Spring 2018Channel Camp: Like Space Camp Only Saltier
So, you want to swim the channel?
Technically for me I have a list of 5 dream swims in my phone (case) and none of them is the channel, but maybe one day; unless your'e my mum in which case the thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.
If your answer is yes, maybe, or you have some other long-distance swimming goals, then Swim Trek’s “Channel and long-distance training camp” is an ideal start to your year; Swim Trek like Star Trek only saltier (they do say comedy comes in threes).
In the interests of being fair and balanced I should point out that there are alternative camps available dotted around the Mediterranean including Ocean Walker (isn’t walking cheating, you're meant to swim) and a Swim Quest camp; Swim Quest, like Sea Quest but hopefully with less of the cast of Jaws (extra points if you get that reference).
For over a decade this camp has been combining longer swims in the warm(er) waters of the Mediterranean, while the water back home is still in the “Brrr, maybe 20min” type range, with indispensable advice on relevant topics such as safety, nutrition training and pilots. Video swim analysis was also performed, although feedback wasn’t provided until the end of the week to prevent injuries caused by sudden changes to stokes; sort of a here’s how you could have made those 6 hrs much easier type session. This is run from a base in Porto Petro on the southern tip of Mallorca.
Signing up to this camp rather last minute (about 3weeks before start date) I ran into the only real down point; the need for a medical. It’s not much fun spotting this after making an impulse purchase and paying in full, especially when your GP says they can’t do it in time; luckily a friendly doctor was found and the trip was back on. If you sign up well in advance then this shouldn’t be as much of an issue, it only takes around 20 min and for channel swimmers the channel medical can be used.
At the camp you will find, Queen of feeds F, King of bad jokes (but with a surprisingly emotional channel story) C, Coach M along with boat captain S. Together they ensure everyone has an enjoyable and informative time; all brilliant fun and each with years of channel experience.
The other 11 swimmers on the course were an amazing bunch, it’s not many groups where people can say things like I’m planning a double channel crossing or I aim to climb Everest and swim the channel in the same year and you think yes, I believe you.
That being said, it was also very inclusive, swim speed was irrelevant, all that mattered was wanting to spend a long time in the water. Wetsuits were also fine for those not looking for a channel qualifying swim. The motto was simple “zero to six in a week”. The six referring to the six hour, under 16⁰C (60⁰F) swim required for channel qualification. I must admit I was a bit surprized that only around one third of the group had been braving the cooler March waters back home.
Each day we walked down the hill from our hotel (basic but a lovely location and everything you needed). The few locals around in town would whisper “son los nadandores” or “it’s the swimmers” as we processed passed in our dry robes and bobble hats under the Mediterranean sun down to the harbour. Boarding the main boat, we would then be off to one of the picturesque bays along that section of coast before dropping anchor and laying out a swim lap. The main boat would then become the feed station with two smaller ribs patrolling the area checking on swimmers and watching out for other boats.
These transitions were a great time to chat with the other swimmers and guides, admire the coast line or simply look out to sea. If that didn’t float your boat you could always watch the gogglebox, that is the black plastic bucket containing spare pairs of goggles.
Once in place and with strategically placed Vaseline (first piece of advice given; avoid a centre seam) we could either slowly climb down the ladder, jump or dive into the cool waters. This particular week, temperatures were mainly 12-13⁰C, so on the cold side but still much warmer than back home. Swim time gradually increased, well not that gradually, from 2hrs on the first full day to a 3hr and 2hr swim on the second before the full 6hrs on the third before dropping down to a leisurely 2hr warm down on the final full day. Seminars and discussions were then added around the swims before a more social time in the evenings.
The coast in this area was particularly stunning, in most cases rocky cliffs (often slightly overhanging) combined with white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. A huge range of fish and luckily no jellies. In the bays the waves were limited in size but some swell was noticeable. Another interesting feature was noticeable warm and cold spots around each bay; the temperature could change quite noticeably within a few metres depending on where cooler waters were rising to the surface.
Being mainly a fresh water swimmer, the salt did get to me a bit, with some slight tongue punishment. However, building up cold water acclimatisation through the winter was a massive benefit, making the longer swims possible. The cooler waters also help you recover quickly from the previous day's swimming.
For me the biggest benefit was the attention paid to the feeding on the longer swims, I tended to visit the main boat every two laps (around 35min) and as well as some tasty treats such as bananas, peaches and gateau our main energy source was from the drink. Over the week levels were adjusted to ensure swimmers got the amount of energy and fluid required at each stop. Drinks were also always warm to help prevent hypothermia, which was successfully warded off by all swimmers on the trip.
All in all, great people, great locations and plenty of top tips for future swims.
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