As we motor outside the protected confines of the sturdy sea walls of the Dover Marina, and into the exposed expanse of the English Channel, the movement of the water increases dramatically. Leaving the lights of Dover behind us, darkness envelopes the boat. Instinctively, adrenalin begins to surge through my body. Hanging on to the edge of one of the oversized dry lockers on the deck, which is now my seat, I nervously check and recheck the contents of my swim kit: extra caps, goggles, earplugs, ibuprofen, more glow sticks, and an array of multi-colored high visibility blinky lights. Everything is in order. Next, my hands fumble through the deep pockets of my swim jacket. In my right pocket are my earplugs. In my left pocket are my goggles and New Zealand swim cap. Much unlike an anthropologist quietly observing his subject, my official observer, Steve is already taking notes. I wonder what he's writing.
My boat pilot, Andy calls me into the cabin at the front of the boat to discuss the plan. A bright floodlight located at the entrance to the cabin pierces through the blackness making it difficult for me to see inside. James gently grabs my arm to safely escort me in the cabin without hurting myself. Once inside the cramped cabin, as Andy continues to navigate the boat into position he explains that I will begin my swim at the beach near Samphire Hoe, and I will need to be ready to jump in the water in 15 minutes. Because of the shallow water close to the beach, once the boat is located as close as possible and the motor in neutral, Andy and his crew will instruct me to exit the boat. I'll have to swim about 100 yards to shore, which will be identified with a search light. Steve explains the rules. And once on shore and clear of water, I will turn and raise my right arm to indicate my readiness to begin the swim. Steve will blow a whistle notifying me that the timer has started and I should get going. Worried that might not be able to hear his whistle with my earplugs, I ask Andy if he wouldn't mind flashing the search light as well. Andy happily obliges.
Back outside on the deck of the boat, waiting until the last possible moment, I strip off all my clothes except for my swimsuit, put on my swim cap and hand Melissa and Emma each a pair of disposable rubber gloves. Goosebumps appear quickly on my arms from the cool air. Now exposed, the large 4 x 6 inch scar on my upper right thigh is already purple from the change in temperature. Applying Vaseline and lanolin to my body is a messy job. All my usual chaffing spots are soon covered in dollops of these viscous substances: the back of my neck and under my arms. Putting on my own gloves I pay careful attention to more personal areas: between my legs and under the straps of my swimsuit. The high salinity of the English Channel will mean some painful patches of skin if I'm not careful to protect them. Bloated from carb loading, hydration and extra weight gain necessary for insulation, and now covered in goo, smelling like a wet sheep, I know with certainty that this is not a glamorous sport.
My hands are trembling from the adrenalin as I pull them from the tight disposable gloves. Grateful for clean hands I can now more easily adjust my goggles without getting any goo on the lenses. Adjusting and readjusting the fit on my eyes, the last thing I want is for my goggles to leak. For the best visibility of my body in the water, Andy instructs Melissa to attach two bright green blinky lights: one to the back on my goggles and one on the back of my swimsuit. My lucky blue blinky will unfortunately not be used.
"OK, Kim. You ready?" says Andy as he unhooks the chain from the starboard side revealing a narrow ledge from where I will jump. With the search light shining brightly ahead, I see the beach tucked in below the chalky white cliffs that Dover is known for worldwide. I try my best to stand on the side, but worried I will slip and hurt myself, I take a moment to sit on the ledge instead. The boat rocks back and forth – calm seas are not on the menu for my start. Three other boats with swimmers are nearby, lights shining. Without a word, I slip gently into the inky dark water. Briefly submerged in the 60 degree Channel, soon I am back to the surface. Untethered from the structure of the Mother Ship, I begin my space walk.
Swimming to shore I can’t see anything. Andy is shining the search light on the beach but its difficult for me to calculate the distance. Instinctively I rely instead on the sound of the water to navigate to shore; as the water becomes shallower I can hear the swell pushing the rocks together with a clicking and whooshing noise. I emerge from the water carefully as the hand-size rocks are slippery and covered in seaweed. The familiar stench of salt and sea life is comforting.
Mindful that the floodgates in my body are almost overflowing with adrenalin, I do my best to make a controlled release of this powerful chemical. I need this reserve for later. Only then will the floodgates open.