The “Young Guns & Cinnamon Buns” English Channel Relay Team successfully swam on 27th August 2022 in a time of 12 Hours and 48 Minutes.
The team was a six-person relay including 12-year-old Hugo Tribbeck, a student at Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury and a member of Salisbury Stingrays Swimming Club. Hugo is raising funds for Hope and Homes for Children.
What is an English Channel Relay Swim About?
The English Channel was first swum in 1875 by Captain Webb. In the true spirit of that pioneering swim, an officially ratified Channel crossing can only be achieved wearing just a hat, goggles and a cossie. No wetsuits, buoyancy aids or insulating costumes are allowed. A swimmer must enter the sea from dry land and is deemed to have completed the crossing when they reach dry land on the other side without touching the boat. These rules are the bedrock of modern Channel swimming and apply to solo and relay swims. Swims can officially be ratified by two main bodies, The Channel Swimming Association or The Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. A relay team may consist of up to six swimmers. Each swimmer swims one at a time for one hour in strict rotation until they reach the French coast.
After my successful solo crossing in 2019 I was ready to hang up my goggles for a while. I thought I’d smuggled my last budgie in the Channel, that was until my son declared an interest! He's too young for a solo so I phoned a friend and one of the best English Channel pilots in the World, Stuart Gleeson. We teamed up with Chris Cole and his teenage son, Sam. Soon we were joined by Richard and Jo with Holly as a reserve, and “Young Guns & Cinnamon Buns” was born.
Hugo Tribbeck is now 12 years old and swims competitively with the Salisbury Stingrays Swimming Club. He trains around 7 times a week, often 2 hours before and 2 hours after school. In preparation for this relay, he’s also been swimming regularly in the sea. Sea training is important in order to build up a tolerance to the cold and to increase experience in a range of conditions. Over the last year or so he's been training to swim in cold, windy, choppy and wavy conditions, and also at night.
People have asked about the importance of Cinnamon buns to the team so I will give away a little secret. Katja, Cold Wet Wife, team mentor, personal pastry chef and mother to Cold Wet Boy, introduced us to this Scandinavian delicacy (known in Swedish as kanelbullar) originally as an afternoon snack, to be eaten with a cup of coffee. But extensive scientific research from Sweden's famous Universitet för Bullar has since shown that they can cure seasickness, boost performance, positively affect mental health, are a cure for baldness and can avoid collisions at sea.
Neaps and Springs and Things
So the way things work when booking a Channel swim is that you book a slot or window over either a neap or a spring tide. Neap tides have smaller ranges, so the speed of the current is a little less. Normally a pilot would book solo attempts onto neap slots and relays onto spring tide slots.
Our original window was 9th to 16th of August but, although the country was basking in a heatwave, strong winds in the Channel prevented us from making our crossing. So we were effectively weathered out and had to just wait until we could be fitted in.
On Friday the 26th Hugo and I left our early morning pool session and returned a missed call from Stuart... There was a short weather window, "Could we get to Dover to start tonight?" Blimey! Lots of frantic calls to see if we still had a team and we all agreed that this could be our only chance for the rest of the season so we said yes. But it would mean we’d lose two team members who couldn’t make it. We were excited and gutted at the same time as Chris and Sam and been on the team from the start and are valued members.
Holly, our reserve, stepped up and we were introduced to the wonderful Jessica Keiras by Stuart. Jessica, from Oregon USA, had completed a solo swim earlier that week and we knew she was a fantastic swimmer. She was keen to add a relay swim to her solo achievement which would make two great swims within a week!
We boarded Sea Leopard and headed along the coast to our starting point at Samphire Ho. The swim order was decided on the way as:
- Jon Tribbeck (UK)
- Richard Dines (UK)
- Jessica Kieras (USA)
- Holly Walbridge (UK)
- Hugo Tribbeck (UK and Finland)
- Jo Fotheringham (UK)
I swam to the beach, cleared the water, listened for the hooter and at 23:20 was off. The night was moonless and especially dark, apart from specks of light from vessels in the Channel’s busy shipping lanes. I swam back towards the boat and then passed it heading for France. It took a while to get used to the weird swell in the inshore waters. The waves didn’t seem to know what they were up to, just appearing as pillows of black velvet to be dodged or ploughed through.
