The point of no return

Laden with swim gear and trudging through the cool and dimly lit car park at the Dover Marina, I take a moment to decipher the identity of the couple walking towards us from the boat ramp.

But as they both smile, the mystery is quickly solved; I’m thrilled to recognize the couple as fellow Dolphin Club members, Emma and Pete Perez. In the final few days leading up to my swim and in need of at least one additional crew member to accompany Melissa, Emma graciously volunteered to crew for me. Her husband Pete was waitlisted for another solo crossing of the Channel, and so long as he wasn’t swimming on the same day, Emma offered to crew for me. Pete didn’t need to be here this morning – at 2:30am – he should have been resting ahead of his own upcoming swim, but he wanted to wish me luck. I was touched, as it was an especially generous and heartwarming gesture.

With minimal exchange of words, Pete simply takes over carrying the heavy items from my hands, while I make a brief detour. Careful not to risk an unnecessary but traditional pre-swim injury, I climb the steep staircase to the Port of Dover office to purchase a mandatory 24 hour parking permit. I can’t help but ponder the many 'unexpected' odds and ends required for this swim. This certainly wasn’t on my checklist.

Minutes later I am once again risking injury walking gingerly down the familiar though slightly unstable, metal ramp leading down to the dock. A winning combination of oversized Ugg boots, limited dorsiflexion and permanent nerve damage in my right foot together with the early morning dew makes for a slippery task. Holding the cold metal handrails, I recall my last walk down this same ramp two years ago. In 2011 I was just as eager and excited for adventure, yet remarkably ill prepared. I shake my head and laugh to myself recalling the reaction of fellow swimmers when I told them I was going to attempt a solo Channel swim – without training and a mere 2 days after participating in a relay crossing.

Today, September 12th 2013, I am proud of all the prior training and preparation I have completed in readiness for this moment.  Whatever the outcome, I know I can put my hand on my heart and say I was as prepared as I possibly could be. I cannot question an unfavorable outcome, because everything beyond this point is completely out of my control. The weather, the tides, it is all in the hands of Mother Nature. Yet knowing this certainly doesn’t contain the nervousness and all consuming fear that begins to engulf my body.

As I walk across the concrete dock, I notice two other boats already loaded with solo swimmers and their crew, and are now pulling away from the marina. The boat for my Channel swim is located further ahead. My crew have finished loading gear on the boat, and I hear a familiar “WOO!” from Melissa. Noticing the boat name, Louise Jane, inscribed in white paint on the bow of the dark colored hull, reality hits: I am about to swim the English Channel.

“Hello, Kim” says my boat pilot Andy King cheerily introducing me to his crew, Phil and his son James. To my surprise the Channel Swimming Association official observer is Steve Franks. Steve was our observer for our successful relay swim on September 18th 2011.

The Louise Jane is an angling boat with a sizable open-air deck. A couple of large dry lockers on the deck enable us to stow all my gear. I attach my GPS tracker to the boat while Andy and Phil attach blue glow sticks to the starboard side. Once I jump in the water, I will swim on this side of the boat.

Minutes later the boat gently leaves the dock, and as the crew lift the plastic fenders from the port side of the boat, I realize this is the point of no return.