Used by over 600 vessels everyday, the English Channel is the world's busiest international seaway and was the first to come under full radar surveillance. Her Majesty's Coastguard maintains 24 hour radio and radar safety over the Channel and enforces a strict system of shipping lanes, jointly operated by the British and French authorities. A nautical freeway, there are two lanes 4 miles wide separated by a buffer zone of about 2 miles: vessels weighing more than 300 tons must use the Southwest lane when traveling South, and the Northeast lane when traveling North. Any ship crossing the Channel must do so at a right angle to avoid collisions and fines from the authorities.
As the sun ignites fiercely through the abundant clouds, I imagine Mother Nature reaching down from the heavens and extending her hands overflowing with this special gift. A sunrise so brilliant and so glorious, lit with dramatic gradients of pink, yellow, blue and orange, it kindles my soul. The visual of this fire-like sunrise stokes my internal furnace, radiating warmth throughout my body. It also signals the transition into the next phase of my swim.
Despite my own personal stringent peculiarities, checking and rechecking items for my swim as well as drawing on my previous discipline as a ballerina to maintain the demanding training schedule required for these swims, I only have a few requests for my crew. During my swim, if I ask how I'm doing, please always say "you're doing great," even if everything is falling apart and I'm swimming backwards. And please don't tell me the time, how long I've been swimming or how far I have to go: I don't need to be anywhere else for the next 24 hours and my job is to literally swim until I run out of water.
Despite this second request, determining the time during my swim is all part of the adventure. In fact I am constantly looking for clues. This also provides a handy distraction from worrying about feeling cold or being tired. Looking for hints I attentively watch the crew, scan the sky, and take many wild guesses. Earlier in the swim I began counting the feeds every 30 minutes. With two feeds per hour, I was able to calculate the time quite easily. However, somewhere along the way I lost track. Thankfully, with the sun now rising, I guess that it must be about 6am. Since my swim began at approximately 3:30am, and I know the sun will rise in the UK at about 6am, the first 3 hours of my swim are almost complete. My "warm up" is done and it's almost time for me to crank up the speed.
I settle into the next 6 hour stretch. As I move through the expanse of the Channel, now illuminated with the rising sun, I notice the clarity of the water improves. The chalky white iridescent green water, gives way to bluer, clearer water. It's glorious. With each stroke, my arms stretch out in front of me and I marvel the reality that I am really swimming the English Channel. I feel fantastic.
Dwarfed by countless passenger ferries, container ships (one even changed course for me), fishing trawlers and even the luxury boat Al Mirqab that pass by silently, this is an especially challenging place for the little Mother Ship and her astronaut. Like satellites monitored in our solar system, this carefully orchestrated network is daunting. Apparently there was a rather close encounter with a ship called the Southern Atlas, at one point a mere 60 feet away. As if this were my very first space walk, I am delighted with my surroundings, and oblivious to any drama that may have occurred.