Swimming alongside a boat at night is fairly straightforward as there is a spotlight on the swimmer, but your whole discernible universe is condensed to a weird grey-blue puddle of light in the blackness which is almost transfixing, you are held like a moth in the glow of a lantern.
I completed my hour and handed over to Richard who I watched disappear into the night. He in turn handed over to Holly who swam us into the SW shipping lane. The English Channel is divided up like a motorway with ships in the SW English lane heading southwest and ships in the NE French lane heading northeast. The central reservation is called the Separation Zone which is just over a mile wide at the point where we crossed it.
We had a minor hiccup on entering the southwest lane as the boat developed a mechanical problem which left us unable to make way for half an hour or so which accounts for the strange kink on our track. Luckily Stuart and first mate Sean got the problem fixed and we were back underway, just in time for Hugo to jump in at 03:20Hrs.
Hugo jumped in and started swimming like the clappers. I was worried at first that he’d started too fast but, to his credit, my fears were misplaced and he managed to maintain an average stroke rate of 85spm over this swim, and again over his next which took place later in the morning. He handed over to Jo, and then it was my turn again to take us into the Separation Zone at around 05:30Hrs.
Swimming through the dawn and into the morning the team just seemed to get stronger and stronger, and spirits were high. The cinnamon buns were doing their thing although some credit had to be given to Stuart’s bacon rolls.
By the time it came around to Hugo and Jo swimming again we were well into the French shipping lane and the daylight revealed a chain of massive tankers heading towards Rotterdam perhaps. There is a kind of a landmark at this point known as the buoy ZC2 known colloquially as the Three Mile Buoy. Our American teammate Jessica saw it first and exclaimed, “There it is, there’s the boo-ey”. Of course, none of us had any idea what she was talking about but eventually, we worked it out and straightened her out on how to pronounce “buoy” correctly.
As you swim out of the northeast lane and into French inshore waters the land looks so close. Many would let their guard down but this is the toughest part of a Channel Swim. It’s around three miles to the shore as the crow flies but across a fast-flowing current. Crows aren’t badly affected by currents but swimmers are. So, time to turn it up to 11 and break out the cinnamon buns (again).
The ebb tide took us to the west of Cap Griz Nez. We were swimming as fast as we could. We needed to make the most of the slack water before the tide turned. This part of the swim is super exciting and so important. You must make use of the slack water and get close enough to shore to find slower water. Otherwise, you will not land at the Cap. The Cap is the sticky-out bit closest to England. If you miss it you may add three hours to the swim and land much further along the coast.
French Inshore Waters
The honour of the final swim fell to me and I made landfall just south of Cap Griz Nez. A nice welcome awaited from a chap walking his dog. He seemed genuinely happy to see us so I gave him a pat and tickled his tummy, that's the dog, not the Frenchman. I was joined by Hugo who came ashore with Sean in the tender. We had a brief celebration, collected a large bag of souvenir pebbles and said au revoir to our Gallic chum. So ten minutes in France and now it's time to head back to Dover.
I’ve got to say I’m super proud, not only of Hugo, but of the whole team. Every person on the team (even those who couldn’t make it on the day) contributed to our successful swim. The swimmers on the day all swam better than expected with two of them overcoming fears of swimming at night and jellyfish. I must also say a special thanks to Jessica who joined the team at the eleventh hour. We met her as a stranger and left her as a friend. We all wish her well in her continuing swim adventures which you can read about on her blog.
You've got this far so please take another minute to scroll down and read the last paragraph about our charity, and a thousand thanks to those of you who have sponsored us already.
We’re fundraising for Hope and Homes for Children
Hugo and I decided we wanted raise funds for a charity that supported children who were not as lucky as most of us to have the love and opportunity that most of us take for granted. We were aware of Hopes and Homes as they are based locally and have a great and well-deserved local and international reputation. Please take some time to visit their website and read their compelling story.
Every child needs someone who supports them & takes care of them, who wants them to be happy. Every child needs to know they are loved & they belong. Children never belong in orphanages. They don’t protect children, they harm them. And they are never necessary. Every child needs a family. They have been working to transform the lives of children in orphanages since 1994. Today are working with children in 30 countries with teams of skilled, local child-protection professionals to keep families together & reunite or build new families.
Please take a look at our fundraising page