Howard Keech

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Howard Keech, North Channel swimmer
Howard Keech
Howard Keech (left) with North Channel pilot Brian Meharg (right)

Howard James (née Keech, nickname H2oward) is a marathon swimmer from Bedford, Bedforshire, UK who competed two Oceans Seven channels.


English Channel Crossing Records

Earliest English Channel Crossing Record

North Channel Crossing

  • James crossed the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland in 13 hours 25 minutes on 2 August 2011 in 10.5ºC water
  • James crossed the English Channel from England to France in 12 hours 38 minutes on 23 September 2009
  • James crossed the English Channel from England to France in 13 hours 13 minutes in 12ºC water on 16 May 2016
  • James completed several other open water swims of note including British Long Distance Swimming Association events.

Irish Long Distance Swimming Association Report

Martin Cullen, Observer for the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association, presented the following report on Keech's successful North Channel swim from Northern Ireland to Scotland on August 2nd in 13 hours 25 minutes.

Howard Keech (swimmer), Terry Lees (feeder and support), Brian Meharg (pilot), Christopher Beale (mate), Keith Jones (crew) and Martin got underway on board the Blue Aquarius around 7:30 am.

"It was low water in the harbour but it was a spring tide. The weather forecast was for some cloud to start, but good sunny spells with perhaps some isolated light showers. We sailed north across Belfast Lough, past Whitehead lighthouse and arrived around 8.35 am at The Gobbins, Islandmagee which has amazing cliffs and birdlife. The sea was very calm, visibility was limited by a sea mist and there was a good deal of cloud cover.

Howard was very calm and showed no signs of anxiety. When asked he said he really didn’t feel anything. He disrobed, applied a good deal of Vaseline to all areas that might chaff, put on his Irish Long Distance Swimming Association swim cap, his goggles and light (in case we ended up in the dark). At about 8.45 am, Howard leapt off the side of the boat and made his way to the rocks at the base of the cliffs where at 8.52 am he commenced his swim. The water temperature was 11.3°C (52.3°F) which was some 2°C less than expected.

The current was with us and, with a stroke rate of 62 – 64 per minute, great progress was made. However instead of the cloud-clearing and sun coming out, it started to rain and continued to do so for the best part of the next 5 hours.

After 90 minutes, Howard had his first feed prepared by Terry, a hot sweet drink with a half a banana strapped to the bottle. Howard took less than a minute and was away again with over one stroke every second, good leg kick and nice and level on top of the water. The plan was that after the first feed, then all other feeds, would be every 30 minutes and be a mixture of different warm drinks, gels and banana or chocolate

When we checked the water temperature we were shocked that it had dropped to 10.6°C (51°F) and over the course of the swim the highest temperature reached was 12.5°C (54°F) but this was for only about two hours around the 6th and 7th hours. Howard had trained in cold water since January. Even during the snow and ice in February, he had gone swimming in the sea. However, over the past couple of months the sea temperature off the Kent coast was closer to 16°C (61°F) which was of concern to Howard.

Brian checked all the weather sites and according to them the sun should be shining. The reality was that we had rain or drizzle and a sea mist which meant that those of us on the boat were almost as wet as Howard. The only good thing was that there was no wind and therefore the sea was almost flat calm.

On a different front was the absence of jellyfish. The North Channel is renowned for the plethora of jellyfish of all species and a nightmare for all swimmers. We were blessed that there were so few but about 1.30 pm Howard shuddered and stopped briefly as an enormous one passed underneath him. After this, there were some small shoals and Howard got some stings. From the boat, very few jellyfish were visible but Howard said he saw many, but they were deeper in the water. Around 2 pm we were treated to a flyover by a puffin who was checking out what was in the water, but after 3 circles decided there was nothing worth staying for. Eventually about 3 pm, the drizzle stopped and we felt some heat from a very hazy sun. Our bit of luxury was short lived as it clouded over again about 4pm and a breeze picked up. Howard was still swimming strong and making really good progress.

Around 5 pm the wind shifted completely from due south to straight north with a chill in the air and an increase to force 5. In a very short space of time the sea went from almost flat calm to being lumpy and whitecaps could be readily seen. Another unusual bird, an Arctic Skua, came to check us out but again found us of no interest. Tide was now flowing northwards at about 2.2 knots which meant we would end up past Portpatrick and then on the next turn of the tide we would be pushed in towards Portpatrick.

