Vashon swimmers take on the English Channel

Mary Singer, Heidi Skrzypek and Mary Robinson joined three off-island swimmers to form an English Channel Relay swim team.

It was one o’clock in the morning, and about 10 hours since you landed in England on a red eye.

You slipped on your swimsuit and slid into the English Channel and started swimming in its 53-degree water towards France.

Sound like fun? It’s what three island swimmers did for amusement this last week.

Mary Singer, Heidi Skrzypek and Mary Robinson joined three off-island swimmers to form an English Channel Relay swim team, with their swim sanctioned by the Channel Swimming Association.

The team completed the 21+ mile swim (tides, currents and wind combine to make the course longer than the straight-line distance) in thirteen hours and fifty minutes — a very strong time. Each of the six relay members were in the water for two “shifts” of about an hour each, with two swimmers (Mary Singer and Chelsea Lee) taking an additional turn to complete the crossing.

Just finishing the distance is an accomplishment, and many solo and relay teams come up short. The challenges are many: bumpy water leading to the ingestion of salt water, stings from compass jellyfish found in the waterway, sea sickness while riding in the support boat, and colder water than expected.

The Vashon swimmers normally have kayaks for support, but for this crossing they were accompanied by a 35-foot cabin cruiser. In the dark hours of the swim, the support boat shined a bright light on each swimmer so that each breath was accompanied by a glance into a blinding glare. During the crossing, their support craft encountered a broken fuel line which the crew was able to deal with seamlessly, avoiding a delay in the swim.

Starting on the English coast at Samphire Hoe (near Dover), the objective is to swim southeast to Cap Gris Nez (translation: Cape Grey Nose) in France. The team was right on course, and the final swimmer, Chelsea Lee, had to fight through a northerly ripping tide to touch the shore. A quick turnaround to the support boat (now a zodiac inflatable because of the shallow water) was needed to avoid customs and immigration issues.

The relay team was elated with their experience, and at least one member, Mary Singer, is planning to come back and do it solo.

The Vashon community is glad you all had “fun” on your European vacation and looks forward to hearing about your next adventure — safely from shore.

Pat Call is a masters rower who is being recruited to become a support kayaker by Vashon swimmers.