World Record for the Oldest Relay Team to Swim the English Channel – 8 October 2023
By Don Riddington 23 October 2023
The logistics of an exercise of this calibre deserve to be reflected upon.
Take 6 old geezers – who can swim a bit – and have them undertake significant training in c-o-l-d water (have to spell it, as you cannot say the word aloud); increasing the stress level on themselves and those close to them. Then try getting them off their Zimmer frames on THE perfect day for a stroll in the park; and hope they all make it safely to the starting line AND THEN safely across the world’s busiest shipping lane.
As they say in the classics, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’
One Foot in the Wave 3 consists of 5 fit septuagenarians and an 81-year-old; with numbers that would impress Sir Donald Bradman: collective age of 464 for an average of 77 Not Out.
The Don, a former International lacrosse player and latecomer to swimming, for the first time in his life finds himself as The Gun swimmer. Standing on the pebbles of Shakespeare’s Beach just outside the walls of Dover Harbour, with the same aspirations and reservations and wearing pretty much the same kit as Capt Matthew Webb did almost 150 years ago. The great man’s aim was to prove to the world that man could swim the English Channel. One Foot in the Wave is on a mission to prove the words of Sir Edmund Hillary that People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.
2:30am and the Klaxon of the appropriately named High Hopes reverberates across the dark swelling water. The Don glides into the water and establishes a pace to make any Driftwood swimmer proud.
Changeovers of a relay are crucial. Closely monitored by Martin, the independent observer engaged by the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CS&PF), the organisation charged with the responsibility to ensure this World Record attempt complies with all the rules laid out by the organisation. With the precision of a NASA launch, every hour the Pilot counts down the change over the boat’s tannoy 2Bob swings around behind the exiting swimmer (the equivalent of a baton change), draws alongside the skipper’s window (critical to stay close in the total darkness, since the moon has already set; illuminated only by a spotlight). 2Bob is up there in the gun category, by this team’s measure.
Doc is next to jump off the back of the boat. Remember, these guys are 80 +/- years old; fearlessly jumping into the black, chilly water. At the end of their swim shift, they are then required, midst a fair swell, with chilled hands, to lunge for the steel ladder dangling in the water. This, folks, is no time for a seniors’ moment!
Known for wandering away from the boat regularly, the Pilot once questioned whether the Doc was trying to take over navigation.
Next up is Amiable Andy, who drove down from Knebworth, walked straight onto the boat and was almost immediately hanging over the gunnel, feeding the fish.
We had heard during the week that two relay teams of young’uns had aborted their dreams after just 20 and 23 minutes respectively. The difference between those teams and One Foot in Wave is the guts and determination shown by Andy in this time of need. Bringing a new definition to bilateral breathing – where one breaths to the right and throws up to the left; he ploughed through his hour in order that the swim may continue.
Next in is King Kevin. Lucky, in the sense that he is the first to swim into the daybreak. He has swum The Ditch 34 times on his own and lost count of how many relays he has been involved with, but this one is special.
The King has been winged by a replacement shoulder, but the smooth stroke of the right arm is sufficient evidence to show why he has been able to swim just about anything with water in it – freezing, bubbling and anything in betwixt.
Until now Buddha has sat in a Zen state, speaking sparingly, but watching all the happenings, particularly the others going to the gunnel one by one. Buddha apologises, “My front crawl is rather slow old chap. I much prefer breaststroke”. To this end, the team is registered as swimming freestyle i.e. any style.
The team has waited 3 weeks for the wind and tide to align. The sun is shining, but the wind chill sucks any warmth out, meaning all swimmers on the boat, awaiting their next swim are rugged in heavy jackets. The swell never actually abates, requiring everyone aboard to constantly hold some fixture or press back into the slim, uncomfortable rails whilst seated. This, together with seasickness saps valuable energy from swimmers endeavouring to rest and recover for their next swim.
The rotation is repeated in the sunshine and swell.
Finally, the team enters the French Inshore Waters.
As darkness once again enshrouds the Ditch it looks likely that the King will be the one to set foot on French soil. However, the strong tidal push-back from France denies him and it is the softly spoken Buddha, drawing upon his once British National Champion breaststroke to power past the King, clear the French waterline and raise his arms in triumph. A moment to savour.
One Foot in the Wave 3 now holds
New World Record – Oldest Relay Team to Swim the English Channel
(awaiting ratification by Guinness World Records)
Team Swimmers – in swim rotation order
|The Don||Don Riddington||AUS||78||Member of Australia’s silver medal-winning team in the 1967 World Lacrosse Championships in Toronto Canada. In 2013 became the oldest Australian and 3rd oldest person to swim the English Channel.|
|2 Bob||Bob Roberts||UK||75||Angler Extraordinaire – winner of many trophies, author and fishing educator.|
|Doc||Chris Stockdale MBE||UK||79||Recognised for his long service to charity. Three times swimmer of the English Channel and former physician to Channel Swimming Association; multiple 30+ km swims and member of International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.|
|Amiable Andy||Andy Nation||UK||73||The youngster in the team at 73, gained his first World Record when he swam the entire length of the non-tidal river Thames in 2005. He followed this up in 2013 with 147 miles from Teddington Lock to Calais – just one year after breaking his neck.|
|The King||Kevin Murphy||UK||74||Has swum the English Channel 34 times solo, including 3 double crossings, lost count of the number of channel relays, and almost every other recognised marathon swim. A member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.|
|Buddha||Robert Lloyd-Evans||UK||81||Has presented papers on the mathematical theory of physics and the universe; is currently actively seeking a sponsor to promote his alternative theory of the origin of the universe and puts his mathematical theories into life threatening practice in his spare time as an aerobatic pilot; the definition of which is to change an aircraft’s angle compared to the earth to take an abnormal position (such as flying upside down) or accelerate abnormally – all of which bears well for avoiding seasick on rolling boats.|
- Swimmers’ Coordinator – Frederique Vandrepote
- ‘High Hopes’ Pilots – Simon Ellis & Marilyn Critchley
- CS&PF Observer – Martin Johnson
Andy Nation 73, Kevin Murphy 74, Dr Chris Stockdale 79, Robert Lloyd-Evans 80, Bob Roberts 75 & Don Riddington 78
Martin Johnson, Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation Official Observer and Frederique Vandrepote, Swimmers Coordinator