At 6.30 pm we only had 3.3 miles to go and it took us almost 4 hours to complete this relatively short distance. These miles were the hardest as we were so close and yet we were making so little headway in the right direction. The lighthouse, north of Portpatrick harbour, was our main focal point. The houses around the harbour to our right could be seen, but not distinctly. The weather changed yet again around 8.30 pm when the wind dropped off, the sea calmed and it stayed dry.

Howard could see how close we were, his stroke rate had dropped to 56 strokes a minute and he knew he wasn’t making great progress. The last hour was so hard as we could see the coast getting closer and closer. Howard never complained, even though we did tell him a few untruths.

The lights began to come on in Portpatrick as we drifted along the coast leaving the lighthouse behind us and headed for the cliffs under the ruins of Dunskey Castle, just south of the harbour. Brian Meharg informed us that this was not far off where Ted Keenan finished his swim to become the first Irish swimmer to do so. Around 10.10 pm Brian got into the inflatable and headed to the shore.

Howard just kept going and at 10:17 pm, he touched the Scottish shore. He dragged himself into the inflatable and when he got back to the boat, everyone was amazed that there were no shivers and he needed little help in getting dressed. He then went below deck had a warm drink, chatted with Terry and Brian and then had a sleep. He came back up on deck around 1 am and we had a good chat

Howard Keech did an incredible swim under the circumstances. I believe very, very few others could have finished if they were presented with the same cold conditions.

2017 MSF Calendar

2017 Marathon Swimmers Federation calendar

James appears twice in the 2017 Marathon Swimmers Federation.

Cover – Sarah Thomas swimming in Lake Powell in Arizona. Photo by Ken Classen.
January – Howard James on the earliest English Channel crossing. Photo by Danny Burrows.
February – Theodore Yach swimming his 100th Robben Island crossing. Photo by Mariza Cloete.
March – Radikal MarBrava in Girona, Spain. Photo by Burno Hervas.
April – Swimmers in Lake Willoughby in Vermont. Photo by Manuela Jessel.
May – Howard James leaving Dover. Photo by Danny Burrows.
June – Scott Zornig swimming in San Diego Harbor. Photo by Lynn Kubasek.
July – Dave Van Mouwerik swimming with a whale in Avila Beach. Photo by Michael Dobrzensky.
August – Anthony McCarley swimming in the Harlem River. Photo by Niles Furlong.
September – Marie Watson swimming in Galway Bay in Ireland. Photo by Siobhan Russell.
October – Sarah Thomas at finish on Lake Powell shoreline in Arizona. Photo by Andrew Malinak.
November – Bernard Lynch swimming in the English Channel. Photo by Siobhan Russell.
December – Swimmers entered water on Autumn Equinox in Myrtleville, Ireland. Photo by Siobhan Russell.

Channel Crossing Association

James organized a relay crossing of the English Channel on 7 April 2017 in 11 hours 26 minutes for The Alexa Trust and co-escorted by pilots Andy King and Eric Hartley of the Channel Crossing Association. It was the earliest relay crossing in English Channel history and included Matthew Culverwell (1st), Redy Redfern (2nd), Rory Fitzgerald (3rd), Phia Steyn (4th), Jeremy Irvine (5th), Clare Hansell (6th), Pip Barry (7th), and Annette Stewart (8th).

Pierre Van Vooren Memorial Trophy Recipients

2017: Maxence Paindavoine (France) in 14 hours 12 minutes
2016: Howard James (England) in 13 hours 13 minutes
2015: Monica Bender (USA) in 13 hours 41 minutes
2014: Meghan Chisholm (Canada) in 14 hours 39 minutes
2013: Tracy Clark (New Zealand) in 12 hours 46 minutes
2013: Carl Plasschaert (Belgium) in 12 hours 6 minutes
2012: Catherine Smith (Great Britain) in 16 hours 32 minutes
2011: Mark Seal (Great Britain) in 12 hours 48 minutes
2010: Ian Down (Great Britain) in 15 hours 47 minutes
2009: Liane Llewellyn (England) in 27 hours 35 minutes
2008: Mark Ransom (Great Britain) in 12 hours 23 minutes
2007: Anne Marie Ward (Ireland) in 20 hours 4 minutes
2006: Sønnøve Cirotski (Norway) in 14 hours 43 minutes
2005: Jane McCormick (Scotland) in 15 hours 12 minutes
2004: Gilles Rondy (France) in 7 hours 54 minutes
2003: Karteek Alec Clarke (Scotland) in 16 hours 5 minutes
2002: Jacques Tuset (France) in 12 hours 40 minutes
2000: Jackie MacDonald (England) in 21 hours 19 minutes breaststroke

External links