest, land of massive thunderstorms and moving boxes. I’d rather be in Force 5 in the Channel.

Best Fishes to all! Swimcerely,

Marcia Cleveland