Michael Ball, a Palace of Westminster (UK Houses of Parliament) police officer veteran, is a member of the Half Century Club for his 2009 English Channel crossing of 12 hours 55 minutes. Ball's swim generated a total of £5,002 in donations for the Ellenor Lions Hospices.
Swimming the English Channel was a life long ambition of Ball ever since he met a young lady who swam at his local swimming club in Woolwich south east London when he was 10 years old. The woman was much older than him, but young Ball was blown away by her achievement of swimming the English Channel. After many years he caught up with her and found out that this lady was an active member of the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation and has assisted in feeding on long swims.
English Channel Swim
He fit all his training around his busy shifts since last August. His winter training was done at the David Lloyd Centre in Dartford and on 2nd May training started in the cold water of Dover harbour.
A Day in the English Channel
It was a warm sunny Sunday morning at R.A.F. Manston in Kent. I was watching the Red Arrows taking off for the Eastbourne air show. My mobile phone rang and it was my pilot Eddie Spelling. He said the weather is looking good for tomorrow morning for your attempt to swim the English Channel. I had received four of these types of calls before only to be contacted again at 19.30hrs and told that the weather conditions in the channel had deteriorated and the swim was to be called off.
Eddie said that the conditions were settled and as usual he would confirm the go ahead at 19.30hrs. (The reason for this time is because most metrological offices’ send out the shipping forecast and the pilots can check against other local systems). After a nervous wait the call came for me to put my support team on standby. My kit was packed and had been for nearly a week.
I informed my son James, friends Ian and Matt that we were to meet at the Dover Marina at 06.45am the following day. It was Monday 17th August 2009. On my arrival I was greeted by close friends and family all wishing me farewell. I said that we would be leaving from Shakespeare beach Dover. My team assisted me to my pilot boat ‘Anastasia’.
Before long the checks were made and we were powering our way from the dock to the beach. Eddie informed me to get ready. Matt assisted to apply the channel grease. This was a mixture Vaseline and lanolin. I stood on the platform at the rear of the boat was wished good luck and jumped into the water. I swam about 50 meters and climbed on to the beach. My wife Jill my daughter Kate, son in law James and friends Polly and Marion were present and wishing me good luck. Pleasantries were exchanged; I turned around faced the escort boat, raised my arm and entered the water on the biggest adventure of my life.
The time was 7.29. The sun was shining and the sea was flat. I thought this was a great day for the swim. I instructed my team that I wanted to be fed on the hour for the first three hours then every thirty minutes after that. Freda my mentor, a much-respected 70 year old lady, said to me just before I swam not to look up and not to look back. The reason for this is that looking behind; the White Cliffs of Dover can be seen from a long way out and by looking up the French coast can also be seen. Many swimmers give up by feeling that they are not making progress. And less than ten percent who make the attempt, finish.
I felt good and was enjoying the swim. The E.C. is well known that it will, and does throw what it can at you. This is why it is classed as the hardest swim in the world. I passed a marker point and most swimmers reach this at about three hours. I passed it within two and a half hours. This indicated that I could be in for a fast time. The skies began to darken and the wind was whipping up. The predicted south westerly wind was getting stronger.
The support team were full of encouragement at feed times. As we entered the north shipping lane the white board appeared indicating that I was to be fed in five minutes. This consisted of a warm high powered calorie drink. I was burning up to 700 cal’s per hour. At odd feeds I was having bananas, Swiss Role, and soft chocolate cake. I spent no longer that 15 seconds feeding as more time spent could result in the missing of the outgoing tide on the French side. This could, and has added another five hours on an attempt. Many swimmers then give up.
I had been fed and got on with swimming. Then I noticed that a white board was showing feed in five minutes? The team knew best. I swam over to the boat and the drink was lowered. (Touching the boat in any way would risk disqualification). I said to the boy’s that was a quick half hour to which they replied we thought we would feed you as we had to slow you down. The reason was we were to give way to three Russian war ships about 100 meters in front of us! As you can imagine the wash that they created was huge.
The weather got worse. I was now battling with two meter waves on my right. ‘Anastasia’ was being battered, the crew thrown on the upper deck it was getting rough. This continued for about eight hours. Matt then told me that we were within the French inshore waters and the sea would start to calm. This did slightly.
The encouragement continued and I was told that it was just two laps of Dover Harbour to go. I worked this out to be about three miles. No way was I giving up. The feeds continued and then I was told this was my last feed and meaning that there could be about another half an hour of swimming to go. It could be longer if the weather got worse. Having previously mentioned that I had slight cramp in the back of my leg they decided not to take any risks and to give me my last feed as a treble dose of high cals!
I continued to not look up and only to the boat.
I could then see Dave the co-pilot and another crew member tampering with the dingy at the rear of ‘Anastasia’. They were beginning to lower her into the water. In my mind this was it. It told me that we were now getting close to the French shore as the support boat was entering shallow waters. I kept my head down and just swam. The dingy now had two crew on board as it spun around to the side of me. A voice shouted out “Dad follow the boat” I did. It peeled off and the next thing I knew a huge wave catapulted me forward and I could feel rocks below. I went to stand up and could not touch the bottom. I swam again for a short distance and another big wave pushed me forward. This time I could feel the sand. I ran up the beach and cleared the water. A signal came from the boat, the swim was over. I had swum the English Channel! How good was that?
The sun had now gone down. I picked up three small rocks put them into my swim trunks as a memento. I then swam to the dingy. We then raced back to ‘Anastasia’. I climbed aboard to a fantastic welcome. In no time at all the lads were covering me in blankets and warm clothing. Eddie informed the Coast Guard that the swim was complete and could he have permission to return to Dover. The reply from H.M.Coastguard was "Please proceed with care and congratulate your swimmer."
The time was 12 hours and 55 minutes. I lost ¾ of a stone in body weight during the Channel crossing. The return trip took three hours in choppy sea. We were greeted with Champagne and a fantastic reception. I felt tired, sore, and elated. Job done.
The charity that I have chosen to support is the Ellenor and Lions Hospice as I was made aware that they were in desperate need of funds to keep their excellent work going. I am proud to be raising money for such a worthwhile charity.